Somerville, MA — After hours of deliberation, the Somerville City Council voted overwhelmingly on the night of Thursday, Jan 24th to support a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Somerville is the first city in Massachusetts to call for a ceasefire, joining a rising tide of communities across the country including Providence, RI, San Francisco, CA, and Albany, NY. The resolution, brought forward by Council President Ben Ewen-Campen, was passed with nine councilors voting in favor and only two against.
Nearly 500 community members in favor of the resolution rallied outside City Hall, then packed into the Council Chamber and two overflow rooms. While emotions ran high, pro-ceasefire community members respectfully engaged with the Council, and waited patiently for hours as the resolution was introduced, debated, amended, and passed. The grassroots turnout was organized by Somerville for Palestine, a newly formed inter-faith, intergenerational, interracial group of Somerville residents standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people and demanding an immediate and lasting ceasefire. About 10 people opposed to the resolution attended as well.
On the steps of City Hall, Somerville High Student Sarah Kapadia, who founded the SHS Muslim Student Association and organized a student walkout in support of Palestine in November, addressed a crowd of hundreds in advance of the Council meeting. “I am standing here on behalf of the whole Somerville High School,” said Kapadia, “It is crucial that we raise our voices to advocate for justice and peace in Palestine.”
Council President Ben Ewen-Campen introduced the resolution, saying that “for the last 100-plus days, we have seen a military campaign that has been the most devastating bombing campaign in our generation, killing tens of thousands of people, huge numbers of them innocent children. Something like 2 million people are now homeless and hungry, on the brink of starvation, being denied basic humanitarian aid. I am one of the many, many people in our community and beyond who believes that this needs to end, and it needs to end now.” Explaining that he struggled for many months with the decision to bring forward this resolution, he said “the truth is that this is an issue that is coming from the bottom of my heart. My moral convictions compelled me to draft this resolution, pure and simple.” Councillor Ewen-Campen’s full statement can be read here.
Jamal Halawa, a Somerville High Teacher and Palestinian American resident who has lived in the city for over twenty years, testified before the council urging them to support the ceasefire resolution. “Simply put, voting for a Ceasefire signals to Palestinian and Arab Americans and Muslims in Somerville that our lives matter,” Halawa said. Halawa’s full speech can be found here.
Carina Kurban, the granddaughter of a Palestinian refugee who was ethnically cleansed from Haifa in 1948, shared the stories of direct brutality her family has faced at the hands of Israel, including when their home in Southern Lebanon was commandeered by the Israeli military for nearly two decades. As a 20 year old college student, Kurban told the council, she was stopped at Ben Gurion airport while traveling to the West Bank, “interrogated and humiliated for 8 hours, denied entry, strip searched, jailed, sexually harassed, assaulted, deported in handcuffs, and banned from the country indefinitely – and I was given no reason other than ‘terrorism’.” Kurban said, “We need a permanent ceasefire, and for Israel to be held accountable. Because without both, the situation will go back to what scholars like Noam Chomsky have called ‘an incremental genocide’ rather than an accelerated one.” Kurban’s full speech can be found here.
Long time Somerville resident Alain Jehlen, the son of a Holocaust survivor and husband of State Senator Pat Jehlen, urged Somerville Councilors to vote in favor of the Ceasefire Resolution. “It makes me furious that the Israeli government is using Holocaust victims like my family as a reason to slaughter Palestinians. Mass bombing, the systematic demolition of homes, and depriving everyone of food and water have nothing to do with defending Jews… The lesson for us from centuries of oppression capped by the murder of millions is that nobody should ever go through that again. Not just Jews, but nobody. Every human life is equal.” Jehlen’s full comments can be found here.
Councilor Willie Burnley Jr. was supportive of the resolution from the beginning. “For 110 days, the Apartheid State of Israel has dropped tens of thousands of bombs on Gaza, destroying more than 70% of homes, killing more than 25,000 people (the vast majority of which are women and children). We have a duty to listen to our constituents, to demand that our elected leaders put pressure on President Biden, and to end this genocide before it is too late!” Councilor Burnley Jr’s full speech can be found here.
Somerville for Palestine has been circulating a public letter to Senators Markey and Warren calling for a ceasefire and solidarity with Palestinians, with over 800 signatures from Somerville residents. The City Council resolution represents the next step in Somerville standing up for peace. Somerville for Palestine organizer Sara Halawa stated, “I’m so incredibly proud of my city for being the first in Massachusetts to call for a ceasefire. Like our SHS fight song says, ‘Somerville leads the way’!”