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Video Report: City Council in Cambridge, Mass., Fails to Pass Resolution Calling for Gaza Ceasefire

Web ExclusiveNovember 22, 2023
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In Massachusetts, the Cambridge City Council has rejected a resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. On Monday, the resolution failed after just two councilmembers voted “yes” and the remainder voted “present.” The vote came after members of the public lined up for over three hours to speak — most of them in favor of a ceasefire. And it followed a candlelight vigil outside Cambridge City Hall, where protesters read the names of Palestinian victims of Israel’s assault. Democracy Now!’s Hany Massoud filed this report from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

In Massachusetts, the Cambridge City Council has rejected a resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. On Monday, the resolution failed after just two councilmembers voted “yes” and the remainder voted “present.” The vote came after members of the public lined up for over three hours to speak — most of them in favor of a ceasefire. And it followed a candlelight vigil outside Cambridge City Hall, where protesters read the names of Palestinian victims of Israel’s assault. Democracy Now!’s Hany Massoud filed this report from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

PROTESTER 1: Nadia Yassin Hussein Al-Astal, 60 years old. Salwa Muhammad Khalil Al-Astal, 60 years old.

NADINE: My name is Nadine. We are at the steps of Cambridge City Hall. Some of us are writing the names of those that have been martyred, those that have been killed in Gaza since October 7th. Many of us are listening as the names of those that have also been killed are read aloud, many of whom are from the same family. Even just looking at the names now, I haven’t even gone through the same, gone beyond one family.

PROTESTER 2: We can estimate that if we were to read the most up-to-date list, this would take over 22 hours. Let that sink in.

MARILYN FRANKENSTEIN: My name is Marilyn Frankenstein. I’m from Brooklyn, New York. I’m a Brooklyn Jew. And I’m so, so opposed to the genocide that Israel is raining down on the Palestinians, and has been for 75 years. This is to support a very, very mild resolution, just supporting one of our representatives, Ayanna Pressley, in her call for a ceasefire. And then we’re going to go inside and testify. It’s astonishing that we have people in Cambridge who are opposed to a ceasefire.

PROTESTER 2: We will pause now and ask all Cambridge residents and allies to go into the city council meeting to speak in support of the resolution put forth by Councilor Zondervan.

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: You have the floor.

JULIA: Good evening. My name is Julia. I’m a Cambridge resident and a law student at Northeastern. I’m the grandchild of Holocaust survivors. And it’s because of them that I’m here today in support of the ceasefire resolution. Over the past six weeks, more than 13,000 Palestinians have been killed, over 5,000 of them children, trapped in an open-air prison. My grandparents taught me to raise my voice to protect those who are most vulnerable, who fear for their safety and fear for their loved ones. I’m here today to amplify the voices of Palestinians trapped in Gaza. During the Holocaust, my family was helped by generous people we still thank to this day for their bravery. I hope you can listen today to the brave voices among us, those of us who are speaking up for Palestinians who cannot be here in this room to tell you the nightmare they are experiencing. My Jewish culture has taught me to fight for justice and freedom. I am in support of a ceasefire resolution, not in spite of my Jewish identity but because of it.

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: Mark Goodman?

MARK GOODMAN: Yes. I’m a 20-year resident of Cambridge. I’ve been a longtime supporter of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. My involvement in this issue includes working with Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs in a summer program in Boston called Our Generation Speaks. Every decent person watching the violence in Gaza wants it to stop now. The proposed resolution presumes that a ceasefire, which would freeze the conflict at its current stage, with Hamas in power and in possession of hostages, is the best way to achieve peace. But Hamas has declared openly that they intend to repeat October 7th, the torture, mutilation, rape, murder and kidnapping of civilians, until Palestine is liberated, by which they mean Israel is destroyed. Pauses to allow humanitarian aid and evacuations are necessary. But make no mistake: A ceasefire would be a victory for Hamas and a defeat for Palestinian statehood and a lasting peace. If the council believes it is necessary to weigh in on this matter, to attempt to speak for over 100,000 Cambridge citizens on a highly emotional and divisive issue, then it should simply demand the release of the hostages and the surrender of Hamas. That is the only way forward.

