New Mexicans pressure federal lawmakers to join calls for ceasefire in Gaza

Jewish-led protests move to senators’ field offices where peace activists stage five-hour nonviolent sit-ins before being arrested

By: - October 23, 2023 5:17 pm

At least 100 Palestinian, Jewish and Indigenous people gathered for a rally at the Santa Fe Plaza at noon on Monday to demand an immediate ceasefire, stop the bombing, supply humanitarian aid, and end the 16-year-long siege of Gaza. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

New Mexico’s congressional delegation is facing pressure in D.C. and here in New Mexico to join the call for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

There were two marches in New Mexico on Monday calling for a ceasefire, one in the state’s capital, Santa Fe, and the other in its largest city, Albuquerque.

They followed similar demonstrations outside the University of New Mexico bookstore on Oct. 8 and Oct. 18, and at the Santa Fe Railyard on Sunday. More protests are expected in Albuquerque on Saturday.

On Oct. 7, Hamas militants invaded settlements and military bases in southern Israel, killing more than 1,100 people, including children and the elderly, and wounding over 2,500.

Israel responded with airstrikes on Gaza that have so far killed at least 5,000 Palestinians and injured more than 14,000. Israel also bombed a mosque in a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank on Sunday, and since Oct. 7 has arrested 4,000 workers from Gaza and 1,000 Palestinians in the West Bank.

After one of the marches on Monday, Dr. Fatima Van Hattum, with the Southwest Coalition for Palestine, said there is never an opportune or convenient time for justice.

“We’re asking them to put their votes on the line, to act with integrity,” Van Hattum said of the New Mexico congressional delegation. “We are watching you.”

Albuquerque Jews occupy senators’ offices

While the U.S. and Israel have refused to push for an immediate ceasefire, American diplomats have privately expressed alarm about their Israeli counterparts’ intentions to deny water, food, medicine, electricity and fuel to Gaza.

Led by American Jews, protests convened at 3 p.m. on Monday in Robinson Park in Albuquerque to conduct mourning ceremonies for all the dead, call for humanitarian aid, and march to Sen. Martin Heinrich’s field office in that city. They expected between 100 and 200 people to attend.

A smaller group of about a dozen started a sit-in at Sen. Ben Ray Luján’s office and Heinrich’s office late Monday afternoon.

“The folks in the offices are planning to stay until the senators release a statement supporting a ceasefire in Gaza,” said Libby Shrobe, a spokesperson for the group.

A spokesperson for Heinrich declined to comment on the sit-in, and a spokesperson for Luján did not respond to a request for comment.

After about five hours, Albuquerque police arrested nine of the demonstrators, escorted them out of the office building, cited them for criminal trespassing, and released them.

“While it’s disappointing that Senators Heinrich and Luján allowed their constituents to be arrested rather than make a statement to save lives, our representatives still have the opportunity to stand on the right side of history,” said Tatiana Gil, a local student and artist who participated in the rally.

Alan Wagman, lay service leader for Nahalat Shalom in Albuquerque and a co-organizer of the event, said protesters in Albuquerque are mourning all the dead and are committed to all the living.

“We want the killing to stop, and we want people to have food, water, and the essentials of life, and then to work things out from there,” Wagman said. “First things first: Stop the killing. Share food. Share water.”

Event co-organizer Joanna Kaufman said in a news release that a ceasefire could save both Israeli and Palestinian lives.

“We have been grieving since October 7th, but our grief is not a weapon to be used against the Palestinian people,” Kaufman said. “We need our Senators and Representatives to show moral leadership and take life-saving action. We were raised to say ‘Never again.’ We have the moral clarity to recognize that never again means right now.”

‘A fight for all Indigenous peoples’

The United Nations has called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. A UN human rights expert has said Palestinians are in grave danger of mass ethnic cleansing.

U.S. Rep. Cori Bush (D-Missouri) has introduced a resolution “calling for an immediate de-escalation and cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine.”

At least 100 Palestinian, Jewish and Indigenous people gathered for a rally at the Santa Fe Plaza at noon on Monday to demand an immediate ceasefire, stop the bombing, supply humanitarian aid, and end the 16-year-long siege of Gaza.

They included members and supporters of Santa Feans for Justice in Palestine, Veterans for Peace, and NM JEWS For a Ceasefire. They listened to Lyla June (Diné) sing a song called “All Nations Rise.”

“Let us remember that this fight for Gaza is also a fight for all Indigenous peoples around the world,” June said.

They marched to the local office of Sen. Heinrich and hand-delivered a letter to his staff from civil rights attorney and author Jeff Haas asking him to introduce or support a similar resolution in the Senate.

“True safety for everyone doesn’t come from the mass bombing and killing of civilians, nor from mass displacement, the denial of water, electricity, food and the destruction of neighborhoods all of which are collective punishment of civilians and are war crimes,” the letter states.

Then the crowd marched to the offices of Sen. Luján and Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, where they delivered similar letters.

Israel on Oct. 12 ordered 1.1 million Palestinians living in the northern part of Gaza to move south. It then bombed some of the people who fled, killing 70.

“We have to stand up right now,” Haas said. “We have to stop U.S. support for this Israeli genocide that could well happen. We are seeing a potential genocide in our day, time and life. We have to stand up and we have to oppose it. We have to prevent the U.S. endorsing it, arming it. We have to try to stop Israel from what could be another Nakba, even worse than the 750,000 people who were displaced in 1948.”

Most members of N.M. congressional delegation silent on staff letter

On Oct. 19, 411 congressional staffers published an open letter to their bosses urging them to call for a ceasefire.

Source NM reached out for comment to all five members on Oct. 20. As of Monday afternoon, Sens. Heinrich and Luján had responded, but neither of them mentioned any support for a ceasefire.

“The news from Israel and Gaza has been devastating and congressional staff, like the leaders they work with, do not look away from the news. The weight of that is real,” Heinrich’s statement said. “Israelis and Palestinians deserve peace; we are far from that right now.”

In response to Heinrich’s statement, Wagman said organizers stand by their demand for immediate ceasefire, immediate provision of full humanitarian aid, so that the people of Gaza have enough food, water and fuel to survive.

“We recognize the sorrow of everybody in the region, and we work to protect and provide for the living,” Wagman said. “To the extent that Sen. Heinrich’s statement does not go that far, we demand that he revise his statement to take it that far.”

Luján’s statement said the U.S. “must support the people of Israel and provide vital humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza.”

“In the Senate, I am focused on passing a robust aid package that provides Israel the resources to defend itself against terrorist organizations and bolster global security,” Luján said.

It’s important for American Jews to be speaking up right now, Wagman said, because there is an assumption that Jewish Americans always support Israel.

“Not every Jewish American blindly follows whatever Israel does,” Wagman said. “We have the same morality of right and wrong, and preserve life that we hope everybody else does, and it doesn’t have sides.”

Wagman has worn a kippah since a week after former president Donald Trump was inaugurated “and the anti-semites started coming out of the woodwork.” Often people see him wearing it and say, “God bless Israel.”

“Well, no. God bless everybody. I don’t support Israel no matter what,” Wagman said. “Never again doesn’t just mean not to us, it means not to anybody.”

UPDATE Oct. 24, 2023 at 9:36 a.m.:

This story has been updated to reflect the outcome of the sit-ins at the senators’ offices.

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.