“The number of victims is growing and the situation in Gaza is desperate. Everything possible must be done to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe. The world already witnesses so many open war fronts. Lay down weapons and heed the cries for peace from the poor, the people, and the innocent children. War solves no problems. It only sows death and destruction, increases hatred, multiplies revenge. War erases the future; it erases the future. I urge all believers to take one side only: that of peace.

Pope Francis, October 18, 2023

By Art Laffin
Pax Christi USA 2016 Teacher of Peace

The Hamas attack against Israel on October 7 and the taking of 199 hostages, and the subsequent Israeli response to that attack: the relentless bombing of Gaza, the siege of Gaza whereby water, electricity, food and fuel being cut off, the forced relocation of over one million Gazans, and now the imminent threat of an Israeli military ground invasion of Gaza, have created the conditions for a wider war in the Middle East.  With each day, the situation continues to worsen. On October 17 a hospital was bombed in Gaza. As Pope Francis declared, everything possible must be done to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe. And there is only one side to take in this conflict: the side of peace.  

Many faith-based and other peace and justice groups, including Pax Christi, have condemned the Hamas attack and the ongoing Israeli onslaught of Gaza and have called for an immediate cease fire, and for an end to the illegal siege of Gaza.  

To understand the present conflict in the Holy Land one must understand the context out of which it has occurred. An excerpt from this statement from the Leadership of Religion and Public Life at Harvard Divinity School on the current violence in Palestine/Israel clearly addresses this crucial point: 

“Start with the rockets fired into Israel by Hamas on October 7, 2023 and not with the illegal occupation of Palestinian land by Israel and the blockade of Gaza since 2007, and you have an entirely different story. We are horrified by what is unfolding in Palestine/Israel…

What we do know is that single story narratives are dangerous. To acknowledge the context out of which this latest spate of violence arises is not to diminish the pain and suffering of Israeli and Palestinian victims. We agree with UN special rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories Francesca Albanese who is “shocked and appalled” by the violence unfolding in the region and “horrified by the narrative, by the discourse, because it is possible, and necessary, to stand both with the Palestinians and the Israelis without resorting to ethical relativism, to selective outrage or worse, calls for violence.” Albanese calls for the international community to be “wise and even-handed” when confronting the result of “decades of oppression imposed on the Palestinians…”

When these “decades of oppression” are left out of the story about Hamas’ horrendous attack on Israeli civilians, a narrative about an “innocent” state of Israel’s right to “defend” itself against supposedly “unprovoked” aggression is legitimized. The reality is much more complex, and that complexity must be confronted if there is any chance to avoid endless cycles of dehumanization, destruction, and death.

In this time of sorrow and pain, may we all challenge single story narratives that justify vengeance and retaliation. Pathways out of the catastrophic events in Palestine/Israel and regionally cannot be military ones but must involve diplomacy, historical accountability, dismantling the structures of violence, and retraining the political imagination to disrupt exclusionary and ethnocentric conceptions of belonging.”

Another contextual fact to underscore is U.S. military support for Israel. The U.S. provides some $3 billion to Israel each year which has only served to continue the Israeli occupation of Palestine and exacerbate the conflict. According to the Congressional Research Service, Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. Successive administrations, working with Congress, have provided Israel with assistance reflective of robust domestic U.S. support for Israel and its security; shared strategic goals in the Middle East; a mutual avowed commitment to democratic values; and historical ties dating from U.S. support for the creation of Israel in 1948. To date, the United States has provided Israel $158 billion (current, or non-inflation-adjusted, dollars) in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding. At present, almost all U.S. bilateral aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance; from 1971 to 2007, Israel also received significant economic assistance.

It is also essential to note, that the U.S. has supported Israel in its nuclear weapons program. Israel is widely believed to possess 90 plutonium-based nuclear warheads and to have produced enough plutonium for 100-200 weapons.

Tragically, on October 18 the U.S. vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a humanitarian pause in Israel’s bombardment and siege of Gaza. Moreover, President Biden’s October 19 Oval Office speech focused on sending more weapons to Israel instead of addressing the root causes of the conflict and advocating a just peace. If there is any hope for a lasting peace in the Holy Land the U.S. must end all military aid and weapons to Israel and pursue a nonviolent and diplomatic solution to the conflict. 

In Washington, DC inspiring and courageous civil resistance actions and demonstrations, organized by Jewish Voices for Peace and other groups, including Muslim groups, have been undertaken and are being planned to call for an immediate cease-fire as a first step toward ending this conflict and establishing a just peace.

On Monday, October 16, hundreds of Jewish peace activists gathered outside the White House demanding that the Biden administration call on Israel to stop the slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. 

“Today…American Jews and allies marched to the White House to demand that President Biden use his leverage to implement a cease-fire and force Israel to halt its genocide of Palestinians in Gaza. The Jewish peace organization “If Not Now” further explained in a statement that “Today’s action represents a growing wave of Jewish, progressive, and youth leaders calling on President Biden to de-escalate the conflict, restrain Israeli aggression, and ensure the safe return of Israeli civilian hostages.” 

“Many of us are in mourning. We have loved ones who were killed and kidnapped,” said Matan Arad-Neeman, If Not Now communications director from New York City. “We’re also angry that our grief is being weaponized and that Israel is on the brink of carrying out a genocide on Palestinians in Gaza.”  As an Israeli American, he said although he is mourning alongside so many others, he does not want more violence to create more grieving Israeli or Palestinian families.