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: Thank you.

JESSE BAER: My name is Jesse Baer. I’m a proud, lifelong Jewish Cantabrigian. And I urge you to support Policy Order 3. Many people here tonight will tell you that your choice tonight is about whether you stand with Jews or against us. Well, I have good news and bad news: You will be standing both with and against Jews, no matter how you vote. We are not a monolith. Indeed, the suggestion that we are is foundational to actual antisemitism. That conflation truly does put us in danger and actually makes me afraid. This resolution does neither. Rather, it takes a stand against a moral atrocity that is being committed as we speak.

HADAR: Hi. My name is Hadar. I want to say that war is terrible, and my heart is broken for any casualty. Now, ceasefire means no fire. It basically means no shooting or just telling Israel, “Please, stop shooting Hamas,” or, in other words, “Just die.” It’s easy. We sit here, thousands of miles away from the war, and suggest what not to do. But I urge you to please suggest what yes to do. How would you fight Hamas otherwise? How would you prevent Hamas from using Palestinians as human shields? Hard question, isn’t it? However, if there’s any place in the world in which we have enough smart people that are smart enough to come up with a brilliant idea how what we can do, what we can yes to do, instead of not to do, I urge you to prove that you can do that. Suggest what we can do. I believe that you are better than the ignorant college youngins screaming around Harvard Square.

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: Thank you for your testimony.

MARISA BORREGGINE: Hi. My name is Marisa Borreggine, and I live on Plymouth Street in East Cambridge. I support Policy Order #3. It is my first time giving public comment, because I cannot stay silent about this genocide. This touches all of us, not only due to the increase in hateful instances locally, but because our taxes pay for this. Companies like Elbit with bases in Cambridge provide the weapons that have killed more than 13,000 Palestinian people. And I’ll add, as an Earth scientist, this absolutely is contributing to the climate crisis. The environment is inherently connected to the people, and it will take a long time for the land to recover from this devastation. And to get ahead of a point that some may make tonight, there was no ceasefire on October 6th. The violent ongoing displacement of Palestinian people is not a ceasefire. Imprisoning Palestinians without charge is not a ceasefire. Withholding vital resources is not a ceasefire. It is violence, both physical and psychological. Even if there was a ceasefire that day, the response by Israel is in no way justified.

DR. JOSH BROWN: Hi. My name is Josh Brown. I live in Central Square just a few blocks from here. Thank you for the opportunity to speak. I’m a child and adolescent psychiatrist. As a medical doctor and public servant, my first obligation is to do no harm. I recall several years ago that this committee used that very principle as a guide when considering public policy statements. You are all aware that antisemitism is rampant across the world and right here in the streets of Cambridge. I need to consider whether it is safe for me to wear my yarmulke in public, because there is concern that someone may cause me harm because I am Jewish. This policy statement has antisemitism written all over it. For example, why doesn’t it condemn the barbaric Hamas attacks that forced Israel into this war? And why does it equate prisoners of war who have committed war crimes with innocent hostages? Suffice it to say, by endorsing this proposal, you would be furthering and emboldening the voices of antisemitism and hate. When voting on this measure, please remember that, just like me, your first job as public servants is to do no harm to those you’re supposed to protect.

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: Thank you for your testimony.

MALIKA: Hello. My name is Malika, and I have been a resident of Cambridge for six years. I am a healthcare worker. I care for pregnant people who are expecting critically ill infants. My heart aches to think of the estimated 50,000 pregnant people in Gaza who are fleeing their homes in fear, desperate for clean water and something to eat, in lieu of receiving basic perinatal care. I cannot fathom that my tax dollars are keeping them from that care. We cannot claim to care about reproductive rights while sanctioning the erasure of an entire people. I have never given public comment before, but I am speaking here today to amplify the voices of those who are not heard. To paraphrase Audre Lorde, your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I make to speak those truths, I make contact with others to find a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences. Thank you for the time.

