In the wake of the horrific Hamas murders and kidnappings on October 7th, the state of Israel launched attacks causing ghastly suffering for the people of Gaza. This is an intentional violation of international law that clearly prohibits collective retribution of this kind.. A spokesperson for the Israeli military nevertheless declared “the emphasis [of our Gaza campaign] is on damage rather than on precision.”

To date, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have engaged in an intense and indiscriminate bombing campaign that has killed over 17,000 inhabitants of Gaza, nearly half of whom are children. Nearly half of the housing units in Gaza have been destroyed. Hospitals, mosques, churches, bakeries, apartment complexes – buildings full of people – have been reduced to rubble. The suffering is immense and ongoing.

Tell Congress Pass the Ceasefire Now Resolution TODAY

The Biden Administration has offered virtually unconditional support for Israel’s military operations, despite occasional ineffective declarations about humanitarian aid and the need to minimize civilian casualties. Congress – both Republicans and Democrats – have largely gone along, backing proposed  increases in financial and material support for Israel despite IDF actions that violate international human rights standards against collective punishment.

There cannot be double standards for international law or human rights. We cannot allow atrocity to justify atrocity. We condemn the brutal and inhumane attacks by Hamas, just as we condemn the collective punishment inflicted upon the people of Gaza. We mourn for all the victims, insist that all hostages be released, and insist on the principle that ALL human lives have value.

Around the world the call for an immediate ceasefire is gaining momentum. From London to Los Angeles, Sydney Australia, Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia – Yemen, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Jordan, millions of people have taken to the streets to call for an immediate end to the violence, and to address the longstanding demands of the Palestinian people for national liberation and end to the occupation.

The Biden Administration, and our Congress must not give Israel a blank check to conduct violence against the people of Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

We are asking members of Congress to sign the Bush and Tlaib Ceasefire Now Resolution –calling for an immediate ceasefire and resumption of life saving humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Will you please send a message to your member of Congress asking them to co-sponsor this bill? 

The following is a guest blog post by Alli McCracken from our sister organization CODEPINK:

“Assault? Who- or what- did I assault??” I asked the police officer incredulously as I sat in his office at the police station, handcuffed to the wall. “Well, looks like it was Leon Panetta himself,” the officer responded as he flipped through a pile of paperwork.

Me? A 22-year-old mild-mannered peace activist, assaulted the Secretary of Defense? I had simply tried to tell him how I felt about the wars. On the morning of October 13th about 25 activists who are occupying Washington DC, as part of the nationwide occupations, went on a field trip to Congress. We wanted to attend the House Armed Services Committee hearing where Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense, and Martin Dempsy, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were testifying about “lessons learned by the Department of Defense over the preceding decade” and “how those lessons might be applied in the future in light of anticipated reductions in defense spending.” After all, these hearings are open to the public. And shouldn’t we have a say in where our money is being spent?

As a peace activist with the group CODEPINK for the past 10 months, I have done my fair share of sending letters and emails and delivering petitions to our government representatives, asking them to stop pouring trillions of our taxpayer dollars into the endless cycle of death, destruction and reconstruction halfway across the world. There are so many critical things that we could spend that money on here in America, such as education, healthcare, helping the homeless, the elderly, the disabled, the veterans.

The activists who I have been camping out with in Freedom Plaza since October 6th share the same sentiments. That morning about 25 of us, sporting social justice slogans on pins, hats and shirts, got to the hearing several hours early so we could be first on line to get in. It didn’t take long for the Capitol Police to appear. They began to congregate around us, and several of them were already holding the flexi-cuffs they use now in lieu of traditional handcuffs (they’re recyclable, so I learned).

A Congressional staffer came out into the hallway and barked at us: no demonstrating, no protesting, no outbursts, no signs. Not even before the Chairman of the Committee hits the gavel, marking the start of the hearing. We were surprised that we couldn’t even hold up our signs before the hearing began, as we are usually able to do. “So you’re taking away what little shred we have of free speech in these pubic hearings?” asked Medea Benjamin, a CODEPINK cofounder who has been to many a hearing. “I thought this was a democracy!” The staffer ignored her and walked away.