Those protesting recited Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, sang Jewish peace songs and chanted “Not in Our Name.” More than 150 people were risking arrest during the protest as they were able to block all the main White House entrances. Event organizers said about 50 people were arrested by Secret Service officers during the protest.

On October 18, hundreds of Jewish peace activists and allies held another protest at the U.S. Capitol demanding that Congress call on Israel to undertake an immediate cease fire in Gaza. Following a speaker’s program on the Mall, those in attendance marched to the Capitol. During the March, one sign in particular caught my attention: “Grandchild of Holocaust Survivors for Palestinian Lives.” 

As the rally and march was taking place, activists held a protest inside the rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building demanding that Congress pass an immediate cease-fire resolution. Some 300 people were arrested for this action.

Jewish activists participating in both protests condemned the Hamas attack on Israel and the taking of hostages. At the same time, they were very clear that this attack cannot be used to justify the total siege, mass slaughter and genocide of Palestinians. They also denounced the statement by Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant who, when ordering the siege of Gaza, described Palestinians as “human animals.” This racist dehumanizing language only serves to perpetuate Islamophobia and actions that deem Palestinians to be expendable.

Need it be said again, a Palestinian life has the same value as an Israeli life! 

I have been to the Holy Land multiple times and I have met Israelis and Palestinians who are nonviolently working to end the occupation and who believe Palestinians and Israelis can live together in peace. As a member of the U.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear whistle-blower who served an 18-year prison sentence for exposing Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program, I met Vanunu and other Israelis who are working for a nuclear-free Middle East. In 1996 I visited Gaza, including the Jabalia refugee camp that was recently bombed by the IDF. The situation was dire then. I can’t imagine the horror inflicted on these impoverished people who live in the camp now, many of them children.

Mubarak Awad, founder of Nonviolence International, recently sent out an email about the unspeakable horror taking place in the Holy Land and his positive vision for a better Palestine/Israel. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that we must choose between nonviolence and nonexistence. With the terrifying specter of escalating war, I want to share with you our positive vision for a better Palestine/Israel. But first, we must at least contain the fire of war.

Urgently demand:

  1. release of the hostages
  2. a ceasefire
  3. a resumption of water, food and fuel and
  4. political negotiations
  5. the halt to vulgar and dehumanizing language from both sides

In his recent article published in Waging Nonviolence, Mubarak writes: “I have spent my life advocating for Palestinians and Israelis to use nonviolent means to resolve their conflicts. Because Israel feared Palestinian unity and mass nonviolent action, I was expelled by the government in 1988. Since then, I have, on several occasions, personally advocated with Hamas leaders to abandon armed struggle and embrace nonviolent campaigns. Yet, today, Palestinians and Israelis are once again killing each other… 

I grieve for the unspeakable deaths in Palestine and Israel. I weep for the injured and the captured, particularly the children. In this century alone, until last week, more than 12,000 Palestinians and 2,600 Israeli have been killed in the conflict. Why can’t we stop this cycle of violence? I urge Hamas and the Israeli government to agree to an immediate ceasefire, including an immediate halt to rocket attacks towards Israel and Israeli military attacks on Gaza. Each party must stop using violence and must commit to living and working with each other as neighbors. Human life and dignity are precious. Vengeful attacks only deepen hatreds and mistrust…”

The times are extremely perilous. Mubarak is right to invoke Dr. King’s admonition of “nonviolence or nonexistence.” Now more than ever we need to heed King’s prophetic words. As we remember all Palestinian and Israeli victims who have been killed, and as Palestinians in Gaza continue to be bombed, face forced displacement and endure living in an apartheid state—all with U.S.-backed military assistance– let us act in solidarity with all who are advocating nonviolent solutions to end this tragic conflict and bring about a just peace. Let us take the side of peace, keep our eyes on the prize, and keep proclaiming Gospel Nonviolence and resisting the powers of death and destruction!

October 18, 2023, march to the U.S. Capitol (Photo by Art Laffin)

Photos from rally held on National Mall, Washington DC, on Friday, October 20

3 thoughts on “Reflection: Take the side of peace

  1. Praise to Pax Christi for the letter sent to President Biden, earlier today, co-signed by many, as well as the earnest letter by Art Ladin.
    Let’s face it, as a nation we are on the wrong side of history, specifically regarding the attitude of PM Netanyahu and Defense Minister Gallant, both of whom were reviled by thousands of Israeli’s before the start of the war. And now, younger members of the Jewish community plead for a cease fire and a recognition of the history behind the bloodshed. Ultimately, President Biden will realize that his immoral support for the Israeli slaughter of Palestinian civilians in exchange for hypothetical votes for his re-election will backfire given the ethical integrity of decent and fair-minded American Jews who feel disgust at his and the Israeli cynical and obscene weaponization of the Holocaust memory to justify the annihilation of Palestine.
    David-Ross Gerling, PhD

  2. Thank you Art Laffin. You wrote a wonderful tribute to Peace. We have heard many times that there can be no Peace without Justice. We need to remind our leaders of this and the fact that the most sophisticated weapons won’t secure Peace. I was touched and hopeful after reading Art’s words of Truth.

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