CHARLOTTE MINSKY: My name is Charlotte Minsky, and I live here in Central Square. This is my first time giving public comment, and I am doing so because as a Jewish member of your constituency whose family fled ethnic violence a hundred years ago, I was raised to believe that our duty is always to those suffering under apartheid. But furthermore, I believe that we must put the values behind this resolution into action. And just as the city used uniquely favorable zoning regulations to enable the growth of biotech, we can and must do the reverse for the military-industrial complex. We can and must make it logistically difficult for Elbit and Raytheon to use our city as a base for deploying engineering weapons and surveillance tools to Israel. And we can and must make it politically inconvenient for my alma mater, MIT, and my employer, Harvard, to cooperate and profit with them. So I hope you all will have the moral courage to support Policy Order #3 and the creativity to think strategically about how to leverage our local policies in the fight against genocide against Palestinians.

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: Next up, Noam Eisen, followed by Aruna Gopalan.

NOAM EISEN: Good evening. I’m here to strongly oppose Policy Order 210. This order is not only twisted, specious and riddled with dog whistles, as you’ve heard, but also hostile and damaging to the Cambridge community. I live around the corner. I’m a grad student here. And since October 9th, when people turned out before he blood of October 7 was even dry, to celebrate Hamas’s ISIS-style terrorism and chant genocidal slogans, I feel increasingly unsafe here. The thinly veiled hate and bias woven through this policy order will not move the region towards peace and prosperity, but rather will signal to those who employ these same dog whistles to attack me that City Council supports their bigotry. Others who word calls for a ceasefire as this PO does are Russia, North Korea, Iran and Venezuela. Are these really Cambridge City Council’s ideological allies? For those like me who wish to see a lasting peace, this PO’s implicit permission for Hamas to be given yet another chance to rearm so they can repeat October 7th, quote, “again and again” is a farce. Please vote it down and shift your focus to healing this community here, rather than dividing us.

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: Labonnie H.

LABONNIE H.: I live off Western Ave. As a constituent of Cambridge City Council, I’ve been consistently harassed. A truck attempted to drive off to me. This is not about fear of what is going to happen to Muslim hijabis in Cambridge, but the reality of what is happening to Muslims in this city and pro-Palestinian folks, all while mourning the dozens of my family members that are just dying in tens. We see 21 of 35 hospitals destroyed. We see kids — kids having maggots in their wounds, watching them every night, every morning scream in pain, begging to live. We see bones being burnt down by white phosphorus. And when you reopen those wounds, they reburn. They reburn those children. Doctors are being forced to leave their patients on the floors without pain meds, without antibiotics. This is a moment to take a stand. It is not the moment to be neutral. It is not the moment to be neutral. Take a stand. You must stand against genocide and vote “yes” on Resolution 3.

CAMBRIDGE RESIDENT: Forty-year Cambridge resident, Brooklyn Jew. An ADL spokesperson said being Jewish does not exempt an organization or a person from being antisemitic. I say being Jewish should exempt us from supporting a genocide, a genocide that Israel has been raining down on Palestine for over 75 years. My mother’s constant refrain was “How could the Germans not smell the stench coming from the ovens? How could they be so silent?” Today, as an older Jewish American, I’m sickened and frightened to death by the stench of any human being supporting this genocide. There is no neutral ground. Ceasefire now. Please pass this resolution.

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: We will go to —

DR. ALISA KHAN: Hi, my name is Alisa Khan. I am a 10-plus-year resident of Cambridge. I am also a pediatrician and a health equity researcher at Boston Children’s and Harvard Medical School. And I am here to support this policy order. I speak as a mother, as a pediatrician, as a researcher, as a human and as a Kashmiri. I think that this should not be controversial, to stop a war, to stop killing children, to stop bombing hospitals, to stop bombing schools. This should not be controversial. We need to be with the side of human rights.

