Federal Way educators and faith leaders call for ceasefire in Gaza

Seventeen Federal Way residents were among the 2,551 who signed the Washington Solidarity Statement.

Federal Way residents, educators and faith leaders have called for a ceasefire in Gaza in response to the heavy bombardment of the area by Israeli forces that has killed approximately 30,000 people in the region, mostly civilians.

The attacks by Israel are in response to a violent attack Oct. 7 by terrorist organization Hamas that killed approximately 1,200 people. The group also kidnapped approximately 250 Israeli hostages. At the time of the attack, Israel was already holding approximately 5,000 Palestinian hostages, over 100 of which are children, according to news reports from Al Jazeera.

At the monthly meeting of the Federal Way Education Association representatives on Dec. 18, 2023, a motion asking FWEA to sign the letter titled “The US Labor Movement Calls for a Ceasefire in Gaza” was approved by the body, according to union president James Brown.

The National Educators Association expanded on a previous statement that included a call for a ceasefire on Feb. 10.

“As educators, we believe strongly in our professional and moral responsibility to teach and model inclusion and respect for differences, and we must speak out against injustices and violence toward innocent people, especially children,” union president Becky Pringle stated. “Many educators feel a deep connection to the children in Israel and Palestine. We know that our children are watching, hurting, and in need of a lasting peace.”

Sav Bair is a member of FWEA and a middle school educator for Federal Way Public Schools. In discussing the ceasefire statement made by FWEA, Bair supported it because from what they’ve seen, “the kids that are experiencing this right now the hardest are our recent refugees and our immigrants from the Middle East.” Bair said that even though they may not be from Palestine, “they look like the kids that are being framed as a Hamas.”

Bair shared one recent moment when a middle school age student was watching an age appropriate news broadcast called CNN 10 in class. The broadcast was doing “a tour with the military of what Gaza looked like … explaining how Palestinians weren’t getting any food or water. And they were showing classrooms.”

The student asked “are we helping them?” and Bair said, “I had to say no. I had to explain this to a kid and a classroom full of kids who experience racism and experience issues with being an immigrant and have potentially experienced international conflicts before and I have to say, ‘No, we’re not helping them.’”

Bair was referring the U.S. military aid to Israel that makes up approximately 15% of Israel’s total military budget, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Since then, the United States has joined other countries in delivering aid via air drops to the starving population of Gaza. CNN reported on March 9 that “the U.N. and aid agencies have questioned how effective they will be at alleviating the situation, and their risks were shown starkly on Friday when malfunctioning parachutes caused aid pallets to hurtle from the sky at breakneck speed, killing five unsuspecting civilians.”

The United States has pledged $3.8 billion a year in aid to Israel, according to The White House. When this number is averaged over every household’s contribution in the United States, this means approximately $1.3 million has been contributed from Federal Way taxpayers alone toward weapons being used against the civilians in Gaza, according to the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights.

“It’s devastating to watch how much money is being poured into hurting the kids that look like the kids who are in my classroom, and to watch how much money is being taken away from them at the same time,” Bair said, adding that “as a nation, we need to figure out where our priorities lie because it’s affecting us at home.”

Over 12,000 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli forces since Oct. 7, according to Al Jazeera. There are approximately that many children in Federal Way Public Schools in the combined totals of all kindergarten through 7th grade students.

More responses in Federal Way

Seventeen Federal Way residents were among the 2,551 who signed the Washington Solidarity Statement. The statement also called for “all of our elected officials in Washington state and beyond to amplify these calls and to take action to achieve them.”

Seattle became the largest U.S. city to demand a ceasefire in Israel/Palestine during a City Council meeting on Nov. 21, 2023. Also nearby, a a Tacoma City Council member released a statement on March 5. Across the country, around 70 cities have responded to the conflict.

When asked for a comment from Federal Way leadership, city spokesperson David Solano stated that “The City of Federal Way will respectfully decline to comment on this story.” Historically, city leadership has chosen to address other international conflicts. Within one day of the declaration of war on Ukraine by Russia two years ago, the city of Federal Way raised the Ukraine flag at City Hall. Within a week, Federal Way had a sister city in Ukraine.

Among the signatures from Federal Way residents on the Washington Solidarity Statement were those from individual members of The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Secular Franciscan Order and Grace Lutheran Church.

Rev. Josh Hassler of The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd was one of them.

In an interview in February, the Rev. Hassler emphasized the importance of peace and said that the conflict in the region has been on the mind of their congregation since before the escalation in October. It started with a visit from an Anglican Palestinian priest in the early summer of 2023.

Hassler said that from that visit, and from further conversation in the congregation including a book club, he’s learned that “most Christians in the Holy Land are Arabs. And so they are suffering from the occupation just as much as Palestinian Muslims are.”

As an Episcopalian, Hassler said he thinks they are “very much invested in amplifying the voices of Christians in the Holy Land, because people forget that they exist and that for centuries, they’ve been folks who are able to kind of stand in the middle, and forge potential peaceful developments, certainly, throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.”

Reflecting on his learnings, Hassler said: “I think probably the biggest realizations for me is that when we talk about the right of Palestinians to return to their homes, that got more complicated the minute there were Jews living in Israel long enough to have not remembered a time before Israel was the Jewish homeland … a time before 1948.”

Hassler added that “I’m no expert in Middle East politics, and would never claim to be, but I’m horrified by what’s happening.”

The Washington Solidarity Statement overall called for “an immediate ceasefire; the safe return of the hostages captured by Hamas; the safe return of those displaced from their homes; a stop to the acts of war by the Israeli military that violate international law; the restoration of basic necessities like food, water, electricity, and medical services to the Gazan people; and the opening of humanitarian aid corridors.”

“One reason that I did find it important to sign on to the solidarity statement is that it does indeed address the violence in both directions,” Hassler said, adding “that’s not to say that the two sides are evenly matched in combat. Very clearly, the Palestinians are at a disadvantage and are suffering horrible losses.”

Hassler said that the conflict is relevant to the city because “the diversity of Federal Way really speaks to the need for such conversations. We are one of the most diverse communities in the nation, I’m sure. We are welcoming tens of thousands of refugees to our area from Ukraine and from Afghanistan and so on.” He added that “we have a heart for welcoming folks and helping them acclimate. But we also have a heart for being peacemakers. And we we want to see the fighting stop, we want to see people coexist.”

In a press release about the Washington Solidarity Statement in November 2023, Rae Levine of Seattle shared similar statements.

“As I mourn the loss of extended family members who were killed in the attack on Be’eri kibbutz, I call even more strongly for a ceasefire to stop the bloodshed,” said Levine, a Jewish human rights advocate who had family members killed on Oct. 7. “These deaths must not be used to justify indiscriminate bombing, mass killing, and collective punishment of the 2.3 million people of Gaza (nearly half of whom are children). A ceasefire is the bare minimum that we need right now.”