Debate over cease-fire in Gaza heats up as four communities consider resolutions

Local artist JuPong Lin displays strands of origami peace birds Friday afternoon in downtown Amherst to raise awareness of the upcoming Town Council vote on the Gaza Ceasefire Resolution.

Local artist JuPong Lin displays strands of origami peace birds Friday afternoon in downtown Amherst to raise awareness of the upcoming Town Council vote on the Gaza Ceasefire Resolution. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Local artist JuPong Lin  makes origami peace birds with Amherst College students Luke Bardetti and Parker Smith on Friday afternoon in downtown Amherst to raise awareness of the coming Town Council vote on the Gaza cease-fire resolution.

Local artist JuPong Lin makes origami peace birds with Amherst College students Luke Bardetti and Parker Smith on Friday afternoon in downtown Amherst to raise awareness of the coming Town Council vote on the Gaza cease-fire resolution. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Local artist JuPong Lin displays strands of origami peace birds Friday afternoon in downtown Amherst to raise awareness of the upcoming Town Council vote on the Gaza Ceasefire Resolution.

Local artist JuPong Lin displays strands of origami peace birds Friday afternoon in downtown Amherst to raise awareness of the upcoming Town Council vote on the Gaza Ceasefire Resolution. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Local artist JuPong Lin displays strands of origami peace birds Friday afternoon in downtown Amherst to raise awareness of the upcoming Town Council vote on the Gaza Ceasefire Resolution.

Local artist JuPong Lin displays strands of origami peace birds Friday afternoon in downtown Amherst to raise awareness of the upcoming Town Council vote on the Gaza Ceasefire Resolution. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 02-23-2024 6:28 PM

AMHERST — A public outdoor workshop on creating and displaying peace cranes in downtown Amherst and a family-friendly rally scheduled for Monday evening are among steps supporters of a cease-fire in Gaza are taking to press Amherst councilors to adopt a resolution aimed at ending the bloodshed and destruction and get hostages freed in the Israel-Hamas war there.

For the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, though, the Amherst resolution, like ones being proposed or discussed in Northampton, Easthampton and Greenfield, fuel antisemitism and should be seen as working against the long-term well-being of Palestinians.

“This is a complex foreign policy issue outside of the purview of any local government outside of the State of Israel,” the Jewish Federation wrote in a statement. “Such resolutions have no real value and will not make any impact on the relevant parties. Convening foreign policy discussions on a local level only serves to promote antisemitism and other forms of racism and hatred, and broadens unnecessary division within our community.”

Those supporting the cease-fire resolution in Amherst, though, see it as a critical step.

“It is the responsibility and in the best interests of the town to ensure the safety of its marginalized communities,” Amherst resident Leyla Moushabeck, who describes herself as a Palestinian American, wrote in a letter to the editor. “The council must pass this resolution to firmly and publicly reject the systematic dehumanization that has made over 13,000 children like mine an acceptable cost of war. Councilors must support this resolution because that is what Amherst claims to stand for, and because dehumanization is never contained.”

Amherst resident Jill Brevik, too said a cease-fire is a local issue and that looking away is complicity in allowing atrocities to continue. “Palestinian, Arab and Muslim families in Amherst have received threats and slurs screamed out of car windows, hate mail and property damage because their very identity is politicized,” Brevik said

The resolution coming before the Amherst Town Council calls for the “immediate and sustained cease-fire in Gaza, an end to the Israeli military siege of the Gaza Strip, the release of the hostages and detainees on both sides, removal of obstacles to urgently needed humanitarian aid entering Gaza, and an end to unconditional U.S. military aid to the Israeli government.”

The vote had been set for Monday, but is being pushed back, possibly to March 4. Angela Mills, executive assistant to the town manager, sent an email that because more than 80 people planned to attend the meeting in person at Town Hall, exceeding the capacity of the Town Room, the meeting would be moved to a new date and location. Officials are consulting with the public schools on a new location with suitable space.

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On Friday afternoon, Amherst resident JuPong Lin, a public mobile art exhibits artist, began a three-day public demonstration in Amherst center of the Peace Bird Project, which she developed with artist friend Mona Shiber, and sought a way to bring it to the present moment.

