Call it Genocide: A Call for Ceasefire

Photo by Peter Byrne.

It’s Sunday in downtown Santa Rosa, and people of all sizes, shapes, shades and ages gather, chanting “Free Gaza,” holding homemade signs: ”Stop bombing Gaza”, “I speak for the mothers who have been silenced.”, “Not in our Name”, “Ceasefire Now”, “How many dead is enough?”, ”Stop the Genocide”. Many cars passing honk in support; Israel’s war on Gaza is not popular on main street, no more than is Hamas war on Israel.

It’s Sunday in Sonoma County, and 10,000 miles away bombs Made in America rain on the besieged people of Gaza and the death toll surpasses 10,000, and nearly half of the exploded dead are children. Can protesting make a difference, protesters ask each other?

The day before, on Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people around the country marched demanding, or more precisely begging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Joe Biden to order a cease fire in Gaza, to stop the massacre of non-combatants, to stop the genocide.

It’s Sunday in Courthouse Square and a gentle November rain caresses the faces of 200 grieving people as they cease chanting slogans and coalesce into a circle. There is a silence as if a silent prayer of compassion can somehow end the slaughter of a population with nowhere to flee, and, yes, many are calling it genocide.

Genocide is an all-too-familiar global phenomenon rooted as it is in state-sponsored dehumanization and murder of a distinctly articulated people, such as Native Americans, Blacks, Uyghurs, Cambodians, Armenians, Tutsis, Rohingyas, Jews, Palestinians.

It includes vigilante and state enforced dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their lands, industrialized mass incarceration based on birth, state planned starvation and denial of water, electricity and medical care. Most profoundly, genocide aims at exterminating children, the countless generations-not-to-be.

“We are imposing a complete siege on Gaza. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything will be closed. We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly,” said Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Oct. 9.

But this time the whole world is watching events unfold in real time. No excuse can be made for not knowing or for failing to object, say protestors.

Rachel Marcus, a Jewish woman, grasps a bullhorn to speak of why she calls what Israel is doing to the people of occupied Palestine “genocide.” But first, Marcus acknowledges that the site of this protest is taking place upon land that was violently ripped away from Coast Miwok, Southern Pomo and Wappo people by European settlers.

Marcus recalls how, growing up in a Jewish family and community, it was not until adulthood that she realized that the world has suffered, is suffering many holocausts. “The pain and grief of Jewish people is specific but it is not exceptional. … May we, instead, mobilize our pain and our grief to be in a stance of solidarity and interconnection, rather than embracing a politics of fear, nationalism and Jewish exceptionalism,” she says.

Hanan, a Palestinian woman living in the US with her children recalls the humiliation of how on her wedding day she had to pass through an Israeli Army checkpoint to reach her reception because she is Palestinian. She objects to the “trick question” often posed to Palestinians in the diaspora. “You want us to denounce Hamas? OK. Fine. Now what? If we denounce Hamas will you finally say that we are human? If we denounce something that the vast majority of us have zero connections to and no control over, will you proclaim ‘ceasefire’?’” Hanan asks.

A Palestinian man standing in the circle speaks so softly of the death of his loved ones in Gaza, that the formation moves in toward him to witness and offer close support. He says, “I take comfort that even a tiny protest has an impact when multiplied by thousands.”

There is a weight of grief that demands action. Sonoma County for Palestine, the organizers of the protest, call out: “We demand safe passage for humanitarian aid like food, water and medical supplies into Gaza—these war crimes are unconscionable. We demand that Representative Jared Huffman and Representative Mike Thompson call for an immediate ceasefire by endorsing H.R. 786 (Rep. [Cori] Bush).”

But on Sunday, neither Huffman nor Thomson was present in Santa Rosa to hear the grief and hopes of their constituents. Declining comment, they refer journalists to press releases proclaiming that they stand with Biden and Netanyahu in opposing a ceasefire. But this tune could change if politicians and their funding sources are pressured—if the politicians start to lose elections because ordinary people oppose genocide, protestors remark, and they are not alone.

On Nov. 2, a panel of United Nations experts concluded, “We remain convinced that the Palestinian people are at grave risk of genocide. The time for action is now. Israel’s allies also bear responsibility and must act now to prevent its disastrous course of action.” Now obviously means not after an election, after Gaza is made burnt and barren.

On Nov. 3, the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights delivered a letter to members of Congress putting them on notice that if they vote to fund the war on Gaza, “You risk facing criminal and civil liability for aiding and abetting genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity under international law, and may face investigation and prosecution at the International Criminal Court, and in third-states under the principle of universal jurisdiction.”

Neither Huffman nor Thompson responded to requests for comment on the possibility of prosecution for complicity with the Gaza genocide. Nor would Huffman clarify his relationship to his single largest campaign donor in 2021-2022, J Street PAC, which is lobbying Congress to approve $3.8 billion in the pipeline plus “emergency” military funding for buying Gaza-destined tanks, bombs and bullets.

Nor did Huffman explain if his acceptance of tens of thousands of dollars in campaign monies made by his most consistent donor—weapons dealer Honeywell International, which services the Israeli military—has anything to do with his opposition to a ceasefire on Gaza before, as the protestors fear, the children are all dead.