‘Our grief is not a weapon’: Progressive U.S. Jewish leaders demand Gaza ceasefire
Protesters calling for a ceasefire in Gaza block an entrance to the White House in Washington, Monday, Oct. 16, 2023. | Nathan Howard / AP

Protests and pleas for a ceasefire are growing worldwide to stop the bloodshed of Palestinians and end the humanitarian crisis caused by the massive bombing of Gaza ordered by Israel’s far-right government. The bombing has killed thousands of Palestinians before an anticipated Israeli ground invasion, and violence threatens to spread in the Middle East region.

Demonstrations and vigils have occurred across the U.S., and calls for a ceasefire are flooding the White House and Congressional offices. American Jewish organizations and activists protested in Washington on Oct. 16, blocking the White House entrance and demanding a ceasefire. On Oct. 18, thousands protested at the Capitol in what is being called the largest Jewish-led demonstration for peace and Palestinian rights. Over 350 demonstrators sat in at the Capitol building.

“The answer to all this grief cannot be mass murder,” declared Rabbi Miriam Grossman of Brooklyn. “The answer to this unfathomable grief can’t be denying children food and water. The answer cannot be, never was, and never will be continued occupation, apartheid, and denial of Palestinian humanity.

“That is not a path to mutual lasting safety, healing from grief, to building a future where our shared liberation is possible,” said Grossman. “We are grieving, but we are fighting to prevent genocide. Our grief is not a weapon.”

The current Israeli military assault on Gaza, unprecedented in scale and severity, was launched in the wake of Hamas’ massacre of 1,400 Israelis, most of whom were civilians, including children and infants, and the abduction of 200 Israelis on Oct. 7, the biggest terrorist attack on Israel since its founding in 1948.

In its bid to “wipe Hamas off the face of the Earth,” the Israeli military (IDF) has committed war crimes against Palestinian civilians, beginning with the collective punishment of the 2.2 million Gazans for the atrocity committed by Hamas. Israeli bombing of Gazan residential buildings, schools, hospitals, and roads is taking place in one of the most densely packed places in the world.

The IDF continued raining bombs after ordering 1.1 million Palestinians to evacuate the northern part of Gaza in 24 hours. One direct strike killed 70 Palestinians fleeing south on a flatbed truck as part of an evacuation convoy. Lack of water, food, fuel, and electricity—along with the closing of all borders—threatens the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

On Tuesday, an explosion killed as many as 500 people at al-Ahli Baptist Hospital, where thousands sought shelter from the bombing. Responsibility for the attack has not yet been determined conclusively.

Horrified family members of the abducted Israelis continue to plead for the safe return of their loved ones. Many fear for the hostages’ safety if Israel continues leveling Gaza and invades with ground troops.

“It’s striking how many family members of Israelis who were murdered or kidnapped are asking the government not to use their grief to kill more people. It seems to me that if in the worst days of their lives, they can keep their humanity, the rest of us can follow their example,” said Ami Dar, executive director of Idealist.org.

The crisis has spurred calls for urgent action to end the violence, even while denouncing Hamas’ massacre and hostage-taking. However, many Jewish peace and justice activists blast the weaponization of Israeli grief by the far-right Netanyahu government to continue the extreme nationalist project of dispossession and oppression of Palestinians, which lies at the heart of the crisis.

Palestinian and Jewish peace activists call Israel’s actions another chapter in the “Nakba,” or catastrophe in which 750,000 Palestinians were dispossessed of their land and driven into refugee camps during the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation.

Some see the Israeli far-right strategy in the current war as being aimed at permanently dispossessing Palestinians of more land. As events unfolded in Gaza, far-right Israeli settlers violently attacked Palestinian residents in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli-based progressives and peace activists called for an end to the bloodshed, condemning the Hamas massacre, Palestinian subjugation, and the Israeli military response.

“This cycle of aggression severely undermines our long-standing struggle against oppression and violence and in pursuit of full rights and equality for all residents of Israel-Palestine. At this moment, more than ever, we need support and solidarity from the global left, in the form of an unequivocal call against indiscriminate violence towards civilians on both sides,” the statement said.

