Washington, DC – State lawmakers and Palestinian rights supporters, joined by actor and progressive advocate Cynthia Nixon, have launched a five-day hunger strike outside the White House to demand a ceasefire in Gaza.
At a news conference on Monday, the activists decried United States President Joe Biden’s role in supporting the Israeli offensive in Gaza and called for an immediate end to the fighting.
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The hunger strike adds to the growing demand for a ceasefire from activists, artists and politicians, as well as staff members working in the US government. But Biden has so far resisted such calls, voicing unwavering support for Israel.
Biden has also pledged more than $14bn in additional US aid to Israel — funds that advocates say are contributing to the Israeli violence.
The protesters at Monday’s event stressed that public opinion polls show that most Americans back a ceasefire. They also underscored the scale of the destruction in Gaza, where more than 14,800 Palestinians have died. United Nations experts have warned that the conflict puts Palestinians “at grave risk of genocide“.
“How many more Palestinians must be killed before you call for a ceasefire, President Biden? We cannot wait any longer,” said Iman Abid, an organiser with the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR).
Israel and Hamas declared a four-day truce in the conflict last week, and on Monday, officials announced the pause in fighting would continue for two additional days, to allow for the release of more Israeli captives and Palestinian prisoners.
The hunger-strikers said that the continued pause demonstrates that diplomacy — not bombs — can solve the crisis in Gaza.
Israeli leaders, however, have suggested that they will resume the bombing with more intensity once the truce expires. They have also warned residents from northern Gaza against returning to their homes.
“The area north of the Gaza Strip is a combat zone, and it is forbidden to stay there,” Israeli military spokesperson Avichay Adraee said last week.
This week’s hunger strike in Washington, DC, is organised by Palestine solidarity advocates, progressive Jewish groups as well as Arab and Palestinian-American organisations.
Here’s what some of the hunger-strikers at the White House had to say:
Today we begin a hunger strike in front of the White House demanding a permanent ceasefire. pic.twitter.com/BChpnSJX7z
— Sumaya Awad (@sumayaawad) November 27, 2023
Nixon: ‘Never again’ means never again – for anyone
Best known for her work in the TV series Sex and the City and her run in the 2018 New York governor’s race, Nixon used her speech at Monday’s event to highlight the carnage in Gaza, including the killings of dozens of journalists and UN workers as well as the destruction of entire neighbourhoods.
“Our president’s seeming disregard for the incredible human toll Israel’s far-right government is exacting on innocent civilians does not remotely reflect the desire of the overwhelming majority of Americans,” she said.
“And I would like to make a personal plea to a president — who has himself experienced such devastating personal loss — to connect with that empathy for which he is so well-known and to look at the children of Gaza and imagine that they were his children.
“We implore him that this current ceasefire must continue, and we must build off it to begin to negotiate a more permanent peace. We cannot keep letting American tax dollars aid and abet the killing and starvation of millions of Palestinians. ‘Never again’ means never again — for anyone.”
Delaware lawmaker Madinah Wilson-Anton: Majority of Americans want ceasefire
Wilson-Anton, a Muslim American legislator from Biden’s home state of Delaware, said that while she is anxious about abstaining from food for several days, her thoughts are with the people of Gaza who are experiencing a massacre with no choice or end in sight.
“The majority of Americans are for a permanent ceasefire. And it’s unfortunate that our president and our congressional members are not being responsive to what’s important to Delawareans and Americans from all states,” Wilson-Anton, a Democrat, said.
“And so I’m hoping that, this week, we’ll be successful in gaining the ear of our president and of our congressional members, so they can actually start to use their privilege and position to negotiate a ceasefire that is lasting.”
New York State Representative Zohran Mamdani: Negotiations, not war, freed captives
Mamdani hailed the release of Israelis held by Hamas and Palestinians imprisoned by Israel during the truce.
“We are hunger striking for a world where everyone is with their family. And it is a world that can only be made possible through a ceasefire. It is not war that brought us these reunifications. It is negotiations; it is a cessation [of hostilities],” he said.
“We hunger-strike not because we want to. We hunger-strike because we have been forced by this president and by our government’s foreign policy. We hunger-strike because Palestinians have been doubted in life and death, and their experience has been erased.”
Activist Rana Abdelhamid: Dehumanising rhetoric normalises Palestinian deaths
Abdelhamid, a New York organiser, linked the killing of Palestinians in Gaza to a rise in prejudice against Arabs and Muslims in the US. She pointed to Saturday’s shooting of three Palestinian students in a suspected hate crime as an example.
“As someone who has been organising against hate-based violence across this country, I’m fully aware that the violence and the anti-Palestinian rhetoric that we’re seeing abroad is also impacting us here in the United States. Those two things are inextricably linked,” Abdelhamid said.
“When our elected [officials] and our politicians and our representatives are continuously dehumanising Palestinian people, are normalising Palestinian deaths, we get what we got two days ago. We get three Palestinian students in Vermont being shot for simply wearing a keffiyeh, for simply speaking Arabic.”
Palestinian-American writer and advocate Sumaya Awad: The US is complicit
Awad stressed that the US is “complicit” in the ongoing violence against Palestinians. She added that the conflict also has domestic ramifications in the US.
“I’m Palestinian and I’m a New Yorker. I’m an American and I’m a mother of a 16-month-old, and I’m on hunger strike to illustrate to our government just a sliver, a fragment of what Palestinians are enduring in Gaza every single day,” Awad said.
“I am on hunger strike to demand a permanent ceasefire and to say that we will continue to pressure our government in every way possible to get that permanent ceasefire because we are not just silent observers. We are complicit in what is happening in Palestine.
“We are on hunger strike because what’s happening in Gaza is not something far away that we have nothing to do with. It has real impacts on our lives here in the US.”