Rep. Aiyash to join hunger strike in D.C. calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza ⋆
A Michigan legislator will be among five state lawmakers from across the country participating in a hunger strike while demanding a permanent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
House Majority Floor Leader Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) says he will leave for Washington, D.C,. on Wednesday night to join the hunger strike with four other state lawmakers — Reps. Madinah Wilson-Anton (D-Del.), Zohran Mamdani (D-N.Y.), Mauree Turner (D-Okla.) and Sam Rasoul (D-Va.) — and other activists, including actress Cynthia Nixon best known for the show “Sex and the City.”
After an initial four-day pause in the war, as Palestinian prisoners were swapped for Israeli hostages, an additional 48-hour extension was agreed to on Tuesday brokered by President Joe Biden leaders from Egypt and Qatar.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on recent unidentified aerial objects, Thursday, February 16, 2023, in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
“Hamas unleashed a terrorist attack because they fear nothing more than Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peace,” Biden wrote on social media Tuesday. “To continue down the path of terror, violence, killing, and war is to give Hamas what they seek. We can’t do that.”
Speaking with reporters Tuesday in Detroit following a signing ceremony for Michigan climate change legislation, Aiyash said the pro-Palestinian group will be urging Biden to work toward a lasting ceasefire and ensuring that aid is being delivered to the people in Gaza.
“While four days was a positive step, it is not enough,” he said. “If you look at the pain and the heartbreak of people within the Gaza Strip, it’s incredibly painful to see that despite the stopping of bombs right now, folks are under crumbling infrastructure. Folks are under no running water, no access to food, no access to electricity. So that is an important step that we must rapidly move forward for the people in Gaza.”
Aiyash said participants will only consume liquids during the strike, including water and Gatorade. He’ll also have coffee, but so long as it doesn’t have any milk and sugar, he won’t be breaking the hunger strike rules.
“I’m a Muslim, so 30 days a year I fast from sunrise [to] sunset — no food, no water,” he said, referring to the traditional fast during Ramadan. “So this is not a new phenomenon for me. I have some experience in fasting, but this is the first time I’d be doing a political hunger strike to send a message.”
Aiyash, the first Muslim to serve as House majority floor leader, said the goal is to elevate the permanent ceasefire issue much like the letter he and 24 other Michigan legislators signed last week.
“No one wants to see children being mauled or murdered,” he said. “No one wants to see innocent men, women, and seniors attacked and killed and injured. So I think across the board, we recognize that the only way to achieve peace in the region is through diplomacy. And the ceasefire was a clear example of that, the temporary one. Now we need a lasting one to end the violence in the region for both Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
In announcing the hunger strike at a press conference outside the White House on Monday, Sumaya Awad, a Palestinian-American activist and director of strategy and communications at Adalah Justice Project, said the violence is not just confined to the region, referencing the Nov. 25 shooting of three Palestinian-American college students in Vermont.
“This is what happens when we don’t support a permanent ceasefire and our government continues to dehumanize Palestinians,” she said.
According to figures from the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, more than 13,300 people have been killed in Gaza and 35,180 wounded since Israeli forces began responding to the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas that killed at least 1,200 people in Israel.
Another spillover from the conflict is the divide that has opened up within the Democratic Party, between those who generally support Israel’s determination to destroy Hamas after attacks that included rapes, torture and beheadings, and those who say it has been a disproportionate response that overwhelmingly impacts innocent men, women and children.
However, Aiyash dismissed the notion that the call for a permanent ceasefire should be seen as divisive.
“I think it is outlandish to suggest that asking for an end to violence for both Israelis and Palestinians alike being a controversial issue or divisive issue is just unacceptable,” he said. “… And it’s now time that we have elected officials that listen to that call from people across the country who say, ‘We want an end to violence.’”
Pro-Palestinian rally at the Michigan Capitol, Oct. 12, 2023 | Lily Guiney
However, Aiyash said he hoped that whatever schism within the Democratic coalition that had been created over the issue could eventually be mended, pointing to the stage behind him, where just minutes before Gov. Whitmer had signed a series of historic bills to address climate change.
“When Democrats come together, we’re able to pass historic legislation that establish[es] clean energy standards,” he said. “We’re able to protect people’s rights, we’re able to establish more worker protections and more community development and local government support. So, this is sort of why I’m proud to be a Democrat. And, you know, the nature of American politics is discourse and debate. And I think so long as we’re doing it in a way that’s respectful, that’s rooted in the issues, I think it’s very productive for our country.”
Aiyash said that while there are disagreements over the Israeli response to the Hamas surprise attack on Oct. 7, so far it hasn’t prevented he and fellow Democrats from continuing to work together on policy matters.
“I think there’s an opportunity for us in Michigan to show that we can all come together and lead on issues that impact us,” he said. “I know that we were able to pass the Institutional Desecration Act in Michigan that directly targets those that are going after our [places of] worship, our synagogues or mosques and things of that nature. So that was a good step to show that as Michigan legislators, we are committed to fighting hate in our own state, and we are hoping that in our own capacities we can continue to fight for an end to violence.”
While Aiyash said he was “disappointed” in Biden’s handling of the crisis, he demurred from answering whether he planned to support the president’s reelection next year.
“I think that 2024 is a long time from now,” he said. “I’d like to focus on the good things we do here in Lansing, like passing a clean energy future, like passing a clean energy and jobs act. Those are things that directly impact my constituents and I think are going to have lasting impact for decades to come.”
authored by Jon King
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