We were even more upset when we learned that the room was already stacked with seats reserved for staffers, and that only 15 members of the public would be allowed in. So much for a “public hearing.”

Soon they started letting people into the hearing room- but only 5 at a time, and the police escorted us in under a careful eye as if we were unruly children. They told us any form of demonstrating would result in immediate ejection from the hearing and possible arrest. One man asked, “You mean even if I do this?” and held both his arms up, making peace signs with his fingers. Absolutely, the police responded. We laughed at the absurdity.

A few minutes after all the Congresspeople had slowly made their way to their seats, Panetta and Dempsey entered the room flanked by several staffers. Media cameras crowded around them at the witness table as they sat down, about 15 feet away from me.

Quickly I sprung up out of my seat, pulling out my homemade sign that read: FUND MY EDUCATION, NOT YOUR WARS. I had been in Congressional hearings many times, and I had never come so close to risking arrest, but I was determined to get my message out. “Secretary Panetta, when are we going to stop funding war and start rebuilding America? We have been at war for almost half my life and guys my age have PTSD. My generation deserves better!” I continued to shout as Capitol Hill police dragged me out the door.

Outside were about 15 people who were not let into the hearing and together we chanted the Occupy Wall Street slogan, “We! Are! The 99 percent!!”

The next person to speak out inside the hearing was Michael Patterson, from Anchorage, Alaska, who has been sleeping out in McPherson Square in DC for 8 days and nights. Michael is a 21-year-old vet who was an interrogator in Iraq- at the age of 18! He has been extremely affected by what he saw there and as soon as Panetta started speaking, Michael denounced U.S. actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. “You are murdering people. I’ve seen it. You are murdering people,” he shouted as the police tackled him.

Michael was overcome with emotion and as a result his disruption was the most intense- and hopefully the most effective. Some reports mention that members of Congress seemed startled by his message. When asked about his motivation for this action, Michael responded, “Certain elements of the American government are accomplices in genocide. These wars have caused the death of up to a million Iraqis, an unknown number of Afghans, and  thousands of US soldiers. They have ruined the lives of millions. The truth is out there and people are just choosing apathy. It’s time to hold those accountable for what they have done and when the time comes, the excuse ‘I was just following orders’ will not be acceptable.”

After Michael, six other individuals stood up during the hearing and expressed how they felt about these wars, whether by holding up peace signs silently, or speaking softly, or shouting and holding up a sign. After each person was arrested, the rest clapped in support, and the other activists still waiting in the hall chanted continuously calling for an end to the wars.

The eight of us were rounded up outside the building, then hauled off in a paddy wagon to the police station, where I spent over 6 hours being processed and narrowly avoided spending the night in jail. They gave us all citations, and everyone was charged with disrupting Congress, except for me. I was charged with simple assault of Leon Panetta.

It’s funny more than anything, because I was nowhere near Secretary Panetta during my outburst. It turns out that my charge, “simple assault”, is a crime that causes “a victim to fear violence”. It is a sad day when a government official feels endangered by a citizen practicing her freedom of speech. Is our highest military official after the President frightened by a young woman with a sign calling for our funds to be spent on education, not war?

A little while after the activists were thrown out of the hearing room, Representative Pingree put Secretary Panetta on the spot. She wanted to know what he thought about the protests inside the hearing, since they reflect the views of the majority of people throughout the country who want to see an end to the wars. He responded by acknowledging our frustration after 10 years of war and talking about the timelines set up to withdraw the troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The fact that the Secretary of Defense was forced to acknowledge and respond to our concerns is in itself a victory. The strength our messages carried did not just come from us, or the people in the hallway supporting us, but from people rising up all over the country- and it is clear that our government officials are starting to feel the heat.

Since the story of the seven arrests hit the news, I have received a surprising amount of support from friends and strangers. Several of the messages are actually from active members of the military who told me our actions inspired them to seriously think about what they are doing overseas. A few mentioned that it sparked discussion among the people they are serving with. For the most part, they were struck by people’s willingness to risk arrest for something they believe so passionately about.

