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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, February 22, 2024

Somerville becomes first Mass. city to call for Gaza ceasefire

City councilors voted 9–2 calling on the federal government to organize a ceasefire during the Israel-Hamas war.

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Community members gather outside Somerville City Hall in support of the resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

In late January, Somerville became the first city in Massachusetts to pass a resolution calling for an enduring ceasefire in Gaza. The resolution, which was brought forth by City Council President Ben Ewen-Campen, was passed in a 92 vote after close to three hours of testimony and deliberation on Jan. 25.

“My moral convictions compelled me to draft this resolution, pure and simple,” Ewen-Campen said. “I believe from the bottom of my heart that this is the right thing to do.”

The resolution states that the city council supports an enduring ceasefire, the provision of humanitarian aid to Gaza and the release of all hostages. It urges the federal government to do the same. The resolution recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself in accordance with international law and condemns the terrorist attacks by Hamas on Oct. 7, while also condemning antisemitic, anti-Palestinian, anti-Israeli, anti-Arab, Islamophobic and xenophobic behavior. The resolution will be sent to the Massachusetts federal delegation as well as U.S. President Joe Biden.

A politically active Somerville resident, Chris Dwan, attended the meeting and relayed the emotions that other attendees in the room were feeling.

“There was optimism, there was fear, there was anger,” Dwan said, “and most of all, what I saw from most of the people there was that they wanted to be heard, and they wanted to be safe.”

The city council meeting consisted of testimony from councilors and residents. Speakers shared accounts of emotional trauma felt by both Palestinians and Israelis as a result of the conflict overseas, and they also spoke of an alleged rise of hate speech more locally.

Formal movement for a ceasefire began as early as December when local group Somerville for Palestine began petitioning U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey to call for a ceasefire. As of the resolution’s passing, the petition had 800 signatures. Ewen-Campen and fellow city councilors Lance Davis, Jake Wilson, J.T. Scott, Will Mbah, Willie Burnley Jr., Naima Sait, Jake Wilson and Jesse Clingan voted in favor.

Sara Halawa, the initial organizer of Somerville for Palestine, estimated that over 500 supporters of Somerville for Palestine were present at the Jan. 25 meeting. Supporters held Palestinian flags and signs reading “Ceasefire now!” and “Free Palestine.”

“We packed the chamber,” Halawa said. “When they finally passed it, the room just erupted in applause. [There was] this outpouring of relief and joy. … Many, many people had not felt that uplifted since this horrific genocide began. So it was a really great victory for us.”

Halawa also spoke to the Daily about why she felt compelled to speak up and advocate for a ceasefire.

“I believe really strongly that every single one of us has a responsibility to do every single thing we possibly can to stop it now, and that means using every shred of power that we have, in whatever capacity we have it, to speak out and call other people into speaking out with us,” she said.

Councilor-at-Large Wilson also spoke about why he felt it necessary to speak up as an elected official.

“I just couldn’t stay silent any longer,” Wilson said. “I had so many constituents, both Jewish constituents and Palestinian constituents, tell me stories where it was just obvious there was so much hurt and so much fear and so much pain on both sides.”

Councilors and other Somerville residents who did not support the resolution argued that the resolution would further divide Somerville, but elaborated that they were not necessarily against a ceasefire in Gaza.

“I support an Enduring Ceasefire and a safe release of the hostages,” Councilor-at-Large Kristen Strezo, who voted against the resolution, wrote in an email to the Daily. “I think the Ceasefire Resolution is divisive and this divisiveness can harm our Somerville community.”

Councilor Judy Pineda Neufeld — the only other councilor to vote against the resolution — did not return the Daily’s request for comment.

Carina Kurban, a member of Somerville for Palestine, spoke to the possible domino effect Somerville’s resolution could have across Massachusetts. Just days after Somerville passed its resolution, the city councilors of Cambridge unanimously passed their own request for a ceasefire.

“With enough cities in Massachusetts to push for this, the senators are going to be forced to listen and really push for it, and the more cities in the U.S. that push for it, the more senators are going to have to push for it, and the more senators that push for it, the more pressure it’s going to put on the federal government,” Kurban said.