Sunday, July 14, 2024

Somerville City Council President Ben Ewen-Campen seen at Thursday’s council meeting in a screen capture from Somerville video.

A resolution of Somerville City Council support for a cease-fire in Gaza passed 9-2 at Thursday’s council meeting.

The resolution, which was brought forward by council President Ben Ewen-Campen, came on the 109th day of the Israel-Hamas war. According to the final resolution, since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel in which 1,200 Israelis were killed, more than 24,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 60,000 wounded.

“My moral convictions compelled me to draft this resolution, pure and simple,” Ewen-Campen said. “We are now seeing a military campaign that has been one of the most devastating bombing campaigns of our generation … I know that there is not a person in this room who wants that suffering to continue and I am one of many, many people in our community who believes that this needs to end and it needs to end now.”

The meeting was crowded by residents and led by long, impassioned public comment. More than 1,500 emails about the resolution had come in over the previous week, councilor at large Jake Wilson said. Councilors said they received thousands of calls and texts.

Nervous councillors

The Somerville City Council meeting draws a crowd and much impassioned public comment as seen in a screen capture from Somerville video.

The motion at first did not look like it would pass with as many votes, and councilors expressed nervousness about how their actions would be perceived in the community no matter what they did.

“My mother offered to pick me up after this, because she was afraid for me,” Ward One councilor Matthew McLaughlin said. “And I am a combat veteran, I’m a white man, I’m not Muslim, I’m not Jewish – and I was afraid to come up here today.”

Neighboring Cambridge has been wrestling with its own cease-fire issues, with repeated meetings disrupted by protesters calling for one. A new version returns Monday of a cease-fire order that failed last term, but it will be voted in a meeting set to be held remotely after a possible physical altercation between Mayor E. Denise Simmons and a protester.

Seeing how the discourse has played out, “it’s been tragic to see the direction it’s gone,” McLaughlin said, pointing to voices on the left who were also reticent, including U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey and Bernie Sanders, and who have been criticized for not saying the specific words people want to hear: “They’re saying that they want an end to violence, that they want humanitarian aid, that they want to negotiate a peace, and I see when I go online, people rejecting that, and saying ‘No, you need to say these words.’ … because they’re not using a specific language.”

No matter what words the council voted, some members of the community will be hurt, Ward Six councilor Lance Davis said.

“I hope folks will see this as a genuine effort to try and take and address some of the challenging language. I hope folks won’t take this entire process, as many clearly have, as being an indication of there being one side or the other within this community. I want there to be peace. I want people to stop dying,” Davis said. “I appreciate councilman Ewen-Campen’s willingness to agree to some changes.”

Amending the order

After signaling in an emotional speech that he preferred to focus on local issues – a thought echoed by other members – the council then began honing Ewen-Campen’s resolution through amendments.

When discussing amendments to the resolution’s language, councilor at large Kristen Strezo proposed adding that the council also demands the dismantling of Hamas as part of a cease-fire and lasting peace. After further discussion between the council members, Strezo then proposed adding that the council demands the dismantling of Hamas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration.

“This was written by fellow Jews who want to work together for the solution of peace, and this is one way that I feel and they feel that we can get there,” Strezo said. “I think it would help for collaboration and would get me to vote in support of this resolution.”

That amendment was voted down 6-5.

McLaughlin proposed that the words “or any methods of peace” be added to the resolution.

“I’m here for peace. I’m here for people to stop fighting. So I support councilor Ewen-Campen’s resolution in the hopes for peace, in the hopes of getting to something that recognizes everybody in this room,” McLaughlin said.

This amendment, along with other language changes, were approved.

State Rep. Mike Connolly wrote to the council to urge approval of the resolution.

“I condemn Hamas and its horrific attack on Israel, and I support Israel’s right to defend itself. At the same time, I recognize the systemic oppression of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government and how this has contributed to a horrific cycle of violence. I believe that Palestine deserves to be free,” Connolly’s letter said.

Passing the resolution

Eventually, the final resolution was approved with councilors McLaughlin, Davis, Wilson, Naima Sait, J.T. Scott, Wilfred Mbah, Willie Burnley, Jesse Clingan and Ewen-Campen voting yes and councilors Strezo and Judy Pineda Neufeld voting no. 

“That the Somerville City Council supports an enduring cease-fire and/or any means to support long-lasting peace, the provision of life-saving humanitarian aid in Gaza and the release of all hostages,” the approved resolution states.

The resolution also states that the council opposes antisemitic, anti-Palestinian, anti-Israeli, anti-Arab, Islamophobic and all xenophobic rhetoric and attacks.

“The Somerville City Council urges the Biden administration, Senate and Congress to work toward an enduring cease-fire, humanitarian aid and the release of all hostages,” the amended resolution states.

A copy of the resolution will be sent to each member of the federal delegation and President Joe Biden “urging them to use their position to enact a sustained cease-fire.”

This post was updated Jan. 27, 2024, with amended resolution language.