Activists calling for Gaza ceasefire begin hunger strike outside White House

activists calling for gaza ceasefire begin hunger strike outside white house

Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Leftwing activists including the actor Cynthia Nixon, famous for her role in Sex and the City, have begun a hunger strike outside the White House aimed at pressing Joe Biden into demanding a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

The five-day fast was launched to coincide with what had been the scheduled end of a four-day truce in Israel’s military offensive into the Palestinian coastal territory, during which the Palestinian group Hamas released dozens of hostages. Israel has also released several batches of Palestinian prisoners, most of them women and minors. The truce was later extended by a further two days following mediation from Egypt and Qatar.

In a news conference in front of the White House, speaker after speaker representing a range of pro-Palestinian and progressive causes lined up to denounce the US president and his senior officials. They lambasted the Biden administration for enabling a bombardment and ground invasion that has killed nearly 15,000 people, including more than 6,000 children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

“We are taking this action of hunger striking to showcase the actions of President Biden,” said Zohran Mamadani, a Democratic state representative from New York. “It’s President Biden’s actions that are leading to the bombing of Palestinians, the starving of Palestinians. So we are starving ourselves to make visible what is so often erased, which is the Palestinian experience.”

Nixon, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, attempted to put the soaring Palestinian death toll in the context of the 20-year US military engagement in Afghanistan while, uniquely among the speakers, also referencing the roughly 1,200 Israelis killed in Hamas’ attack on 7 October that provoked the current hostilities.

Introducing herself as “the mother of Jewish children whose grandparents are holocaust survivors”, she said: “In seven weeks, Israel has killed more civilians on a tiny strip of land than was killed in 20 years of war in the entire country of Afghanistan.

“I’m sick and tired of people explaining this away by saying that civilian casualties are a routine toll of war. There is nothing routine about these figures. There is nothing routine about these deaths.”

The 6,150 Palestinian children recorded as killed represented a higher number of minors than have been killed in two dozen war zones for the whole of 2022, she said. If the bombardment of the past seven weeks continued, Nixon went on, no Palestinian homes would be left standing by Christmas Eve.

“None of this is normal,” she said.

Referring to Biden, she added: “I would like to make a personal plea to a president who has experienced such devastating personal loss. To connect with an empathy that he has acknowledged and to look at the children of Gaza and imagine that they were his children. We implore him that this current ceasefire must continue.”

Later, in separate comments to the Guardian, Nixon accused the Biden administration of moving “way too slow” to save lives and said Israel was guilty of disproportionality in spreading the consequences of its war against Hamas to the civilian population.

“Let’s say there was a terrorist cell in Maryland. Would the response be to then completely bomb the civilian population because they’re hiding in a house somewhere?” she asked. “It doesn’t make any sense. We just keep getting this message that Palestinian lives are of less value. Immediately when you substitute British lives or American lives or any other nationality, you immediately see that’s crazy, how could we ever?”

Nixon said she would cut short her fast – during which planned to consume only water and a little lemon – to return to New York on Tuesday for work commitments. The other hunger strikers will gather between 9am and 7pm each day until Friday.

The hunger strike comes amid reports of rising dissension within Biden’s administration over his support for Israel’s offensive in the face of rising casualties and a humanitarian disaster that has seen vast numbers of Gaza residents displaced from their homes and suffering from shortages of food, fuel and water.

It is the latest in a series of protests by leftist groups (some of them Jewish) outside the grounds of the White House and Congress in which demonstrators have accused Israel of perpetrating “genocide” against Palestinians in Gaza. The groups have also criticised the Biden administration for inaction at best and lending outright support at worst.

This week’s protest is being organised and endorsed by the Campaign for Palestinian Rights, the Adalah Justice Project, Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now, Dream Defenders, Democratic Socialists of America, Institute for Middle East Understanding and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

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