Palestinian and Israeli Communists tell U.S. audience: Fight for ceasefire now
Taylor Dorrell / People's World

NEW YORK—Two Communist leaders, one Palestinian and one Israeli, brought the same message to a U.S. audience this week: The time for a ceasefire in Gaza is now, and solidarity from the American peace movement is key to achieving it.

In back-to-back video appearances on two separate days, Aqel Taqaz, the International Secretary of the Palestinian People’s Party, and Aida Touma-Suleiman, a Member of the Knesset for the Communist Party of Israel, spoke to activists gathered in Manhattan and watching online for the Communist Party USA Peace Conference.

Taqaz addressed the meeting on Sunday, Nov. 12, preceded by Touma-Suleiman the day prior.

Aqel Taqaz, the International Secretary of the Palestinian People’s Party.

Speaking from inside the occupied West Bank, Taqaz surveyed the decades of oppression and occupation that the Palestinian people have suffered at the hands of the Israeli military, stretching all the way back to the original Nakba, or “Catastrophe,” of 1948—when more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were forcibly expelled from their homes to make way for the founding of the Israeli state.

“There was the Nakba, the Six-Day War of 1967, the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the first Intifada (Uprising) of 1987, and then the so-called Oslo Accords of 1993,” Taqaz recalled. “Oslo was mediated by the U.S., and it was supposed to lead to a Palestinian state after five years of negotiations.”

Thirty years later, he said, “Here we are, no results, and another war.”

“Biden expresses his support to Netanyahu,” Taqaz said, “even knowing he’s an extreme right leader with fascists in his cabinet.” Looking at the actions of the Israeli leadership, Taqaz said, “They have given Palestinians in Gaza three choices: 1. Get out; 2. Be killed; or 3. Accept the occupation forever.”

As the world witnesses the brutality of the current assault, Taqaz pointed out that this is actually the fifth Israeli war against Gaza since 2005 and that the entire territory has been under siege for years.

“Thousands were killed, tens of thousands injured, and hundreds of thousands left without homes—all before Oct. 7th,” he said, referring to the date last month when Hamas militants launched attacks on Israel.

“This is just Israel’s latest war,” Taqaz lamented. He argued that the events of Oct. 7th were used by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an excuse to “launch a major aggression and genocide against the Palestinian people.”

Terror and the pretext for war

Aida Touma-Suleiman, a Member of the Knesset for the Communist Party of Israel on the Hadash List.

Touma-Suleiman, a Palestinian Israeli citizen who’s been a member of the country’s parliament since 2015, worked through some of the complexities of the political situation in Israel, Gaza, and the occupied Palestinian territories as she attempted to communicate to the Peace Conference how things have developed over the last several weeks.

She began with Oct. 7th, condemning the “horrific attacks” of Hamas, which she said Netanyahu has used as justification for his war on Gaza.

Recounting the killing of 1,200 “civilians, children, women, and elderly people” by Hamas, as well as the more than 200 who were kidnapped, she said the attacks “brought a lot of shock, anger, and sadness to Israeli society.”

There were widespread “calls for revenge,” Touma-Suleiman told the conference, and Netanyahu and his right-wing ministers took advantage of those feelings.

“They used Oct. 7th as a pretext to launch this war,” she said. “It was clear since the establishment of this government [in 2022] that Netanyahu and his coalition were moving toward the liquidation of the Palestinian people’s right to exist.

“They were already acting quickly to annex more and more Palestinian land to Israel [before the Hamas attacks], and now they think under the cover of this war, they can implement all their plans.”

Aida Touma-Sliman speaks to activists at the CPUSA Peace Conference. | Photo courtesy of CPUSA

Touma-Suleiman didn’t hold back in criticizing the Israeli government and military. “What is happening in Gaza right now is ethnic cleansing,” she declared. “When they say, ‘Head south or be bombed,’ what they are doing is pushing these people toward the Egyptian border.”

Referring to leaked plans to “resettle” all of Gaza’s Palestinian residents in the Sinai desert, Touma-Suleiman said, “What we’re seeing is a continuation of the Nakba of 1948.”

Just as “nothing that happened before Oct. 7th can legitimize what was carried out [by Hamas] that day,” Touma-Suleiman argued that “nothing this right-wing Netanyahu government says can legitimize the war crimes it is committing.”

Some at the conference saw similarities between what Touma-Suleiman described and events in the United States after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Joe Sims, National Co-chair of the CPUSA, recalled the period after the World Trade Center was brought down by Osama bin Laden and how the entire political initiative was seized by the far right.

“The parallels are striking,” Sims said, “Osama hit the towers and then Bush invaded Iraq, and there ensued years of war, with over 300,000 civilians dead.” He remembered how some critics of U.S. imperialism initially justified or even celebrated the attacks—until they were reminded that it was civilians and workers who were killed that day.

Picking up on Touma-Suleiman’s comments, he said a similar dynamic was at work following the Hamas attacks. “There was that terrible day on Oct. 7th…The killings and counter-killings…the number of dead now in the tens of thousands and the terror on both sides, which you have to say because that’s what happened.”

Netanyahu and the fascists who populate his cabinet, seized the moment to pursue what they had already wanted to do—just like President George W. Bush did after 9/11.

Tightening the screws on the West Bank

Though the flattening of hospitals, bombing of apartments, and outright mass murder in Gaza are capturing the attention of media cameras, both Taqaz and Touma-Suleiman said that it’s also important to watch what’s happening in the occupied West Bank. Strict curfews, blockaded roads, and open Israeli violence have brought life to a standstill for Palestinians there.

