To Stop the Fighting in Gaza, the Street May Be the Only Place Left to Go

Daniel Warner | While we search in vain for some organization, individual, or country to stop the fighting, it may be that regular street demonstrations are the only answer left

Horrors in Gaza continue. Hospitals are attacked; food, fuel, and basic medical needs are still not reaching the civilian population. Forced displacement goes on, with no safe haven in sight for the displaced. Negotiations among different parties drag on. Who can stop the fighting? One would imagine the United Nations, as the highest form of multilateral governance, at the forefront. But the UN, its Secretary-General, and related specialized agencies seem powerless to stop the carnage. Why? And if not the UN, then who?

The simple answer to the first question—and the ongoing refrain from all members of the international community—is that there is no political will. By that it is meant that the major states involved are not willing to use their influence. The United States continues to block or abstain on UN resolutions condemning Israel. Russia and China use their vetoes in the Security Council to block any consensus on the issue.

After four unsuccessful attempts to pass a resolution dealing with the conflict, the Security Council finally adopted a resolution on Thursday, November 16, calling for urgent and extended humanitarian pauses in the fighting for a “sufficient number of days” to allow aid to be delivered—a resolution considerably weaker than one calling for a ceasefire or truce. The United States, Russia and Britain abstained.

Because of polarization, the Security Council, the primary organ of the United Nations responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security, has been reduced to “performative diplomacy,” in the words of Richard Gowan of the International Crisis Group. And the Secretary-General? It is one thing for Antonio Guterres to appeal, in his words, to end the “vicious cycle of bloodshed, hatred and polarization,” but it is quite another for his appeal to have any impact on the ground.

What about the United States? Couldn’t President Biden just tell Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to show restraint, and threaten to cease the provision of arms and finance if he does not? Isn’t the United States becoming complicit in eventual war crimes if it continues to support Israel materially? That’s exactly what the resignation of State Department official Josh Paul was about. And it is significant that 500 US officials have signed a letter criticizing the President’s continued support of Israel’s aggressive military campaign in Gaza. However, for now, neither the resignation nor the letter have had any effect.

Why a State Department Official Lost Hope in Israel
For more than a decade, Josh Paul helped send American weapons overseas. After the Hamas attack, he resigned in protest of arming the Israeli response.

One might wonder, if the head of a major public organization like the UN seems helpless to stop the fighting, and countries like the United States and Switzerland are unwilling to step forward, whether the private sector could have a role to play? Where are people like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg? For all the talk of private-public partnerships and building bridges between the sectors, we have not seen any great private sector initiatives when it comes to ongoing international conflicts—except, perhaps, when the private sector drools over the opportunity to rebuild Ukraine and, eventually, Gaza.

So, if it appears that no leadership is capable of stopping—or willing to stop—the killing and destruction, perhaps a more general observation is helpful. We seem to be at a moment of historical lack of leadership. Where are the figures like Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, and Martin Luther King Jr.? Where are leaders who have the moral power to stop violence? Think of Robert F. Kennedy in Indianapolis in April 1968, climbing onto the back of a pickup truck to announce the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. to a mostly African American crowd. His presence and words were reassuring and calming. His charisma stopped an potential riot.

Today’s buzz words are “diversity” and “inclusion.” There is no denying the importance of diversity and inclusion for democracies—more people, and more different types of citizens, should be involved in political processes and elections. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the United States, for instance, significantly enlarged inclusion and diversity for the better. But while we “include” and “diversify,” we are at the same time paradoxically weakening the role of the leader.

While we condemn autocracies in Hungary, Russia, North Korea or China, we are also frustrated that in situations such as the current crisis in the Middle East, we see power devolved, with no one person or organization in charge. While we decry strong leaders like Viktor Orban, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, and Xi Jinping, we would not complain if one individual could stop the fighting.

There seems to be one route left for those who wish to oppose the violence: The street may be the place to go. Hundreds of thousands marched in London last weekend (Saturday, November 11) calling for a cease-fire, in scenes repeated around the world. Time magazine’s headline read: “Protest Marches Across the Globe Call for Immediate Halt to Israeli Bombing of Gaza.” In Israel itself, there have been calls for mass uprisings to force Netanyahu and his government to resign.

The moment has now come for larger and more widespread demonstrations. If we assume the United States has the most leverage on Netanyahu, the key would be to achieve mass demonstrations in the US on a large enough scale to make Biden understand that he will lose next year's election if he doesn’t stop Netanyahu. (Potentially, this might lead to a decision from Biden not to run for reelection, echoing Lyndon B. Johnson’s decision to step back in 1968, partially influenced by the increasingly vocal opposition to the Vietnam War .)

So while we search in vain for some organization, individual or country to stop the fighting, it may be that regular street demonstrations are the only answer left. What would they look like? Some might worry that demonstrations could degenerate into conflict between Israeli and Palestinian supporters, and here it would be wise to note the words of American philosopher Susan Neiman: “I hate the words pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian. I’m pro-peace.”