REP. MIKE CONNOLLY: Thank you, Mayor Siddiqui and members of the council. My name is Mike Connolly. I have the honor of representing parts of Cambridge and Somerville in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. And I’m here this evening to reiterate my call for a ceasefire now. I stand in solidarity with Jews, Muslims —

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: Please.

REP. MIKE CONNOLLY: — Palestinians, Israelis and people of all faiths and backgrounds who are calling for peace, for deescalation, for the safe return of hostages, for the delivery of humanitarian aid and for an end to the killing of innocent civilians. I condemn Hamas’s horrific attack on Israel, and I support Israel’s right to defend itself. At the same time, I recognize the systemic oppression of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government and how this has contributed to a horrific cycle of violence. I believe that Palestine deserves to be free. In the words of our Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, vengeance is not a foreign policy doctrine.

ARANAM: Good evening. My name is Aranam. I’m a resident of Somerville and a worker in Cambridge, and this is my first time making public comment. I stand here to support Policy Order #3, with the understanding that this is a bare minimum measure for peace. A speaker earlier stated — several speakers earlier stated that antisemitism has no peace — has no place in Cambridge. The statement is true. I present before the council a list of other things that have no place in Cambridge. There is no place in the city for genocide. There is no place in the city for ethnic cleansing, for mass starvation and collective punishment. There is no place in the city for colonialism, white supremacy, apartheid, war crimes, war criminals or war profiteers, like the one that currently reside on 130 Bishop Allen Drive, very close to us. There is no place for Islamophobia, for anti-Arab racism and for harassing and doxing student protesters who are bravely raising their voices for a ceasefire. The Cambridge I work in has always prided itself as a city that is rooted in justice. I ask the council to honor that history and to honor the brave people who are raising their voices for a ceasefire, and vote in its favor. Thank you.

KAVISH GANDHI: Hi. My name is Kavish Gandhi. I live on Windsor Street in Cambridge. I condemn all violence against civilians without reservation, Israel’s decades of occupation and apartheid regime, Hamas’s terrorist attack on October 7th and Israel’s ongoing genocidal attacks against the civilian population of Gaza. I call for a ceasefire now. Amidst so many eloquent comments, amidst so much horror and grief with the ongoing violence, I will not attempt to say much more than others have said, except to say our call for a ceasefire is not alone. It is indeed the call of so many here tonight. And it is also, I think it is important to recognize, the unanimous call of human rights organizations across the globe, organizations we entrust with the task of stewarding human life and organizations who are on the ground in Gaza. I will take this time to read some of their names, among hundreds: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations Population Fund, United Nations Development Programme, World Health Organization, World Food Programme, Save the Children, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, Norwegian Refugee Council, Plan International, CARE International, Relief International — 

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: Thank you.

KAVISH GANDHI: — and so many more. Please hear our voices.

CLERK: Mayor Siddiqui, if we can go to Rachel Meiselman, please?

RACHEL MEISELMAN: I am a Boston resident. I am a Boston girl. But I had the privilege of spending the last bit of my childhood here in Cambridge. Cambridge is an amazing city, magnificent city. And this policy, should it be approved, concerns me greatly, because, as a Jew, when I was studying, I always felt safe. And I mixed and mingled with so many other people, and they, too, felt safe. I think that this policy is wrongheaded. I think we must mourn the loss of Israeli lives. We must also mourn the loss of innocent Palestinians. But we cannot approve or condone in any way the terrorist and the genocidal activity of Hamas.

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: Thank you.