“This felt like a really good way to make the cease-fire resolution and the campaign visible,” Lin said, as she showed passers-by the techniques to make the paper cranes and displayed strings of both small and large peace cranes on a coat rack. Many use paper with keffiyeh patterns, pre-1948 maps of Palestine and Jerusalem, and passages from the book of Genesis.

Lin, who recently participated in the 25-mile cease-fire walk from Northampton to Springfield, began commemorative folding cranes to mark the anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. “I fold these hoping for peace,” Lin said.

Lin will be near the North Common on Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Sunday from 12:30 to 2 p.m,, using paper with keffiyeh patterns. She is also providing coloring pages from Valley Families for Palestine to children that they could send to town councilors and QR codes to others to build on the support of Amherst4Ceasefire, which has beeen signed by more than 500 residents and 25 dozen community organizations.

At 5:30 p.m. Monday, the family-friendly rally is set for Sweetser Park, a short distance from Town Hall.

The town’s Governance, Organization and Legislation Committee has voted that the resolution is “clear, consistent, and actionable.” But that committee doesn’t make advisories on the content of items being brought before the council. Last Oct. 16, the Town Council gave unanimous support to a resolution condemning the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and the taking of nearly 1,200 lives. The latest resolution references the Israeli government’s siege of Gaza having killed more than 24,000 Palestinians, forced more than 1.9 million residents of Gaza to leave their homes, blocked humanitarian aid into Gaza has been blocked, threatening more death from starvation.

The Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts sees the resolution as being problematic.

“While peace is undoubtedly a noble goal, a ceasefire at this juncture would only serve to prolong the suffering of Palestinians and perpetuate the cycle of violence.” The organization goes on to state that “a temporary or ‘long-lasting’ ceasefire will not solve the problem in Gaza. Well-intentioned calls for a humanitarian ceasefire come from a lack of understanding of Hamas and calling for a cease-fire now is accepting the continuation of Hamas’s terror regime, and a guaranteed repeat of the October 7th attack against Israel. A ceasefire is a death sentence for many more Israelis and Gazans because it would allow Hamas to strengthen its forces, recoup, and prolong this war as long as possible, increasing the Palestinian death toll.”

Owen Zaret, a spokesman for the Jewish Federation, said there has been an explosion of both antisemitism and anti-Islamic viewpoints, and resolutions are not about bringing healing between Jewish and Muslim and Israeli and Arab. The federation’s stance is all hostages need to be released, Hamas needs to be dismantled and Gaza needs to have autonomy for its rebuilding.

“We’re asking city councils to step outside of their scope of functionality to make statements outside of their responsibility,” Zaret said of the resolutions. “This really practically has no effect on the ultimate outcome.”

Calling a resolution misplaced energy in a polarized environment, a more powerful and effective approach would be to build understanding and education through schools and libraries, Zaret said.

Zaret, as a city councilor in Easthampton, is encouraging this in his city. “My pleas to my colleagues is to support a negotiated peace, a lasting truce and” a place where Israel and other countries can exist side by side.

Aspects of the resolution have raised red flags for Amherst residents, including a portion that states the U.S. government has pledged $14 billion in unconditional military aid to the Israeli government, and sent $250 million without Congressional approval. Amherst resident Mike Offner called this into question, asking councilors not to have incorrect information in the resolution.

In addition to the possible factual inaccuracies, Amherst resident Richard Fein wrote a letter to councilors that the resolution absolves Hamas for its role in the ongoing tragedy in Gaza and assumes geopolitical expertise that councilors don’t have. Fein suggests the council modify the resolution to only focus on the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, possibly through including in its resolution a sentence encouraging Amherst residents to contribute to humanitarian organizations.

Meanwhile, Lin will have another Peace Birds event at the Bangs Community Center on Wednesday to commemorate the 228 Incident in Taiwan. That 1947 incident was an impetus for the Taiwan independence movement, following an anti-government uprising in Taiwan suppressed by the Kuomintang-led nationalist government of the Republic of China.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.