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Peacebuilding Professor's Status Report

Dr. Lisa Schirch writes on human security at where she shares in her bio that she is a "mother of two children, wife, writer, political scientist, professor, Mennonite, artist, gardener, biker, and swimmer." On December 14, 2023, she posted the following status report of her advocacy work in DC on Facebook. MW USA shares it here with her permission and a note that her more comprehensive peace plan for Israel and Palestine can be found in this policy brief at the Toda Peace Institute.

I spent the last two days in Washington DC advocating for a political solution to end the Hamas/Israel crisis with a group of wonderful colleagues. We talked with staff at the White House, State Department, Senate, House of Representatives and many of the main organizations working on humanitarian relief and peacebuilding in the region. We went with a set of messages.

A political solution requires listening to Palestinians and ending the occupation which is the root cause of any support for the terror group Hamas.

A political solution must attend to the trauma and safety needs of all people, Jewish Israelis traumatized by the Hamas massacre on October 7 and Palestinians living in Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank as well as the millions of Palestinians who are permanently stuck in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Jordan.

A political solution must recognize that antisemitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Palestinian racism stem from the same source: white supremacy. These "isms" threaten all Jews, Muslims, and Palestinian Christians. This week in Washington, the known antisemite Rep Elise Stefanik led a hearing on antisemitism on campuses. She is a right wing leader making accusations of antisemitism while she herself is a leading enabler of antisemitism often touting a conspiracy theory known as "replacement theory" that has fueled antisemitic violence by claiming Jews want to increase immigration to the US. She claimed the word "Intifada" calls for the genocide of Jews. This is patently false. The university presidents had terrible and ridiculous responses, failing to call out this false definition of Intifada and refusing to condemn antisemitism at the same time. This constant conflation of any Palestinian effort to live in peace without Israeli occupation as an expression of antisemitism is absurd and fuels the real dangers of right-wing antisemitism.

What we learned in Washington DC is this:

1. The humanitarian crisis is unprecedented - even the children of the staff at humanitarian organizations do not have food. The staff themselves are unable to work. There is no safe place and no ability to leave the war zone.

2. International law clearly defines BOTH Hamas violence on October 7 as well as Israeli settler and IDF violence as a mass atrocity and multiple crimes against humanity. Hamas continues to send rockets to Israel, these terrorize Israeli civilians but have not killed Israelis. Israeli forces commit crimes against humanity by denying food, water, electricity, and movement to leave the area of bombardment, by bombing civilian structures, and by using heavy bombs designed to destroy buildings... nothing surgical at all about this war. Both sides are using terrorism.

3. If Hamas were hiding in a hospital in Jerusalem, no one would question the illegality of bombing the hospital and killing hundreds of people inside. There is a constant dehumanization of Palestinians.

4. US military leaders are saying that there is no viable Israeli strategy to destroy Hamas. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said this week; “The lesson is that you can only win in urban warfare by protecting civilians,” he said. “In this kind of a fight, the center of gravity is the civilian population. And if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat.” He also said, “It would compound this tragedy if all that awaited Israelis and Palestinians at the end of this awful war was more insecurity, more rage, and more despair.” Austin is the top Pentagon leader; reflecting what the US learned in 20 years of the failed war on terror.

5. Israel has no known plan after it destroys Gazan cities, hospitals, homes, schools, and roads. There are already 2 million refugees and Gaza and there is no ability to get humanitarian aid to them or to begin to sort out where people can live or find safety. The lack of any type of long term strategy is extremely scary... there is no end in sight to the horror.

6. There is talk of political settlement scenarios, but very little attention to including actual Palestinians or Israelis not in Netanyahu's camp in thinking about the future of Israel and Palestine. Just like the past, internationals sit in foreign capitals imagining political solutions without actually involving local populations in designing their own future.

7. There are many Israelis and Palestinians who have done decades of work to build relationships and imagine a future of coexistence, but they basically have no voice in the future of this awful war.

8. There is no end in sight for this war. The Israeli right-wing has demonized and dehumanized all Palestinians as "Amalek" or "evil." Their goal is to push out or kill all Palestinians. Many US leaders know this, but seem unable to bring themselves to apply the Leahy Law which would tie US aid to Israel to basic human rights standards... a law that applies to every other country in the world.

[In response to a question on the post about how to help, Dr. Schirch responded: "US citizens need to be contacting their member of Congress - Senators and Congresspeople, to insist that the Leahy Law apply also to Israel... as it applies to all other USAid to ensure it aligns with international law and international human rights standards. Most Israelis do not support Netanyahu... yet USAID emboldens Netanyahu's power rather than the democratic Jewish Israeli movements who want to end occupation and find a political solution."]

9. There is a red warning light across the Middle East for an expansion of the war. Israel will not be more safe at the end of this war... the crisis in Gaza is generating a rage at Israelis and Americans that is unprecedented. We are not near the end of the war. We might be just at the beginning of something far more devastating.

Dr. Lisa Schirch


Mennonite Women USA values what all women have to say and Women's Voices blog is a space to honor their words. Posts are reviewed for tolerance and respect but don't necessarily reflect MW USA's official position.

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