Jewish Voice for Peace protestors in region to carry on until Israel-Hamas cease-fire is permanent

A group of protestors with the organization Jewish Voice for Peace stand along Route 9 in Hadley on Friday, demonstrating against the ongoing war in Gaza.

A group of protestors with the organization Jewish Voice for Peace stand along Route 9 in Hadley on Friday, demonstrating against the ongoing war in Gaza. STAFF PHOTO/ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Batya Sobel, a member of the western Massachusetts chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, holds up a sign reading “Jews say ceasefire now! Stop genocide of Palestinians,” during a protest held along Route 9 in Hadley on Friday. 

Batya Sobel, a member of the western Massachusetts chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, holds up a sign reading “Jews say ceasefire now! Stop genocide of Palestinians,” during a protest held along Route 9 in Hadley on Friday.  STAFF PHOTOS/ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Hannah Moushabeck, a Palestinian American who lives in Amherst, attends a protest held along Route 9 in Hadley on Friday calling for a cease-fire in the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

Hannah Moushabeck, a Palestinian American who lives in Amherst, attends a protest held along Route 9 in Hadley on Friday calling for a cease-fire in the ongoing conflict in Gaza. STAFF PHOTO/ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 11-26-2023 5:00 PM

HADLEY — A four-day cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that began Friday isn’t enough to stop the hundreds of local protestors who have gathered several times a week since the war started to demand a permanent end to fighting in Gaza.

Those who attended Friday’s protest — organized by the western Massachusetts chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7 — said they won’t stop taking to the streets until the war ends.

“Every day that passes and there isn’t a permanent cease-fire, more and more children and families die,” said Mare Berger, a member of JVP who was active in the Brooklyn chapter before moving to western Massachusetts. “This needs to stop now.”

The temporary cease-fire was part of an agreement that Qatar helped broker. Twenty-four hostages were freed, including 13 Israeli citizens, 10 Thai citizens and one Filipino citizen, Qatar said. Israel released 39 Palestinian prisoners later in the day. In a second round of swaps under the pause, Hamas on Saturday released 13 Israelis and four foreigners, the Israeli military said. Israel was to free 39 Palestinians later Saturday as part of the deal.

The more than 100 people who attended last Friday’s rally along Route 9 in Hadley near the Mountain Farms shopping center were hoping to send a different kind of Black Friday message.

“It’s part of a national call to shut it down for Palestine today,” said Batya Sobel, a JVP member. “As a Jewish American, I represent thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of other Jews and allies, and these demonstrations and protests and demands for a cease-fire are happening all around the country.”

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It was the 20th such protest that JVP has organized in the region since the outbreak of war between Israel and Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza strip. The war started when Hamas entered Israel and killed more than 1,000 of its citizens and took around 200 more people hostage. Israel has retaliated with a military ground invasion of Gaza and a bombing campaign, and is estimated to have killed more than 14,000 Palestinians and caused a severe lack of humanitarian resources for many more in the strip.

The western Massachusetts chapter of JVP was founded nine years ago following the 2014 Israel-Gaza war, which lasted a month and a half and claimed more than 2,000 lives in Gaza. Though the group became somewhat dormant in the years of the pandemic, Sobel said membership has exploded since Oct. 7, the start of the present war.

“Our local membership has increased around fourfold as a response to the current crisis,” she said. “For JVP nationally, their emails would go out to 50,000 people before Oct. 7, now it’s something along the lines of 350,000 people.”

Kaia Jackson, who previously was involved with activism pertaining to the Black Lives Matter movement, is one of the newer members to JVP’s local chapter, and has attended many of the protests that the organization has held in Hadley and at the roundabout near the Coolidge Bridge in Northampton.

“Honestly, this is one of the few places where things make sense to me,” Jackson said of the protests. “The call for a permanent cease-fire is with every intention of ensuring greater security for all people.”

Hannah Moushabeck, a Palestinian-American who lives in Amherst and attended Friday’s protest, said she had heard from friends living in Gaza that they struggled to find basic necessities such as food and water, and that although the bombs had stopped falling after the cease-fire, sounds of gunfire could still be heard.

“The quote-unquote pause is not a pause for my friends in Gaza who are injured and who still don’t have access to medical supplies,” Moushabeck said. “The aid that is getting in is far less than it ever was prior to Oct. 7.”

Among elected officials in Massachusetts, there have also been growing calls for a cease-fire in the conflict. U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, whose district includes Amherst, Hadley, and Northampton, has publicly supported a cease-fire since Oct. 30. Following the announcement of the temporary cease-fire, Sen. Elizabeth Warren stated she was also in favor of a more permanent cessation of hostilities.

“[Israeli] Prime Minister Netanyahu’s military strategy has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe, the deaths of thousands of civilians in Gaza, and endangered the region’s long-term stability. That’s why I’ve repeatedly urged the Israeli government to stop the bombing in Gaza, and I’ve pressed for massive humanitarian aid for civilians,” Warren said in a statement released on Wednesday. “Hamas must release the remaining hostages and stop its attacks. The Israeli government should not resume bombing in Gaza, which would be a grave strategic and moral mistake.”

In addition to demonstrations staged by JVP, protests have also been occurring across the Pioneer Valley’s college campuses, such as at UMass Amherst and Smith. In late October, more than 50 students were arrested after an occupation of the school’s Whitmore Building.

A petition circulating online, sponsored by student groups such as UMass Students for Justice in Palestine, said that despite assurances of campus administration, some of the students who were arrested are facing potential sanctions as the result of their arrest, including loss of student housing or suspension.

“We, the undersigned members of the greater UMass Amherst community, condemn the administration’s actions against the UMass 57 as an attack on the free speech rights of students,” the petition said. “We implore the Conduct Office to preserve the community’s trust in the UMass administration and drop any sanctions.”

In a statement to the Gazette, UMass spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski said that the university could not comment on the specifics of individual student conduct cases, which are confidential under federal law, but shared a message that chancellor Javier Reyes had sent out to the UMass community following the arrests.

“Everyone who was arrested has been released, and we will reach out to them individually as they navigate the next steps of both the judicial process and the university’s Code of Student Conduct process,” Reyes wrote. “As stated in our Demonstration Guidelines, ‘Demonstrators entering campus buildings to conduct orderly and peaceful demonstrations may not … remain in buildings after the close of regular hours of operation.’ Our policies, like our commitment to support, apply to every member of our community without regard to their beliefs.”

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.