Statement

October 11, 2023

Building A Just Peace

Peace Depends on Justice

Media: Statement Region: Palestine
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What we need now are policies rooted in care and healing – not violent retaliation

MADRE mourns the Palestinian and Israelis who have been horrifically killed in these past days of violence, with more deaths announced each day. We will continue to support our partners, including those inside Gaza, who are providing emergency medical care and psychosocial support as casualties mount.

We stand with families who grieve and fear for their loved ones, and who – like this Israeli father connecting his suffering to a mother in Gaza – still cry out for peace.

We uphold that true, lasting peace and justice can only come from an end to Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies that have deprived and dehumanized Palestinians for generations. These policies have also made peace for Israelis and Palestinians impossible. Peace cannot coexist with or grow from occupation.

Actions that escalate this crisis will only worsen the horror and produce more generations trapped in occupation and war, fear and grief. Israel’s disproportionate retaliatory airstrikes and announcement that Gaza will be placed under “complete siege” with “no electricity, no food, no fuel” means we are charging down this brutal path – all with unwavering support and billions of dollars of funding, annually, from the United States. Our partners at the Palestinian Medical Relief Society are providing lifesaving aid to people in Gaza and have released a statement “remind[ing] the international community that denial of humanitarian access constitutes a war crime.”

This crisis is still unfolding, and even as we mobilize urgently to provide aid, we brace ourselves for what’s to come. We know that this devastation grows from the violence of the past. Even before the latest attacks, 2023 was the deadliest year for Palestinians since the height of the second Intifada. For 16 years, the people of Gaza have lived in what amounts to an “open air prison,” deprived of food, electricity, clean water and the basic freedom to move, and frequently targeted with airstrikes. A ten-year-old child in Gaza has already lived through four Israeli military campaigns. As Israel’s Defense Minister declared that this siege would be expanded, he justified that decision saying that “we are fighting human animals,” ramping up the language of dehumanization that paves the way for even more violence.

Despite Israel’s apartheid policies, and ongoing attacks against civilians in Gaza, the Biden administration has so far failed to call for accountability for war crimes on all sides. Instead, both President Biden and many Congressional leaders have expressed remorse for lives lost in Israel while ignoring lives lost in Gaza.

Through years of violence and oppression, Palestinian communities have cared for each other and mobilized in nonviolent collective action, with women often playing critical leadership roles to support their families and communities. During the months of the Great March of Return of 2018-2019, thousands of Palestinians responded to a call for peaceful mass action to gather at Gaza’s border fences and denounce their occupation – and were met with violent retaliation by the Israeli military. As Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, the only Member of Congress with Palestinian heritage, wrote, “the failure to recognize the violent reality of living under siege, occupation, and apartheid makes no one safer. No person, no child anywhere should have to suffer or live in fear of violence. We cannot ignore the humanity in each other.”

Recently, a growing Israeli democracy movement has also denounced the abuses of their government, with some connecting the roots of this authoritarianism to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. This weekend, an Israeli lawmaker said, “There is an ethnic cleansing going on. It was obvious the writing was on the wall, written in the blood of the Palestinians  – and unfortunately now Israelis as well.”

The US government has a choice to make. It could choose solidarity with the vision of peace and justice expressed by these Palestinians and Israelis, who know that the best path forward lies in accountability and an end to the occupation. Across administrations, the US has often chosen complicity with violence, condemning present and future generations of Israelis and Palestinians to an endless cycle of grief and revenge. What we need now are policies rooted in care and healing – not violent retaliation – and an even application of international law for all parties to the conflict.

Update October 17, 2023 

MADRE calls for an immediate ceasefire to end the bloodshed and to open aid corridors for urgently-needed humanitarian support.

The US must end its complicity in this ongoing violence. Not only has the Biden Administration greenlit any action deemed necessary for Israel’s defense, a leaked State Department memo revealed that US diplomats have been explicitly instructed to avoid three phrases: “de-escalation/ceasefire,” “end to violence/bloodshed” and “restoring calm.” These principles would have been the bare minimum for any government claiming to put human rights at the center of foreign policy as the Biden Administration does – claims that ring especially hollow now.

US Representatives like Cori Bush and Rashida Tlaib have put forward a vital resolution calling for “an immediate de-escalation and ceasefire.” This action is needed now to save lives, and we call on members of Congress to endorse this necessary call.

