Northampton first in WMass to back call for Gaza cease-fire

Hundreds of marchers participate in a 25-mile march for Palestine in December. On Tuesday, the Northampton City Council became the first community in western Massachusetts to adopt a resolution calling for a  cease-fire in the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

Hundreds of marchers participate in a 25-mile march for Palestine in December. On Tuesday, the Northampton City Council became the first community in western Massachusetts to adopt a resolution calling for a cease-fire in the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 02-27-2024 11:51 AM

Modified: 02-28-2024 3:52 PM


NORTHAMPTON — The city is the first in western Massachusetts and third statewide to take a stand in favor of a cease-fire in the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

The City Council passed two at a virtual special meeting Tuesday night that drew more than 200 people. One of the resolutions calls for a cease-fire in Gaza and the other condemns both anti-Arab and antisemitic hate. The latter resolution was amended during the meeting to specifically mention Palestinian and Israeli members of the community.

“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 Ward 7’s Rachel Maiore, who co-sponsored both resolutions with Ward 1’s Stanley Moulton, Ward 2’s Deb Pastrich-Klemer and Ward 5’s Alex Jarrett, the council president.

Noting that the United States has been a constant provider of military aid to Israel, she added that “we’re not just kind of over here and not involved politically as Americans.”

Ward 4’s Jeremy Dubs withdrew a third resolution that also called for a cease-fire.

There has been significant interest in cease-fire resolutions in Northampton, Amherst and Easthampton, with people arguing both for and against calls for a cease-fire.

More than 200 people attended Northampton’s online meeting, with public comments reaching the maximum of its 90-minute allotted time.

Speaking in favor of the resolutions was Northampton resident Farah Assi Evanson, who told councilors that their “inaction in passing a cease-fire resolution is only going to embolden racist people to say and do racist things against Arabs, Muslims and Jews alike. Saying ‘cease-fire’ is not wrong and it shouldn’t be controversial. But staying silent is.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Next 5-story building cleared to rise in downtown Amherst
‘Our hearts were shattered’: Moved by their work in Mexico soup kitchen, Northampton couple takes action
Hampshire County youth tapped to advise governor’s team
Amherst-Pelham schools look to address school absences with new plan
Northampton School Committee takes stand for budget increase during emotional meeting
Amherst regional superintendent candidate stresses inclusion, broad expertise

Also speaking in favor of the resolutions was Arlene Kirsch, of Northampton, who said as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, she felt she couldn’t ignore the pain and suffering she saw happening in Gaza.

“I acknowledge there are Jews in town who believe that a call for cease-fire in Gaza is anti-Israel,” Kirsch said. “But to me, it is a myth to say that if you call for a cease-fire, you are anti-Israel. It would be like saying, if you’re against our own government policies, then you’re anti-American. And that’s not true at all.”

Others were opposed to the cease-fire resolution, many of whom said they were members of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, which last week put out an official statement in opposition to any proposed or potential cease-fire resolutions.

“Cease-fire resolutions serve to only further exacerbate the divisions within communities, particularly resolutions that place blame and burden on Israel,” said JFWM CEO Nora Gorenstein told councilors. “Asking Israel for an immediate cease-fire echoes and advances Hamas’s interest.”

Stan Schapiro, one of the co-presidents of Congregation B’Nai Israel in Northampton, said while he agreed with much of the language and efforts of the cease-fire resolution, he personally felt it unwise to pass such a resolution.

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

What the resolutions say

The cease-fire resolution specifically calls for a “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.”

It condemns both the attack by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023, which killed more than 1,000 Israelis and led to the outbreak of the war, as well as subsequent bombardment and blockade of Gaza by Israeli forces, leading to the loss of nearly 30,000 Palestinian lives.

The vote on the resolution came after pro-Palestinian protesters disrupted the council’s Feb. 15 meeting to vent their frustration that the council had not introduced the measure at that meeting. After an hour and a half of public comments and some additional back-and-forth arguing between protesters and councilors, the crowd broke into chants and began demonstrating in the council chambers. With the protesters refusing to leave, the council adjourned without discussion of any scheduled agenda topics.

For Tuesday’s meeting, the council convened remotely over Zoom, with subsequent public comments also available via online. Jarrett said the special meeting was held remotely because the council could not risk additional delays in normal council business being disrupted again due to time constraints.

Many of the pro-Palestinian activists supported Dubs’ resolution because they felt it had stronger language. But in withdrawing his measure, Dubs said he drafted it not realizing there was another one in the works.

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

Moulton thanked Dubs for recognizing that the two resolutions worked toward the same goal, and also thanked members of the community for sharing their own stories on how the war has affected them. Councilors used that information to help craft the resolution.

“It’s been very difficult to read and hear, but it really has helped inform what I'm reacting as a human being to this horrific violence,” Moulton said. “As a city councilor, as a leader in this community, I feel that we have to act.”

All city council members voted for the resolutions with the exception of Ward 3 councilor Quaverly Rothenberg, who abstained on both resolutions. Rothenberg told the Gazette she abstained due to the wide-ranging views residents in her ward felt about the issue.

“I don’t have any special knowledge that enables me to say which of these reasonable but different views are wrong, so I abstained as a sign of respect for all of my good-hearted friends, neighbors, and constituents,” Rothenberg said.

Resolutions for cease-fire have already been passed in the Massachusetts cities of Somerville and Cambridge.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.