Calls grow for U.S. action on Gaza ceasefire

As the United Nations Security Council called for an immediate Gaza ceasefire, Jewish and Arab American groups urged the Bush administration and other nations to act to stop the escalating violence.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said “all parties directly involved” must “immediately work to end hostilities on all sides and arrive at a new ceasefire agreement.” The ADC called on the U.S. government to “exert immediate pressure on its ally Israel to halt attacks on Gaza's population.”

J Street, the Jewish American lobbying group, began a petition campaign demanding that the United States “intervene to bring about an immediate resumption of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.”

The Jewish group, which advocates for a two-state solution, called for “immediate and strong U.S.-led diplomatic efforts to urgently reinstate a meaningful ceasefire that ends all military operations, stops the rockets aimed at Israel and lifts the blockade of Gaza. This is in the best interests of Israel, the Palestinian people and the United States.”

The Israeli aerial bombing of densely populated Gaza, which began Dec. 27, is reported to have killed more than 300 people and injured well over 1,000, including children. A UN aid official on Saturday called the humanitarian crisis there “absolutely disastrous,” CNN reported.

“Similar attacks in the past have failed to make Israeli citizens any safer and resulted in increased support of Hamas extremists,” the ADC noted.

During the ceasefire that began this past summer, rocket attacks by Hamas had greatly diminished, the American Arab group pointed out. But, although Israel relaxed its blockade of Gaza slightly, it never ended the blockade. Israel escalated the situation in early November by killing 4 Palestinians in Gaza, in the bloodiest violation of the ceasefire, the ADC said. “The month that followed brought a return of a suffocating siege on the civilians of Gaza and rocket attacks against southern Israel.”

The tightened Israeli blockade left many of Gaza's 1.5-million inhabitants without sufficient food, water, fuel or medicine. More than half of Gaza’s population is under the age of 16. The UN has listed Gaza as the most densely populated area in the world with a population density that is higher than that of Manhattan in New York City.

Before the current Israeli attacks, the ADC said, over 850 Palestinians had been killed by Israel since the 2007 Annapolis summit, compared to fewer than 20 Israelis killed by rocket fire from Gaza since 2000. “The disproportionate nature of this latest round of violence … continues to fan the flames of discontent in the Arab and Muslim worlds,” the group said.

The Bush administration thus far has expressed uncritical support for the Israeli airstrikes. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday blamed Hamas alone for the renewal of violence in Gaza. White House spokesperson Gordon Johndroe said, 'These people are nothing but thugs, so Israel is going to defend its people against terrorists like Hamas that indiscriminately kill their own people.'

The ADC criticized the Bush administration’s response for placing “all blame on Hamas with no mention of Israel's disproportionate and continuing bombardment of Gaza.”

The administration’s stance “ignored American national and economic interests in addition to international humanitarian law and the laws of war,” the ADC said.

In an e-mail message to supporters, J Street’s Isaac Luria wrote, “While there is nothing ‘right’ in raining rockets on Israeli families or dispatching suicide bombers, there is nothing ‘right’ in punishing a million and a half already-suffering Gazans for the actions of the extremists among them.

“The United States, the Quartet, and the world community must not wait — as they did in the Israel-Lebanon crisis of 2006 — for weeks to pass and hundreds or thousands more to die before intervening,” he continued. “There needs to be an urgent end to the new hostilities that brings a complete end to military operations, including an end to the rocket fire out of Gaza, and that allows food, fuel and other civilian necessities into Gaza.”

Luria added, “The need for diplomatic engagement goes beyond a short-term ceasefire. Eight years of the Bush administration's neglect and ineffective diplomacy have led us directly to a moment when the prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hang in the balance and with them the prospects for Israel's long-term survival.

“Following a renegotiated ceasefire, we urge the incoming Obama administration to lead an early and serious effort to achieve a comprehensive diplomatic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts.”

The ADC sent letters to President Bush, President-elect Obama, Secretary of State Rice, and the Israeli ambassador in Washington calling for an immediate end of hostilities on all sides.

The UN Security Council statement called on all parties to address 'the serious humanitarian and economic needs in Gaza.'

It urged them to take necessary measures, including opening border crossings, to ensure Gaza's people were supplied with food, fuel and medical treatment.

The council 'stressed the need for the restoration of calm in full' to open the way for a Palestinian-Israeli political solution.

Other Jewish and Arab American groups that are calling for a renewed ceasefire include Brit Tzedek v’Shalom (Jewish Alliance for Peace and Justice), Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Task Force on Palestine.

suewebb @ pww.org