Thanks to longstanding relationships with community-based groups inside Gaza, we have been able to get aid to people at moments when large scale aid efforts are impossible. We amplify our partners’ demand for a ceasefire and aid access to protect lives and so that they can do their vital humanitarian work in safety.

Take action: call your member of Congress and demand that they endorse the call for a ceasefire.

Update October 23, 2023 

As Israel bombs communities in Gaza to rubble and restricts vital resources, MADRE and our partners are doing everything we can to provide humanitarian relief, including medical care and supplies, food, hygiene products, and psychosocial support. While aid is now going into Gaza, this is a small fraction of what is actually needed. Your gift today can bring more support to the people of Gaza.

Palestinians also need you to speak up:

Call your Congress member and demand that they support a ceasefire and an end to the occupation.

Update October 29, 2023 

Israel Launches Ground Operation: We Need a Ceasefire Now

Israel has launched a major ground operation in Gaza, in a brutal escalation of a bloody war that has already taken over 7,700 Palestinian and 1,400 Israeli lives – and now is certain to take many more.

This latest assault comes after all phone and internet communications were cut off for people in Gaza, leaving them without the means to reach out for help, find loved ones, and tell the world what is happening to them. Our partners at the Palestinian Medical Relief Society have not been able to reach their team of rescue workers on-the-ground.

This ground operation comes almost two weeks after Israel ordered 1.1 million Palestinians to evacuate the northern part of Gaza, a task the UN has said would be impossible without “devastating humanitarian consequences.”

Israeli officials have already made clear the intent behind these attacks and the scale of pain they mean to inflict. Asked about the bombings, a spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces said, “the emphasis is on damage, not on precision.” Israel’s President Isaac Herzog has assigned blame to all civilians in Gaza, who he suggests should pay the price for Hamas’s horrific attacks. These calls by Israeli leaders have been reinforced by US right-wing policymakers seeking to outdo each other’s brutality in calls for Gaza to be “eviscerated.” What’s more, Joe Biden continues to staunchly and publicly support Israel’s war on Gaza – offering no check on this bloodshed.

Israelis are still in mourning after the Hamas violence of October 7, and many have spoken out that their grief cannot be used to justify war crimes. Yonatan Zeigen, the son of missing Israeli peace activist Vivian Silver, has called for peace saying, “You can’t cure killed babies with more dead babies.” With this ground operation, this worsening violence will only leave more parents fearing for and grieving their children’s lives, and more families stricken – amidst a war that will destroy countless lives.

MADRE has channeled urgent support to local organizations in Gaza, including medical supplies for health workers and food, water, blankets and hygiene supplies for families sheltering from bombardment. These grassroots partners are providing lifesaving aid in unimaginable circumstances.

With every moment, the urgency grows: we must have an immediate ceasefire and an end to the ground operation and airstrikes. We must move rapidly to open humanitarian aid corridors. And we must demand respect for human rights and international law – as a matter of life and death.

Take action: call your member of Congress and demand that they endorse the call for a ceasefire.

Update November 9, 2023

Sounding the Alarm: Genocide against Palestinians

A growing number of legal scholars, UN experts, and legal organizations are sounding the alarm that genocidal acts have been committed by Israeli forces in Gaza. Furthermore, advocates have denounced US complicity in this genocidal violence.

Genocide is not a word that human rights advocates use lightly. The weight that it carries in our collective moral conscience matches the severity of the crime. That was the intention of the advocates and scholars who created the word over 70 years ago, responding to the massacres and atrocities of the early 20th century, including the Holocaust.

MADRE has a 40-year history of working alongside partners in conflict zones, including in communities that have faced genocide such as Guatemala and Rwanda. In each instance, the devastating violence of genocide was targeted against communities who had been labeled as disposable by dehumanizing, racist ideologies.

Today, we see this happening again, targeted against Palestinian people.

Naming a genocide must shock our conscience and spur action – first and foremost, to end the killing. This is the call of the thousands who have taken to the streets and spoken out for a ceasefire, saying “never again.” The international community must also seek justice, including through legal mechanisms whose mandates give them the responsibility to hold genocidal actors accountable. This work is under way, as three Palestinian rights groups this week filed a lawsuit with the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel for genocide.

What is the crime of genocide? 

