Home A project of States Newsroom
Why Mainers of varying backgrounds have united around call for ceasefire in Gaza


Why Mainers of varying backgrounds have united around call for ceasefire in Gaza

Nov 17, 2023 | 3:35 pm ET
By Emma Davis
Why Mainers of varying backgrounds have united around call for ceasefire in Gaza
Madelyn Herzog, an organizer with American Jewish organization IfNotNow, speaks at a rally on Nov. 3 outside the Portland office of Rep. Chellie Pingree. (Lauren McCauley/Maine Morning Star)

An elected official of Islamic faith. A Penobscot community organizer. An advocate for displaced people. An anti-Zionist Jewish activist. 

Each of these Mainers have different identities, belief systems and personal experiences, but all are unwavering in their support of a ceasefire in Gaza. They and others across Maine have made this clear in recent weeks, with sit-ins at the offices of Democratic U.S. Reps. Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree and letters to the state’s congressional delegation urging them to support a ceasefire. 

On Friday, protests are planned in Portland again at Pingree’s office and in Augusta outside the State House led by organizers with the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

What unites these Mainers is a view that violence will not bring about peace. That people come before state. That two things can be true at once. These are the reasons they cited when explaining why they think a ceasefire is the only way out of the ongoing conflict that began on Oct. 7 but has its seed in history.

On Oct. 7, as the Israeli people concluded the seven-day-long Jewish festival of Sukkot, the terrorist organization Hamas stormed into southern Israel, killing an estimated 1,200 people and taking around 240 hostage, including at least 33 children, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry. 

In response, Israel has launched ongoing attacks on the Gaza Strip, which has been controlled by Hamas since 2007 and is home to roughly 2.3 million Palestinians, many of whom are refugees and descendants from the mass displacement of what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation. 

So far, Israel’s offensive has killed more than 11,200 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, an agency in the Hamas-controlled government. (The ministry does not distinguish between fighters and civilians in its figures but says most of the dead are women and children.) Israel has also imposed a total blockade on the Gaza Strip and has cut it off from food, water and fuel. 

Why Mainers of varying backgrounds have united around call for ceasefire in Gaza
Portland City Councilor Pious Ali. (Courtesy photo)

An elected official of Islamic faith

Portland City Councilor Pious Ali said it is his obligation as a Muslim to speak out when he feels something is wrong in the world, and to strive to correct it. Particularly addressing the need to end violence, he pointed to verses in the holy books of Islam and Judaism, the Quran and Torah, that he said embody why a ceasefire is needed. 

In summary, both texts explain, “when you kill one person, it’s as if you’ve killed the whole of humanity,” Ali said. “And when you save one life, it is as if you’ve saved the whole of humanity.”

Ali signed a letter along with seven other Muslim elected officials in Maine imploring the state’s congressional delegation — Republican Sen. Susan Collins, independent Sen. Angus King as well as Democratic Reps. Golden and Pingree — to support the Ceasefire Now Resolution introduced by Democratic Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri. 

The resolution urges the Biden administration to call for an immediate de-escalation and ceasefire in Israel and the Gaza Strip and for humanitarian aid to be sent to Gaza. 

“We implore you to support the resolution for an immediate de-escalation and cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine,” the letter from Muslim officials read. “This is not only a matter of foreign policy; it is a matter of human life, dignity, and the pursuit of lasting peace.”

In addition to his faith, Ali’s staunch support of a ceasefire is also tied to his view of himself as a global citizen. 

“When you live, you are part of the world,” he explained. “When something goes wrong, and you are in a position of speaking up, you need to speak up.”

A Penobscot community organizer

Community organizer Lokotah Sanborn helped organize Friday’s protest in Augusta and participated in the Nov. 3 rally at Pingree’s office. Sanborn is a member of the Penobscot Nation and sees parallels between the Palestinian people and his community. 

“Both are colonized people,” Sanborn explained. “Both are people that have been oppressed, lied to, and demonized by an occupying force. Both are communities that are resisting oppression.”

The Penobscot people are indigenous to the Penobscot River watershed in Maine, as well as parts of Canada, but have lost much of their aboriginal territory in Maine as the U.S. has broken and ignored treaties. Sanborn sees the tactics used to take land from his ancestors as interchangeable with the tactics that have been used on now-stateless Palestinians.

Activists arrested at Rep. Golden’s Bangor office amid increased calls for ceasefire in Gaza

“When I hear Palestinians, even children, being called ‘terrorists’ and ‘human animals’ by Israeli officials, it makes me think about what my people were called: ruthless savages and bloodthirsty murderers, just for defending our land, our waters, and our people,” Sanborn said.

An advocate for displaced people. 

Connecting with the struggles of another person or group is not a matter of physical proximity, said Crystal Cron, founding director of the nonprofit Presente! Maine, an advocacy group for displaced Indigenous and afro-Latinx people in Maine. Rather, it is a matter of shared experience. 

“Our displacement from our own lands connects directly to what communities in Palestine are facing right now,” said Cron. 

Referring to the immigrant rights slogan, “We didn’t cross the border. The border crossed us,” Cron sees similarities between Palestinians’ lack of sovereignty and the historic and ongoing struggles of Indigenous communities in Maine as well as people forced to migrate from places like South America as a result of deep-rooted violence.

Like Sanborn, Cron sees all of these struggles as connected.

“We are focused on different areas because of our own particular strengths and gifts and our own lenses,” Cron said. “But, really, when we’re tackling those issues, they’re all interconnected. It’s our basic human rights.”

An anti-Zionist Jewish activist 

Madelyn Herzog was raised Jewish. She regularly went to synagogue throughout her childhood, but as she got older, she grew increasingly disillusioned with her Jewish identity. That was until she began volunteering with an organization called IfNotNow.

“I felt like for the first time my Jewish identity was really aligned with my values and my work toward social justice,” Herzog said. 

She has been a volunteer leader for IfNotNow since 2016. IfNotNow is a national organization that defines itself as “a movement of American Jews organizing our community to end U.S. support for Israel’s apartheid system and demand equality, justice, and a thriving future for all Palestinians and Israelis.” 

Human Rights Watch found that Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, based on the overarching government policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians as well as abuses committed against Palestinians living in the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem.

Personally, Herzog described herself as an anti-Zionist Jew, which has meant different things to different people throughout history. “To me,” Herzog explained, that means that I do not believe there should be a Jewish ethnostate on this piece of land, but rather one nation where Israelis and Palestinians live with equal rights.”

For Herzog, supporting Israel is not what it means to be Jewish. 

“It’s impossible to ignore the context in which the October 7 attack happened,” Herzog said. “It doesn’t make it any less devastating for the people affected and for Jews in general around the world. As American Jews committed to liberation for all Palestinians and Israelis, we walk a fine line trying to hold these truths simultaneously.”