While welcoming the cease-fire agreement that brought about a desperately needed pause to Israel’s 11-day assault on the besieged Gaza Strip, progressive lawmakers and Palestinian rights advocates stressed Thursday that an end to the bombing in itself will neither rebuild the devastated territory nor remedy decades of harm inflicted by the brutal Israeli occupation.
Primarily brokered by diplomats from Egypt, Qatar, and the United Nations, the deal marked a temporary reprieve for Palestinians who have been living in a state of near-constant terror for close to two weeks as Israeli war planes dropped bombs on densely populated residential areas, reduced apartment buildings to rubble, leveled the offices of media outlets, badly damaged key medical facilities, and wreaked havoc on Gaza’s fresh water and sewer systems.
“A cease-fire is necessary, but will not alone
achieve freedom, justice, and equality for all who live under Israel’s
—Rep. Rashida Tlaib
Israel’s aerial and artillery attacks ultimately killed more than 230 Palestinians, including dozens of children, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Israeli authorities said Hamas rocket attacks killed 12 people.
After the cease-fire agreement was announced late Thursday afternoon, U.S. President Joe Biden said his administration is “committed to working with the United Nations and other international stakeholders to provide rapid humanitarian assistance and to marshal international support for the people of Gaza and the Gaza reconstruction efforts.”
“I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy,” the president added.
But to help bring about such a reality, progressives argued that Biden—who dragged his feet in supporting a cease-fire, excused Israel’s assault on Gaza as self-defense, and is currently trying to sell $735 million more in weapons to the Israeli government—will have to offer far more than rhetorical commitments.
“A cease-fire is necessary, but will not alone achieve freedom, justice, and equality for all who live under Israel’s apartheid government,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the first Palestinian-American woman ever elected to Congress. “The U.S. must condition funding to uphold human rights, and end the funding entirely if those conditions are not met.”
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)—who, like Tlaib, was highly critical of Biden’s handling of the latest wave of Israeli violence in Gaza—tweeted late Thursday that “we should all be grateful that a cease-fire will prevent more civilians and children from being killed.”
“But now what?” the Minnesota Democrat asked. “We need accountability for every war crime committed. And we need to stop underwriting crimes against humanity while doing nothing to end the occupation.”
On Friday morning, after the fragile cease-fire held overnight, Gazans who were forced to flee their homes to escape Israeli airstrikes returned to their devastated neighborhoods, sifting through the ruins in search of belongings and bodies trapped under the wreckage.
“Gaza does not need your pity, it needs your
advocacy and understanding. It does not need a cease-fire, it needs a
cease-siege and cease-occupation.”
“We see such huge destruction here, it’s the first time in history we’ve seen this,” Azhar Nsair, a resident of the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, told the Associated Press. “The cease-fire is for people who didn’t suffer, who didn’t lose their loved ones, whose homes were not bombed.”
Citing an anonymous senior Biden administration official, the New York Times reported that the U.S. government intends “to be at the fore of an international response, most likely costing billions of dollars, to include restoring health and education services, and other reconstruction” in Gaza.
“Biden is expected to consider other initiatives,” the Times added. “American diplomats who had shelved the prospects of brokering a broader peace agreement between the two sides will take a new look at the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, said the senior official.”
But Palestinian rights advocates made clear that money for rebuilding efforts and gentle diplomatic prodding of the right-wing Israeli government will not be anywhere near enough to secure justice as long as forced expulsions of Palestinians from their homes continue, the 14-year blockade of Gaza remains intact, and the occupation Palestinian territory persists.
“Repeat after me: Gaza does not need your pity, it needs your advocacy and understanding,” said Laila El-Haddad, a Palestinian-American author and activist. “It does not need a cease-fire, it needs a cease-siege and cease-occupation. Our people do not need food aid, they need their freedom.”