Five College scholars join 1,000-plus educators to push New England senators for permanent cease-fire in Gaza

Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel , Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel , Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit) Ariel Schalit

Palestinians flee the Israeli ground offensive in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)

Palestinians flee the Israeli ground offensive in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman) Mohammed Dahman

An Israeli artillery unit is pictured near the border with the Gaza Strip on Dec. 5, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

An Israeli artillery unit is pictured near the border with the Gaza Strip on Dec. 5, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images/TNS) Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP

Palestinian citizens inspect the destruction caused by air strikes on their homes on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023, in Khan Yunis, Gaza. (Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images/TNS)

Palestinian citizens inspect the destruction caused by air strikes on their homes on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023, in Khan Yunis, Gaza. (Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images/TNS) Ahmad Hasaballah

Palestinians inspect the destruction around residential buildings following Israeli airstrikes in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on Dec. 1,  as fighting resumed shortly after the expiration of a seven-day truce between Israel and Hamas militants.

Palestinians inspect the destruction around residential buildings following Israeli airstrikes in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on Dec. 1, as fighting resumed shortly after the expiration of a seven-day truce between Israel and Hamas militants. Said Khatib/AFP

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 12-15-2023 11:28 AM

More than 100 scholars from the region’s Five Colleges have signed onto a letter sent to the New England’s 12 U.S. senators demanding a permanent cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, the peaceful release of Israeli hostages and arbitrarily detained Palestinians, and a U.N. peacekeeping force to be deployed to the occupied Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem.

More than 1,000 scholars at colleges and universities across New England signed the letter.

“Together, we are writing you to call for a permanent cease-fire in Israel-Palestine; an end to Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip; and an enduring political resolution between Israelis and Palestinians based on international law and the principles of justice, equality and dignity for all,” reads the letter from New England Scholars Speak.

Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, the U.S. senators from Massachusetts, were among those getting the letter that was sent electronically on Dec. 6.

“We also write to emphasize — and for the record, to forewarn — that Palestinians face the prospect of ethnic cleansing and exponentially increased mass deaths in the coming days now that the Israeli government has resumed its military campaign in the Gaza Strip and the siege has not been lifted.”

The letter also appeals for the establishment of an independent commission to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Israel and Palestine from Oct. 7, the day of the Hamas-led attack on Israel, until the permanent end of hostilities.

Warren on Wednesday took to the Senate floor to deliver remarks regarding Israel’s war against Hamas and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, among other issues as part of the debate over legislation to provide military funding to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan.

“I want to be clear about how I see the war that Israel is currently waging in Gaza,” Warren said. “Prime Minister Netanyahu and his right-wing war cabinet have created a humanitarian catastrophe, killing thousands of Palestinian civilians and risking a wider conflict in the Middle East.”

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She quoted Gaza Health Ministry estimates that state more than 15,000 people in Gaza have been killed and more than 40,000 injured, the vast majority of those Palestinian civilians. Warren noted that she applauded the recent cease-fire and urged for its extension, saying that the long-term goal must be peace, or “two states for two peoples.”

“When the cease-fire lapsed, I urged the parties to get back to the negotiating table and build on the prior agreement so the cease-fire could resume. But instead, the fighting ramps up,” Warren said.

She continued, “So I will say it again: Hamas must release the hostages and stop firing rockets at civilians in Israel. The Israeli government must stop the bombing in Gaza and deliver humanitarian aid. And all of us must do everything possible to resume the cease-fire and extend it for as long as possible.”

Scholars’ letter

Of the 100 professors and lecturers at the Five Colleges who have signed the letter so far, 41 work at the University of Massachusetts, 11 at Smith College, 21 at Amherst College, 28 at Mount Holyoke College and 15 at Hampshire College.

Laura Briggs, professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at UMass, is among those who signed the letter.

Briggs said the senators are being approached because they have constitutional oversight and can offer President Joe Biden advice and consent on American foreign policy, and that U.S. military assistance can be halted when there is evidence of war crimes. Israel is continuing to receive weaponry, including Hellfire missiles, from U.S. stockpiles, Briggs said, as its armed forces appear to terrorize and target civilians, including hospitals and regions where civilians have been told to evacuate to in Southern Gaza.

“If our democracy is working as a democracy and a nation of laws, our senators owe it to us, and to decency and conscience, to stop the military aid to Israel until there is a cease-fire, an independent investigation of war crimes, and a plan for a just and lasting peace in the region,” Briggs said.

The letter is explicit in its concern that money is going from the United States to Israel to commit war crimes in Gaza.

“In view of our federal Leahy laws and the substantial U.S. provisions of lethal military hardware to the Netanyahu government, the most right-wing government in Israeli history, we expect the Biden administration to exert far more pressure and restraint on Israel than it hitherto has done, and to render any further aid to Israel contingent on complying with its international legal obligations.”

Those who have signed the letter, like Lara Jirmanus, a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, also point to the welfare of 2.3 million Palestinians who, due to border restrictions, are being deprived of food, water and medicine.

“We implore our Senators Warren and Markey to speak out for a permanent cease-fire and to protect lives,” Jirmanus said. “Without access to clean water or power, with 72% of hospitals no longer functional, amid endless bombardment, and with winter looming, Gazans have no time to lose.”

Mary T. Bassett, professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the United States should take action to halt the human catastrophe.

“The devastation of Gaza by Israel violates the norms of war, not to mention the many international agreements intended to ensure protection of civilians,” Bassett said.

A professor of History at Yale University, Omnia El Shakry, said the letter shows the need for a political, rather than a military, resolution in Palestine-Israel.

“It also illustrates the extent to which the lack of such support in the Senate is grossly incongruous with the demands of larger constituencies — whether on New England college campuses or in cities nationwide,” El Shakry said.

The letter also references the recent shootings of three Palestinians in Burlington, Vermont, two of whom are students at New England colleges, and this week’s Republican-led Congressional House Education Committee hearing that focused on campus antisemitism, during which the presidents of Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania testified.

“We also call on you to condemn the ongoing national campaigns to silence students who are speaking up for Palestinian human rights or making legitimate criticisms of Israeli state policies by conflating such speech and activism with antisemitism,” the letter reads.