Keep pressing Congress for ceasefire in Gaza, groups say

American groups calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza say phone calls flooding Congress on the issue are having an impact. They urge the public to continue to press for stepped up U.S. involvement to achieve a peaceful solution.

Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Peace and Justice, said its supporters, together with those of the advocacy group J Street, made more than 4,000 phone calls asking the House and Senate to include what the groups call their “pro-Israel, pro-peace message” in resolutions on the Israel-Gaza crisis. They urged Congress to call for an immediate ceasefire, to acknowledge the suffering on both sides, and to demand U.S. leadership in reinvigorating the peace process.

Resolutions passed by the House and Senate last week placed all blame on Hamas and did not mention Israel’s blockade of Gaza as a factor in the current crisis. However, Brit Tzedek noted, the resolutions also called for “a durable, enforceable, and sustainable ceasefire as soon as possible,” a stand that had earlier been opposed by congressional leaders. In addition to condemning the attacks on Israel, the resolutions recognized the humanitarian needs of the residents of Gaza and called for long-term improvement in their daily living conditions.

Finally, the resolutions recognize the need for “United States Government efforts to promote a just resolutions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a serious and sustained peace process that leads to the creation of a viable and independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure State of Israel.” Brit Tzedek called the inclusion of this statement “highly significant, because it highlights the only path forward after a ceasefire is reached to reach a sustainable peace resolution.”

“Collectively our voices changed the status quo,” Brit Tzedek said. “The demands of the pro-Israel, pro-peace camp were heard and taken seriously.

Likewise, Churches for Middle East Peace, sent out a thank-you “to all of you who flooded Congress these past two weeks with thousands of calls and letters in support of an immediate and comprehensive cease-fire in Gaza and southern Israel.”

“Your advocacy made a difference!” the ecumenical group said. It pointed to “constructive floor statements” by numerous lawmakers, and key improvements made to the congressional resolutions that passed last week. It noted that 24 members of Congress, lead by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), also wrote a letter to President Bush on Friday to express their “deep concern for the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip that threatens the lives of countless innocent Palestinians.”

Meanwhile, 60 members and leaders of the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities in Greater Boston issued a statement Jan. 12 calling for a Gaza ceasefire.

Signers included rabbis, former presidents of Hebrew College and the Jewish Community Relations Council, top local officials of the Episcopal Church, Massachusetts Council of Churches, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church and the Unitarian Universalist Association, the president of Andover Newton Theological School, local imams and the leadership of the Muslim American Society of Boston.

The statement, published in the Boston Globe’s “Articles of Faith” religion column Jan. 12, acknowledged “the long, complex, and painful history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Noting that “violence by any side begets more violence, hatred, and retaliation,” the signers rejected “use of inflammatory rhetoric that demonizes the other and is intended, or is likely, to promote hatred and disrespect.”

“We believe the conflict can be resolved only through a political and diplomatic solution and not a military one,” the interfaith statement said.

It called on the U.S. and the international community “immediately to intercede to help reestablish a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, toward the goal of a permanent cessation of hostilities.”

It continued:

“We call upon Hamas immediately to end all rocket attacks on Israel, and upon Israel immediately to end its military campaign in Gaza

“We call for an immediate end to all strikes on civilian centers and citizens, both Israeli and Palestinian

“We call for lifting of the blockade on Gaza as to all non-military goods, for an immediate and significant increase in humanitarian aid to address the needs of the people of Gaza, and for all parties involved to join in taking responsibility to address those human needs

“We call on all parties involved in the conflict to work sincerely and vigorously toward a just and lasting peace that addresses and promotes the national aspirations of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples

“We call on President-elect Obama to make clear that as President he will urgently assert US leadership to achieve a comprehensive diplomatic resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts.”