Joining an international upsurge in Palestinian solidarity protests in late October, roughly 150 people gathered in downtown Santa Rosa on Oct. 29 to call for an immediate end to Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza following Hamas’ attack on Israel.
During Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise assault, the group killed 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians, and took more than 200 hostages.
As of Monday, Oct. 30, Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip—a bombing campaign paired with severly limited supplies of food, water and other necessities for 2.2 million residents—had killed an estimated 8,300 Palestinians, mostly women and children. More than 1.4 million people in Gaza had been displaced from their homes due to bombing and evacuation orders.
While international bodies and nongovernmental organizations have raised humanitarian concerns about Israel’s ongoing response to the Hamas attacks, American politicians still largely support Israel.
Sonoma County for Palestine, the newly-formed coalition which organized the Oct. 29 protest, is urging the North Bay’s Congress members, Rep. Jared Huffman and Rep. Mike Thompson, to sign on to House Resolution 786. The non-binding statement written by Rep. Cori Bush calls for an immediate ceasefire and de-escalation. It has been signed by 18 Congress members.
In a press release issued on Saturday, Oct. 28, Sonoma County for Palestine highlighted some of the historical context leading up to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack—“At the root of violence in Israel and Palestine is the 75+ years of occupation [by Israel]”—and stated the “Forced displacement of over 1 million Palestinians from their homes, depriving people of essentials of survival, and subjecting them to constant bombardment is dehumanizing and genocide.” Longterm, the group supports “an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and an end to ongoing U.S. aid to Israel.”
Huffman and Thompson have both weighed in on the conflict multiple times since Oct. 7.
On Oct. 27, Huffman issued a lengthy statement on the “worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza.” After condemning Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks and restating Israel’s “right to defend itself militarily” against the Oct. 7 attacks and ongoing missile attacks, Huffman wrote, “Every effort must be made to minimize non-combatant civilian casualties and avoid any form of collective punishment. Israel can and should punish Hamas, but not the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have nothing to do with Hamas.”
In the statement, Huffman makes no mention of a ceasefire, but does support calls for a “humanitarian pause,” a more limited option backed by the Biden administration and others last week. J Street, an advocacy organization which leads politicians on tours of Israel and has endorsed both Huffman and Thompson, also came out in support of humanitarian pauses last week.
However, the scale and length of the pauses politicians are calling for is often unclear. According to the United Nations’ definitions, a humanitarian pause is a “temporary cessation of hostilities purely for humanitarian purposes… usually for a defined period and specific geographic area where the humanitarian activities are to be carried out.” A ceasefire, meanwhile, is defined by the U.N. as “A suspension of fighting agreed upon by the parties to a conflict… intended to be long-term and [which] often covers the entire geographic area of the conflict.”
On Oct. 13, Huffman signed a letter to President Joe Biden with 54 other Congress members, repeating concerns from the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) that a “complete siege” of the Gaza Strip called for by some Israel Defense Forces leaders would be “a violation of international humanitarian law.”
Weeks later, as Israel’s campaign continued, humanitarian concerns from the same bodies heightened. The UNCHR released an Oct. 27 statement beginning, “All parties to the conflict in Israel and Gaza have shown reckless disregard for civilian life and must comply with international law to prevent atrocities from continuing.”
The same day, the U.N. General Assembly passed a nonbinding resolution calling for “an immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities,” along with other demands. The resolution passed with a vote of 120-14 with 45 abstensions. The United States and Israel were among the “No” votes.
Thompson’s public statements since Oct. 7 have been brief by comparison to Huffman’s, with little to no mention of humanitarian concerns for Palestinian civilians. In an Oct. 26 Facebook post, Thompson wrote, “Last night, I voted to pass a Congressional resolution condemning the horrific and savage war crimes committed by Hamas terrorists and to reaffirm our commitment to standing with Israel. We must work to free the hostages being held by Hamas and support our ally in their fight against terrorism.”
Huffman and all but ten other congressmembers voted in favor of the resolution, HR 771, which makes no mention of the thousands of Palestinians killed in Israel’s ongoing bombing campaign.