Vermont delegation, organizers respond to 4-day pause agreement in Israel-Hamas war
People in Vermont's Jewish and Palestinian communities are expressing both cautious optimism and lingering concern over the news of a short-term truce between Israel and Hamas.
National outlets, including NPR, reported Tuesday night that Israel and Hamas have agreed to a four-day pause in fighting to release 50 women and children being held by Hamas militants in Gaza. That's according to the foreign ministry in Qatar, which helped broker the deal along with the U.S. ad Egypt.
The State of Qatar announces that a humanitarian pause has been agreed in Gaza— Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Qatar (@MofaQatar_EN) November 22, 2023
Doha - 22 November 2023
The State of Qatar announces the success of its joint mediation efforts undertaken with the Arab Republic of Egypt and the United States of America between Israel and the…
NPR also reports that Israel has agreed to release 150 Palestinian women and children held in that country's prisons, and that humanitarian aid will be allowed into Gaza.
The deal comes after more than six weeks of fighting following Hamas' Oct. 7 attack against Israel. Hamas killed 1,200 people and took more than 200 hostage.
Since then, Israel has launched a ground invasion and bombing campaign that has killed 13,000 people in Gaza, according to Palestinian health officials. Israel has also at different times completely blocked or severely limited access to food, water and fuel in Gaza.
Vermont U.S. Rep. Becca Balint became the first Jewish member of Congress to call for a cease-fire last week. She changed her position after originally joining Vermont Sens. Peter Welch and Bernie Sanders in calling for a humanitarian pause.
(While neither terms have set definitions under international law, the difference, according to reporting from the Washington Post, is that humanitarian pauses tend to be shorter and focused on getting aid into a specific area. Meanwhile a cease-fire is typically negotiated by a third party and can last longer as long as both sides of a conflict adhere to it.)
On Wednesday, Balint took to X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, to share her thoughts on the short-term truce reached between Israel and Hamas.
"I'm relieved that after weeks of negotiations that some of the hostages will be freed and there will be a multi-day ceasefire," her statement says. "And we must keep pushing for the release of ALL the civilians held by Hamas."
Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders penned an op-ed published in the New York Times Wednesday morning.
“If Wednesday morning’s deal — in which 50 Israeli hostages are to be freed in exchange for a four-day pause in fighting — is honored, it is a promising first step that we can build upon, and hopefully work to extend the pause,” Sanders wrote.
Sanders also shared his thoughts on ways to ensure a just future for Palestinian people including the removal of Hamas from power, ending the Israeli occupation of Gaza, and putting an end to the United States government’s “blank check approach” with Israel.
Sen. Peter Welch told Vermont Public on Wednesday that he hoped Israel's bombing of Gaza would stop indefinitely.
"The military response by the Netanyahu government with this indiscriminate bombing, killing over 13,000 people, a million and a half people being displaced, there has to be time to establish humanitarian aid that sustainable, reliable, and plentiful," Welch said. "The Netanyahu military response has to be targeted at Hamas, even if that means it's more difficult."
Welch said that violence in the West Bank also needs to stop.
"We're seeing from settlers who were encroaching on Palestinians who are living in the West Bank — over 200 Palestinians have been killed," he said. "So that violence has got to be stopped by the Netanyahu government."
Vermont's delegation has faced pressure from local organizations, like Vermonters for Justice in Palestine (VTJP), to call for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war and to end military aid to Israel.
"I am disappointed of our representatives, that they didn't take a stronger position for accepting cease-fire or calling for cease-fire," said Wafic Faour, a Palestinian activist with VTJP who lives in Richmond and who advocates for racial and social justice.
Even Balint, Faour said, who did call for a cease-fire, still needs to take the next step: "Which is to make it as a battle on the Congress, and to force the Congress to vote on it."
But overall, Faour said he's feeling hopeful that the pause in fighting goes beyond the four days initially agreed upon between Israel and Hamas, and that it will continue into a permanent cease-fire.
"We need more pressure from the American administration, from Biden administration, from the Congress to put on Israel and to stop their aggression against Gaza," Faour said.
Jamie Spector, who is a Plainfield resident and one of the statewide leaders for the national organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), says that organization is also calling on elected leaders to call for a permanent cease-fire and stopping military aid to Israel.
"Our role as American Jews is to pressure our own government, who was absolutely complicit in supporting the continued violence and and terrible atrocities committed by the Israeli military, inflicting collective punishment on the civilian population of Palestinians, both in Gaza and the West Bank," Spector said. "And we understand that this current escalation of violence is symptomatic of long-term injustices that have been existing in the region for 75 years. And that unless those root causes are addressed, there won't be a long-term path towards peace."
Matt Vogel, the University of Vermont's Hillelexecutive director, says that organization is praying for the return of all of the hostages being held by Hamas.
"We hope today's cease-fire agreement will de-escalate the rising tensions and accompanying antisemitic activities on college campusesas we move forward through this awful tragedy," Vogel said.
Reports of both antisemitism and Islamophobia have increased following Hamas' attack on Oct. 7. Vogel has faced criticism from the UVM student group Students for Justice in Palestine for writing in a statement the that group would demonstrate on Nov. 9 and "justify and celebrate and Hamas' horrific acts of terror against Jews."
"This statement is designed to stoke racist fears of Palestinian students on campus," Students for Justice in Palestine wrote.
Rabbi David Edleson of Temple Sinai in South Burlington said he is glad for the pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas, insofar as it means the release of Israeli hostages.
"All those 200-and-something hostages that were taken brutally deserve to be back at home, and I'm glad that that is happening," Edleson said.
However, he added: "I am concerned that a four-day cease-fire will only give Hamas the opportunity to rearm to regroup. And that will ultimately lead to more casualties on both sides."
NPR reports that Israel says it will continue the war in Gaza after the hostages are exchanged, but that the country also says it's willing to extend the pause in fighting for up to five extra days — that's if Hamas frees 50 more Israeli hostages, and Israel will release 150 more Palestinian prisoners and detainees.