Protests against the Israeli genocide of Palestinians have occurred in scores of cities in the U.S. and worldwide. Over 15,000 people marched in Chicago, thousands in Brooklyn, and more in protests elsewhere. Fifty-seven protesters were arrested outside the New York home of Democratic majority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer. Among them were rabbis and at least two descendants of Holocaust survivors.

Thirteen U.S. House of Representatives members introduced a resolution urging the Biden administration to call for an immediate de-escalation and ceasefire in Israel and occupied Palestine, to send humanitarian aid and assistance to Gaza, and to save as many lives as possible. The lawmakers denounced the Hamas massacre as a heinous act and condemned all expressions of anti-Semitism.

“I am grieving for every Palestinian, Israeli, and American life lost to this violence, and my heart breaks for all those who will be forever traumatized because of it. War and retaliatory violence doesn’t achieve accountability or justice; it only leads to more death and human suffering,” said Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., a lead sponsor of the resolution.

“The United States bears a unique responsibility to exhaust every diplomatic tool at our disposal to prevent mass atrocities and save lives. We can’t bomb our way to peace, equality, and freedom. With thousands of lives lost and millions more at stake, we need a ceasefire now.”

Several dozen faith-based organizations, including Jewish, Muslim, Christian, human rights, and peace groups, co-signed a statement calling for an immediate ceasefire. “We condemn all violence against civilians by Hamas and the Israeli military. In this critical moment, we believe it is imperative U.S. policymakers take measures to immediately de-escalate the violence to prevent the further loss of civilian life.”

Over 1,000 people joined an emergency Zoom meeting hosted by If Not Now, a progressive Jewish organization.

Another coalition of over 70 American Muslim, Arab American, South Asian American, African American, and various faith-based and civil rights organizations also called on Biden to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the pursuit of a just and lasting peace during his visit to Israel.

“The root cause of this conflict, Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, must be addressed through credible negotiations. We strongly denounce attacks on all civilians, condemn ongoing Israeli bombings in Gaza, and call on the U.S. to uphold international norms for a just and lasting peace, failing which may lead to further generations of violent conflict and instability,” said their letter.

Over 800 scholars and practitioners of international law, conflict studies, and genocide studies signed a public statement warning that Israeli military forces are perpetrating genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Signatories include prominent Holocaust and genocide studies scholars.

“Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza is quite explicit, open, and unashamed,” said Raz Segal, a Holocaust historian.

Over 2,000 U.K. artists, producers, curators, writers, D.J.s, architects, and designers condemned the mass violence in Gaza who support the “global movement against the destruction of Gaza and the mass displacement of the Palestinian people.” They said that how politicians and the media dehumanized Palestinians is part of the genocide.

They cited the U.N.’s undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, Martin Griffiths, who has said that “the specter of death” is hanging over Gaza and called for “an immediate ceasefire and the opening of Gaza’s crossings to allow humanitarian aid to enter unhindered.”

“Our governments are not only tolerating war crimes but aiding and abetting them,” the statement said.

Biden, who arrived in Israel on Wednesday, called upon the Israeli cabinet to allow humanitarian aid to reach Gaza but said that if that aid doesn’t reach Palestinians, it would be Hamas’ fault and “it will end.” He also sought to open a corridor for U.S. citizens to leave but didn’t call for a ceasefire.

“Shock, pain, rage — an all-consuming rage. I understand, and many Americans understand, Biden told the Israeli people. “But I caution this: While you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it. After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. And while we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes…The vast majority of Palestinians are not Hamas. Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people.

Some commentators said Biden’s remarks were intended to signal the U.S. is not necessarily in lockstep agreement with the right-wing Netanyahu government on every point, including, for instance, the need for a two-state solution. He mentioned the need for “a path to a Palestinian state” in remarks on 60 Minutes last week and again before departing for Israel.

While in Tel Aviv, Biden also announced $100 million in U.S. humanitarian aid for Gaza civilians. On the same day, news broke that his administration plans to ask Congress for $10 billion in fresh funding for the Netanyahu government—an amount 100 times greater than what is being offered to Gazans.

A ceasefire is only the first step toward building a just and lasting peace in the region. Ultimately, pro-democratic majorities in Israel and Palestine must prevail, and Jewish and Palestinian people must unite with the shared understanding their futures are bound together.


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John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.