Calls for ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war roil city councils from California to Michigan

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Oakland considered a resolution to call for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war on Monday, potentially joining nearly a dozen other U.S. cities from Michigan to Georgia that have supported the same. The resolution before the Oakland City Council also calls for the unrestricted entry of humanitarian assistance into Gaza and a restoration of basic services, as well as “respect for international law” and the release of all hostages. “Too many innocent lives have been lost,” said council member Carroll Fife, who brought the resolution. “And I didn’t have words prepared because my heart is too broken to even express what I’m truly feeling in this moment.” She said the issue is “deeply, deeply concerning” to Oakland residents and called for a moment of silence for the lives lost on both sides of the conflict.

Several hundred people signed up to speak at the council meeting, with many wearing black-and-white Palestinian scarves. Their words were met with cheers and applause. Similar resolutions have passed in three cities in Michigan, where a large percentage of Arab Americans live, as well as in Atlanta; Akron, Ohio; Wilmington, Delaware; and Providence, Rhode Island. A temporary cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, which Qatar helped broker, is currently in place. U.S. cities have been adopting resolutions regarding the conflict even though they have no legal role or formal say in the process, said David Glazier, who teaches constitutional law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

“It raises an interesting question on where they are getting this mandate to speak for the people in their city when nobody elected a city council person because of their stance on Middle East peace,” he said. In the nearby city of Richmond, an approved resolution calling for a cease-fire and accusing Israel of ethnic cleansing prompted more than five hours of heated debate in October. The city of Ypsilanti, near Detroit, approved a peace resolution but rescinded it amid backlash.

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Oakland’s resolution demands “an immediate ceasefire; release of all hostages, the unrestricted entry of humanitarian assistance into Gaza; the restoration of food, water, electricity, and medical supplies to Gaza; and the respect for international law; and calls for a resolution that protects the security of all innocent civilians.” The resolution does not mention Hamas or the group’s attack that sparked the war, an omission that’s prompted criticism from local groups, including the Jewish Community Relations Council in San Francisco that noted how it “fails to mention the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7.” Some speakers at the Oakland meeting called on the council to amend the resolution to condemn Hamas while many more, including Jewish anti-Zionist activists, urged approval of the measure without amendment. They accused Israel of apartheid and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

“We’ve seen the targeting and massacring of civilians, of health care facilities, of hospitals and ambulances,” said one speaker, who identified herself as a recent medical school graduate. “Silence in the face of oppression and genocide, I don’t think, is an acceptable response.” Cities across the United States have increasingly been speaking up on matters that have long been relegated to diplomatic spheres, even working with local elected leaders abroad on what has been coined city-to-city diplomacy to tackle everything from housing refugees and asylum seekers to dealing with climate change.

Now, city councils are just the latest arena where intense debates over the war and the United States’ support for Israel are playing out. Protesters calling for a cease-fire recently shut down traffic on a major bridge into San Francisco during an international economic summit, and the California Democratic Party recently cancelled some events at its fall convention due to demonstrations. In some cases, the tension has turned violent. A pro-Palestinian protester was charged with involuntary manslaughter this month after a Jewish man died from head injuries following dueling protests in Southern California. He pleaded not guilty. In Vermont, a man has pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted murder in the non-fatal shooting of three Palestinian men studying in the United States.

Oakland’s action comes as Hamas has released some hostages captured in the Oct. 7 attack, while Israel has released some imprisoned Palestinians. Israel has said it would extend the cease-fire by one day for every 10 additional hostages released, but that it remains committed to crushing Hamas’ military capabilities and ending the group’s 16-year rule over Gaza, which would likely mean expanding the Israeli military’s ground offensive. The war started after Hamas broke through Israel’s high-tech “Iron Wall” on Oct. 7 and launched an attack that left more than 1,200 Israelis dead. Hamas also took nearly 240 Israelis hostage.

More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza.