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Canadian and U.S. cities call for ceasefire in Gaza

by Ibrahim Daair, Municipal World
in Ethics, Governance, Leadership
March, 2024

A growing number of city councils in Canada and the United States are calling for a ceasefire in the war in Gaza as the civilian death toll mounts.

More than 31,000 Palestinians – mostly women and children – have been killed since October. However, as many remain buried under the ruble, the true number is likely to be significantly higher. In Israel, around 1,200 people were killed during the Oct. 7 attacks.

In January, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a ruling that ordered Israel to “take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of acts of genocide” in Gaza. The court also said that it could further hear the case brought by South Africa, finding that Israel’s actions were plausibly genocidal.

Ceasefire Calls Growing

In late February, Salt Lake City became one of the latest U.S. cities to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire. “The Salt Lake city council and mayor of Salt Lake City expresses a deep concern for the terrible loss of life and calls for peace at home and abroad,” the joint resolution stated.

Earlier in February, Minneapolis city council voted to override the mayor’s veto of a ceasefire resolution. The resolution called on the city to “unequivocally condemn the targeting and killing of Palestinian and Israeli civilians” and stated that the Israeli government has “bombed civilian entities indiscriminately.”

However, the resolution was vetoed by Mayor Jacob Frey, who argued it was too “one-sided” and “failed to recognize the history of Israeli Jews.” The mayor did, however, introduced his own proclamation calling for a ceasefire.

In a joint statement, council president Elliot Payne and vice president Aisha Chughtai said they were “proud” of the council members who voted to override the veto.

“This morning the Minneapolis city council voted to override Mayor Frey’s veto of the resolution passed at our Jan. 25 meeting calling for a permanent ceasefire and preventing loss of life in the Middle East,” the statement read. “We are proud of the nine council members who stood by what most Minneapolis residents believe: the defense of humanity is a shared project.”

Canadian Cities Join Calls

Mayors of some of Canada’s largest cities have already called for a ceasefire. Toronto, Saskatoon, Edmonton, and Montreal are some of the cities where municipal leaders have called for and end to the violence.

In November, Burnaby, B.C., became the first Canadian city to call for a ceasefire. At a Nov. 6 meeting, city council voted unanimously to call for the Canadian government to support an end to the fighting. Coun. Daniel Tetrault, who initiated the motion, told city council about his personal family history that motivated his push for the motion.

“Grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, fathers, and their children, gone — it immediately brings me back to looking at my own family tree and learning how much of my grandparents’ family have been wiped out in the Nazi Holocaust,” Tetrault told council. “When my grandparents spoke of this time as survivors of concentration camps, they always said, ‘Never again. Never again can we allow this to happen to anyone’.”

Tetrault explained why it was important for the council to speak on the situation. “Our council feels we have the moral obligation to stand against this violence and ask for a ceasefire,” he said. “It shouldn’t be controversial to call for a ceasefire.”

Elsewhere in B.C., more than 50 mayors and city councillors have signed a letter calling for a ceasefire.

“We are horrified and heartbroken by the crisis in Israel and Gaza,” the letter stated. Signatories were also critical of the federal government’s position and called for Canada to do more to end the violence. They said they were “ashamed” at Canada’s abstention at the United Nation’s General Assembly vote on a resolution calling for a humanitarian truce.

“Canada should be a leader on the world state, but instead, sat on the sidelines,” the letter said. “As local government elected officials, we are united in our call for Canada to join the growing national and international community and demand an immediate ceasefire.”

Canada later voted in favour of a subsequent General Assembly motion calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire.” However, the Trudeau government has remained non-committal to the ICJ’s ruling, reiterating that Canada stands with Israel.

U.S. Cities Call for Ceasefire

Around 50 municipalities in the U.S. have called for a ceasefire, including several large cities like Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Oakland.

In January, Chicago became one of the largest U.S. cities to call for a ceasefire. Mayor Brandon Johnson cast the tie-breaking vote after the rest of the city council reached 23-23 stalemate.

“I believe in my heart of hearts, we have to take a stand and show that we are acknowledging what is going on has to stop,” said Jim Gardiner, 45th ward alderman.

The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago said the resolution “sends a resounding message to political leaders across this nation that respect for innocent human life is a guiding moral principle for civilized societies.”

However, some against the resolution argued against the message the resolution might send. “It weakens the United States’ influence on the international stage, and directly contradicts the White House’s position on foreign policy,” said Samantha Nugent, 39th ward alderwoman.

Prior to the vote, politicians in favour of the resolution held a press conference to push council to support the resolution.

“The questions are quite simple,” Alderman Jesse Fuentes said. “Do we value the lives of children, do we value the lives of women? Do we value the lives of our Palestinian siblings? Do we believe in their rights to live, to have a home, not to live in the largest open-air prison in the globe?”

The vote came a week after Mayor Johnson called for a ceasefire during a press conference. “I condemn the actions of Hamas, but at this point now, I believe we’re at 25,000 Palestinians that have been killed during this war, and the killing has to stop. So, yes, we need a ceasefire,” he said.

On Nov. 16, the city council in President Joe Biden’s hometown of Wilmington, Del. also passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire.

The resolution called on Delaware’s federal delegation to “support H.Res.786 – Calling for an immediate de-escalation and cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine, as well as other legislative actions that advance the goal of ending violence in the region and providing humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza.”

Resolution 786 was introduced by U.S Congresswoman Cori Bush in the House of Representatives last October. The resolution calls on Biden to call for and facilitate an immediate ceasefire and send humanitarian aid to Gaza.

In their resolution, Oakland also stated their support for Bush’s resolution and demanded an immediate ceasefire, release of all hostages, and the unrestricted entry of humanitarian assistance into Gaza.  MW

✯ Municipal World Executive and Essentials Plus Members: You might also be interested in Craig Wellington’s article: Countering unconscious bias and systemic racism in your municipality.

Ibrahim Daair is staff writer at Municipal World.

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