“Almost 200 people have been killed by the army or settlers, over 1,000 people have fled their homes after being attacked by illegal Israeli settlers, and more than 6,000 have been arrested,” Touma-Suleiman reported.

Taqaz himself navigates the humiliating and arbitrary nature of Israeli occupation every day as a resident of the West Bank. With multiple roadblocks and checkpoints on every thoroughfare, Taqaz said that going to work or a simple appointment can turn into an all-day affair.

“To go to a clinic near Jerusalem, just 30km [18 miles] away, took me hours,” he said. Even that he only dares attempt in daylight hours.

“With this war underway, the Israeli settlers in the West Bank are bolder, attacking Palestinians more and more—especially at night,” Taqaz revealed. “It is very dangerous for a Palestinian to be out after dark.”

Silencing the anti-war movement inside Israel

The Israeli government’s repressive policies aren’t just imposed on Palestinians, though; they’re also deployed within the country against anyone who dares to speak out against the war.

“Inside Israel, there is almost no possibility of organizing even one demonstration to stop this war,” Touma-Suleiman said. “They are terrorizing and silencing all of us who want to stop it.” She reported that several of her party comrades have been detained by the authorities for trying to organize or attend protests.

When a group attempted to organize demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, they were “all arrested, interrogated…and brutally and violently attacked by police.”

The mass distribution of guns to Israeli civilians under the direction of Minister of National Security Benjamin Ben-Gvir has further escalated the danger for anyone who dissents. “Tens of thousands of weapons have been passed out under the claim of ‘protecting the citizens of Israel’…and they’re in the hands of fascist activists.”

Settlers and other right-wing ideologues have been the first to collect weapons under Ben-Gvir’s scheme, essentially creating ethno-nationalist religious militias.

Under Israeli law, Touma-Suleiman explained, only citizens who have served in the armed forces are allowed to possess weapons. And since only Jewish citizens are obliged to serve in the military and there are almost no Arabs in the Israel Defense Forces, that means a single ethnic-religious group amid a spiraling conflict—a recipe that has led to vigilante forms of ethnic cleansing in other times and places.

“They are armed, and they’re willing to act at any moment against anyone who raises a voice against this war,” Touma-Suleiman said.

She chillingly described the equation that’s opening the way to more violence against Arab Israelis, Palestinians, and peace activists: “Fear plus arms plus incitement equals murder.”

A wider war

As if the mass death and expulsions underway in Gaza are not enough, both of the speakers warned that a much wider and even more lethal conflict could explode if action is not taken to secure a ceasefire in Gaza now.

Aqel Taqaz addresses the CPUSA Peace Conference. | Photo courtesy of CPUSA
Fifth Photo: CPI at Peace Conference

“Every day there is further escalation,” according to Taqaz. “Israel’s war against Palestinians is threatening to bring other countries into a general war—Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and more.”

With the U.S. already having stationed aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean and fired missiles into Yemen since the Gaza war began, Taqaz fears the fuse has been lit. “There is also the danger that other big powers, like Russia and China, could be pulled in.”

The war has already come to Touma-Suleiman’s neighborhood. She lives in northern Israel, close to the Lebanese border. “All morning, we hear the shells and the bombs heading out of Israel and into Lebanon.”

She said that in the beginning, the Biden administration thought it could protect U.S. imperialist interests in the Middle East by joining the Israeli government in its war, “but I’m telling you, we are on the verge of a regional war, even an international war.

“It’s going to be a total disaster.”

The only way out

Both of the two Communist speakers argued that the only hope for long-term peace in the region is a political solution—not a military one.

Taqaz said he believes that the international community, led by the U.N., must come together to address the question of the Palestinian people’s future. The U.S., he said, no longer has any legitimacy to play the role of mediator as it did in Oslo in 1993. “The past has shown that the U.S. is not neutral, it is participating in the killing.”

“We see day after day that there is no solution except a political agreement between the two peoples, Palestinian and Israeli, to end the continuous occupation” and establish a viable Palestinian state, Touma-Suleiman said.

“No militaristic action can bring a solution to this region, neither by one side nor the other,” she stated. Netanyahu and the fascist elements who surround him are deluded if they think “even their [planned] genocide will ever end this situation.”

Turning to their listeners in the U.S., both speakers said that international solidarity and political pressure on the White House is what’s needed now.

“Antony Blinken keeps saying it is not yet time for a ceasefire,” Taqaz said, referring to the U.S. Secretary of State, “but that just means giving Israel more time to destroy Gaza and kill thousands more Palestinians.”

He expressed appreciation for the millions of people around the world “who have already been going into the streets to show their support for the Palestinian people and pressure their leaders” to stop backing Netanyahu.

Touma-Suleiman encouraged the peace movement in the U.S. to keep a ceasefire at the top of the agenda, followed by an exchange of hostages and prisoners and an end to political repression in both the occupied territories and Israel.

“Ultimately,” she said, “we need to push for ending the occupation of Palestine by Israel.” And pointing to the socially corrosive effects of living in a colonizing state, the next task would be to “free the Israeli people from being occupiers.”

Suspension postscript

On Wednesday, three days after addressing the CPUSA Peace Conference, Touma-Suleiman was suspended from the Knesset for two months for criticizing the Israeli military’s actions in Gaza. In video remarks announcing she’d just been removed from the legislature, Touma-Suleiman said:

“In the only democracy in the Middle East, a parliamentarian who is representing almost 20% of the citizens of Israel is not allowed to speak out. And why is that? Because I raised questions about the war, because I’m against the war and against hurting civilians from both sides.”

Despite the suspension, she remained defiant and pledged to continue speaking out for peace. “I promise you,” Touma-Suleiman declared, “my values…will be heard. Nobody can silence me.”





C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left.