By Leia Green and Gia Shin
Recent calls for cease-fire in Gaza from Cambridge City Council and Somerville have prompted questions of whether Boston will join these cities in calling for an enduring halt to the Israel-Hamas war.
Cambridge City Council unanimously voted to officially call for a cease-fire in Gaza on Monday, according to the Harvard Crimson. The vote came just four days after Somerville became the first city in Massachusetts to pass a cease-fire resolution, according to WBUR.
The cease-fire resolution, sponsored by Cambridge City Councilors Sumbul Siddiqui, Ayesha M. Wilson, Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler and Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern passed Monday evening after nearly an hour and a half of deliberation. A similar resolution was negotiated by the Council in November last year, but failed to pass.
“This resolution’s primary aim is to record a stance that reflects so many of the voices of our constituents here in Cambridge,” Councilor Siddiqui said during Monday’s city council meeting. “Two months ago I remained resolute in calling for a cease-fire. I believe now, more than ever, it’s important to do this.”
In Somerville, the city council voted on a cease-fire last Thursday, a resolution that Council President Ben-Ewen Campen said his own “moral convictions” compelled him to draft.
“This Resolution is to be sent to our elected officials in the Federal government, advocating for our elected officials to do everything in their power to broker peace,” Ben-Ewen wrote in a statement, addressing criticism that a cease-fire is a national rather than local issue. “For everyone who’s told me the City Council shouldn’t spend time on this, I’ve probably heard from equal or more people angry or confused that I didn’t do it sooner.”
The decisions in Cambridge and Somerville occurred against the backdrop of the top UN court decision to urge Israel to take steps to prevent genocide, but not to order a cease-fire, and preceded Chicago becoming the largest U.S. city to call for a cease-fire in Gaza on Wednesday.
In Boston, there has been no formal call for a cease-fire despite action from advocacy groups and resolutions in neighboring cities. Hersch Rothmel, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, said that cease-fire resolutions in Somerville and Cambridge successfully passed because of community pressure on local lawmakers.
“Everything from petitioning to doing delegations to city councilors offices, to holding meetings with them, to holding disruptions at city council meetings, to having mass demonstrations outside of City Hall … these are all different tactics that people can and should take if they believe that Boston city councilors have a duty to call for a cease-fire resolution,” Rothmel said.
On Wednesday, Boston City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson expressed that she wants a cease-fire, and that she is working with her colleagues to “hopefully support it.” But during the weekly city council meeting, there was no mention of a resolution.
Cambridge hosted a council meeting on Zoom on Monday to discuss the resolution, Policy Order 10, which called for the release of all hostages and supported a negotiated cease-fire by both the Hamas and Netanyahu Administration.
“If the UN won’t deal with moral clarity, it is clearly the responsibility of the Cambridge City Council to fill that void,” Cambridge resident Dan Eisner said during the meeting’s public comment, highlighting the pressure many residents have placed on local officials to call for a cease-fire.
Cambridge resident Mary Akerson labeled Policy Order 10 as “disruptive,” claiming it has the potential to worsen existing political tensions and divides.
Other critics said the policy order was the “bare minimum” and muddied with ambiguous language.
Alisa Khan, a health services researcher and Cambridge resident urged the Council to vote for Policy Order 10, which the council ultimately passed by all its members.
“I am ashamed that Cambridge, which touts itself as a progressive city, cannot do what Somerville, Ann Arbor, and other cities have done,” Khan said. “How many more have to die before we can say enough is enough? … I expect more from Cambridge.”
Over 80 protesters flooded into Cambridge City Hall as the meeting commenced on Zoom and was projected in the lobby, according to the Harvard Crimson. Sara Halawa, an organizer with advocacy group Somerville for Palestine, attended the protest and said the community was “very frustrated” that the meeting was not held in person.
Halawa said making the meeting remote “removes a level of interaction, connection and energy that you feel when a community really wants something to happen.” In Somerville, the meeting was in person and 500 people attended, Halawa said, which she believes moved councilors to pass the resolution.
The Cambridge City Council ultimately added six further amendments to the resolution, which included the recognition of Hamas as a terrorist organization and a statement outlining the limited power the Council has over foreign policy issues.
“We have had hundreds of residents advocate to us,” Councilor Siddiqui wrote in an email. “Cambridge is a global community, and this is an issue that our community cares about and that has a direct impact on their lives. We as elected officials have an obligation to address the issues that residents care about and put pressure on those in higher seats of office to listen to our constituency.”
Kojo Acheampong, a member of PSL and the Harvard African American Resistance Organization University, echoed the notion that the Cambridge cease-fire resolution would not have passed if protestors had not been out on the streets every week, “showing their power.”
“We’ve seen so many people come out in support of this resolution,” Acheampong said. “I think it demonstrates where people are at regarding Palestine and how the people want a cease-fire, and a lot of people understand that the cease-fire is only the beginning.”
Acheampong said Boston residents need to be “pushing these representatives to actually represent their needs” if they want their council to call for a cease-fire.
“There’s a group starting in Medford: Medford for Palestine. There’s a group starting in Arlington: Arlington for Palestine,” Halawa said. “I think what Somerville did is going to ripple out across the whole state, and we’re going to start seeing more and more municipalities taking this up.”