Rainbow Rant: Ceasefire brings some relief but Palestinian suffering continues

To take a meaningful step toward peace, Congress must block the sale of weapons to Israel

Joy Ellison
A 2007 demonstration in At-Tuwani

A prayer recently rang out through the streets of Gaza. “Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar,” chanted crowds of Palestinians. The phrase “Allahu akbar” is no threat or curse, and reason for fear, as so many Americans assume. They are sacred words, said by Muslims and Christians alike. They mean “God is great.” 

In huge, outdoor celebrations, Palestinians cried “God is great” to give thanks for surviving 11 days of Israeli bombing. Mothers squeezed their children. Young people whooped and hollered. An older sister made the baby dance. A father marched through the streets with his child on his shoulders. The relief was real, but this ceasefire is no ceasefire.

Yes, the Israeli assault on Gaza has ended and Hamas has stopped its volley of rockets. The political import is undeniable; any Palestinian will tell you that. But they will also tell you that the Israeli military occupation of Palestine continues. Bullets are still flying at Palestinians, along with tear gas canisters, percussion grenades and billy clubs. Even with a cease fire in place, Palestinian life under Israeli military occupation is brutal. I know this because I have lived it. 

From 2007 to 2010, I worked in the small Palestinian village of At-Tuwani. Located near the southern tip of the West Bank, it is a quiet, beautiful place where poppies bloom in the springtime, gazelles bound over the hills and ancient olive trees keep watch like ancestors. The people of At-Tuwani love their home and love visitors; an army of men, women, and children stand ready to shake the hands of guests, pour mint tea and serve bread, yogurt, olives and more. Living in At-Tuwani was a pleasure and an honor. It was also the hardest thing I have ever done, because the Israeli military occupation never pauses. 

The people of At-Tuwani live under constant threat of violence at the hands of Israeli soldiers and right-wing Israeli settlers. During my time there, I witnessed Palestinian school children attacked by adult Israeli settlers, not once, but regularly. I stood beside Palestinian and Israeli activists in nonviolent demonstrations to which Israeli soldiers responded with brutal beatings. My dear friend was tortured by Israeli soldiers for four hours, for doing nothing more than grazing his sheep. Acts of violence, big and small, accumulated and added up to a system Israeli human rights organizations have called apartheid.  

In the intervening years, I’ve stayed in contact with my friends in the village and watched the children with whom I played grow into adults. My neighbor, Sami Huraini, has a beard now, but I still remember the day he used the occasion of a minor car accident as an excuse to empty our first aid kit, wrapping his uninjured head in gauze and demanding we take photos. Now he holds nonviolent demonstrations with Israeli peace activists and international visitors from around the world. For this work, he said he has been targeted by the Israeli army, arrested, fined heavily and banned from further protests. Recently, Huraini said Israeli settlers set fire to a cave where he held meetings with youth activists.

In Huraini’s eyes, I still see the teenager I knew. I try to reconcile myself to the fact that growing into an adult means that he will now face the full brunt of Israeli occupation. What hurts is that I always knew this is what would happen.

The violence that Huraini and his family and friends face daily in At-Tuwani is very similar to what Palestinians are trying to survive in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where Israel recently began a crackdown. Even after the ceasefire, attacks on Sheikh Jarrah continue. That’s the nature of military occupation. No peace can come until it ends. 

There is one way that the ceasefire can be strengthened and turned into meaningful momentum toward peace: The United States could stop selling weapons to Israel. With the support of Jewish Voice for Peace, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, along with Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Mark Pocan, are proposing a joint resolution to block the sale of $735 million in weapons to Israel. This is historic; never before has Congress tried to stop dealing arms to Israel. 

It’s a hopeful step, but the future of the resolution is far from certain. In Ohio, Rep. Joyce Beatty and Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown have not stated their position on the issue, and a request for comment from Alive was not immediately returned by their offices. Constituents who support peace and justice would be wise to make their opinion on this matter known. 

In 2020, the United State government gave $3.8 billion in aid to Israel, most in the form of military assistance. President Joe Biden has said he is praying that the ceasefire will hold. I join him in that prayer. But for our prayers to have any meaning, we must act in line with them. Allahu akbar.