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White House Protest Leads Campaign for a Cease-Fire Before Israeli Ground Invasion

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White House Protest Leads Campaign for a Cease-Fire Before Israeli Ground Invasion

Dozens of participants at a primarily Jewish protest were arrested on Monday where demonstrators chanted “Cease-fire now!”

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News Story by Jack Jenkins | Religion News Service

As Israel readies a massive military response to Hamas’ attack from the Gaza Strip, Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders and faith-based activist groups are mounting a campaign calling for a cease-fire, with some planning a large demonstration for Wednesday (Oct. 18) in the nation’s capital to ask the Biden administration to help end the bloodshed.

Wednesday’s event will be a continuation of a protest Monday outside the White House, where participants holding “Ceasefire” signs recited the kaddish (the Jewish mourner’s prayer), sang songs in English and Hebrew and sometimes grappled with police. Organizers said afterward that around 50 people were arrested during that demonstration. The U.S. Secret Service said Tuesday that it arrested 33 individuals on charges of unlawful entry and 16 on charges of incommoding, which generally refers to hindering passage or obstructing traffic.

The protests were primarily organized by the Jewish activist groups If Not Now and Jewish Voice for Peace.

Speaking to a crowd through a bullhorn on Monday afternoon, Rabbi Miriam Grossman, who is based in Brooklyn, New York, said she and others were gathered in Washington to declare to those in the White House and Congress that the “answer to all of this unfathomable grief cannot be mass murder.”

After noting members of her community continue to mourn those slain by Hamas fighters in southern Israel and have relatives and friends among those kidnapped and held hostage, Grossman railed against Israel’s military response, which has killed at least 2,778 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities. It has also displaced hundreds of thousands, who have fled their homes to avoid airstrikes and an expected ground assault by Israeli forces, according to The Associated Press.

Rabbi Miriam Grossman speaks with protesters gathered Oct. 16, 2023, in front of the White House. Photo by Jack Jenkins (RNS)

“So many Palestinians in my life are also in mourning and are living in terror as they lose contact with loved ones in Gaza,” Grossman said. She later added: “Our grief is not a weapon.”

In a separate interview, Grossman characterized the protest as a campaign to “stop genocide,” invoking the phrase “never again” — a reference to efforts to prevent another Holocaust like the one that led to the deaths of millions of Jews in World War II.

“I’m also here as a rabbi, as part of Jewish history, to say that when we say ‘Never again,’ we mean it for anyone,” she said.

Demonstrators continued to pray and march into the evening on Monday. Many chanted “Not in our name!” and “Free Palestine!” Others shouted at people leaving the White House, urging them to tell their bosses “Cease-fire now!” One group of protesters eventually spilled into the street, blocking traffic. 

Also on Monday, an interfaith group led by Americans for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace and the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker organization, signed a letter urging Congress and President Joe Biden to call for a cease-fire, “prioritize the protection of all civilians” and “urge all parties to fully respect international humanitarian law.”

“We implore Congress and the Administration to abstain from rhetoric that exacerbates violence and to unequivocally condemn all violations of international law,” the letter reads in part.

Signs and banners call for a cease-fire as demonstrators join together in opposition to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. The group gathered Oct. 16, 2023, in front of the White House. Photo by Jack Jenkins (RNS)

Signers included the Council on American-Islamic Relations, National Council of Churches, American Muslims for Palestine, the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society, Alliance of Baptists, American Baptist Churches USA, Sojourners, United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Unitarian Universalist Association and multiple offices of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The National Council of Churches, which comprises 37 member communions representing some 100,000 Christian congregations nationwide, released its own statement over the weekend condemning Hamas’ attacks while also calling upon Israel to “temper its response in the name of human decency” in light of its “overwhelming firepower.”

In another statement, Black clergy leaders called for a way toward peace as they condemned “unspeakable atrocities caused by Hamas against the Jewish people” and grieved the deaths and “untold suffering of innocent Palestinians in Gaza.”

The signatories included the co-conveners of the National African American Clergy Network, officials and denominational leaders of the Conference of National Black Churches and individuals such as the AND Campaign’s Justin Giboney, Sojourners President Adam Taylor, the Rev. Otis Moss III of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ and the Rev. Gina Stewart, senior pastor of Christ Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee.

“We urgently call for a cessation of hostilities and violence from all parties to protect innocent lives, prevent further suffering, and create a space for dialogue and reconciliation,” they wrote.

The letters and protests were augmented by a coalition of Democratic lawmakers who introduced a resolution Monday “urging the Biden Administration to call for an immediate de-escalation and cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine, to send humanitarian aid and assistance to Gaza, and to save as many lives as possible.”

The resolution was led by U.S. Reps. Cori Bush of Missouri, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, André Carson of Indiana, Summer Lee of Pennsylvania and Delia C. Ramirez of Illinois. Signers also included Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Jamaal Bowman and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

Members of the Secret Service arrested dozens of protesters Oct. 16, 2023, after the protesters jumped over “Do Not Cross” barriers. Photo by Jack Jenkins (RNS)

Meanwhile, Biden has announced plans to travel to Israel and on to Jordan on Wednesday to meet with both Israeli and Arab leadership.

different online petition calling for an immediate cease-fire is circulating among Christian leaders. Among other things, it asks signers to support a separate Oct. 13 statement from the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, which urged the Israeli government to allow humanitarian supplies into Gaza and “all parties to de-escalate this war in order to save innocent lives while still serving the cause of justice.”

Signers of the new petition include author and advocate Lisa Sharon Harper, activist Shane Claiborne, the group Red Letter Christians, the Telos Group and others.

Adelle M. Banks contributed to this report.

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