Only a Ceasefire and De-Escalation Can Stop the Rising Civilian Death Toll in Gaza

Interview with Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, conducted by Scott Harris

On Oct. 7, Hamas terrorists unleashed the latest conflict with Israel after slaughtering 1,400 Israelis at a music festival and in their homes. In the second week of the war, Israeli airstrikes in Gaza killed an estimated 3,000 Palestinian civilians.

An explosion at the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in the middle of Gaza City on Oct. 16 killed up to 500 Palestinians. Initial reports blamed an Israeli missile, but the Israeli military denied responsibility and maintains an Islamic Jihad-misfired rocket was responsible for the deadly explosion at the hospital.

Hamas, which is thought to be holding 199 Israeli hostages in Gaza, has reportedly stated that it will consider releasing civilian hostages if Israel stops bombing Gaza.  Meanwhile, Palestinian residents in the West Bank have been the target of violence from Israeli settlers and the military. The Palestinian health ministry reported that in the week since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, 54 Palestinians, including children, have been killed and more than 1,100 injured.

As the Israeli military is preparing for a ground invasion into Gaza to destroy Hamas leadership and infrastructure, President Biden has scheduled a visit to Israel Oct. 18. However, after a North Gaza hospital bombing, that killed hundreds, the meetings with  Jordan’s King Abdullah, Egyptian President Sisi, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas were postponed. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and author, who talks about the urgent need for an immediate ceasefire and de-escalation of the conflict, which a group of 13 progressive Democrats have proposed in a House resolution that calls for a ceasefire and facilitating humanitarian assistance to enter Gaza.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: It has been civilians, ordinary people, seniors, children, babies, women, elders, men, everyone who are suffering and are paying the price. I have to say that the urgency right now, the urgency of now, as Dr. King put it, is that we desperately need a ceasefire on all sides. We need to stop the killing. We need to stop the violence.

The claims by the Biden administration that they have urged Israel to not violate international law and international humanitarian law, essentially the laws of war simply doesn’t mean anything in the context of the constant flow of bombs that are being dropped on this incredibly impoverished, crowded area that already, we should be clear, has been under a massive, impossible to imagine, almost-siege for 16 years.

The siege that’s being ordered now that’s now, you know, cut off food and medicine and fuel and water from the people of Gaza and forced people out of their homes is an escalation of something that already existed. I read something the other day that shocked me as familiar, as I thought I was, with the impact of the sanctions and the siege on the people of Gaza.

I didn’t know this one. And that is and this was as of last January, not in the context of the current crisis, but in the context of the 16-year siege that of all the children in Gaza and of that 2.2 million population, half — 1.1 million are children under the age of 18. And those children in Gaza, across Gaza, 20 percent of them are stunted by the age of 2 because there is simply not enough good food with protein and all the things kids need.

I was stunned by that. And that was before this level of siege. Now, I am glad, Scott, to say that finally there is a move that it just broke in Congress a few hours ago. A number of members of Congress are now putting forward a resolution calling for de-escalation and a ceasefire on all sides. And they very consciously and I think quite brilliantly put together language that is short and simple and doesn’t demand a level of agreement that we are simply not going to be able to find inside Congress.

I think that every bit of this very short resolution is something that members of Congress across the board should be supporting. And I would hope that your listeners would take seriously the need to be calling their members of Congress and urge them to sign off.

It says four things as a description and then two things that it resolves to do.

And this is not a bill. It has nothing to do with budgets. It has nothing to do with appointments. It’s a resolution. It’s a statement of the belief of Congress in calling for an immediate de-escalation and a ceasefire. So it says first, all human life is precious and that targeting civilians, no matter their faith or ethnicity, is a violation of international humanitarian law. Period. Full stop.

It says that the armed violence between Oct. 7 and Oct. 16 has claimed the lives of over 2,700 Palestinians and over 1,400 Israelis, including Americans, and wounded thousands more. It says that hundreds of thousands of lives are at imminent risk. Now, if a ceasefire is not achieved and humanitarian aid is not delivered without delay. And it says that the U.S. government holds enormous diplomatic power to save those lives.

And in response to that, it says the House of Representatives does two things. It urges the Biden administration to call for and facilitate de-escalation and a ceasefire to urgently end the current violence. And second, it calls on the administration to send and facilitate the entry of humanitarian assistance into Gaza. There’s no complicated analysis. No one has to accept someone else’s view of history.

Even the question that I raise over and over again about when do you start the clock? Because history is shaped by when we start the clock. You don’t have to resolve that either. And I think that having a resolution like that for people to mobilize around is very, very important. Even in a moment when our democracy has so deeply collapsed that we can’t even function there is no speaker of the House. There is no way to take a formal vote on ordinary bills. But this is not an ordinary bill.

And I’m hoping that Congress will have the political will to say this is important and this we can vote on.

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Phyllis Bennis (31:20) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

For the best listening experience and to never miss an episode, subscribe to Between The Lines on your favorite podcast app or platform: Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcherGoogle PodcastsAmazon MusicTunein + AlexaCastboxOvercastPodfriendiHeartRadioCastroPocket Casts,  RSS Feed.

Or subscribe to our Between The Lines and Counterpoint Weekly Summary. 

Subscribe to our Weekly Summary