LEILA: My name is Leila. I speak in favor of an immediate ceasefire and in favor of Policy Order #3. On November 9th, in front of the now destroyed Al-Shifa Hospital, the children of Gaza had their own press conference, begging the world not to be killed, crying, “We want to live!” More than 50% of Gaza’s population are children under the age of 18. And since October 7th, at least 6,000 children have been killed. The United Nations describes Gaza as a “graveyard for children.” This policy is not about me, it’s not about you, because we are all alive and breathing. How morbid is it that people have an opinion on whether the genocide of children is right or wrong? Think about that. This resolution is about protecting the children of Gaza. There is no divisiveness about whether a child, a baby is worthy of life. This is simple, not complicated nor nuanced. I ask the Cambridge City Council today: Will you listen to the cries of the children of Gaza or be complicit in their genocide?

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: Next person.

SASHA COSTANZA-CHOCK: My name is Sasha Costanza-Chock. I live at Pearl and Putnam in Cambridge. I’m a tenured faculty at Northeastern University, a proud transfemme, a Jew, and a mother of two kids in Cambridge Public Schools. I’m here to demand City Council join the call for a ceasefire now. Those who have spoken against a ceasefire in the name of Jewish safety need to search their souls. They’re defending the murder of thousands upon thousands of civilians. The state of Israel is not my people. Zionism is a political project that weaponizes Jewish trauma and transforms us into agents of empire and boundless brutality against Palestinian people. “From the river to the sea” is not a call for mass murder of Jewish people, but for decolonization. If you believe that means killing millions of Jews, please question the fear, racism and Islamophobia you’ve learned from Israeli state propaganda. You’ve learned the same fear as the European settlers of Turtle Island who chose to commit genocide against Native people rather than enter right relations with them, the same fear as the Afrikaners who chose apartheid and warned its end would mean mass killing of whites. When the inevitable end of South African apartheid came, there was no mass killing of white Afrikaners, and there won’t be a mass killing of Jewish people when we finally end the apartheid occupation of Palestine.

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: Thank you for your testimony.

SASHA COSTANZA-CHOCK: Ceasefire now.

ANNA DAVIS: Anna Davis, local resident. A ceasefire that does not require Hamas to release all hostages and relinquish its brutal authoritarian control of the Gaza Strip merely postpones war to a later date. Hamas made clear its genocidal intent on October 7th and during every previous war, when it deliberately targeted Israeli civilians with rockets and suicide bombs. Hamas has stated that it seeks a permanent state of war and would perpetrate more massacres if given the chance. Hamas has broken every ceasefire with Israel over the past 15 years. In its current form, this resolution gives Hamas the green light to continue to hide weapons, terror tunnels, rocket launchers and fighters inside and underneath hospitals, mosques, schools and residential buildings. It sends the message that if Hamas uses Gazans as human shields, it will be immune from international pressure, that Gazan lives do not matter during ceasefires, that it is perfectly OK with the city of Cambridge if Hamas inevitably uses a ceasefire and stolen international aid to rearm and enact future massacres. This war must be the last one. City Council should draft and pass a resolution that makes this more, rather than less, likely. Vote no.

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: Thank you for your testimony.

CAMBRIDGE/SOMERVILLE COMMUNITY MEMBER: Hello. I am a lifelong Cambridge and Somerville community member, and I am Jewish. The more Yiddish words I ask my grandmother to teach me, that feel right on my tongue, the more prayers I recite, the more times I follow breadcrumbs through camp ruins and abandoned synagogues, the more I call on my ancestors who survived pogroms and ethnic cleansing, the more I reclaim my heritage, and the more visible I am as a Jew, the closer I feel to the plight of the Palestinian people, and the further I feel from the state of Israel. It is not in spite of my Judaism that I support this resolution; it is because of it. Shanda on those who remain silent while genocide rages on. Shanda on anyone who opposes this resolution. The majority of your constituents support a ceasefire, and their voices will prevail, come tonight or come election time.

