Two weeks into the Israel-Hamas war, Fadi Quran, campaigns director for Avaaz, an NGO coordinating activists worldwide, is calling for a ceasefire in the interest of children on both sides.
More than 4,000 Palestinians and 1,400 Israelis have died since the unprecedented Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, and at least 212 people are still being held hostage in the Gaza Strip. As the death toll climbs on both sides, UN agencies and other NGOs are calling for a ceasefire.
Quran speaks to FRANCE 24 in his residence in Ramallah about the despair of the Palestinian people caught in the conflict, and implores civil societies on both sides to pressure their governments to work for peace and spare the lives of children.
FRANCE 24: How do the people of the West Bank feel about the war in Gaza?
Quran: For many Palestinians, living in the West Bank every day is an experience of torture. We watch children being killed in Gaza – one child every 15 minutes. Imagine that you lived in Marseille, France, and you were watching TV for two weeks, seeing such images. Now, every 15 minutes, a child is pulled from under the rubble. People are in deep pain and they are trying to figure out what to do.
Many Palestinians have gone out to protest against this war, and many of them have been arrested over the last two weeks. Israel has also arrested over 4,000 Palestinians from across the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority, which is working with Israel, has also arrested dozens of people...
Many of us have friends in Gaza. I was speaking to a friend this morning and he was telling me how he's bringing water from the Mediterranean sea and boiling it, and then waiting for it to cool down without the salt so that he can give that water to his three-year-old child and his wife. They don't have any more [fresh] water left where they live, because Israel has blockaded [the Gaza Strip].
That is the situation today. And for many Palestinians, what we're beginning to do in the West Bank is to call for the replacement of the current Palestinian leadership, because we feel that they are betraying the cause by not doing enough to support the people in Gaza. But the truth is, I think many Palestinians, not just here but across the world, are staying at home, watching TV in tears.
What do you mean by replacement?
Our goal is to hold democratic elections for Palestinians across the world, to choose leaders who are capable of liberating us. The truth today is [that] neither Hamas nor Fatah can claim that they represent the Palestinian people, because we have not had elections for over 15 years. While Israel has banned Palestinians from voting in elections, the Palestinian Authority cooperates to make sure they never happen.
Many Gazans are stranded in Ramallah or elsewhere in the West Bank. What are their living conditions like?
Both my mother and sister are clinical psychologists, and they've been working with families from Gaza who are now here. According to what they report to me and the stories I’ve heard myself, it's just complete and total depression, a complete and total sense of helplessness, panic attacks.
For example, a man called Mohammed from Gaza who was working in the West Bank got stuck here. He was talking to his wife and children when the phone got cut off and he hasn't been able to reach them for ten days now. He was begging and crying: “I just want to go home. I just want to find my wife. I want to find my children.” He tried contacting his parents. They initially answered and then again disappeared. He can't speak to them.
That is the story of hundreds of Gazans, fathers, mothers, and grandparents that are just unable to speak to their loved ones. It is heartbreaking.
How do you see the situation developing?
I've been speaking as part of my work in international advocacy to diplomats across key countries, including countries in the EU. [According to them,] Israel has forecast the deaths of 25 to 35,000 Palestinians. That alone is a terrifying number. They're also estimating that 10 to 15% of Gaza's population will be permanently displaced. We're talking about 300 to 400,000 people becoming refugees for the third time in their lives. It seems like we're going to face another catastrophe [of] ethnic cleansing, genocide. That is what the Israeli government is moving towards.
Now there is another scenario. It's the less likely one – but the one that we should all be fighting for – which is a proposal now being put on the table where Israel would be asked to release the 170 children that it holds in military prisons. In return, Hamas would release the children and their guardians held as hostages since October 7 and create a humanitarian corridor and safe areas for children in Gaza.
That is the scenario that President Macron, Biden and the international community should be pushing for. Instead of pushing for a solution that saves Jewish and Palestinian lives, they're supporting Israel's warmongering. That war is not only going to take tens of thousands of my people's lives. It will also keep Netanyahu in power, but it won't achieve security for the Jewish people. So even though the scenario of a ceasefire for children is the less likely one, if people raise their voices, it will become the only path forward. Otherwise, we're looking at a war that is going to devastate us all.
Is the ceasefire for children feasible on the Israeli side?
This proposal for ceasefire for children is not being discussed in Israel. But we just did a poll with Israeli institutes which showed us that 57% of Israelis would support the proposal I just mentioned. Now, the government doesn't support it, but this is why now we're speaking with Israeli civil society organisations and even trying to reach out to the families of the hostages, so that they push their government to move away from war and towards the solution. I think we have less than a week to make this solution a reality before we face another catastrophe as Palestinians.
What do you expect from the international community?
This could be a moment that makes any solution for freedom, justice and dignity – and the opportunity to end the apartheid that the Palestinian people face – more impossible and take longer. Or, it can be a moment for a paradigm shift. And for us as Palestinians, we’re doing what we can to protect ourselves and create that path for freedom and dignity for both sides. But if people across France, the people across the United States and people across the United Kingdom don't organise as well to stop this war, then it will not be stopped. So there is a responsibility, and one that the French and France's leadership, are not taking seriously: putting an end to this violence.
So I call on the French people to act now because peace for us is also peace for the world.
This article is a translation of the original in French.
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