Demand rises for cease-fire in Middle East crisis
Calls for an immediate cease-fire, pullback of Israeli troops from Lebanon and Gaza, and an end to the bloodshed in the Middle East gathered momentum last week as the danger of a widening war continued to loom.
About 700 demonstrators from two-dozen interfaith and peace groups rallied outside the White House on July 18. Mary Rose Oakar, president of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, told the World the rally’s purpose was to “decry the lack of moral leadership” by the Bush administration, and its “giving the green light to the escalation of war on the people of Lebanon and Gaza.”
Close to 1,000 people, including United for Peace and Justice activists, gathered outside the Israeli Mission to the United Nations the same day, calling for a cease-fire and a negotiated solution. Protesters chanted, ‘Stop the killing, stop the bombs, Israel out of Lebanon.’
Thousands rallied in Dearborn, Mich., home to many Lebanese Americans. A few days earlier, the Detroit Free Press reported that Dearborn resident Fatme Youssef, 26, was mourning “the loss of her mother, grandmother, two brothers and other family members — killed, according to relatives in Dearborn, after Israeli warplanes struck the family’s home” in southern Lebanon.
“They’re killing kids,” her uncle told the reporter. “They’re killing ladies, they’re killing innocent people … not terrorists.”
In San Francisco, about 300 people, including members of Jewish Voice for Peace, demonstrated July 17 at the Israeli Consulate, denouncing Israel’s “collective punishment” of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians and calling for a cease-fire on all sides.
Ceanna Stephens, 29, who works with Global Exchange, was among 16 arrested for civil disobedience. “We do not condone any sort of violence, whether it comes from Hezbollah or the state of Israel,” she said in a statement. “Israel’s reaction to current events has been unbelievably cruel, and has caused intense suffering and death among many Palestinian and Lebanese civilians who have done nothing wrong. This is a humanitarian crisis, and it is my obligation as a Jewish person to speak out for peace.”
Israeli warplanes, ships and missiles continued to pound Lebanon’s bridges, airports, roads, power plants, factories and other civilian infrastructure.
The Lebanese death toll climbed to at least 285, including many women and children. Hundreds more were injured or made homeless, and thousands fled to neighboring Syria and elsewhere.
About two-dozen Israelis have been killed in the conflict, including eight who died when a Hezbollah rocket crashed through the roof of a railway repair depot in Haifa.
The Vatican, while acknowledging Israel’s right to self-defense, said that “does not exempt it from respecting the norms of international law, especially as regards the protection of civilian populations. In particular, the Holy See deplores the attack on Lebanon, a free and sovereign nation.”
The Lebanese Communist Party called for an immediate cease-fire and a negotiated solution for the release of prisoners on all sides.
Protests took place worldwide, including in Israel, where thousands marched in Tel Aviv, July 16, under the slogan, “Silence the cannons! Start negotiating!” The march was organized by Israeli peace groups Gush Shalom, Yesh Gvul and others.
The Communist Party of Israel called for a cease-fire and withdrawal of Israeli troops, and warned of dire consequences should the conflict involve Syria.
Many countries and organizations have charged that Israel is using “disproportionate force,” prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. Some observers suggested Israel had seized upon the capture of one of its soldiers, Gilad Shalit, by Palestinian militants as a pretext for pursuing a wider, pre-planned and vastly more destructive agenda in Gaza.
Instead of negotiating for the soldier’s release, as his family had pleaded for, the Israeli government launched a massive assault on Gaza’s civilians and infrastructure. A similar dynamic followed Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers on the border with Lebanon.
Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, said there hasn’t been enough international opposition to Israel’s actions.
An Israeli government communiqué “specifically noted the ‘low-key international response’ to its actions, giving their military freedom to conduct their operations,” she told the World.
The U.S. government bears primary responsibility, Bennis said. “The only diplomatic pressure that Israel responds to is from the U.S., and it is now clear that the Bush administration is completely behind Israel’s position of ‘no cease-fire,’ of a military and not a diplomatic solution.”
“Israel wants to do on a regional level what the U.S. is doing on a global level — namely, to attain unchallenged power, to be in control of the entire region,” she said. “That’s what the U.S. wants in Iraq.”
The Israel-Lebanon crisis overshadowed the situation in Gaza. Noura Erakat, a legal advocate with the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, told the World, “The crisis in Lebanon has eclipsed what’s going on in Gaza, which is not at all to understate the intensity of the attack on Beirut, Saida and other Lebanese cities and towns.”
She said the people of Gaza “had already been struggling simply to survive — they were already in a state of crisis — and then on top of this they were subjected to a massive military attack on their resources.” Things have only gotten worse since then, she said.
She cited Israel’s destruction of Gaza’s only power plant as contributing to what a UN agency calls a “public health disaster.”
Erakat said the U.S. should use its influence to stop Israel from committing what amounts to war crimes under the Geneva Conventions. The U.S. is Israel’s primary supplier of weaponry and economic aid.
Stop the bombing!
• Call your congressional representatives (202-224-3121) to demand that the U.S. take immediate action for a cease-fire.
• Send a letter to your local paper and speak out against the latest assaults by the Israeli government on the people of Gaza and Lebanon and for a cease-fire on all sides.
• Join or organize an emergency protest in your community.