Just Say Ceasefire, Bernie
Here’s a question that’s been rolling around in my head for the past week or so: what the fuck is a “humanitarian pause”?
Everywhere you look, politicians and world leaders are calling for a “humanitarian pause” in the Israel-Gaza war. The British want a humanitarian pause. The French want a humanitarian pause. The White House could kind of maybe see itself supporting a theoretical version of a humanitarian pause.
But what exactly are we talking about here? Let’s let Biden’s national security spokesperson John Kirby explain it. From ABC News (emphasis mine):
Asked to expand upon [Antony] Blinken's comments that "humanitarian pauses must be considered," Kirby said, "We want to see all measure of protection for civilians and pauses in operation is a tool and a tactic that can do that for temporary periods of time."
"That is not the same as saying a ceasefire," he added. "Again, right now, we believe a ceasefire benefits Hamas, a general ceasefire."
Kirby said the difference between a humanitarian pause and a ceasefire is "a question of duration and scope and size and that kind of thing."
OK, so a “humanitarian pause” is not a call for a ceasefire that would bring a long-term halt to a bombing campaign that has so far killed at least 8,000 people in Gaza, nearly 40 percent of whom are children. That would be a meaningful thing to ask for, and god knows we don’t want that.
Instead—and sorry for going super-cliché here and resorting to the most obvious reference, but the tropes are tropes for a reason—it is essentially an Orwellian way of saying “stop bombing Gaza and slaughtering thousands of people for a little while, get Palestinians some food and stuff, and then resume bombing Gaza and slaughtering thousands of people.” No wonder the upholders of the international status quo are into it.
But that brings me to another question: why the fuck is Bernie Sanders into it?
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Sanders is probably the most prominent left-wing Jewish politician in American history, and while he is no anti-Zionist, his past support of Palestinian rights has had a palpable political influence. Now, though, at a moment when Palestinians have needed that support more than any time in living memory, Sanders has very deliberately refused to advocate for a ceasefire. Instead, he is doing this kind of thing:
The time is NOW for Israel to stop causing a humanitarian disaster for a little while, after which they can resume causing a humanitarian disaster. What are we doing here???
Even though nearly a thousand scholars of genocide and international law have warned that Israel was waging an eliminationist campaign in Gaza, Sanders is still backing Israel’s assault. Even after hundreds of his former staffers publicly urged him to back a ceasefire, Sanders stayed firm. Even after the Israelis deliberately cut off all of Gaza’s communications infrastructure (it has since been partially restored) and launched their long-trailed ground invasion over the weekend, Sanders continued to evade the obvious answer to the crisis.
OK, but after the Israelis do that NOW, they can start bombing again TOMORROW? Cool plan, Bernie. I guess saying NOW in capital letters is his way of projecting urgency, even while he’s avoiding the position that would immediately stop the violence.
The “humanitarian pause” language has been echoed by several of the Senate’s purportedly more progressive members, like Elizabeth Warren and Raphael Warnock, as well as Sanders allies like Ro Khanna.
If your solution to this crisis is the same as Antony Blinken’s, you are not actually seeking a solution. (Khanna also told a group of Palestinian activists that he “ would speak out more forcefully on the ceasefire if it became evident that the rules of the Geneva Convention were not being followed.” Did the collective punishment and restriction of food and water not tip you off, buddy?)
It’s not as though Sanders would be out on his own. Two-thirds of likely voters—including 80 percent of Democrats—said in a recent poll that they either “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed that there needs to be a ceasefire in Gaza and Israel. There are gigantic protests all over the world calling for a ceasefire. There are a handful of House members calling for a ceasefire—including Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian in Congress and a woman who has been unrelentingly vilified for her courageous stance on the conflict. They could use help from someone like Sanders, but he clearly does not want to give that help.
This is one of those moments that defines a politician’s legacy. It is that important. And Bernie Sanders is failing. It’s not complicated. If you aren’t calling for a ceasefire, you are advocating that Israel’s campaign against Gaza can continue—and, for that matter, that Hamas can keep launching attacks that might kill Israelis. If you are calling for a “humanitarian pause,” you are advocating for, in the words of the White House, a “tool and a tactic” in wartime, not for peace. It is simply not good enough.
So Bernie, do something to make this killing come to an end for good. Don’t put yourself on the wrong side of history. Just say ceasefire. NOW.