Rep. Ruwa Romman calls for a ceasefire in Gaza. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

State Rep. Ruwa Romman calls for a ceasefire in Gaza during an interfaith demonstration Nov. 2, 2023.

Credit: Ross Williams / Georgia Recorder

As the conflict in Gaza continues to roil, Georgians representing more than 30 faith-based groups met at the King Center in Atlanta Thursday morning to call for a ceasefire, an end to restrictions on aid convoys and a dismantling of what they called Israel’s apartheid system.

“The loss of innocent lives must stop,” said Azka Mahmood, executive director of the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “Our faiths and traditions share a teaching that all people are created equal. We watch what is happening in the Holy Land with deep grief as our Palestinian brothers and sisters are treated as if their lives are expendable.”

War broke out Oct. 7 when members of Hamas, an Islamic political party and paramilitary force, launched a surprise attack into Israeli territory, killing more than 1,400, including civilian men, women and children and taking hundreds back to Gaza as prisoners.

Israel’s military has responded with weeks of intense bombing and, more recently, ground operations into the Palestinian enclave. The Palestinian death toll surpassed 9,000 on Thursday, including 3,700 children, according to the Associated Press. Humanitarian groups say the situation within Gaza is desperate as casualties mount and food, clean water, medical supplies and food are running out.

The Biden administration has called for a humanitarian pause in the battle to allow the release of hostages and the delivery of supplies and medical care for civilians trapped in Gaza, but stopped short of calling for a ceasefire.

The United Nations defines a humanitarian pause as “a temporary cessation of hostilities purely for humanitarian purposes” that may be limited to specific times and geographic regions, while a ceasefire is intended to be long-term, cover the entire conflict area and is intended to allow dialogue to bring hostilities to an end.

White House officials have suggested a ceasefire could allow Hamas to regain its footing and carry out more attacks.

Atlantans took to the streets following the initial Hamas attack in support of victims on either side, but state leadership has been solidly behind Israel.

The U.S. has traditionally supported Israel — the key Middle East ally has been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid dollars since World War II. Since its creation in 1948, the U.S. has sent $158 billion in current, non inflation-adjusted dollars, according to the Congressional Research Service.

This support has come despite human rights groups raising concerns about the treatment of Palestinian citizens within its borders, and most Americans still support it, according to an Oct. 13 NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist National Poll.

The pollsters found that 65% of respondents said the U.S. should publicly support Israel, compared with just 8% who said the U.S. should criticize Israel, but support goes down among some groups. Among non-white respondents, 51% call for U.S. support for Israel, and among those under 45, that number falls to 48%.

Polling also suggests that even Americans who broadly support Israel want the violence in Gaza to stop.

In an Oct. 18-19 survey by Data for Progress, 66% of likely voters said they agreed that the U.S. should call for a ceasefire and de-escalation of violence, including 80% of Democrats and 56% of Republicans.

Duluth Democratic state Rep. Ruwa Romman, Georgia’s first Muslim state representative and first Palestinian office holder, worries that Democrats could be angering the young, diverse coalition of voters that helped them narrowly elect President Joe Biden and Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

“I’ve never seen a coalition this broad in my life in support of Palestinians,” she said. “It is so broad, it is multiracial, it is multi-faith, it is multi-generational. A lot of those people are drawing the line, frankly, at genocide. A lot of us, we are having a hard time reconciling that our tax dollars are doing this and that we voted and helped elect somebody who is doing this. And the question is, we’re a year out from election time, can they correct course before that?”

“They’re not saying they’re going to vote for Trump,” she added. “What they’re saying is, you are asking us right now, if the election was tomorrow, to hit the approval button for somebody who killed my family member. That is a difficult thing to reconcile. And for a lot of my colleagues and my friends, they are seeing this pain, they are seeing this anguish, they are seeing us attempt to grieve at a time when everybody is twisting their grief with something malicious and telling us, oh, and by the way, you better do what you’re supposed to do at the ballot box.”

Ruwa said reports out of Gaza are bleak.

“We are hearing stories of patients who need dialysis, cancer treatments, insulin, and other needs, who are dying because they can no longer access care,” she said. “They could barely access it to begin with, and it’s even worse now. More than 50% of housing is damaged. Here in Georgia and personally in my community, every single day I see posts and messages from community members I personally know, announcing that 10, 20, 50 family members have been killed in an airstrike, every day.”

“The questions we’re getting from community members, that I’m getting from community members is why,” she added. “What did they do to deserve this collective punishment? Why are their family members being targeted? They’re not Hamas.”

Ilise Cohen, co-founder of the Atlanta chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, rejected the idea that all Jews must support Israel’s actions.

“Many of the Israeli families who lost loved ones that day and whose loved ones were kidnapped have been begging for the Israeli government to stop the airstrikes, stop the ground invasion, bring home their loved ones, and not one more life lost, not to use their loved ones as an excuse for revenge or for suffering.”

“We are mourning the over 8,000 killed in Gaza,” she added. “We are mourning the 1,400 and more killed in Israel. We refuse to allow our government and the government of Israel to twist our grief to justify this genocide against the Palestinian people. We must not forget our shared humanity in times of unspeakable loss. We know all too well the consequences of blind violence, and it is this that compels us to say, never again, never again for anyone, never again in Gaza, never again, especially in our name.”

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Georgia Recorder