Port Townsend City Council calls for ceasefire in Gaza

Several cities passed similar statements

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council added its voice to the growing chorus of cities that have called for a ceasefire in Gaza, where tens of thousands of civilians have been killed.

The city council heard more than 90 minutes of public testimony at a special meeting Monday night, when, after some revisions, the council unanimously passed a resolution calling for peace.

“This is a passionate and emotional topic,” Mayor David Faber said at the beginning of the meeting. “There are various political thoughts, opinions and anxieties about this topic.”

Several other cities, including Seattle, San Francisco, Detroit and Atlanta, also have passed resolutions calling for U.S. officials to take steps to encourage a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the political party that controls the Gaza Strip. Hamas is a designated terrorist organization in many countries, including the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, but not by the United Nations.

The Port Angeles City Council tabled a similar resolution at its Jan. 2 meeting to revise some of the wording.

“We’re working with the local Jewish community so that we don’t conflate the actions of the State of Israel with antisemitism, which can happen in this conversation,” Port Angeles City Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin said Tuesday.

Schromen-Wawrin said there was no certain date for when the resolution might come back before the council.

On Oct. 7, Hamas carried out a massive surprise attack against Israel that targeted civilians — including women and children — killing about 1,200 people with some 200 others taken as hostages.

Israel’s counteroffensive into the Gaza Strip has been particularly fierce and is estimated by the Gaza Health Ministry — which is run by Hamas — to have killed more than 25,000 people and wounded another 63,000.

The U.N. has stated that about 80 percent of Gaza’s population of 2.2 million has been displaced by the fighting and that more than a quarter of the population is starving.

The nation of South Africa has accused Israel of genocide in a case currently before the U.N. International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.

Several Port Townsend City Council members said they felt deeply conflicted about passing such a resolution — both because the city has no power over international affairs and because of the divisiveness and complexity of the issue — but said several residents had repeatedly asked them to do so.

“We constantly speak to the larger things because people live in our city and these are people issues,” said Deputy Mayor Amy Howard.

Several commentators at the meeting said they felt it was appropriate for the council to pass a resolution that reflects the will of the people.

“How can we expect our federal government to stand for peace if our local government thinks it’s not important?” asked Port Townsend resident Mike Ferguson during public testimony.

Almost all of the public comments given at Monday’s meeting and submitted online urged the council to support a resolution calling for a ceasefire.

More than 20 people gave statements in support of the resolution. No comments were made against it.

But several council members said some community members had told them in personal conversations they didn’t feel comfortable speaking out against the resolution.

“I do want people to know there are many out there and they do not feel safe or comfortable using their voices in these spaces,” said Nat Jacob, referring to members of Port Townsend’s Jewish community.

“I invite everyone here to engage in a dialogue with your Jewish friends and neighbors who are part of that community and help them to feel safe regardless of what happens today,” Jacob said.

“These are conversations that take a very long time for folks to earn each other’s trust, and there’s been a rupture of trust among people who have known each other for many, many decades in this town as a result of this resolution,” he continued.

Council member Monica MickHager said at the beginning of the meeting she was not comfortable supporting the resolution as written, and only voted to approve the document after revisions were made.

The resolution was drafted by the council’s Culture and Society Committee, but at the meeting, council members removed several paragraphs that made reference to statistics from the conflict, such as the number of homes destroyed.

Council members also removed language referring to the nationality of those killed, and focused on civilian deaths, which includes many children.

“This does bring us within reach of something that can raise our voice to people who need to hear it and promote unity in the community,” council member Owen Rowe said.

The Port Townsend City Council has in the past passed resolutions speaking to national or international issues. In 2019, the council passed a resolution supporting a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons, and in 2022, it passed a statement supporting transgender people.

The council began hearing public testimony on the resolution last week, but one of the commentators had a cardiac event while giving public testimony and the meeting was canceled. Faber said Monday the individual was doing well.

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsulanews.us.

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