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Amherst, Mass., Town Council passes ceasefire resolution, after 5 hours of debate

After five hours of emotional testimony and debate - including a near dissolution of the whole process – the Amherst Town Council passed a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

About 150 community members turned up for the meeting at Amherst Middle School, with 90 on Zoom. During the public comment period, the majority of speakers - about 70 - urged passage of the resolution, compared to about a dozen against it.

The resolution had been crafted by about 750 community groups and individuals, and sponsored by three members of the town council.

Supporters talked of the civilian deaths and devastation in Gaza perpetrated by Israel’s military.

Several Jewish supporters said they did not want their faith used to justify mass killing.

“To vote for a ceasefire is to affirm that no one life is more valuable than any other,” said Mattea Kramer. “That bombing Palestinian children is no less a crime than bombing the children of Crocker Farm School. A ceasefire can never be anti-Semitic. Killing is not a Jewish value.”

Palestinian community members talked about personal grief. Leyla Moushabeck said her children are named Sammy and Omar, and that after the bombing in Gaza started, she read a list of the dead. “I found 90 called Sammy and 115 called Omar,” she said.

“I'd like to remind the council that there are people in this room for whom those statistics are not numbers," Moushabeck said. "They are friends and family and colleagues. They share our names and our faiths, and we see our children's faces in their faces, and they are being starved and killed with our tax dollars.”

Opponents said the resolution could increase anti-semitism and might even strengthen the Hamas terrorist group.

“Israel's at war due to an unprovoked attack, a ceasefire broken by Hamas, and has the right to defend itself as a sovereign nation,” said Athena Leavin.

Amherst resident Randy Stein said she felt the resolution downplayed the violence in the October Hamas attack.

“I want to remind everyone that women were butchered, raped, mutilated also on October 7th,” she said. ”I am for peace, and I am for resolution. And a ceasefire could be the beginning. But I think ultimately, if Palestinians and Israelis can find their way to create a state for each of these peoples in peace, that would be the resolution.”

Henia Lewin said she survived the Holocaust as a child and that now, “I feel all of a sudden again, like the unwanted Jew,” she said. “This is divisive. Let's leave the foreign policy to our president and our vice president. And I think they're doing a very good job, and hopefully they will get there. But it is not our place in Amherst to decide foreign policy.”

Others also questioned whether a municipal government should be voting at all on international events, but for many, the answer was yes.

“I want Amherst to continue to be a community that values every life, and that stands up against mass killings of innocent civilians and genocide,” said Eva Powers. “Approving the ceasefire resolution will send a message to the president. And I think, probably more important to our representatives in Congress that we want U.S. policies in Gaza to change now.”

The public comment period was mostly civil, although council president Lynn Griesemer almost ended the meeting a couple times after cheers of support or anger from the audience.

Once the issue went to the council for a vote, it almost fell apart. The resolution co-sponsors had requested a vote on exactly what was written. But councilor Andy Steinberg said he was frustrated that the council was discouraged from making any changes — and he proposed adding wording to condemn Hamas’ role in the violence.

“I felt that there were some things that could make it stronger to represent the entire community and all of the people that we heard,” Steinberg said. “ I'm very concerned because I think that what is happening here has the potential of really destroying the confidence that this community as a whole…is going to have in our form of government.”

The extra wording about Hamas initially won majority council approval but that led the original sponsors to pull their names off the resolution, along with all the community members.

Town councilor Pat De Angelis - an original co-sponsor - said the extra wording was “diminishing the voices of the Palestinian people.” She pointed out that the council already publicly condemned Hamas shortly after the terrorist attacks in Israel.

“When we made the resolution in October, we felt it was justified for Israel to respond to Hamas terrorists and brutal attack. It was unanimous,” she said. “But Israel, its military, its government has stepped over the line. So it's not justice, it's vengeance, and it's ongoing and deadly, even as we sit here and argue.”

The council then agreed to re-vote on the extra wording about Hamas, and this time the majority agreed to leave it out. At that point, the sponsors put their names back on the resolution, and it passed - 9 to 3, with one abstention.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.