In just over a month since the brutal Hamas attacks of October 7th, the Israeli government has launched a campaign of disproportionate bombing that has obliterated over 10,000 people. However, the death toll alone is not what makes the case for genocide. This violence has also been justified in public rhetoric by Israeli officials that starkly suggests the intention to commit genocide, such as labeling Palestinians “human animals” and admitting that the “emphasis is on damage, not accuracy.”

The crime of genocide was first defined in international law in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, the first human rights treaty adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. The Convention defines genocide as a crime, naming it as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

The International Criminal Tribunal on the Former Yugoslavia also made clear that collective punishment or reprisals against civilians are prohibited, “even when confronted by wrongful behaviour of the other party.” International law has further made clear that there is no self-defense justification for genocide.

Legal mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court, which follows the Convention’s definition of genocide, have a responsibility to investigate and pursue accountability for crimes committed by all parties, including genocidal acts committed by Hamas. But the Israeli government has taken advantage of its people’s desire for justice for the October 7th attacks to divert away from peaceful, lawful responses and to justify its own genocidal campaign of violence, claiming that this bloodshed is necessary to punish Hamas and eliminate the threat it poses. But vengeance is not justice, and these catastrophic crimes against Palestinian people will not lead to security. They will only push the prospects for peace further away.

What is the responsibility of the United States?

The International Court of Justice has held that a state can be complicit in genocide if the state or its organs was (1) aware of an imminent or ongoing genocide; (2) knew that the perpetrator had specific intent to commit crimes of genocide; (3) provided aid or assistance to the perpetrator after becoming aware of the imminent or ongoing genocide; and (4) that aid or assistance enabled or facilitated commission of the act by the direct perpetrators.

The Biden Administration has been “rock solid and unwavering” in its support of Israel’s attacks on Gaza, ignoring or undermining reports of the killings and suffering of Palestinian people – despite ongoing Israeli airstrikes against civilian populations and public statements by Israeli officials embracing collective punishment. The US is ramping up its military aid to Israel, already at sky-high $3.8 billion-per-year levels, despite the almost-certain usage of these weapons in the bombardment of Gaza. For these reasons and others, legal organizations have warned that US policymakers “risk facing criminal and civil liability for aiding and abetting genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity under international law,” given that the US is a signatory to both the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Genocide Convention.

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A more peaceful and just world depends upon an even application of international law and human rights standards for every country. As MADRE continues our work to get aid to people inside Gaza, through our longstanding relationships with community-based groups there, we amplify the demand for a ceasefire and access to humanitarian aid, and we call on the international community to investigate and pursue justice for all human rights violations and war crimes, including the crime of genocide against Palestinian people.

For more information:

Update December 1, 2023

Calling for a Survivor-Centered Approach to Sexual Violence in Israel, Palestine and Beyond

Eyewitnesses and first responders to the Hamas attacks on October 7 have reported that militants committed sexual violence against Israeli women and girls. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an investigation, amplifying a demand put forward by Israeli feminist organizations. MADRE categorically condemns the use of gender-based violence in war. While we cannot independently verify claims of sexual violence on October 7, they deserve to be investigated, as do reports of sexual violence committed by Israeli security forces and settlers, which has long been used to subjugate Palestinians.

As the International Criminal Court (ICC) moves to investigate Hamas and Israel for war crimes, we reaffirm our commitment to human rights, international legal protections, and healing for all survivors. At the inception of the ICC almost 25 years ago, MADRE coordinated a feminist coalition that won recognition of sexual violence as a war crime and a crime against humanity for the first time in history.

Today, MADRE calls on the ICC and the international human rights community to ensure a survivor-centered approach that includes investigation of Hamas’ reported use of sexual violence against Israeli women and girls, and Israel’s reported use of sexual violence against Palestinian prisoners and Palestinians targeted by Israeli soldiers or settlers.

For decades, we have worked with survivors of wartime rape from the Balkans, Rwanda, Guatemala, Sudan, Iraq and beyond. In that work, we’ve seen how systematic sexual violence in armed conflict is used to sow fear in entire communities and destroy people’s ability to recover from war, and how recognizing harm can advance justice and healing. Moreover, seeking justice for survivors of sexual violence in conflict is always fraught. These violations often induce stigma, silencing and other barriers that put justice and healing out of reach for survivors. For instance, in Iraq, MADRE works with women’s rights activists organizing their communities to end the rejection and isolation of women and girls targeted with wartime rape. In Sudan, our partners work to address the ongoing trauma of rape used as a weapon of war in the early 2000’s, a crime which is rampant in this year’s resurgent conflict, which has killed 9,000 people.

