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Israel-Palestine war: White House interns pen letter demanding ceasefire in Gaza

In letter sent to President Joe Biden, interns call for ceasefire in Gaza, end to Israeli apartheid and a free Palestine
US President Joe Biden joins Israel's prime minister for the start of the Israeli war cabinet meeting, in Tel Aviv on 18 October 2023.
US President Joe Biden at an Israeli war cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv, on 18 October 2023 (AFP)
By Umar A Farooq in Washington

In another sign of growing dissent brewing in Washington over the Biden administration's steady support for Israel's military campaign in Gaza, a group of more than 40 interns at the White House have signed a letter demanding President Joe Biden call for a permanent ceasefire.

In a letter shared with Middle East Eye, dozens of interns from the White House and the Executive Office of the President say they can "no longer remain silent on the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people". The interns did not sign their names to the letter, opting to remain anonymous.

"We urge the Biden-Harris Administration to call for a permanent ceasefire now, a release of all hostages including Palestinian political prisoners, and to support a diplomatic solution that will put an end to the illegal occupation and the Israeli apartheid, in accordance with international law and for a free Palestine," the letter said.

Instead of signing their names, the interns provided the different offices that they work for. In similar efforts, other US officials have also remained anonymous.

The interns said that they come from a variety of different backgrounds including "Palestinian, Jewish, Arab, Muslim, Christian, Black, Asian, Latine, White, and Queer".

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In a statement provided to Middle East Eye, the group behind the letter, White House Interns for Palestine, said they support the administration's work "to advocate for minority communities and closing the systemic gaps in our country".

"However, we also believe it is our duty to stand up against injustice and genocide, and to point out the wrongs committed by our leaders," the group told MEE.

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"We urge the Administration to change course. In our limited capacity, we are having these conversations and bringing the will of the American people to the halls of the highest office. We will not stop trying."

The interns condemned the Hamas-led attacks, but went on to say that "the ongoing violence perpetuated by the Israeli government, as well as the ongoing dehumanizing rhetoric targeting Muslims and Arabs, has promoted a wave of massive violence and tragedies".

The letter cites the shooting of three Palestinian university students in Vermont, which has left one student paralysed from the chest down, and the murder of a six-year-old Palestinian boy near Chicago.

While interns at the White House may not have much sway on policy matters, the dozens who joined the letter initiative are part of a growing dissent movement in both the Biden administration and Congress calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The group of anonymous interns told MEE that the letter was sent to Biden via post and email. MEE reached out to the White House for comment on this letter.

The letter was first reported by NBC News. The Hill also reported on the letter and said it spoke to a source familiar with the effort.

'Pleas of American people have been ignored'

War broke out in the Gaza Strip in October after Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups launched an attack on southern Israel that caught the country's military off guard, killing 1,200 Israelis, according to the government death toll. At least 240 were also taken hostage. While some have been released, more than 100 are being held in Gaza. 

Israel responded by declaring war and launched an aerial bombardment followed by a ground invasion of Gaza that has so far killed more than 16,000 Palestinians, the majority of them being women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Israel's military campaign has also displaced 1.8 million Palestinians, targeted civilian infrastructure including mosques and hospitals, and has led hundreds of scholars to warn that Israel may be committing genocide against Palestinians. Violence in the occupied West Bank by militant settlers has also surged since the war broke out. 

Israel-Palestine war: State Department officials prepare dissent cables in opposition to Gaza assault
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The Biden administration responded to the war by putting its full diplomatic weight behind Israel, while also providing military aid and sending military reinforcements to the region to prevent the conflict from widening.

Near the end of November, a temporary truce was established between Israel and Hamas which saw Israeli captives held in Gaza released in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. That truce lasted just seven days and Israel has returned to its military campaign.

The Biden administration has said that it is advising Israel to minimise civilian casualties as it continues its campaign in Gaza. However, in a period of just 24 hours, Israel killed 700 Palestinians in the enclave, according to the government media office in Gaza.

"While the Administration expressed support for the humanitarian pause, we maintain that anything other than a complete halt of Israel's mass slaughter of innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip will simply not suffice," the interns' letter said.

The uncritical support from the Biden administration has been met with concern from many Palestinian rights advocates who warned that the US could end up being complicit in violating international law and the rules of war.

Within the first few weeks of the war, the senior Biden official in charge of overseeing weapons transfers resigned, citing Biden's approach to the war. Then, more dissent within the administration began to trickle out.

'We will never forget how the pleas of the American people have been heard and thus far, ignored'

- White House Interns for Palestine

Middle East Eye reported in October that officials in the State Department were preparing a draft dissent cable that called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Israel, Gaza, and the occupied West Bank, and demanding the US government promote truthful and balanced public messaging towards resolving the crisis.

Sources told MEE at the time that tensions were at fever pitch, as officials were growing increasingly frustrated with Biden's stance on the war.

On 9 November, more than 500 alumni of the Biden election campaign penned a letter demanding a ceasefire.

And since 7 October, public opinion in the US has been both in favour of a ceasefire in Gaza and also dismayed at Biden's approach to the war.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll in mid-November found that a majority of American respondents back a ceasefire. A more recent poll published this week found that 61 percent of respondents support a US call for a permanent ceasefire.

The interns who signed the letter said that they applied for internships at the White House because of the belief that "America has the potential to be a nation that stands for justice and peace". They are now joining the demand for a ceasefire because they "heed the voices of the American people".

"We are not the decision makers of today, but we aspire to be the leaders of tomorrow, and we will never forget how the pleas of the American people have been heard and thus far, ignored," the letter said.

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