Thursday, January 1, 2009

AFSC Open Letter to President Bush and President-Elect Obama

December 31, 2008

Dear President Bush and President-Elect Obama,

As an organization with 60 years of experience working in the Gaza Strip and committed to a peaceful future between Palestinians and Israelis, we are saddened and distressed at the spiraling violence in Gaza over the past five days. As a Quaker organization that cares deeply about the life, dignity, and security of all people, we ask you to take immediate action to end this spiral of violence.

We urge you to take all steps necessary to end the Israeli attacks against Gaza, which have as of this writing taken more than 370 lives, injured thousands, and destroyed many homes and properties. The military strike is in addition to a two year-old siege imposed by the Israeli government, and supported by the U.S. government, that has severely restricted the importation of food, medicine, fuel and other essential goods necessary to maintain the well-being of more than 1.4 million people in the Gaza Strip.

The disproportionate Israeli siege and military assault continue a policy of collective punishment. The time has long-passed to end this policy.

At the same time, we recognize that Hamas's decision to launch rocket attacks into Israel has threatened the safety of Israeli civilians and incurred tragic consequences for the people of Gaza.

So the cycle of violence deepens. Even today, Hamas threatens to increase the number of rockets fired into Israel in retaliation for the Israeli siege and air strikes. Israel justifies the siege and the attacks because of the rocket attacks. It's an untenable situation that need not continue.

Violence must be replaced with negotiations. Both the air strikes and the embargo should end immediately. Israel should engage in diplomacy with the Palestinians, including Hamas as elected leaders of the Palestinian legislature. And every effort should be made through the good offices of the Arab states to urge Hamas to re-establish the cease fire and put forth a good-faith effort to end the current violence.

Given its tremendous regional influence, the United States can move the parties toward a peaceful resolution. The U.S. supports Israel militarily, financially, and politically. You have the power to end weapon sales to Israel; weapons that are often used against civilians. We urge that you also stop supporting the embargo on Gaza.

The U.S. government has supported an Israeli militarist strategy that has not, and will not, lead to a lasting peace. Only a solution based in fairness, respect, and security for both Palestinians and Israelis will offer the peace that all so desperately seek and deserve. Only creative dialogue and negotiation, not military force, can lay the path to that solution.

We urge you to use your power and influence well so that U.S. policy can move further along the path to peace. We hope that this New Year is a more peaceful one, in the Middle East, the U.S., and throughout the world.


Mary Ellen McNish
General Secretary,
American Friends Service Committee