‘For God’s sake, save Gaza’ – millions take up the call for a ceasefire, peace and justice
‘We believe that peace is the only option... To achieve this, steps must be taken now. We therefore call on all parties to exercise restraint and on all state actors to desist from providing weapons to either of the sides to the conflict’ (President Cyril Ramaphosa, 21 October 2023).
This weekend, as Israel Defense Forces bombs rained down on the Gaza Strip and the death toll of Palestinian civilians mounted to nearly 5,000 people, including more than 100 children a day according to the United Nations, calls for an immediate ceasefire grew from ordinary people of all faiths, races, nationalities and classes in countries across the world. A new report by a UN commission of inquiry, chaired by former South African judge Navi Pillay, confirms that “civilians are the primary victims”.
In the most recent outbreak of violence, thousands of Israelis and Palestinians have died since Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip on 7 October and the Israeli strikes on the Palestinian enclave which followed it.
And as the world witnesses each new massacre, anger and anguish are growing and fuelling a global protest movement for peace and justice. An estimated 100,000 people marched in London. Several thousand people marched in Cape Town.
Days before in Washington, DC, Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow had organised protests outside the US Capitol buildings. According to Ryan Grim, writing in The Intercept: “In the US, support is growing for a ceasefire. More than 400 staff members on Capitol Hill have circulated a letter urging their bosses to back one.”
There are also growing demonstrations across Europe, Asia and the Americas. All the marches were peaceful.
Greta Thunberg has spoken out and when Liverpool Football Club took the field at Anfield Stadium on Sunday a banner was held up by fans at the famous Kop that read “For God’s Sake Save Gaza”. Liverpool’s globally revered striker, Mo Salah, made a large donation to support humanitarian aid, and wrote:
“The escalation in recent weeks is unbearable to witness. All lives are sacred and must be protected. The massacres need to stop.”
In parallel with demonstrations, petitions are garnering unprecedented support.
In the coming days an open letter signed by several thousand senior health workers from across the world will be published in The Lancet. It states:
“As global health professionals we act in kinship with fellow humans. We recognise that ‘there is no hierarchy in pain and suffering’. Because we are human, we witness the deep pain and suffering: the Israeli and Palestinian civilians who have been killed or injured are all our parents, grandparents, siblings, and children. We share the call for ‘unconditional humanity’ in Gaza and to guarantee health through peace.”
The hypocrisy of supporting rights of self-determination for the people of Ukraine and denying it to the people of Palestine.
In addition, more than 250,000 people have supported a petition by #CeasefireNow on change.org, and the signatories are rising by the minute. A civil society-organised petition calling for an immediate ceasefire has been signed by 550 human rights organisations across 75 countries, “the largest I’ve seen” according to one of the people who initiated it.
The people are speaking! But their elected politicians are not listening.
Rein in the masters of war
Thankfully, unlike South Africa’s often muddled position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s statement to the Cairo peace conference, should be commended and supported by all people in South Africa. In particular we applaud his call “on all state actors to desist from providing weapons to either of the sides to the conflict”.
But herein lies the problem.
Peace would seem an obvious option. Surveys and opinion polls show it is the people’s choice all over the world. But political elites have an agenda of their own. National security adviser Sydney Mufamadi points out that “practitioners of statecraft have an obligation to listen to the people”. That, after all, is the essence of democracy.
Instead of actively pursuing peace we witness the hypocrisy of providing billions of dollars in arms to Israel and a few millions in aid to the victims of Washington-funded bombs; the hypocrisy of supporting rights of self-determination for the people of Ukraine and denying it to the people of Palestine.
We believe that the Israel/Palestine conflict is only as ‘intractable’ as the forces that benefit from perpetuating it, be they the arms industry, or religious or political zealots of whatever faith or ideology.
As with the war in the Ukraine, in addition to the butcher Putin, there are powerful political and economic forces who do not want peace and who benefit from death and division. The global arms industry in particular has purchased powerful sway over governments such as the US, the UK and Israel. It is already riding high on deepening geopolitical tensions and, as this headline in an Israeli tech magazine reports: “Arms manufacturers’ stocks surge worldwide following Hamas attack.” The article records that “in Israel, the stock of the largest public defence company, Elbit Systems, trading at a market value of NIS 35 billion, surged by 37% since the year began”.
There’s big money to be made in war and the influence of these companies cannot be discounted from inflammatory statements made by US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and others. As former South African MP Andrew Feinstein has shown through extensive research and experience, the arms industry is the most corrupt in the world and has mastered state capture.
Finding solutions – but how and where?
Over the weekend several writers in South Africa drew parallels between the miracle of our negotiated settlement and the possibility for peace in Israel/Palestine.
It’s not too late.
We believe that the Israel/Palestine conflict is only as “intractable” as the forces that benefit from perpetuating it, be they the arms industry, or religious or political zealots of whatever faith or ideology. It is only “intractable” in the face of misinformation and disinformation that spreads fear intended to cause hatred and deepen division.
Neither Israel or Palestine can “win” this war. Therefore peace and long-term solutions lie within the framework of existing international law and the multilateral institutions under the UN that emerged from World War 2, the world’s last great conflagration. For these reasons, as I write, civil society organisations from across the world are preparing a new petition to governments calling for the convening of a special session of the UN Human Rights council “to prevent further violations of international humanitarian and human rights law”.
This is an ultimate test for the UN, and one it needs to succeed with.
The solution doesn’t lie in redrawing colonial borders, it lies in acceptance of universal human rights and dignity, the values and principles that were built into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 75 years ago, ironically the same year that Israel was founded. It lies in respect for the Geneva Conventions, where “collective punishment” is explicitly prohibited.
The challenge people of the world face today, however, is not waiting for another genocide and regional war, then learning our lessons after millions of deaths. It is in all of us doing all we can to prevent this conflict from developing any further.
Although thousands of lives have already been lost, we should not assume that genocide is inevitable and wait for it to unfold.
That is why, at this moment, amplifying calls for a ceasefire now and escalating people’s protests for peace, human rights and justice – making protests an assertion of what unites us – is the challenge across the world and South Africa. Find ways to stand up for peace, justice, equality and freedom. Millions of people’s lives, and world peace, depend on it. DM