By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

FILIPINO Christians and Muslims on Sunday called for an end to Israel’s counterattacks on Gaza and criticized the Philippine government’s support for Israel

Hundreds of residents in the southern Philippine city of Cagayan De Oro held a “solidarity walk for Palestine,” calling for a just resolution to the war between the Israeli government and Hamas militants who launched a surprise missile attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

Participants held placards that read “Free Palestine” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Thousands from the Bangsamoro region earlier condemned the Israeli military’s offensive in Gaza.

Israel launched a counterattack on the Palestinian enclave, sending waves of airstrikes, enforcing a blockade and deploying tens of thousands of its troops for a ground assault. This was after the Palestinian Islamists, backed by a barrage of rockets, stormed from the blockaded Gaza Strip into nearby Israeli towns, killing 1,400 people and taking hundreds as hostages.

Alile Hissah, a 26-year-old Filipino Muslim law student in Metro Manila, said the Philippine government has failed to consider the welfare of millions of Palestinians who have been driven away from their homeland for almost a century in its rush to condemn Hamas.

The Israeli government has been demanding that more than a million Palestinian civilians move to the southern part of Gaza as it embarks on a ground offensive, an order that the United Nations (UN) has condemned amid the collapsing humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territory.

The United States on Oct. 18 vetoed a UN resolution to condemn all violence against civilians in the Israel-Hamas war and to urge humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, saying it was too early to craft an appropriate Security Council response to the crisis.

The Hamas military wing has said it launched the surprise attack so that “the enemy will understand that the time of their rampaging without accountability has ended,” citing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank that started during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.

It also cited Israeli police raids on their places of worship including the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and the detention of thousands of Palestinians.

“Despite the facts, several Western countries assented to the actions of the Israeli Defense Forces,” Ms. Hissah said. “What saddens me more is that even the Marcos administration stands with Israel.”

The Gaza Strip is one of the two territories occupied by Palestinians — the other being the West Bank, which the Israeli government has been trying to invade in recent years.

The two areas, along with East Jerusalem, came under Israeli occupation after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Since the war, Israel has responded to Palestinians’ demand for a homeland through military force.

Rayiane Maravilla, a young mainline Protestant who works as a lecturer in Manila, said many Filipinos including fellow congregation members have overlooked the plight of Palestinians, who have been fighting for their right to self-determination.

“Most Christians today are the number one enabler of illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands,” he said via Messenger chat, noting that personal leanings “should not blind us into holding those who are accountable.” “Silence is complicity. And complicity is a sin.”

David Michael M. San Juan, a professor at De La Salle University’s Philippine Studies department, said Filipinos who “uncritically support” Israel mostly think of the country as the “biblical Israel.”

“Some are also rightfully angry at the atrocities committed by Hamas against Israeli civilians, without realizing that Hamas’ actions are also driven by decades of injustices perpetrated by the Israeli state against the Palestinians,” he said via Messenger chat.

US President Joseph R. Biden has defended Israel’s “right to self-defense,” vowing to support the Israeli military’s fight against Hamas militants.

For Ms. Hissah, the Palestinian cause is not so different from the struggle of many Filipino Muslims.

“I really hope that we would not reach a point where some local groups would be forced to resort to violence like what Hamas did,” she said, noting that the government’s refusal to heed Filipino Muslims’ call for self-determination had led to violence in the past.

In 2018, decades after peace negotiations between Muslim rebels and the Philippine government, Congress passed a law that created the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which has its own Parliament and justice system and is fiscally autonomous.

The Bangsamoro Parliament last week passed a resolution calling for an end of hostilities that endanger lives and threaten any hope of having the decades-long conflict resolved.

“We are Palestine, and Palestine is us,” Bangsamoro Transition Authority member Anna Tarhata Basman said in a speech as she sponsored the resolution in Parliament.

“Filipinos in Mindanao have experienced — and to a certain extent, still experience — the horrors of armed conflict,” Mr. David said. “The Palestinian cause resonates in our country, and especially in Mindanao because it is somehow related to the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination.”

“The Palestinians yearn for a Palestine where they will be free to build their dreams without fear of bombs and bullets from Israel,” he said. “Our Moro brothers and sisters also dream of a free Bangsamoro, and to a certain extent, they have realized this dream through the establishment of the BARMM which majority of the Moros and Filipinos support.”

Mr. David urged Filipinos and other countries to continue calling for an immediate ceasefire between the Israeli government and the Hamas group — “ideally via the UN, which should work out a practical solution where Palestinians will have their homeland and freedom back.”

“It’s a long way from here but for sure, negotiations can only prosper if the warplanes are quiet.”