Guest columnist Ian Rhodewalt: Labor calls for cease-fire now

Ian Rhodewalt



Published: 11-21-2023 4:12 PM

Modified: 11-25-2023 10:57 AM

My first union job, and my first strike for cost of living increases, was as a teacher in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. Several weeks ago, trade unions in Palestine put out an urgent call of solidarity to unions around the world on on Oct. 16 to not only end the constant bombing that Israel has been leveling Gaza with, but to end our complicity in Israel’s war crimes.

Unions and central labor councils around the country are beginning to join the call for a cease-fire. On Nov. 13, the delegate body of the Western Mass Area Labor Federation unanimously voted to join the calls for a cease-fire, for Reps. Jim McGovern and Richie Neal to cosponsor H.R. 786: Ceasefire Now, and for Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey to introduce corresponding resolution.

On Oct. 19, Israel bombed the St. Porphyrius Orthodox Church in Gaza, one of the oldest churches in the world. My dear friend and mentor from my years in Ramallah had family who was sheltering there, and a loved one of theirs was killed that day. The former Palestinian-American congressman Justin Amash from Michigan also lost family in that same airstrike.

Israel dropped more U.S.-funded bombs on the densely populated Gaza Strip in its first week of bombing than the U.S. dropped on Afghanistan in a single year. As of Nov. 15, Israel has killed more than 11,000 Palestinians. Of those dead, at least 4,000 are children.

For comparison, 4,431 U.S. soldiers died in the Iraq war in total. The head of UNICEF has described Gaza as a “graveyard for children,” with one Palestinian child dying every 10 minutes. Doctors in Gaza have coined a new acronym, “WCNSF,” for “Wounded Child No Surviving Family.” Israel’s constant bombing has destroyed or damaged 50% of homes in the Gaza Strip and displaced 1.7 million Palestinians.

Israel has cut off electricity, water, fuel, access to medical aid and food to Palestinians in Gaza, which has been an open air prison for years. On Oct. 12, Israeli authorities ordered more than 1.1 million Palestinians in Gaza City and the northern Gaza Strip to leave their homes and flee to the south of Gaza within 24 hours. Forced expulsion is a war crime, following these orders was essentially impossible, and Israel targeted the convoy of civilians and ambulances with airstrikes.

Intentionally directing attacks against medical units is a war crime. Israel has been bombing hospitals. Collective punishment is a war crime. Incitement to genocide is a war crime — a statement by 800 scholars of international law, conflict studies, and genocide studies warns that the “language used by Israeli political and military figures appear to reproduce rhetoric and tropes associated with genocide and incitement to genocide.”

This includes Israel’s Agricultural Minister Avi Dichter recently saying recently that the war would be “Gaza Nakba 2023.” Nakba is the Arabic word for “catastrophe,” which refers to the violent dispossession of between 750,000 and a million Palestinians from their land in 1948 when the state of Israel was founded.

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Labor must not be complicit in this genocide. We must not accept President Biden sending $14 billion in weaponry to Israel in addition to existing military aid as it carries out these war crimes and perpetrates genocide. Not only is this morally bankrupt, it is a losing issue, electorally, as 66% of likely voters and 80% of Democrats agree that the U.S. should call for a cease-fire and de-escalation.

Why does the government have no money to fund policies that help workers like the expanded child tax credit, Medicare For All, or canceling student debt, but it will send our tax dollars to Israel to kill Palestinians?

Jewish peace activists with the organizations Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now have been organizing civil disobedience actions across the country, including sit-ins in the Capitol rotunda in D.C., Grand Central Station in New York, at Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Boston office, and the Statue of Liberty. Locally, JVP Western Mass has been holding hourlong cease-fire standouts at least twice a week for the five weeks, often with 75-100 people participating.

Labor unions, both locally and nationally, are joining the call for a cease-fire, including the Massachusetts Teachers Association, UAW Region 9A, SEIU 509, Starbucks Workers United, the American Postal Workers Union, and many more. The labor movement has specific leverage that we must use to demand our government end the funding of Israel’s genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

Ian Rhodewalt is the field organizer for the Western Massachusetts Area Labor Federation, a coalition of more than 60 public and private sector unions in the region. He taught in Palestine from 2010 to 2012.