CASTRO VALLEY, Calif. — A group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators staged a protest at the district office of Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-District 14) last week, calling on the legislator to sign onto a ceasefire resolution that would temporarily stop the unrelenting bloodshed in the Gaza Strip.
On Thursday, Nov. 9, roughly 20 to 30 demonstrators, including several members of the Hayward Community Coalition, staged a protest outside Swalwell’s office, carrying signs and chanting slogans of solidarity with the Palestinian people. Inside, a handful of constituents met with Mallory DeLauro, Swalwell’s district chief of staff, to pressure the legislator to use his power and influence to help put an end to Israel’s arbitrary bombardment of civilians in Gaza.
Riyad Sood, a member of the Muslim civil rights organization Council on American-Islamic Relations and a resident of District 14, was among those who met with DeLauro. He told the East Bay Echo that it was an emotionally charged meeting, with many tears shed, and he hoped that the group was able to reach DeLauro on a human level.
However, Sood said this was his second meeting with Swalwell’s team since the conflict began. The first conversation, which Sood described as frustrating, was with Swalwell, himself. Despite all of his explanations about the realities Palestinians face on the ground, Sood said Swalwell refused to acknowledge that Israel is an apartheid state and has not heard from him since.
“You don’t really have to be a scholar or an attorney to understand when apartheid exists,” Sood said. “When one group of people are subjected to one set of laws and another group of people another set, that’s the very definition of apartheid.”
The history of the conflict
Sood emphasized that the conflict did not begin a thousand years ago, nor did it start on Oct. 7; it started in 1948. That’s when the state of Israel was established in Palestine through the violent displacement of about 750,000 Palestinians, known as the Nakba, or catastrophe.
Before 1918, Palestine was a multicultural society that had been under the occupation of the Ottoman Empire for centuries. After being on the losing side of World War I, the Ottoman Empire was broken up and the newly established League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations, gave Britain the power to oversee Palestine. That was the year after Britain issued the Balfour Declaration, vocalizing its efforts to establish an exclusively Jewish state in Palestinian territory.
In 1948 the ethnic cleansing began, and laws were changed to allow Israeli settlers to take over the homes of Palestinians who had become refugees. In 1967, during the Naksa, or setback, hundreds of thousands more Palestinians were displaced, and Israel began its occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem, as well as parts of neighboring countries’ territories, like the Golan Heights in Syria, which it continues to illegally occupy with U.S. support.
Palestinians have continued to face hellish conditions since, including surveillance, arbitrary detentions, torture, extrajudicial killings, and both the destruction and theft of their land and culture. Since 2005, Gaza has been under an illegal air, sea and land blockade, with Israel carefully controlling access to food, medicine, electricity and other essentials for more than 2 million people.
Since Oct. 7, the scale of the carnage has reached unprecedented levels, with Israel completely cutting off the population’s access to food, water and electricity. It has killed more than 11,000 people, displaced over a million, and left thousands more injured or trapped under the rubble of destroyed buildings. The Israel Defense Forces have targeted hospitals, doctors, schools, journalists and their families, and places of worship, including one of the oldest churches in the world. It has used the excruciating white phosphorus on densely populated areas, which is illegal under international law.
About a week ago, children from Gaza held a press conference, pleading with the world to show them mercy and end the violence. Almost 5,000 children have been killed by Israel since Oct. 7, which Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said is equivalent to killing one child every 10 minutes.
Israel has also ramped up mass arrests and attacks in the West Bank, as well as its support of settler violence there. Sood, whose family is from the West Bank, described how armed groups are raising hell in villages that are close to settlements, uprooting olive trees that are centuries old, shooting and killing people arbitrarily, and generally terrorizing Palestinian residents.
“The Palestinians in the West Bank, what did they do to deserve this,” Sood asked. “And the settlers are all doing this under the watchful and protective eye of the IDF.”
The United States did not show its support for the establishment of a Jewish state until after World War II, when President Harry Truman reversed course on previous U.S. foreign policy. Since then, the U.S. has been a major ally of Israel’s, providing $3.8 billion in military aid to the country every year.
President Joe Biden has refused to support calls for a ceasefire since Oct. 7, with his administration blocking multiple resolutions for a humanitarian pause at the UN Security Council. The House of Representatives recently approved a $14.3 billion military aid package for Israel on top of its annual aid package, though it was blocked by the Senate.
At the same time, current and former elected officials in the U.S. and Israel are making patently genocidal statements, including Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, who called on Israel to “finish them,” and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who called for Israel to “level the place.”
“These are genocidal tendencies that are coming out of the United States for the first time in my lifetime,” Sood said.
This kind of rhetoric is also impacting civil liberties in the U.S., particularly the safety of Muslims and anyone perceived to be Muslim. Sood, who is a paralegal in CAIR’s civil rights division, said they are witnessing an attempt to criminalize any type of pro-Palestinian speech. Laws against the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions Movement, which advocates for boycotting, divesting from and sanctioning Israel, have already been passed in three dozen states.
While Swalwell has not called for genocide and did not vote in favor of the military aid, Sood said he is far from leading on this issue or showing support for any humanitarian efforts on behalf of the Palestinian people.
“We are giving him a chance to stand on the right side of history,” Sood said. “We have seen genocides happen before and unfortunately, for some reason, people seem to grow a conscience after the fact.”
Swalwell and his wife went on an almost $30,000, all-expenses-paid trip to Israel earlier this year, paid by for by lobbyists J Street Education Fund. Members of his congressional team took similar trips paid for by lobbyist American Israel Education Foundation, including an all-expenses paid $15,000 trip to Israel during the past July.
Swalwell’s press secretary did not respond to a request for comment.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated the name and position of the person to whom demonstrators spoke.
Sonia Waraich can be reached at 510-952-7455.
Photo caption: Pro-Palestine demonstrators protest in front of the offices of Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-District 14) in Castro Valley on Thursday, Nov. 9, calling on him to support a ceasefire resolution in Congress. The protest was part of a larger National Day of Action to pressure legislators to stop U.S. military aid to Israel. (Sonia Waraich – East Bay Echo)