‘We’re not playing games anymore’: Residents occupy McGovern’s Northampton office with Gaza demands

Peter Kakos, right, talks to U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern in McGovern’s Northampton office Tuesday as Paki Wieland, left, and Nick Mottern listen. McGovern’s regional manager, Koby Gardner-Levine, holds the phone.

Peter Kakos, right, talks to U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern in McGovern’s Northampton office Tuesday as Paki Wieland, left, and Nick Mottern listen. McGovern’s regional manager, Koby Gardner-Levine, holds the phone. STAFF PHOTO/JAMES PENTLAND

From left, Gaza war protesters Jennifer Scarlott, Priscilla Lynch, Peter Kakos, Teresa Turner, Paki Wieland and Nick Mottern have occupied Rep. Jim McGovern’s Northampton office.

From left, Gaza war protesters Jennifer Scarlott, Priscilla Lynch, Peter Kakos, Teresa Turner, Paki Wieland and Nick Mottern have occupied Rep. Jim McGovern’s Northampton office. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By JAMES PENTLAND

Staff Writer

Published: 03-13-2024 9:27 AM

Modified: 03-13-2024 4:36 PM


NORTHAMPTON — Pushing their congressman to do more to stop the destruction of Gaza, members of the Leahy Fast for Palestine Committee and supporters occupied Rep. Jim McGovern’s local office and spoke with him by phone for half an hour Tuesday afternoon.

“We’d like you to issue a statement calling on the president to immediately halt all arms shipments to Israel,” Nick Mottern said to McGovern.

After spending the night at the congressman’s office, the group added a demand that the U.S. veto no more U.N. cease-fire resolutions. The U.S. has vetoed three so far.

Mottern, Peter Kakos and Jeanne Allen began a dawn-to-dusk fast Dec. 14 against Israel’s military assault on Gaza. They cite the Leahy law, which prohibits the U.S. government from supplying military aid to foreign armies engaged in gross violations of human rights.

McGovern cited his recent statement in Congress calling for weapons shipments to stop if Israel doesn’t allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, and noted that he voted against the last military aid package to Israel.

But he also said that Congress was not likely to vote on any more aid packages to Israel for some time, and that the only person with leverage on the issue is President Joe Biden.

“That isn’t going to cut the mustard,” Mottern said, again urging McGovern to demand an end to U.S. arms shipments.

Kakos suggested McGovern conduct a sit-in at the president’s office, and he reminded him that the Northampton City Council approved a cease-fire resolution Feb. 27 after being forced to suspend a previous meeting by vocal proponents.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

“We’re desperate,” Kakos said. “We’re not playing games anymore.”

The war, triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, has killed over 30,000 Palestinians and driven most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people from their homes. A quarter of Gaza’s population is starving, according to the United Nations, because they cannot find enough food or afford it at vastly inflated prices. There are an estimated 14,000 to 17,000 unaccompanied children in Gaza.

Israel has repeatedly blocked deliveries of humanitarian aid to Gaza on the grounds that it might conceal weapons for Hamas, and has ignored U.S. requests to allow aid shipments in.

The U.S., Qatar and Egypt unsuccessfully tried to broker a cease-fire and hostage release ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began at sundown Sunday. The talks stalled as Hamas demanded that any temporary pause in the fighting come with guarantees for ending the war, the Associated Press reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to expand the offensive into the strip’s southern city of Rafah, where half of Gaza’s population has sought refuge, and to keep fighting until Hamas has been dismantled and all the captives it is holding have been returned.

The Washington Post reported last week that lawmakers learned in a recent classified briefing that the U.S. has quietly approved and delivered more than 100 separate foreign military sales to Israel since the war began, amounting to thousands of precision-guided munitions, small-diameter bombs, bunker busters, small arms and other lethal aid.

Each fell under a specific dollar amount that requires the executive branch to individually notify Congress, the Post report said.

Only two approved foreign military sales to Israel have been made public since the start of conflict: $106 million worth of tank ammunition and $147.5 million of components needed to make 155 mm shells.

McGovern, who was one of the first members of Congress to call for a cease-fire in Gaza, said he would be speaking to the president on Sunday and hoped for a “good conversation.”

“We’ll stay here until Sunday and see how that comes out,” Mottern replied.

Paki Wieland said the sight of dying, starving people every time she turns on her TV made her think of the Irish who were starved by the British government in the 19th century.

“You have the power to speak out,” she told McGovern. “You’re not alone.”

“We want strong leadership from you,” Mottern concurred. “You’ve got a lot of influence.”

McGovern said that Netanyahu’s government is violating U.S. law, but he said freezing aid doesn’t guarantee a cease-fire.

Mottern said Biden and the Congress are violating U.S. law by continuing to send weapons to Israel, a point that McGovern was partly willing to concede.

“My belief is that President Biden is failing to comply with current law,” he said, citing the Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibits assistance to countries restricting humanitarian assistance, and the Arms Export Control Act.

Kakos said Israel’s actions in Gaza amount to genocide.

“Our policy puts us in a place where we are partners in genocide,” he said.

Mottern noted that the activists had raised the same concerns in a meeting with McGovern Dec. 19 and little has changed since then.

McGovern said he respected the protesters’ opinions and said his frustration over the situation in Israel was deep as well.

“I can’t promise we’ll see eye to eye on every detail,” he said.

After sitting in at the congressman’s office overnight, the group of six added a demand Wednesday morning.

Mottern said they had been told that McGovern made a statement opposing weapons shipments unless Israel allows humanitarian aid into Gaza.

But Mottern said the activists were looking for an unconditional statement, and said they expected to speak with McGovern later in the day.

Material from The Associated Press and The Washington Post was used in this report.

James Pentland can be reached at jpentland@gazettenet.com.