Bellingham leaders weighed in on the international conflict between Israel and Palestine Monday night, Dec. 11, calling for an “immediate ceasefire” while condemning racism and violence in broad terms.
City council passed the ceasefire resolution 7–0 during its final regular meeting of 2023.
Over the past week, council had considered longer versions of the resolution that gave more detail about the conflict between Israel and Gaza, and highlighted nationwide protests against the violence in the Middle East.
“There was some wordsmithing on it, with the intent to basically speak to the broadest possible humanitarian principles,” council President Michael Lilliquist told a capacity audience in council chambers at city hall.
Lilliquist added that council sought to “constrain ourselves to not say too much or too little on the conflict in the Mideast because, basically, we’re not experts.”
Council acted with a sense of urgency, council member Skip Williams said, due to the rapidly escalating death toll in Gaza and the hundreds of emails council members received about the resolution.
“This is difficult,” council member Lisa Anderson said. “We have members of the community who are for this, and people who feel that this shouldn’t be something we weigh in (on). And I think we try to strike a balance.”
In the resolution, the city “condemns racism in any form and further condemns the rise of racist acts, antisemitism, Islamophobia and targeted hate crimes against Jewish and Muslim communities.”
The resolution further states that the conflict has claimed the lives of more than 17,000 people, without distinguishing which side the victims were on. An earlier version of the document mentioned that “over 1,200 people in Israel and over 15,000 people in Gaza and occupied Palestine have been killed in under two months.”
The Associated Press reports as of Dec. 9, the Palestinian death toll in Gaza has surpassed 17,700, around two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-controlled territory. Israel reported 97 soldiers have died in the ground war, after Hamas raided southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians.
Some who spoke during the public comment session after Monday night’s meeting thought the ordinance should have condemned Israel explicitly for its attack on civilians in Gaza.
“I know that critiquing the Israeli state and the brutal actions of the Israeli occupation force is not antisemitic,” Mosley Jackson Lerner said during the open comment period.
Public speaker Eden Hill was adamant that the resolution went too far and was even, in her view, antisemitic.
“Make no mistake, this resolution is anti-Zionist, which is the belief that Jews have a right to live freely in their ancestral homeland,” Hill said. “This resolution both walks and quacks like antisemitic rhetoric.”
To the extent the council’s resolution is a call to action, it asks the Biden administration to press for an immediate ceasefire and take other steps to de-escalate the conflict.
The resolution will be sent to U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
“It’s pretty rare that Bellingham City Council makes a statement on international affairs,” council member Dan Hammill said. “However, we do make statements of value, just where we believe the community is coming from.”
In a committee meeting earlier on Monday, council member Hannah Stone said council should also raise awareness about injustices closer to home, including the detention of children on the southern U.S. border, and the women and children who are missing from Lummi Nation and the Nooksack Indian Tribe.
“I will be supporting this (ceasefire resolution),” Stone said, “but I will also be looking for our community to take ownership of atrocities that happened closer to home and in our own community, specifically.”
This story was updated with additional information.