Ceasefire movement deserves the credit for Biden’s weapons pause
A man holds a sign calling for the U.S. military to stop sending aid to Israel during a rally calling for a ceasefire, Nov. 13, 2023, outside the office of Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa, in Philadelphia. | Jose F. Moreno / The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

So many bombs, tank shells, bullets, drones, and warplanes have been shipped to Israel by the U.S. in the months since Oct. 7—and over the last several decades—that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right government want to destroy Rafah and exterminate its Palestinian inhabitants, they could do so. They have more than enough armaments for the job.

Details are largely kept secret, but U.S. officials reported in March that more than 100 separate military sales have been made to Israel since the Hamas attacks. The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a right-wing think tank in Washington, happily reported the U.S. has been sending so many weapons that the Pentagon “sometimes struggled to find sufficient cargo aircraft to deliver the systems.”

And as Israeli Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari has said, “The army has munitions for the missions it plans, and for the missions in Rafah, too—we have what we need.”

It’s tempting to conclude, therefore, that President Biden’s pause on deliveries of a few categories of arms, particularly the 2,000-lb. and 500-lb. bombs used to such devastating effect by the Israel Defense Forces in their blitzkrieg, doesn’t really make much difference.

From a purely practical and logistical standpoint, that is true. The Israeli military is in no danger of depleting its stockpiles of deadly instruments. (Nor are the U.S. defense contractors who’ve profited from this war in any danger of running out of cash.) Biden’s shift is too little, too late.

However, in another sense, the hold on shipments is a major development worthy of at least some celebration. This is the first time since Israel invaded Lebanon against U.S. wishes in 1982—over 40 years ago—that Washington has actually held back on giving the State of Israel whatever lethal arms it wants.

The applause for this dramatic change goes not to the White House, though, but to the mass movement across our country demanding a ceasefire. It is pressure from below which extracted this concession from a reluctant administration.

The ceasefire campaign is a movement of millions. At its forefront in this moment are the students who have occupied campuses from coast to coast to demand their institutions divest from the apartheid state.

Standing alongside them are major sections of organized labor, hundreds of thousands of “uncommitted” Democratic Primary voters, Arab Americans and other peoples of color, stalwart peace activists, and people of various faiths—including a great many Jewish Americans in groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow who have spearheaded countless direct-action protests.

In short, the movement is a cross-section of the U.S. working class and people. It is their demonstrations, resolutions, petitions, occupations, letters, calls, and ballots that forced Biden’s hand.

Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar captured the essence of this turn of events, saying, “Finally, the needle has moved in a significant way…. Don’t ever let people tell you that your voices are meaningless and your actions are worthless.” Referencing the words of Rev. Martin Luther King, Omar affirmed, “The arc of what is possible is always within us to bend.”

Just a short time ago, the president would not even let the word “ceasefire” escape his lips. U.S. government employees were threatened with termination if they mentioned things like “de-escalation” or “war crimes.” And every United Nations resolution calling for an end to the genocide was vetoed by the U.S.

Now, the commander-in-chief has actually wavered, pausing shipments to U.S. imperialism’s primary Middle East client state. Biden’s hope that this will be enough to rein in his ally’s brutality may be misplaced, though.

Determined to carry on with their bloody war, Netanyahu and the fascists in his cabinet have snubbed the request to hold off on attacking Rafah, the southern Gaza city where 1.3 million Palestinians are shuddering in tents with little food or water, thanks to Israel’s aid blockade.

Undeterred, Netanyahu said, “We will fight with our fingernails!” Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir insultingly tweeted, “HamasBiden,” while Bezalel Smotrich, finance minister and governor of the Occupied West Bank, falsely accused Biden of an “arms embargo.” If only that were true.

This weapons pause is a win, but the ceasefire movement cannot take it as a sign that our work is done. We must not let this be just another act of lip service on the part of the administration.

The strategists who sit atop the Biden re-election campaign hope that halting a few categories of bombs will be enough to placate the ceasefire movement and tamp down protests. They don’t even realize that the ceasefire movement is the force which may actually help foil the Trump win they fear by forcing the White House to change its disastrous course on Gaza.

Finally, we must remember that the current pause affects a narrow range of weapons. Twenty-five F-35 warplanes are still on their way to Israel from the U.S. The $4.4 billion dollars’ worth of arms belonging to the U.S. military but stationed inside Israel are still accessible to the IDF. And Congress just approved $17 billion more in future aid.

As we take stock of our wins, the movement must now look forward and expand the ceasefire demand: Full arms embargo now.

Don’t let the pause be symbolic. We’ve only come this far because we didn’t let up. 35,000 have already been massacred in Gaza. There is no way to bring back the dead, but we can still act to save the living.

As with all opinion and news-analytical articles published by People’s World, the views represented here are those of the author.

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C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.