Hungry for an end to war in Gaza: A month into a daily fast, Valley residents won’t stop until demands are met

Northampton resident Peter Kakos, a member of the Leahy Fast for Palestine Committee, has held a daily fast demanding an end of war in Gaza.

Northampton resident Peter Kakos, a member of the Leahy Fast for Palestine Committee, has held a daily fast demanding an end of war in Gaza. GAZETTE PHOTO/MADDIE FABIAN

Nick Mottern, a member of the  Leahy Fast for Palestine Committee, has held a daily fast demanding an end of war in Gaza. Mottern is fasting along with Peter Kakos and Jeanne Allen. The group holds vigil in downtown Northampton daily from 12-1 p.m.

Nick Mottern, a member of the Leahy Fast for Palestine Committee, has held a daily fast demanding an end of war in Gaza. Mottern is fasting along with Peter Kakos and Jeanne Allen. The group holds vigil in downtown Northampton daily from 12-1 p.m.  GAZETTE PHOTO/MADDIE FABIAN

By MADDIE FABIAN

Staff Writer

Published: 01-15-2024 9:40 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Every day for the past month, a group of three local activists have fasted daily from sunrise to sunset as they protest the Israel-Hamas war and the U.S. government’s involvement in the conflict.

The protesters — Peter Kakos, Nick Mottern and Jeanne Allen — are demanding three actions: a permanent cease-fire in Gaza and the West Bank, release of all Israeli and Palestinian hostages and use of the Leahy Law to prevent shipment of U.S. weapons to Israel Defense Forces.

“When this slaughter started in Gaza, we were moved to do something to put ourselves more in line with what people are experiencing,” Mottern said, adding that the fast has reinforced his “determination to keep trying.”

Since Dec. 14, the activists — who refer to themselves as the Leahy Fast for Palestine Committee — have only eaten light meals before and after fasting hours.

Additionally, each day from around 12-1 p.m. the three stand at the intersection of King and Main streets in downtown Northampton, holding signs and handing out flyers to passersby.

“Speaking to people and changing their minds, and getting them active and speaking out, is what needs to happen across the country, not just here in Northampton,” Kakos said last Friday during the lunch hour.

The war began on Oct. 7 when Hamas stormed Israel and killed 1,200 citizens, taking around 250 others hostage. Israel responded with an aerial and ground invasion of Gaza, and as of Friday afternoon, Israeli attacks have killed more than 23,000 people in Gaza, with tens of thousands more injured, according to the Associated Press.

“It is such a terrible thing. My conscience wouldn’t let me rest without taking some kind of action like this,” said Kakos. “I believe it is genocide.”

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In addition to advocating for a cease-fire and release of all Israeli and Palestinian hostages, the protesters are also calling for enforcement of the Leahy Law, a set of two statutes passed in 1969 and 1977.

The laws prohibit the U.S. government from funding or assisting foreign military units “where there is credible information implicating that unit in the commission of gross violations of human rights,” according to the U.S. Department of State.

“The thing that put me onto this was that on Oct. 18th, a man named Josh Paul — who was high in the State Department in terms of arms control — quit his job because the Leahy Law and other laws are being violated,” Mottern said.

In an opinion column in The Washington Post, Paul — former director in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs — wrote: “The track record shows that U.S.-provided arms have not led Israel to peace. Rather, in the West Bank, they have facilitated the growth of a settlement infrastructure that now makes a Palestinian state increasingly unlikely, while in the densely populated Gaza Strip, bombings have inflicted mass trauma and casualties, contributing nothing to Israeli security.”

Mottern said that had the Leahy Law been engaged at the time that Paul resigned, “it’s very likely that there would have already been a cease-fire because the Israeli government is totally dependent on weapons shipped from the United States.”

“It’s a very bizarre situation when citizens are asking congresspeople to enforce a federal law,” Mottern added.

Kakos said that Israel’s attack on Gaza “is an obvious case” of a violation of human rights and cited the death toll, injuries inflicted on civilians and lack of clean water and medication.

“I am pro-Jewish and pro-Israeli but vehemently opposed to the policies of the government. which is slow, painful genocide not only of Gaza, but the West Bank,” Kakos said.

The Leahy Fast for Palestine group is also encouraging people to call on elected officials to take a public position on their demands.

“To maintain their credibility as guardians of public well-being, every elected official must take a public position,” the activists write in their flier, which is endorsed by several organizations including Demilitarize Western Mass, Jewish Voice for Peace Western Mass, Massachusetts Peace Action and other groups.

Among officials being called on are Northampton Mayor Gina Louise-Sciarra, state Sen. Jo Comerford, state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern — who the protesters acknowledge has called for a cease-fire — and U.S. Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren.

“When it comes to military aid to Israel, the U.S. cannot write a blank check for a right-wing government that’s demonstrated an appalling disregard for Palestinian lives,” Warren, who has also called for a cease-fire, wrote in a tweet on Jan. 4. “The U.S. should use all the tools at its disposal to condition aid and move the parties toward a lasting peace.”

Other officials have stayed relatively quiet with regard to calls for a permanent cease-fire and use of the Leahy Law to prohibit U.S. weapon involvement in the war.

“Can you smell fear? That’s what I smell around all these politicians,” said Mottern.

Until their demands are met, Kakos and Mottern said they will continue their fast and protest.

“Fasting sends a strong message to the cause which you are fighting for,” Kakos said. “The person is giving up food and sacrificing it to amplify the situation.”

Maddie Fabian can be reached at mfabian@gazettenet.com.