“It is critical for all sides to immediately move to ensure that human suffering and human rights violations are stopped," they said in a Nov. 7 letter signed by 16 state lawmakers.
The letter condemned the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks on Israelis and called for the release of 240 hostages held by the group. It also noted the terror and destruction gripping Gaza: thousands of children killed and trapped beneath the rubble left by daily airstrikes; one-third of hospitals closed; 52,000 pregnant women and 30,000 infants drinking contaminated water; and shortages of water, blood and medicine.
On Wednesday, Rep. Athena Salman of Tempe, one of the lawmakers who signed the letter, called attention to it and the ongoing war during a press conference at the Arizona State Capitol. For Salman, the crisis hits on a personal level: She said she is one of six Palestinian-American state legislators in the U.S. and still has family in the West Bank.
“Every day, I wake up in shock and in horror,” she said, pausing and holding back tears. “To add salt to the injury, our taxpayer dollars are funding this.”
Joining Salman was state Sen. Anna Hernandez of Phoenix, who said “protecting the sanctity of human life should not be controversial.”
In addition to Salman and Hernandez, other lawmakers who signed the letter include Reps. Mae Peshlakai, Lorena Austin, Oscar De Los Santos, Patty Contreras, Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, Mariana Sandoval, Analise Ortiz, Cesar Aguilar and Quantá Crews; and Sens. Theresa Hatathlie, Juan Mendez, Priya Sundareshan, Sally Ann Gonzales and Rosanna Gabaldón. Sen. Catherine Miranda and Rep. Betty Villagas signed the letter after it was released publicly on Wednesday.
‘We can afford another war?’Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there would not be a ceasefire until Hamas releases all hostages. And U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated his opposition to a ceasefire on Wednesday as several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, have called for Israel to end its military assault.
The U.S. has had a military and strategic alliance with Israel for decades, providing weapons and money. Biden has asked Congress to give more than $14 billion in military aid to Israel, but the bill passed by the House has been blocked in the Senate.
“I stand here as a voice for my constituents to express the absolute absurdity of the American system,” Salman said. “We are told by our congressional representatives, ‘We can’t afford universal health care. We can’t afford universal child care. Your social security is potentially going to go bankrupt. But we can afford another war.’”
Netanyahu said Israel would take full control of Gaza for an indefinite period. For Palestinians, it means an oppressive government is becoming more extreme.
Salman said her family members have had their land stolen, been killed by Israeli military and are segregated and turned into “worse than second-class citizens.”
Derek Duba of Common Defense, which calls itself the nation’s largest grassroots organization of U.S. military veterans, appeared with Salman and Hernandez on Wednesday. He said Congress and the Biden administration have “failed to de-escalate the situation" and instead pushed for more aid for Israel’s military.
Duba said he spent eight years in the U.S. Army, serving as an Arabic linguist in northern Africa.
“As a trained military tactician, I can tell you with confidence that the (Israeli Defense Forces') tactics are not consistent with the counterinsurgency aimed at dismantling terroristic threats,” Duba said. “These are revenge killings of civilians, plain and simple.”
While a reporter at the press conference pushed back and insisted Hamas was using children as human shields, Duba noted that the bombings are creating “tens and thousands of orphans who will have absolutely no other prospect in life but to join Hamas.”
“There is no better recruiter for violent extremism than the state of Israel at this point,” Duba said.
U.S. voters support ceasefire in GazaDuba warned that if a ceasefire isn’t reached, the U.S. could risk being dragged into another open-ended war in the Middle East.
“All of us were lied to when we signed up (for the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). We thought we were bringing freedom and democracy to these places,” Duba told Phoenix New Times. “There are people who make an absolutely disgusting amount of money from any war … and they’re happy to send their lap dogs to push the narrative that it’s making the world a safer place. It’s absolutely not.”
And while war means profit for a powerful few, it also requires the blood of average Americans, Duba pointed out.
“They only get profit, they don’t bleed for it. It’s always left to the American poor and working class,” Duba said. “We (young working-class people) are overwhelmingly recruited into the military for things that are guaranteed for other modern, Western democracies, like health care and education.”
During the press conference, Salman noted that a ceasefire had a majority of support among voters across political lines in a Data for Progress poll.
Duba saw that as an encouraging sign for his grassroots organizing efforts.
“We have to grapple with the political realities of today. I believe that we can move the discussion toward demanding ceasefire,” Duba said. “The United States absolutely has enough diplomatic and economic influence over the state of Israel to demand and enforce that.”