Letter from Black activists demands Biden to call for Israel-Hamas cease-fire

Everybody needs to be raising their voices to speak out against and doing what we can to end the siege and have a cease-fire," said Khury Petersen-Smith, an organizer with Black4Palestine.

Thousands of Black scholars, activists, and artists are joining calls for a cease-fire amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, echoing sentiments expressed by some members of Congress.  

On Monday, Black4Palestine, an organization comprised of Black activists rallying behind Palestinians, put forth a statement calling for a cease-fire to preserve innocent civilian lives in the Gaza Strip.

The organization says the letter received over 2,000 signatures from prominent Black political figures, including political activist Angela Davis and theGrio’s very own Marc Lamont Hill.

TOPSHOT – US President Joe Biden (L) listens to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he joins a meeting of the Israeli war cabinet in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. US President Joe Biden landed in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023 as Middle East anger flared after hundreds were killed when a rocket struck a hospital in war-torn Gaza, with Israel and the Palestinians quick to trade blame. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

“As we write, Israel has killed more than 8,000 Palestinians in Gaza – including 3,300 children. Over 20,000 people are injured,” the letter read.

“We refuse to remain silent or inactive as two million people in Gaza – half of whom are children – are fenced into an open-air prison, facing the bombs and barricades of the Israeli military,” the letter continued.

Khury Petersen-Smith, an organizer with Black4Palestine, told theGrio, “Everybody needs to be raising their voices to speak out against, and doing what we can to end, the siege and have a cease-fire.”

“It’s especially important, in my opinion, that Black folks do so,” he added. “We’re trying to organize Black folks in particular to put pressure and say that the U.S. government is right now not acting in the name of the people of this country.” 

In the letter, Black activists lay out a list of demands for the Biden-Harris administration, which include, enacting “an immediate cease-fire,” “ending the U.S. obstruction of Palestinian protections against genocide under international law,” and preventing the “forced displacement of Palestinians in Gaza outside of Palestine.” 

The letter from Black4Palestine comes a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected repeated calls for a cease-fire amid the Israel-Hamas conflict.   

Petersen-Smith told theGrio, “While obviously, Netanyahu is deeply responsible for the genocidal violence…I really have to point to the White House, in particular, because the U.S. has given the green light.

The Israeli defense minister on Oct. 9 called people in Gaza ‘human animals’ and then cut off food, water, fuel and electricity in [the Gaza Strip]. These are violations of international law,” he said.

The activist continued, “Instead of U.S. officials saying, ‘You can’t speak about Palestinians that way and you can’t violate international law’…[the U.S.] affirms what Israel is doing.”  

For weeks, activists, human rights groups, and members of Congress have demanded a cease-fire.

Earlier this month, House Democrats introduced a measure demanding the Biden-Harris administration call for a cease-fire to deescalate the Israel-Hamas war and to stop Israel from committing war crimes.

Rep. Cori Bush, theGrio.com
Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) speaks during a news conference to advocate for ending the Senate filibuster, outside the U.S. Capitol on April 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. With the Senate filibuster rules in place, legislative bills require 60 votes to end debate and advance, rather than a simple majority in the 100 member Senate. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The resolution stated, “The targeting of civilians, no matter their faith or ethnicity, is a violation of international humanitarian law…thousands of lives are at imminent risk if a cease-fire is not achieved.” 

In a recent interview with theGrio, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., told theGrio that he believed President Joe Biden “should be leading in terms of a cease-fire.” 

“The loss of life is already tremendously high and tremendously severe,” said the congressman.

Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., told theGrio that the Biden-Harris administration is “enabling” the violence that has erupted in the Gaza Strip.

“I am disturbed by our government’s willingness to immediately cave to calls for unconditional support and write a blank check for the Israeli military while blatantly ignoring the violence and dehumanization of Palestinian civilians,” she told theGrio.

Rev. Nyle Fort, activist, scholar and a co-signer of the statement, told theGrio that Biden “dropped the ball.”

“You have groups who are beginning to sound the alarm on an administration that fails to do what the elected people have called them to do, which is a cease-fire,” he said.

“It’s very unfortunate because many of the same people who have elected [Biden] are feeling, I think, neglected in this moment where a lot of more progressive values and more progressive policies are being betrayed.” 

Khaled Elgindy, director of Israeli-Palestinian affairs at the Middle East Institute, told theGrio, “We absolutely need a ceasefire.”

“This is not a war. This is not self-defense. We’ve gone way beyond self-defense and war,” he said.

“What is happening inside Gaza is atrocities on a massive scale. Civilians are being targeted by missile strikes, and they’re being targeted through starvation and deprivation of basic life needs,” Elgindy added. 

On the contrary, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that a cease-fire is “not possible” while speaking at the Baker Institute for Public Policy last week. The White House has said a cease-fire would only benefit Hamas.

“People who are calling for a cease-fire now do not understand Hamas,” said Clinton. “It would be such a gift to Hamas because they would spend whatever time there was a cease-fire in effect rebuilding their armaments, creating stronger positions to be able to fend off an eventual assault by the Israelis.” 

Phyllis Bennis, an American Jewish writer and political commentator, told theGrio she disagrees with Clinton’s assessment.

WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 08: Former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton shares a laugh with US Vice President Joseph Biden, during a portrait unveiling ceremony for outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), on Capitol Hill December 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

“You need a cease-fire to stop the killing of children [and] of elders. You need a cease-fire to allow in humanitarian aid,” explained Bennis. “But as long as the bombing continues, the aid is either not going to get in at all, or it’s going to be destroyed when it does.”

“You need a cease-fire to protect the hostages, which Netanyahu has made very clear is not his first priority,” she added. 

Elgindy told theGrio that he also disagrees with Clinton’s analysis. 

“When Hillary Clinton or, for that matter, Joe Biden, when they say the only people who will benefit from a cease-fire is Hamas, they’re erasing 2.3 million human beings who are not Hamas, who are just ordinary people,” he said. 

“It’s dehumanizing to say only Hamas benefits from a cease-fire. No, actually, the entire civilian population would benefit.”

Fort told theGrio that he hopes the Black4Palestine letter will “mobilize people” around the nation.

“I’m also hoping that it raises awareness about what is happening in Israel and Palestine and to show that Black people have had a long tradition of solidarity with oppressed people, including Palestinians,” he said.

“I think the beauty in this moment, despite all of the tragedy, is that we have an opportunity to stand in the best of our tradition,” Fort continued, “which is a political and moral commitment to the least of these to the most vulnerable.” 

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