In the case of the atrocities in Israel and Palestine, efforts to confront sexual violence are hindered by widespread disinformation that has dominated our newsfeeds, including disinformation propagated by the Israeli government. These efforts are also hampered by the failure of Israel’s forensic institutions to fully and properly preserve physical evidence of sexual assault on October 7—an all-too common occurance in both war and peacetime. Efforts to name sexual violence are also undermined by a highly polarized public conversation that pits the very humanity of Palestinians and Israelis against one another, ultimately diminishing all of our humanity.

We reject any presumption that our support for Palestinian liberation leaves no room for condemnation of attacks against civilians, or that compassion for Israeli victims requires an endorsement of Israel’s assault on Gaza. We also repudiate racist notions that tarnish all Palestinian men as predators or that hold the entire Palestinian people responsible for the attacks by Hamas. Furthermore, seeking justice for Israeli survivors does not imply a moral or material equivalency between Israeli and Hamas crimes.

In fact, the catastrophic, retaliatory violence against civilians in Gaza is not justice, despite the claims of rightwing Israeli leaders stoking people’s desires for vengeance. As the truce ends and the bombs begin again to rain down on Palestinian civilians, we recall what Israeli peace activists have asserted, “One massacre does not justify another.” We once again call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire.

We uphold those fundamental principles, including a vital international norm that distinguishes between a governing authority – which must be held accountable through justice mechanisms for its human rights abuses and war crimes – and its civilians. That distinction supports the universal prohibition on attacking civilians. Hamas violated that prohibition on October 7 and by holding Israeli civilian hostages. Israel has also violated that prohibition consistently, throughout its occupation, and in its current disproportionate and indiscriminate assault on Gaza, where a growing body of evidence shows that Israel is committing genocide.

Although the prospect of peace has never seemed farther out of reach, now is the time to safeguard its foundations by recognizing and beginning to address grave violations of human rights, including sexual violence. As we continue to support our partners in Palestine with immediate relief in the face of Israel’s ongoing bombing campaign in Gaza and attacks by settlers and soldiers in the West Bank, we stand with people in Palestine and Israel who know that peace ultimately depends on an end to occupation and apartheid, justice for survivors of violence, and safety and human rights for all.

Update February 5, 2024

MADRE Denounces Cuts in Aid to Palestine

The Biden Administration’s choice to suspend aid for UNRWA, the largest humanitarian agency in Gaza, is an act of cruelty that compounds the suffering and human rights violations that have already been imposed on Palestinian people. MADRE condemns this decision as an act of collective punishment against Palestinians, one which must be urgently reversed.

This latest UNRWA decision follows a larger pattern. In a report released February 5 by the Institute for Journalism and Social Change, titled “International Aid for Palestine: Disproportionate Cuts, Overwhelming Damage,” research reveals that the US slashed bilateral aid for development and humanitarian projects in Palestine by more than 90% between 2013 and 2022. This has been replicated by other Western nations, including the UK which cut aid to Palestine by 70% over the same time period. What’s more, as this report shows, Palestinian women’s rights organizations received less than 0.4% of total aid between 2013-2022.

These systemic cuts have a particularly devastating impact on women and girls, whose health and safety needs are often deprioritized by aid agencies facing budget cuts. Moreover, without the resources to provide essential services and guarantee rights to food, health, water and more, women and girls are especially vulnerable: women are giving birth by cesarean section without anesthesia, malnourished new mothers cannot breastfeed, and mothers are starving themselves to feed their children. These aid cuts are a devastating attack on care infrastructure – hospitals, schools, and shelters – that is vital to meet the needs of a community in crisis and that has been the backbone of the humanitarian response in Gaza.

Now, rather than advancing policies that meet human needs and protect the most vulnerable communities from starvation, disease and death, US legislators are escalating threats to future UNRWA funding.

We call on the US and all nations who have cut funding to UNRWA to restore this aid as an essential lifeline to millions of Palestinian people, who are displaced, brutalized and still facing an onslaught of Israeli military attacks. We further call for a ceasefire that will halt the killings and make it possible for humanitarian aid and efforts to save lives.

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