NEW YORK – In response to the Bush administration’s approval of escalated military actions in the West Bank by the Sharon government, religious, peace and solidarity activists organized marches, press conferences and emergency phone calls to the White House. They called for an immediate cease fire, a withdrawal of Israeli troops from the occupied areas of Palestine and the beginning of political negotiations for a Palestinian state that would peacefully coexist with the state of Israel.

On April 2 the National Council of Churches (NCC) convened a press conference here of religious leaders from around the world. Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, NCC general secretary, urged the Bush administration “to press for an immediate cessation of the violence and for the commencement of face to face negotiations.”

The Episcopal Church USA’s Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold, said, “This tragic situation demands the immediate intervention of the international community.” He implored the Bush administration to give full support to a call for the United Nations to send in peacekeeping forces.

Many are urging the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1402, passed on March 30, as the first step to break the cycle of violence in Palestine and Israel.

Rev. Jesse Jackson said, “There is a worsening state of crisis with global consequences in the Middle East. We need to use the United States and its allied strength to enforce the U.N. resolution and end the siege of Ramallah.”

Richard Deats, editor of Fellowship of Reconciliation’s (FOR) magazine, Fellowship, spoke to the World about what he characterized as the “passivity and indifference” of the Bush administration.

“Bush just keeps repeating that Arafat has to do more when all of the institutions of the Palestinian Authority are being systematically destroyed and he’s under house arrest,” Deats said. “There needs to be a stronger [international] presence. The U.N. rather than the U.S. should take action.”

The escalating violence in the Mideast set off emergency demonstrations March 30, in which thousands marched, called by the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). (See story page 3) The ADC also organized emergency phone calls to the White House.

Hussein Ibish, ADC communications director, told the World, “All over the country there have been demonstrations and the response is pretty clear and not surprising.”

Members of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) have been out marching in support of a withdrawal of Israeli troops from the occupied territories and for an immediate ceasefire of both sides.

Mary Day Kent, executive director of WILPF, told the World that U.S. foreign aid to Israel be reviewed and suspended “until compliance with all international laws is assured. Aid should be civilian aid not military when resumed.”

The U.S. role in arming Israel was also mentioned by Scott Lynch, communication director of Peace Action. “Sharon, very far right and a militarist, is running a government that is armed and subsidized by the U.S. government and yet the Bush administration has choosen a calculated disregard of the process of trying to bring peace to the Middle East.”

Peace Action is working on plans for action, including calling for a cesstion of arms exports, he said. “Sixty-three percent of the weapons exported from the U.S. go to the Middle East, and we are the world’s number one arms dealer. We are adding potential fuel to the fire there.”

Josh Ruebner, coordinator of Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel (JPPI), said, that both sides “have proven they can bleed each other. Nothing can be attained through the killing of more civilians.”

Asked about the escalating violence, he said, “It makes me wonder about the strategy of Hamas, whether they are purposefully acting to inflict a huge disaster upon the Palestinian people. The more the suicide bombs continue, the more likely it is that Israel will escalate its military adventures even further.”

The only answer to the spiral of violence, he said, “is achieving a sustainable ceasefire along with a return to a tangible political process of ending Israel’s occupation.”

JPPI, Ruebner said, supports the introduction of U.N. peacekeeping forces to end the violence and get the peace process moving again. “We are seeing people of all religions and backgrounds waking up to the dangerous crisis in the Middle East.”

Many spoke on this shift in opinion. “There’s a growing recognition of the injustice of the occupation and the need to end the occupation, but I still think the overwhelming sentiment is uncritically pro-Israel,” FOR’s Deats said.

Kent from WILPF continued, “It will take an enormous amount of popular expression to break through the media and political concensus, which has tilted perspectives against the Palestinians.”

When asked about the importance of the April 20 March against the War at Home and Abroad, Kent told the World, “It’s tremendously important. It’s affected by the crisis in Palestine and Israel but of course something we’ve been planning for months and it’s really an expression of protest the entire direction of the Bush administration.”

Tim Wheeler contributed to this article. The author can be reached at
jleblanc@pww.org

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