We are part of the growing Occupy movement sweeping the country, and we are becoming much stronger than the sum of our parts. Drawing strength in numbers, both seasoned and new activists are feeling an incredible sense of empowerment and are taking more risks- including arrestable offenses- so that our voices will be heard. We are determined that our policy makers listen to the sentiment of the people, as expressed in the chants that were echoing in the hallway: We are the 99 percent and we say no to all these wars!!!

When Global Exchange founded Reality Tours back in 1988, it did so with the belief that travel can be a tool for promoting peace and cross-cultural understanding. Since then, we have committed ourselves to organizing enriching, thought provoking and philosophically complex Citizen Diplomacy delegations around the world, even when those nations are often demonized as enemy states or part of the “Axis of Evil”.

Citizen diplomacy is based on the concept that individuals have the right to help influence and shape foreign policies for their country by informally meeting with global citizens and learning about their reality.  As you will read  below, Ken Yale’s reflection and learning is exactly the kind of transformative experience that keeps us here at Reality Tours ever motivated to continue our work to have you “Meet the People, Learn the Facts, and Make a Difference”!


By Ken Yale, Reality Tours Palestine & Israel 2010 Past Participant

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” 
– Aldous Huxley

“Begin challenging your own assumptions.  Your assumptions are your windows on the world.  Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in. “  – -Alan Alda

We are often unconscious of the potential and significance of the moment in which we live.  This was certainly true for me in July, 2010, as I prepared to embark on a Global Exchange Reality Tour of the West Bank in a period when progressive movements in the region did not appear to be very strong.  Less than six months later, the Arab Spring began in Egypt and Tunisia.  Now it is hard for anyone with open eyes to miss the power of this unique historic moment as growing waves of mass uprisings for human rights, democracy, and social justice continue to spread outward from the Middle East and North Africa to nations on every continent.

It’s not easy for most of us in the US to understand the conditions and dynamics that are fueling such rapid change in the region and offering inspiration and hope for global social justice.  We struggle to either discover or unlearn decades of history that have been largely ignored, obfuscated, or distorted by a corporate controlled media and an educational system that discourages critical thought and examination.  For many of us who grew up in Jewish families, we are further challenged to find the courage to confront a lifetime of cultural and religious narratives that demand allegiance to a settler colonial Israeli state as a foundation of our identity.

As a young child growing up in a Jewish Chicago neighborhood, every Sunday morning my parents would send me off to temple with a donation for Israel.  For every dime, we would get a stamp with an image of a leaf to paste onto a drawing of a tree.  When you filled all the branches, you had funded another tree that would be planted in the newly formed nation of Israel, then only about ten years old.  We should feel proud, we were told, to support our people from all over the world, who were returning to the land God gave just to us and making the barren desert bloom despite being surrounded by hostile Arabs who were trying to push us into the sea.  This narrative, repeated in many forms throughout my childhood, was never questioned or challenged in my family or community.

Landing in Tel Aviv airport about fifty years later, I made my way to the baggage claim past a long hallway displaying Zionist art from the 1950’s.  Dozens of posters from the United Israel Appeal, with titles like “Conquering The Wasteland” and “One Million In Israel, On To The Second Million” encouraged the Jewish Diaspora to come settle in Israel with slogans and imagery eerily familiar from my childhood.   An Israeli cab driver picked me up and soon we came upon a group of 25 orthodox Jews blocking an intersection and screaming that we should not be driving on the Sabbath.  As we made a U-turn, 3 teenagers ran toward the taxi and flung eggplants the size of bricks against the cab.  “Welcome to the real Israel,” I thought!

Once I finally connected with Mohamed, the Global Exchange trip leader from the Siraj Center, I immediately felt more relaxed and secure.  He was warm, caring, articulate and insightful, with an amazingly deep knowledge of the history, politics, and culture of the region.   As we drove towards our orientation meeting, Mohamed noticed me staring at a very long, straight row of trees paralleling the highway for miles.  I was fantasizing about how the trees we helped fund as kids could have been planted in a place just like this, when Mohamed said,  “Beautiful, isn’t it?  You’d never know those trees were placed there so that people driving this popular highway won’t see the wall just behind it.”