DR. KARAMEH HAWASH-KUEMMERLE: I’m Karameh Hawash-Kuemmerle. I’m a pediatric neurologist at Boston Children’s Hospital. And I vote for a ceasefire and for Policy #3. I’m just going to quote some quotes from the Israeli officials. Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to reduce Gaza to rubbles and told the besieged Palestinians to leave Gaza. Nissim Vaturi called for erasing the Gaza Strip from the face of the Earth. Those who are unable will be replaced. On World Children’s Day, how is it controversial to question a ceasefire that will save thousands and thousands of children? As a physician, I swore an oath. And help me fulfill my oath by saving those children who are dying every day. Help me stop bombarding the hospitals, the ambulances, and starving people to death.

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: We now move on to Policy Order #3. This is a resolution in support of Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley’s call for a ceasefire. This was sponsored by Councilor Zondervan and myself. I’ll go to Councilor Zondervan.

COUNCILMEMBER QUINTON ZONDERVAN: Thank you, Madam Mayor, through you. Obviously, this is a very charged issue, and it brings up a lot of emotions. We heard a lot of public comment. And the death toll is increasing daily, and even by the minute. So I’m not going to add a lot more comments here. The resolution speaks for itself. It’s a call for a ceasefire and humanitarian aid to civilians and to free all the hostages. It’s the least we can do, and we should pass it tonight and send it to our congressional representatives in order to support our representative, Ayanna Pressley.

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: I’ll say a few words. I hear the pain, and I know that it’s such an extremely difficult time, especially for those in our community who are personally connected to the violence that’s happening in Israel and Gaza. And folks have said, you know, “Why bring this forward?” And I hear that the matter of foreign policy is not the responsibility of the city council. But I want to reiterate that there is a history in Cambridge of the council speaking out against violence and using our collective voice to call for peace. And for me, this resolution is a continuation of that sentiment.

The letter from members of Congress, including Rep. Pressley, that we’re supporting with this resolution, you know, states the following: International norms require that all parties to an armed conflict protect children and prevent violations against them, including killing and maiming, attacks on schools and hospitals, recruitment and use of children, abduction of children, and denial of humanitarian access.

And voicing our agreement with the sentiment that children are their biggest victims of this violence, and we should do everything in our power to protect them, that’s the main intention of this resolution. And putting an end to the violence that has and continues to end the lives of innocent Israelis and Palestinians is our main goal.

And, you know, I continue to be disgusted by the violence we saw on October 7th by Hamas’s terrorism, and of course I condemn it and the over 1,200 lives lost. And, you know, this resolution absolutely does call for recognizing that and the release of all hostages.

So, we have to go proceed to adopt the order.

CLERK: Councilor Azeem.

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: Councilor Azeem, you just have to vote.

COUNCILMEMBER BURHAN AZEEM: Can I not vote?

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: You can call “present.” You can be a “yes” or a “no” or a “present.”

COUNCILMEMBER BURHAN AZEEM: Present.

CLERK: Councilor Azeem —

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: Present and not voting.

CLERK: Councilor Azeem, present. Councilor Carlone.

COUNCILMEMBER DENNIS CARLONE: Present.

CLERK: Present. Vice Mayor Mallon.

VICE MAYOR ALANNA MALLON: Present.

CLERK: Present. Councilor McGovern.

COUNCILMEMBER MARC McGOVERN: Present.

CLERK: Present. Councilor Nolan.

COUNCILMEMBER PATRICIA NOLAN: Present.

CLERK: Present. Councilor Simmons.

COUNCILMEMBER E. DENISE SIMMONS: Present.

CLERK: Present. Councilor Toner.

COUNCILMEMBER PAUL TONER: Present,.

CLERK: Present. Councilor Zondervan.

COUNCILMEMBER QUINTON ZONDERVAN: Yes.

CLERK: Yes. Mayor Siddiqui.

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: Yes.

CLERK: Yes. Madam Mayor, two members have voted “yes,” and seven members have voted “present.”

MAYOR SUMBUL SIDDIQUI: So the policy order fails.

CAMBRIDGE/SOMERVILLE COMMUNITY MEMBER: Cowards! Cowards! There’s a genocide happening!

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