D.C. Palestinians and allies demand Gaza ceasefire resolution from Council
Haitham Arafat | photo by Shedrick Pelt

WASHINGTON, DC—DC residents have been pushing the Council of DC for months to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Councilmembers have been reluctant to sign on or introduce the measure, so a coalition of DC area Palestinian families and local business owners, local labor leaders, and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (ANCs) made their demands clear at a press conference Wednesday where they presented a petition signed by thousands of DC residents and a letter signed by dozens of elected ANC officials.

Haitham Arafat was born in Gaza but currently resides in Ward 3. He described how his 84-year-old aunt and her daughter, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren were shelled by an Israeli tank:

My aunt Ferial was like a mother to me. Her daughter Suha, seeing her mom bleeding in the street, attempted to help her but was shot three times by an Israeli sniper. Moments later, Suha’s son too would be struck by a sniper attempting to save his mom. My aunt Ferial and her granddaughter Dalia and her granddaughter-in-law Lina all died, the latter two bleeding for over seven hours with emergency services blocked by Israeli forces.

Another Ward 3 resident, Fifi Saba, shared losing family in Israel’s attack on the Church of Saint Porphyrius, as well as the perilous situation of her sister and nieces who are still sheltering in the Holy Family Church:

Fifi Saba | photo by Shedrick Pelt

I am here to be the voice for Haytham, my family member and childhood friend. Haytham died of dehydration and lack of medical care. Haytham was a father of two beautiful children. I am here to be the voice for Ramis Al Suri, my friend from church who lost all his children in the church bombing. I am here to be the voice of my little nieces sheltering in the church for the last four months with no schools, no food, no clean water, and no toys to play with. One wants to be a doctor and the other wants to be a math teacher.

Union voices

A member of National Nurses United (NNU), Mindy Blandon, read the statement of her over 225,000-strong union which calls for a ceasefire. She read: “The California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee calls for an immediate ceasefire, delivery of humanitarian aid, release of all hostages, and an end to this violence.”

“I hope our city’s Council can break their silence and live up to the standards our city expects and demands. Ceasefire now!” said DC native Gabriel Kornbluh, the Jewish-Chilean American organizer of the rank-and-file group SAG-AFTRA Members for Ceasefire. Kornbluh invoked the words of Palestinian photojournalist Motaz Azaiza who is among the imprisoned journalists who are risking their lives. Said Aziza, who has spent more than 110 days incarcerated: “Don’t call yourself a free person if you can’t make changes – if you can’t stop a genocide that is still ongoing.”

Ward 5 resident Amr Madkour closed the press conference with a call on the Council to act:

On our own, we are each one voice. But if we, our elected officials, and local governments stand together with our voices, I believe we can make a difference. So I call on the DC Council to call for an end to this bombardment. To call for a ceasefire, and to the end of the occupation.

Carol Rosenblatt of CLUW | photo by Shedrick Pelt

Present at the press conference also were longtime Jewish peace activist Carol Rosenblatt of the Coalition of Labor Union Women and small business owners from the DC staple Blues Bar Madams Organ and Cakeroom. The coalition of community members was also joined by local organizers from the Claudia Jones School for Political Education, Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, Shut Down DC, and others who have been working in coalition to push the Council to pass the Ceasefire resolution.

City Councils must take a stand for ceasefire

Major cities including San Francisco, Oakland, Minneapolis, Seattle, and Atlanta have passed resolutions calling for a ceasefire. But DC Council Chairperson Phil Mendelson says he is reluctant to engage in matters of foreign policy in spite of the fact that following the events of October 7 the Wilson Building, DC’s City Hall, was draped in Israeli flag colors for nearly 40 days, and a meeting with the Israeli government was held there. Following heavy criticism by community members for those actions, the Council did agree to host a briefing between their staff and Palestinian residents and advocates in November of 2023. The Council has yet to introduce a resolution. The lone councilmember to call for a ceasefire through statements and sign-on letters has been Ward 4 Democratic Socialist Councilwoman Janeese Lewis-George.

The Council has commented on foreign affairs before, most recently in a unanimously passed sense-of-the-council resolution calling on the US government to remove Cuba from the U.S. State Department’s State Terrorism list and to end its 60+ year-old blockade policy. It has also sharply criticized Russia’s incursion in Ukraine, hoisting Ukrainian flags throughout major DC streets and having the Ukrainian Ambassador as its guest of honor at its holiday party in December. In 2002, the DC Council courageously passed a resolution urging diplomatic efforts instead of sending U.S. troops to Iraq. Similarly, during the period of Marion Barry’s tenure as mayor, the Council passed a resolution against South African Apartheid.

Claudia Jones School organizer, Dante O’Hara said that it is imperative that the DC Council immediately take a stance today and swiftly pass the Ceasefire resolution. As cities around the country pass resolutions calling for a ceasefire, he said, this DC coalition hopes to make their city the next. The coalition, O’Hara told People’s World seeks to put further pressure on the Biden administration to side with the overwhelming majority of Americans and call for an immediate ceasefire and end to the genocide in Gaza.

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Bennett Shoop
Bennett Shoop

Bennett Shoop is Washington, D.C.-based activist for the LGBTQ+ community and the Claudia Jones School for Political Education.

Jamal Rich
Jamal Rich

Jamal Rich writes from Washington, D.C. where he is active with the Claudia Jones School for Political Education.