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Pro-Palestinian protesters at a Feb. 15 council meeting expressed their desire for the Northampton City Council to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
Photo credit: Northampton Open Media

NORTHAMPTON — After months of public discourse and many protests, the Northampton City Council officially backed a call for a ceasefire of the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

During a special meeting on Feb. 27, well over 200 attendees witnessed the passing of two resolutions by the City Council; both of which were sponsored by Ward 2 City Councilor Deborah Pastrich-Klemer, Ward 7 Councilor Rachel Maiore, council President Alex Jarrett and Ward 1 City Councilor Stan Moulton.

One of the resolutions calls for a ceasefire in Gaza while the other denounces any type of hate thrown at Jewish, Muslim and Arab community members. The council made an amendment to the latter resolution to also include Israeli and Palestinian community members.

With the passing of the former resolution, Northampton becomes the first community in Western Massachusetts and the third in the state to officially back a ceasefire in Gaza.

“We’re asking for an end to the bloodshed, and that is a goal that I feel that I want to and need to support,” said Moulton during the special meeting.

A third resolution submitted by Ward 4 City Councilor Jeremy Dubs was ultimately suspended indefinitely because the resolution’s main points were very similar to the one submitted by Maiore, Jarrett, Moulton and Pastrich-Klemer.

“I personally don’t feel like it’s super constructive to have two competing ceasefire resolutions,” Dubs said. “I do think that the other councilors’ resolution covers the main points of the resolution I submitted.”

Although his resolution was withdrawn, Dubs said he was still glad he submitted it because “it pushed the conversation forward.”

The ceasefire resolution that the council eventually passed acknowledges and denounces the perpetual humanitarian crisis in Gaza since Hamas’ attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, when 1,200 Israeli adults and children were killed and around 240 hostages were taken.

Since then, the resolution notes, close to 30,000 Palestinians have been killed due to a blockade and bombardment of Gaza by Israeli forces, including more than 12,000 children, while around 70,000 have been wounded.

The resolution also mentions how 1.9 million people, or 85% of Gaza’s population, have been displaced because of the crisis.

“The Northampton City Council calls for an immediate, enduring and permanent ceasefire by both sides, suspension of unrestricted military aid from the United States, the provision of unrestricted, life-saving humanitarian aid in Gaza and the release of all hostages taken by Hamas and Palestinian political detainees, and urges the Biden administration, U.S. Senate and House to work toward those goals,” reads the resolution.

The approval of these two resolutions comes two weeks after pro-Palestinian activists interrupted the City Council meeting on Feb. 15 in the council chambers to express their frustration that a ceasefire resolution was not on the agenda that night.

After using the allotted 90 minutes for public speak that night to show their disappointment, the protesters continued to chant and demonstrate, which forced the City Council to postpone the meeting and finish discussing the scheduled agenda items at a later date.

The council ultimately decided to take up the resolutions during the Feb. 27 special meeting, which was solely over Zoom.

For a second time, members of the public utilized the full 90 minutes that are allotted for public speak, during the Feb. 27 meeting. Many spoke in support of the Gaza ceasefire resolution, particularly the one Dubs crafted, while others spoke against the call for a ceasefire.

Longmeadow resident Mehlaga Samdani said she was in support of all three resolutions, especially for the sake of the children who are growing up in this era right now.

“This needs to end now, not just for the Palestinians and not just for the Israeli hostages who are currently under captivity and all of the Palestinian hostages who’ve been detained for decades without charge or trial; it needs to end for our kids here in the U.S. as well,” Samdani said.

Yotam Tobul, a Florence Israeli-American, expressed his support for Dubs’ ceasefire specifically and said the least the U.S. government can do is “Stop the Israeli state from stamping out the Palestinian people with our tax dollars.”

“I believe nothing can justify the sheer scale of violence Israel is inflicting in Gaza,” Tobul said. “That violence is against the Jewish tradition, and it won’t even succeed at the Israeli government’s goals.”

Other members of the public, including those who are a part of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, were not in support of a Gaza ceasefire resolution.

Stan Schapiro, a co-president of the Congregation B’nai Israel, said he supported the resolution that denounces hate toward Jewish, Islamic, Arab, Israelian and Palestinian populations, but felt it was not wise for the council to pass ceasefire resolutions.

“I do question the wisdom of the council passing a resolution for ceasefire at this time while there is such fractious air in Northampton about this,” Schapiro said. “I believe our efforts on a local level should be focused on ways to create dialogue and education as opposed to playing into and furthering the divides and polarization we’re experiencing.”

Nora Gorenstein, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusettd, argued that asking Israel for an immediate ceasefire advances Hamas’ interests and ensures further terrorism in the future.

“The current conflict is layered with historical, political, and religious complexities, which is why I ask you today to oppose these ceasefire resolutions,” Gorenstein said.

Aside from the extensive public comments during the Feb. 15 and 27 meetings, councilors said they received hundreds of emails from constituents who shared their opinion on this issue. Councilors also noted that they worked with many different groups and activists on crafting the language around the resolutions.

“Thank you to everyone who’s written and called and texted and who I’ve met with; I really appreciate your input” said Jarrett, when addressing the public. “This resolution, I see it as a call for peace.”

Maiore, meanwhile, noted the urgency of the situation and reminded councilors that local and national governments cannot be apathetic toward the war since the United States continues to fund military aid for Israel.

“We’ve got 1.1 million Palestinian children who are facing imminent starvation or death by disease if we don’t turn this around,” said Maiore. “What I hope most is that [the ceasefire resolution] shows our concern and that we get the gravity, and that we have compassion, and that we’re holding this compassion in the face of so much immense suffering abroad and right here at home, as we’ve heard.”

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