Mohamed was referring to the 450 mile long separation barrier that Israel has constructed around much of the West Bank and Jerusalem, the most visible symbol of the apartheid state built through military conquest, occupation and the systematic dispossession of Palestinian land and human rights.  It is around 25 feet high in many areas, topped with concertina wire and electrified fence, monitored by surveillance cameras, snipers, dog patrols and soldiers.  It often divides Palestinian communities from their own land.  The wall is the backbone of the infrastructure and policies of occupation that include extensive military checkpoints, mandatory ID cards, restricted access to roads and water, demolitions of Palestinian homes, mass arrests, repressive legal, administrative, economic and military regulations, and the construction of Jewish settlements which confiscate Palestinian lands in violation of international law.  The wall is often covered with the graffiti of resistance, and is a frequent target of Palestinian, Israeli, and international protest.

Mohamed and I are about the same age, so we grew up at the same time, but in obviously two very different worlds.  Mohamed’s family has lived in Palestine for many generations, but they were displaced from their homes and can no longer travel freely.  Just before Palestine was partitioned in 1947, there was a total population of 1.75 million, one third of whom were Jewish, owning 6% of the land.  After the war of 1947-48, the new state of Israel was formed with 78% of the land, leaving just 22% for Palestinians, primarily in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.  Today, Gaza is under a military and economic blockade and 200,000 Israeli Jews have established settlements in East Jerusalem.  A report released during our tour by the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, said Jewish settlements now control more than 42 percent of the West Bank through their jurisdiction and regional councils.

On a daily basis, occupied Palestinian territories are increasingly being carved up into small, disconnected and impoverished enclaves, much like the Bantustans of South African apartheid.  Yet I, who had never set foot on this land before, had so many more rights than Mohamed and his family, including the ability to get full Israeli citizenship, based on nothing more than my being born a Jew thousands of miles away.  What a painful irony that this is rationalized in the name of liberating Jews from centuries of anti-Semitism.  “Never Again” we were often told in my community, with reference to the Holocaust.   But is “Never Again” only for Jews, or for everyone?  Justice or Just Us?  Can there be a humane and fulfilling life for any people, no matter how oppressed, that is built on a foundation of ethnic cleansing, denial of human rights for others, and alliance with international corporate and imperial powers?

One of the many things I appreciated about Mohamed was that despite his incredible knowledge, he would always say, “Please don’t just take it from me.  Engage people from every perspective, see with your own eyes, make your own meaning, discover your own truths.”  Our Global Exchange tour provided the opportunity to meet with two or three organizations and countless individuals every day, both Palestinian and Israeli, some activists and others not.  We heard stories, stories, and more stories, all very moving, from human rights groups, a prisoner’s group, military refuseniks, a woman’s art cooperative, a youth theater, a Jewish settler organization, the nonviolent direct action movement, residents of refugee camps and kibbutzim, politicians, university students and faculty, international solidarity activists, and so many more, including a wonderful home stay with an open and generous Palestinian family.

Perhaps the day that was most memorable was our trip to Hebron.  Despite its location on Palestinian land in the West Bank, a one square kilometer section of the Old City has been occupied by 400 Israeli settlers with the support of 1500 Israeli soldiers.  In Hebron as a whole, over 10,000 Jewish settlers live in 20 settlements.  The military has closed down a large section of the main street in the Old City, shuttering hundreds of Palestinian shops, evicting their owners, and banning Palestinians from even walking on the street.  I will never forget the striking image of dozens of stray dogs that roamed the once teeming market area, with more freedom of access than the rightful Palestinian residents of Hebron.

If you are considering visiting the Middle East at this incredible time in its history, I’d strongly encourage you to go with a Global Exchange Reality Tour and/or the Siraj Center.  They made it possible for me to make personal and organizational connections and experience the region in ways I couldn’t possibly have arranged on my own.  Every time I read the news these days, I access lenses and insights from the trip that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

But please, don’t just take it from me…