Mennonites across the United States and Canada on Dec. 19 called on their elected officials to advocate for a permanent cease-fire in Palestine and the release of all hostages.
More than 1,800 people staged 42 protests featuring hymn singing and prayers at the offices of elected officials.
Demonstrators lamented the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks that killed roughly 1,100 people in Israel and decried the Israeli military’s disproportionate response, which has killed more than 20,000 Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, displaced millions and turned hospitals and houses of worship into rubble.
“Violence and revenge are not God’s will,” said Melissa Atchison, a pastor at Manhattan Mennonite Church in Kansas on the sidewalk outside Sen. Jerry Moran’s downtown Wichita office. “They are false gods who promise peace and redemption but only bring more violence and hatred.”
About 80 people had begun singing “We Are People of God’s Peace” in the building’s acoustically cavernous nine-story atrium, prompting security staff to escort the group back to the blustery street.
“Peace for all is only possible when parties come to the table to address everyone’s needs and harms,” Atchison said. “God calls us to join our voices with all those who suffer.”
As a pair of demonstrators reentered the building to share baked zwieback and statements with Moran’s staff as a means of breaking bread together, her husband, Bob Atchison, shared the story of Tareq Abuhalima of Gaza City, whom the congregation engages with monthly by Zoom. Abuhalima has been a graduate student at Bluffton University for a year and is a graduate assistant in the university’s Lion and Lamb Peace Arts Center.
“It is with great sadness that I share that three of Tareq’s sisters were killed by the Israeli military’s actions — two by sniper fire,” Atchison said. “… President Biden, we call on the name of the Prince of Peace to change your heart.”
The demonstration was one of 42 coordinated by Mennonite Action, a new group seeking to mobilize Anabaptists across North America to use creative nonviolent actions to demand a cease-fire in Gaza and an end to the occupation of Palestine.
The group, which held its first meeting online Nov. 28, is planning a second round of actions Jan. 15-17 in Washington, D.C. Coordinators are working in Canada to establish next steps there.
Adam Ramer, one of Mennonite Action’s coordinators, said the participation across the continent was triple his expectations.
“We know it is the largest Christian action for cease-fire since Oct. 7,” he said in a phone interview on Dec. 20. “That’s amazing, but it’s also sad to hear that.”
Speaking as a former political director for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Ramer said Mennonites bring a unique angle when uniting in solidarity across regions both rural and urban.
“We are seeing big narratives that people in New York and Washington are on the front lines calling for a cease-fire, but I think showing up in Kansas, 150 people in Mishawaka, Ind., over a hundred people in Harrisonburg, Va., shows a solidarity to our partners,” he said.
“This has been projected as being a Jewish-versus-Muslim issue. A lot of the elected officials have in their mind what a cease-fire protestor is, like someone aggressively yelling.
“We are trying to create cognitive dissonance with elected officials. One elected official told our team in Maryland, ‘I haven’t experienced a protest like this before, which used prayer and hymns.’ It’s just a different dynamic. So we hope that when these staffers go home, they are thinking about the group who showed up.
“In some places it may seem futile, but it’s a chorus that we are each sharing our voice into that disarms hate.”
In the lobby of City Hall in Waterloo, Ont., which houses the office of Member of Parliament Bardish Chagger, more than 250 demonstrators sang hymns and prayed for peace while members of the Palestinian Youth Movement staged a “die-in.”
In Winnipeg, Man., a little snow on the ground did not stop nearly 100 people who gathered outside MP Dan Vandal’s office to urge a permanent cease-fire. The group delivered a letter thanking the Canadian government for voting for a cease-fire and calling for it to advocate an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine in the name of “freedom and dignity of all Palestinians and Israelis.”
Canada joined a Dec. 12 United Nations General Assembly 153-to-10 vote to demand an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. The U.S. voted no. The vote carried moral weight and was politically significant but was nonbinding, unlike a resolution at the U.N. Security Council, where the U.S. continues to block calls for a cease-fire.
After giving full-throated support to Israel in October, President Biden’s message has shifted to acknowledge Israel’s heavy-handed response in Gaza. However, an official call for a cease-fire is yet to come from the White House or Congress.
In Toronto, demonstrators held signs and quilts outside MP Bill Blair’s office. In Denver, participants wrapped themselves in quilts outside Sen. John Hickenlooper’s office.
Sen. Moran’s Kansas City, Kan., office received Christmas cookies frosted with cease-fire messages. In Philadelphia, more than 100 demonstrators signed a large Christmas card declaring Jesus is under the rubble this year. Sen. Bob Casey’s staff declined to meet with the group, and security staff locked them out of the building’s lobby.
In Columbus, Ohio, about 60 protestors offered a pie to a member of Sen. Sherrod Brown’s staff who came out to the sidewalk to meet with the group, which also offered the woman a scarf, coat and gloves as she began to shiver in near-freezing temperatures.
Lydia Brenneman of Lima Mennonite Church recounted her experience growing up as a Palestinian Christian in Jerusalem.
“I’ve lost two family members in Gaza, but I also have a friend [Abuhalima] who is a student at Bluffton. He’s lost three sisters to the violence. My heart just breaks when I think about that,” she said. “And not only do we want a permanent cease-fire, but the only way that’s going to happen with U.S. pressure is if the U.S. stops funding the Israeli military.”
Sarah Werner and John Longhurst contributed to this report.