A call for ceasefire in the heart of Vashon

Around one hundred people called for a ceasefire in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war at the center of Vashon town Sunday afternoon.

Chanting slogans and waving signs for about an hour and a half, demonstrators young and old packed the Vashon Highway SW / SW Bank Road intersection. The protest was organized by sisters-in-law Melissa Brynn and Julia Brynn, who put a call out on Facebook in January for any who wanted to join them in calling for a ceasefire and “to protest the genocide in Gaza.”

They’re not professional activists, Melissa Brynn said, nor part of any organization. But they were surprised by a seeming lack of public conversation about the Palestinian crisis on Vashon and decided “we would go ahead and do it,” without trying to tell people there what to say, Brynn said.

“We knew enough people were upset and looking for a space to voice that,” she said. “… We want everyone to be welcome, we want it to be inclusive, and we want human rights for all.”

There will be more demonstrations on Vashon for a ceasefire in the near future, Brynn said.

The Backbone Campaign offered space at their warehouse for protestors to create signs and banners, and other well-known island organizers, including Vashon Green School founder Dana Schuerholz, helped bring people and artistic energy to the demonstration.

Demonstrators expressed a range of perspectives at the protest Sunday — some calling simply for a ceasefire to the conflict, while others held signs or chanted slogans such as “end the occupation” and “end Israeli apartheid.”

Among the demonstrators was Jessica Lisovsky, a member of the Vashon Havurah serving the island’s Jewish community. She is also a member of the Jewish anti-Zionist organization Jewish Voice for Peace, which has been a leader in the calls for a ceasefire in the U.S.

Her grandparents died in the Holocaust, Lisovsky said, and her father, a “secret Jew” who went through the war in Europe, carried trauma over escaping what his parents did not — ultimately, Lisovsky did not discover her Jewish heritage until later in life. She shared gratitude that Vashon’s Jewish community at the Havurah “is making space for this conversation” around Palestine.

“Frankly, I think Israel, the government, for years has been behaving in a racist way toward Palestinians,” Lisovsky said. “I don’t see any other way to describe it. And Jews are getting upset — Jews like me, and certainly young Jews, are watching and not wanting this to be done in their name. Americans don’t want it to be done in our name, with our tax dollars … We are all complicit if we don’t speak up.”

“We’ve been showing up on this four-way (intersection) as long as we’ve lived here,” added attendee Janie Starr. “If we’ve been showing up for racial justice our whole lives, then why wouldn’t we show up now?”

Bett Capehart, who has been involved in the movement for Palestinians for the last 50 years, said it’s an issue “that has been allowed to be ignored,” with the liberation of the Palestinians “thwarted” by the United States and Israel.

“The question of the Palestinians is kind of a litmus test of the world’s humanity,” Capehart said. “Until their issue of liberation is addressed, then this world will never, ever, have peace. … So the reason I’m here … is at least to say this community is supporting Palestinian liberation, demanding a ceasefire, and to demand (change from) our despicable government under Biden, who’s supported the Israeli’s transgressions.”

At the demonstration, Yasmin Ravard-Andresen said that what’s happening in Gaza reminds her of “what’s happened here” in the U.S. and on Vashon — referencing the forced incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and her own ancestry as a descendant of the transatlantic slave trade and people violently removed from their ancestral land.

With her kids at her side, Ravard-Andresen said these demonstrations are real-world educational opportunities — and a chance for the island to “put our power and our privilege where our mouth is.”

“It’s easy to feel powerless, but together we’re more powerful,” Ravard-Andresen said. “I’ve been really pleased to see who shows up in our community. That makes me feel less alone and more safe.”

“I’m a member of this community, and I’ve been upset at the inaction of people on the island,” said River Ostara, who comes from a mixed Muslim family and has a Palestinian sister. “ … I hope (people) are able to see the support and realize people do support Gaza and Palestine on this island, because I myself have been very unsure of that.”

“I’ve grown up on Vashon with a lot of privilege, and I think it’s been pretty sad, the lack of acknowledgement of the genocide that’s happening in Palestine,” said Gibson Silagi. “Some like-minded individuals [and I] have been wanting to get out and use our voices.”

The current Israel-Hamas war was sparked on Oct. 7, when a Hamas-led incursion into Israel took more than 200 hostages and killed about 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians. The incursion included massacres in communities and a terror attack at a music festival.

Israel retaliated with a still-ongoing aerial bombardment campaign, blockades and an invasion into Gaza, pulverizing homes and infrastructure in the region, in a stated campaign to destroy Hamas and reach militants attacking from behind civilian infrastructure.

Nearly four months into Israel’s counteroffensive, an estimated 26,000 or more have been killed in Gaza, mostly civilians, including at least 10,000 children, according to Palestinian officials. Thousands more are missing and presumed dead. A humanitarian crisis in Gaza has ensued, with shortages of food, medicine, and other essentials and a collapsing healthcare system.

A lack of clean water and sanitation is causing outbreak of disease, famine is imminent and nowhere is safe in Gaza, according to United Nations human rights experts. The majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million population have been internally displaced.

The modern Israel-Palestine conflict — stretching back to at least Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948, or earlier, depending on how one measures it — provokes anguish for Palestinians, many of whom have suffered expulsion from their homes, unbearable living conditions, and mass death resulting from the Israel Defense Forces’ military operations.

It also provokes trauma for many Jews and those connected to Israel; October 7 has been described as “the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust,” and a Hamas official pledged in November that it will be repeated until Israel is “annihilated.” Some commenters on the Brynns’ original Facebook post expressed that pain, sharing frustration with the call for the event in light of the Hamas attack on Israel.

Brynn said she’s also gotten some pushback with the message that she’s anti-Semitic, uneducated or even pro-terrorism.

But from her perspective, the call for a ceasefire is about the governments, policies and systems that inflict the “horrifying” death and destruction, and calling for an end to the sheer human suffering in Gaza — not about disparaging the groups of people involved.

“None of this is rooted in some sort of hatred,” she said. “We’re calling for the end of oppression to all people, and that includes any hatred against any Jewish person. … No one is calling for more violence. It’s just quite the opposite of that. Everyone just wants to see peace.”

In late January, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) — a wing of the United Nations that adjudicates international legal issues — ordered Israel to take immediate steps to protect civilians in the Gaza Strip, and found allegations that Israel is committing acts of genocide in Gaza to be at least “plausible.”

Israel must take all measures possible to prevent genocide in Gaza and ensure the provision of urgent humanitarian aid and services, the court found.

While the ICJ’s order did not explicitly call for a ceasefire in the conflict, it was still heartening for demonstrators like Capehart.

“Everything that they called for would be tantamount to a ceasefire,” Capehart said. “… I think this is a real wake-up call, that the world is saying to Israel: ‘We will not stand for this.’ “

Alex Bruell photo

Alex Bruell photo

Alex Bruell photo

Alex Bruell photo

Alex Bruell photo

Alex Bruell photo