"Only a negotiated cease-fire can pave the way to addressing the current humanitarian crisis, the release of all hostages, and a long-term solution to this conflict," said one campaigner.
Almost a million Americans signed petitions from half a dozen civil society organizations demanding that U.S. President Joe Biden and Congress push for a lasting cease-fire in Israel's war on the Gaza Strip.
Amnesty International USA, Avaaz, Demand Progress, Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), MoveOn, and Oxfam America circulated similar petitions in response to the war, which Israel launched after a Hamas-led attack on October 7.
The groups delivered the petition signatures to the White House on Wednesday as the world waited to see if a temporary truce would be extended. The initial four-day pause in fighting—during which Hamas freed some hostages taken last month and Israel released some Palestinian prisoners—was extended by two days on Monday, but as of press time, no new announcement had been made.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Tel Aviv on Wednesday to meet with Israel's leaders to discuss extending the temporary cease-fire, during which two American Israelis have been released—Liat Atzili and Abigail Idan, who is 4 years old.
"It's inspiring to see the groundswell of support across the United States for an immediate cease-fire to end Israel's reckless military campaign and the total blockade of Gaza."
"The resumption of fighting for Palestinians means that there's going to be no humanitarian aid that will be allowed into the Gaza Strip. It also means there are going to be more casualties and victims alongside mass destruction of civil infrastructure and civilian homes," Al Jazeera's Abu Azzoum reported from Khan Younis. Israeli forces have already killed 15,000 people in Gaza.
MoveOn executive director Rahna Epting said in a statement Wednesday that "civilians are being killed at what is being described a 'historic pace,' the majority women and children. The loss of life is devastating."
"We must end collective punishment, return those taken hostage or wrongfully imprisoned, and let in humanitarian aid," Epting argued. "The current pause is a good step toward what is needed: a permanent cease-fire."
Demand Progress foreign policy adviser Cavan Kharrazian similarly asserted that "there is no military solution to the current conflict, and further violence will continue to erode the safety and security of Palestinians and Israelis. Only a negotiated cease-fire can pave the way to addressing the current humanitarian crisis, the release of all hostages, and a long-term solution to this conflict."
Paul O'Brien, executive director of Amnesty International USA, pointed out that the nearly 1 million people who signed the petitions "represent just a fraction of Americans who support a cease-fire today, as reflected by poll after poll."
"They know that the way the Israeli military and Hamas have been engaging in this conflict is in violation of international law," he continued. "They know that a short pause in the fighting—even as it is welcome—will do nothing to assure that this will change."
Hassan El-Tayyab, FCNL's legislative director for Middle East policy, said that "it's inspiring to see the groundswell of support across the United States for an immediate cease-fire to end Israel's reckless military campaign and the total blockade of Gaza."
"It's critical that Congress and the administration listen to these voices, and the vast majority of U.S. citizens, who want an end to this nightmare before more innocent lives are lost," El-Tayyab added.
Since October 7, the list of members of Congress calling for a Gaza cease-fire has grown to about four dozen—though as The Intercept's Prem Thakker noted Wednesday, "a closer look at some lawmakers' statements raises questions about whether they are truly pushing for an end to the violence."
The United States already gives Israel $3.8 billion in annual military aid—and after the Hamas attack, Biden announced his "unwavering" support for the country and asked Congress for $14.3 billion for its war effort.
Oxfam's petition declares that "President Biden and Congress must help immediately de-escalate this dangerous situation; failing to do so will unwittingly place a U.S. seal of approval on the suffering that is sure to only deepen."
El-Tayyab highlighted that "every major humanitarian organization working in Gaza is pleading with the international community to reach an immediate cease-fire and open up aid access so they can continue their vital work in the Gaza Strip."
Throughout Israel's air and ground assault on Gaza, Israeli forces have waged what some critics have called a "war against hospitals," three-quarters of which have had to shut down. Margaret Harris, a World Health Organization spokesperson, warned Tuesday that "eventually we will see more people dying from disease than from bombardment if we are not able to put back together this health system."
The civil society groups behind the petitions shared the testimony of a practicing nurse volunteering in a Gaza hospital: "We heard nearby explosions. I rushed to assist, only to discover it was my own family. Witnessing their extraction was heartbreaking. Some lost their lives, while others were wounded. They started pulling out dead children from under the rubble in front of me."
"This is the hardest war Gaza has ever experienced. It's the first I witnessed such injuries: amputations, burns, unprecedented in its severity," the nurse added. "Dealing with 60 to 70 people simultaneously in an emergency room designed for 13 or 14 beds poses a challenge. We have no choice but to treat some on the floor."
As Oxfam's Scott Paul put it Wednesday: "We need a permanent cease-fire in order to enable humanitarian organizations to deliver much-needed aid safely and securely. More violence is not going to produce the safety and human rights that Israelis and Palestinians deserve, but it is sure to immeasurably deepen suffering in Gaza."