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Veterans Demand a Ceasefire in Gaza

My time in uniform has shaped my belief that military confrontations do not lead to peace.

Words: Jose Vasquez
Pictures: Jose Vasquez

As a US Army veteran and New Yorker, I witnessed how our government’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks led us into a devastating “forever war” that further fueled extremism. Our political leaders’ choices to pursue revenge claimed hundreds of thousands of American, Afghan, and Iraqi lives, fostered racism and Islamophobia, and weakened our civil liberties.

As it did for many veterans, the horrific attack against Israeli civilians near Gaza on Oct. 7, 2023, brought me back to the darkest days of America’s so-called war on terror. The kidnapping and brutal killing of more than 1,500 innocent civilians by Hamas is evil and feeds cycles of violence that make peace further from reach. The Israeli government’s reckless response is equally chilling to watch, with the bombing of innocent civilians cut off from any path of escape, resulting in the collective punishment of millions of people. As I write this, more than 8,000 Palestinians have been killed, thousands of whom are children. As Ernest Hemingway famously noted, “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.” 

Veterans of destructive and misguided wars can be an important voice for peace by sharing our experience and understanding of the human costs of war when leaders like President George W. Bush or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lead their countries to the brink. In April 2022, I joined a delegation of members of Common Defense, the veterans organization I lead, to Israel-Palestine. We were hosted by Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) veterans who oppose the occupation and work to advocate for peace in Israel-Palestine.

We recognize the right of both Israelis and Palestinians to live in safety and security, free from fear and violence. This means ending the occupation and recognizing the legitimate aspirations of both peoples for self-determination.

Our trip occurred during a rare convergence of religious observances, with Passover, Ramadan, and Easter coinciding. It was a stark reminder of the deep historical and religious ties that bind the people of this land together in a common struggle for freedom, security, and self-determination. 

During our visit, we had the privilege of engaging with both Israeli and Palestinian academics, journalists, and lawyers who oppose the occupation. We listened to the stories of veterans who served in the IDF and who, like us, understand the heavy toll of war and the dehumanizing impacts of occupation. We also visited Palestinian community leaders and had conversations with everyday people who have lived with this occupation their entire lives. These conversations left a lasting impact on our group, reinforcing the idea that even in the face of profound differences, we share the desire for peace. To move toward a just and lasting resolution, we must recognize the humanity of all those involved, and reject calls for escalation and further violence. 

Members of the Common Defense delegation with Breaking the Silence staff in April 2022.
CD_BTS_VOI_training2 (1)
Jose Vasquez leads a module for Breaking the Silence staff members as part of a Veterans Organizing Institute training.
Members of the Common Defense delegation receive a briefing on the human rights implications of the occupation from Hagai El-Ad, executive director of B’Tselem in Jerusalem in April 2022.
Common Defense Education Fund board chair, Sarah Edkins Lien, interacts with a young Palestinian boy near the separation wall in Ramallah.
Common Defense board, members, and staff participate in an iftar dinner hosted by Sacred Cuisine.
Combatants for Peace office
Delegation members gathered at the offices of Combatants for Peace to hear testimonies of Israel Defense Forces’ veterans about their tours of duty in the occupied West Bank in Hebron in April 2022.
Jose Vasquez and Janice Jamison lead a briefing on Common Defense’s history and campaigns to the Jerusalem Literary Society.
Human rights lawyer and advocate, Danny Seidemann leads a tour of Jerusalem giving a history of Israeli settlements around the city.
Mohammed Hureini, a member of Youth of Sumud, shared his experiences of daily life under occupation.

We recognize the right of both Israelis and Palestinians to live in safety and security, free from fear and violence. This means ending the occupation and recognizing the legitimate aspirations of both peoples for self-determination. The status quo, characterized by the construction of settlements and the separation barrier, only deepens the divisions between Israelis and Palestinians and hinders the prospects for peace. 

As a military veteran, my time in uniform has shaped my belief that peace is possible and that it is worth striving for. The experiences I’ve had, from Ground Zero to the streets of Jerusalem and Hebron, have reinforced my commitment to advocating for peace and justice. It’s heartening to see many Israelis and Palestinians who are committed to peace and who work tirelessly to bridge the divide. Organizations like Combatants for Peace and B’Tselem are doing the difficult work of fostering dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians and accountability for human rights abuses. 

The vision of a two-state solution has been a longstanding goal of the international community, but every air strike or rocket is another setback. It is crucial for the United States, as a long-time ally of Israel and a provider of billions of dollars of aid, to play a constructive role in promoting peace. America’s 20 years of war and occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq offer a cautionary tale to Israelis and their supporters about the folly of reacting in anger and haste. As the Watson Institute’s Cost of War Project at Brown University has shown, 940,000 people have died as a direct result of combat, 38 million were displaced, and upwards of $8 trillion spent.

A military approach alone cannot solve the Israel-Palestine conflict. The cycle of violence and counter-violence has only perpetuated suffering and despair on both sides. We must support initiatives that foster mutual understanding, dialogue, and compromise between Israelis and Palestinians. That starts by calling for and facilitating a ceasefire and providing immediate humanitarian aid for all people, from the river to the sea.

All photos were provided by the author and taken in April 2022. The feature image is of a public art display in East Jerusalem while the second picture is of the Common Defense team arriving at the Ben Gurion airport in Israel in April 2022.

Jose Vasquez

Jose Vasquez is the Executive Director of Common Defense. He is on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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