Biden staffers renew Gaza ceasefire demands at White House vigil

Hundreds of federal employees urge president to demand ceasefire in Israel-Hamas war

Alex Woodward
Thursday 14 December 2023 00:12 GMT
Gaza professor's recording he asked to be published if he was killed

Government employees and political appointees from across President Joe Biden’s administration renewed their calls for a ceasefire in Gaza during a vigil outside the White House on Wednesday night.

In a statement shared with The Independent, members of a coalition of more than 800 staffers said they stood outside the White House “on the seventh night of Hanukkah and as we get ready to celebrate Christmas and the winter holidays with our loved ones to make clear that we cannot stay silent about the atrocities that are continuing in Gaza.”

“We were horrified by the brutal October 7 attacks on Israeli civilians, and have been horrified by the disproportionate response by the Israeli government, which has indiscriminately killed thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza and displaced over a million more,” they wrote.

“We have seen refugee camps, hospitals, schools, and entire neighborhoods bombed,” the statement added. “We have seen dead men, women, and children pulled from the rubble in their pajamas. We have seen harassment, humiliation, and degradation of many kinds. This is unacceptable.”

A group of Biden administration employees held up a banner outside the White House reading “your staff demands a ceasefire”. As staffers placed roses by candles, the names of Palestinians killed since 1 December following the end of a humanitarian pause in the fighting were read aloud from a list that was 33 pages long.

The president has faced growing calls to support a ceasefire from within his administration and from staff from his presidential campaign and from members of Congress.

A group of more than 800 federal employees and independent agency staffers joined last month’s letter to the president to demand his urgent support for a ceasefire, support the release of all hostages, and urge immediate de-escalation of violence in Gaza.

The letter was supported by staff across 30 departments and agencies.

Another open letter from more than 1,000 officials with the US Agency for International Development, among the largest aid agencies in the world, authorised by Congress, have also signed an open letter urging Mr Biden’s support for a ceasefire.

Dozens of active State Department employees have also signed internal memos to Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticising the administration’s approach to Israel’s military campaign.

Hundreds of Democratic aides in Congress have also pressed their bosses to support a ceasefire. One month ago, fewer than 20 members of the House of Representatives and only one US senator supported a ceasefire. As of 13 December, more than 60 members of Congress, including at least three senators, have joined those calls.

The vigil among Biden staffers comes one day after a majority of United Nations members voted by a wide majority to support a ceasefire resolution during an emergency session. Twenty-three nations abstained from voting, and 10 voted against it – including the United States and Israel.

A majority of American voters support a permanent ceasefire and de-escalation of violence in Gaza, according to polling from progressive thinktank Data for Progress. That includes 76 per cent of Democratic voters. Sixty-eight per cent of respondents in a Reuters/Ipsos poll agreed that “Israel should call a ceasefire and try to negotiate.”

The chiefs of six major humanitarian aid groups said the Biden administration, if it does not change course, risks “a legacy of indifference in the face of unspeakable suffering, bias in the application of the laws of conflict and impunity for actors that violate international humanitarian law”.

In remarks to supporters at a fundraiser this week, Mr Biden said Israel is “losing support” for its war with its “indiscriminate bombing”. The next day, Mr Netanyahu once again dismissed calls for a ceasefire, stating that “nothing” will stop Israel from laying waste to Gaza in the face of international pressure.

Josh Paul, who publicly resigned from the US Department of State on 18 October, joined the Administration Staffers for Ceasefire coalition on Wednesday.

He said he stepped down over his “disagreement with the Biden administration’s policy of providing lethal assistance to Israel,” in which “American arms have killed so many innocent civilians, and because I believe the current policy does not provide security or peace for Palestinians or Israelis,” he said in a statement shared with The Independent.

The statement from the coalition said the US must “move with urgency to save as many lives as possible”.

“Our voices and the voices of the American public that we serve demand that this violence must stop, and for this reason we once again call on President Biden to support an immediate and permanent ceasefire,” they wrote. “Both Israelis and Palestinians have the right to live with equal rights, safety, peace, and human dignity. The lives of millions of people hang in the balance: in Gaza, in Israel and the West Bank, and across the region.”

More than 18,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed, including more than 7,700 children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

“We are here this evening to mourn the loss of every individual, beautiful and innocent life,” the coalition said. “As we lay flowers and stones in their memory, we demand an end to the violence that took them.”

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