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Biden Says a Ceasefire Is Coming. Even If It Is, Our Fight Is Far From Over.

Achieving sustained peace requires pushing beyond the present violence to the systemic brutality that undergirds it.

Local residents conduct a search and rescue operation among the rubble of destroyed buildings after Israeli attacks at al-Nuseirat refugee camp in Deir al-Balah, Gaza, on February 28, 2024.

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With the death toll in Gaza surpassing 30,000 (12,000 of whom are children), with tens of thousands more missing and presumed dead under the rubble, nearly 2 million displaced, record numbers of journalists and aid workers killed, 500,000 facing what the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) called “catastrophic hunger,” a 300 percent increase in miscarriages, and an ever-building collection of additional atrocities, a permanent ceasefire to stop this genocide must be our number one priority right now. Ensuring the safety of the 130 Hamas-held hostages and the thousands of Palestinian detainees in Israel likewise underscores the urgent necessity of a permanent ceasefire.

President Joe Biden recently said that a ceasefire deal is close and he hopes one will be in place by Monday of next week. There are no indications that this is a permanent ceasefire, but even if it is, we cannot stop there.

Our focus needs to be wider. We need to think beyond a ceasefire. Achieving sustained peace requires that we push beyond the overt destruction to the systemic oppression and violence that undergirds it: to settler colonialism itself. A ceasefire is the base camp, not the summit.

In the Western world, when it comes to Israel and Palestine, the populace at large tends to view a ceasefire as a return to peace. Of course, there is no peace to return to; there is only a well-worn brand of oppression and a cycle of violence that the West is perfectly comfortable ignoring. Once a ceasefire is achieved, like it was in 2021, the mainstream news coverage recedes, the social media frenzy fades, the demonstrations slow and the plight of the Palestinian people once again moves from the center to the edges. Every time that happens, things continue to get worse. For example, before October 7, the year 2023 was already the deadliest for Palestinian children since the UN began keeping records in 2006.

Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s there were fewer than 100,000 Israelis living in illegal settlements in the West Bank. This was before the government became dominated by the settler movement. There are now more than 427,000, with an estimated 700,000 residing in illegal settlements in the occupied territories in total. Between January and June of 2023, Benjamin Netanyahu government approved a record number of 12,855 additional settler housing units. This is government-approved land theft.

Along with the rise of settlers came a precipitous rise in settler violence, with 2023 being the most violent on record, according to estimates from Israeli human rights groups. These settlers are in many ways an extension of the extremist Israeli government. Israel’s current far right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir (a man who was previously convicted of eight crimes, including incitement to racism and supporting a terrorist organization) distributed 10,000 assault rifles to settlers just this past November.

The occupation grows deeper and more oppressive with each cycle because that’s how settler colonialism progresses — unless the cycle is broken. You cannot oppress and kill your way to peace and security. While it was important in past escalations to go beyond a ceasefire, to push for an end to the occupation and all its attendant human rights abuses, it’s even more vital now.

Life in Gaza, which was entirely brutal before the siege under a suffocating blockade, has grown demonstrably worse. All of the universities in Gaza have been destroyed, with the last being reduced to rubble in what appeared to be a controlled demolition in January. There are no functional hospitals in the south and only seven partially functioning in the north. More than half of all buildings in the Strip have been damaged or destroyed. There have been many surgeries, including Caesarian sections, done without anesthesia, children’s amputations performed on kitchen tables, and a new acronym was created: wounded child, no surviving family (WCNSF). There are an estimated 24,000-25,000 children in Gaza who have lost one or both of their parents. The level of trauma is incalculable. The Palestinian people cannot afford for the world to turn away again.

The momentum behind Palestinian liberation has never been this strong, for the first time, both young people and registered Democrats sympathize more with Palestine than Israel. Beyond the numbers, you can feel and see it — on social media, in civic disruptions, at historic, globe-spanning protests. I can tell you from personal experience, as a Jewish American, that this has, historically, been a lonely cause. Not anymore.

The movement has grown considerably. We’ve all seen too much. The coverage has been democratized. While the Israeli Supreme Court recently denied a request from foreign journalists to be allowed into Gaza, the heroic independent journalists reporting from the front lines have shown the world the horrors unleashed upon them in real time. And it has made a serious impact. Just look at the Democratic primary in Michigan, where more than 100,000 people voted “uncommitted,” thanks in large part to an effort from Arab and Muslim organizers to send a message to the Biden administration about its role in Gaza.

Hamas’s attack on October 7, which killed around 1,200 people and took 253 people hostage, did not occur out of thin air. It was not a stark interruption to an otherwise peaceful cohabitation. It is in no way justifying the attack, or downplaying the loss of innocent life, to simply recognize that fact, to put it in context, to acknowledge that oppression will always bring resistance. Peace and freedom generate peace and freedom, and the inverse is also true.

The heroic anti-apartheid freedom fighters of South Africa knew this well. In 2002, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a key figure in toppling apartheid, wrote,

Israel will never get true security and safety through oppressing another people. A true peace can ultimately be built only on justice.… If our madness could end as it did, it must be possible to do the same everywhere else in the world. If peace could come to South Africa, surely it can come to the Holy Land?

Surely it can. Peace is possible. But the pressure to end this cycle of oppression and violence must withstand. Many have compared Israel’s current segregationist system to apartheid South Africa, with Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Israel-based B’Tselem all stating that Israel practices apartheid. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza do not have freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression or freedom of movement. Their lives, to a large degree, are controlled by the Israeli military, an occupying force that rules over them without representing them in any way.

Now Israel wants to exert even greater control over the besieged enclave, pushing these oppressive tactics into overdrive. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s postwar plan would exert full control over a demilitarized Gaza, playing a central role in both security and civilian affairs, as well as ending UNRWA, a lifeline for Palestinians, for good. Netanyahu and his extreme, right-wing cabinet have no interest in a one- or two-state solution, in peace or equality — they seek to dominate and subjugate.

Due to the ruling parties in Israel and the United States, it may seem like the prospect of ending the occupation and achieving peace and freedom for Palestinians is further away than it’s ever been. But this may not be the case. Movements outlast politicians. The numbers are there. The will is there. It just hasn’t reached the levers of power as of yet. There was a time when ending apartheid in South Africa seemed impossible. There’s always the same weak fear brought up as justification for sustaining oppressive systems. It was used in South Africa. It was used during chattel slavery and Jim Crow in the United States. It is predicated on the idea that once those who were oppressed are freed, they will rise up and kill their former oppressors.

Of course, history has shown us time and time again that this is not the case. When freedom is granted, freedom is accepted and celebrated. A ceasefire in Gaza, while urgent, will not equate to peace nor freedom. True peace means ending the occupation as well as the illegal seizure of land in the West Bank and the government-sponsored settler attacks that accompany it. It means ensuring equal rights and freedoms to everyone who lives in the region. This time we have to go beyond a ceasefire.

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