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Gaza ceasefire resolution ruffles feathers in Alexandria City Hall

Protestors advocating for Palestinians’ inclusion to the Human Rights proclamation (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

Within days of the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, Alexandria’s City Hall was lit up with the colors of Israel. But after months of mounting civilian casualties in Gaza, a push for Alexandria to join cities calling for a ceasefire has faced significant opposition in City Hall.

A resolution calling for a ceasefire was raised as a recommendation at a Human Rights Commission (HRC) meeting earlier this month.

According to the city website, the HRC “works with businesses, community groups and individuals to facilitate understanding of rights and responsibilities; advises City Council and the City Manager on human rights issues; and holds public hearings on specific complaints.”

The recommendation condemns the “tragic loss of Israeli life on October 7 and we also denounce the indiscriminate retaliation by the state of Israel, enacting collective punishment on the people of Gaza.”

The resolution notes that Alexandria is home to a number of Biden Administration and Congressional staff, making the city uniquely positioned to apply pressure.

The resolution was not voted on after city staff said it was not within the purview of the HRC.

The central arguments against the resolution are that:

  • Commissions cannot pass resolutions, they can only make recommendations to the city
  • Taking a stance on an international conflict is outside of the scope of Alexandria’s Human Rights Commission

HRC members during the meeting expressed frustration with the first point and argued that, had City Attorney Cheran Ivery told that to the HRC with enough time before the meeting, the resolution could have been adjusted to match the required wording.

The main issue, however, was that city staff said some in city leadership didn’t want the ceasefire resolution to get to the dais.

In an audio recording of the meeting obtained by ALXnow, Jean Kelleher, director of the Office of Human Rights, said three elected officials told her they didn’t want the resolution to get to them.

“You may send something to City Council and ask them to consider it,” Kelleher said. “One of the issues was: there were three different elected officials who came to me and asked for the Commission not to send a specific resolution on an international issue.”

Kelleher said the frustrations from city leadership were that they saw the ceasefire as being outside of the HRC’s authority. A proclamation for Human Rights Month in October omitted references to Israel or Palestine in earlier drafts.

While resolutions on international incidents are rare, the City Council previously considered resolutions condemning the Iraq War and the genocide in Darfur.

“There was one flip comment at an executive committee meeting when I expressed that I had been asked by several members of the City Council to convey to the Human Rights Commission that they believe this was outside of the scope of the Commission and please not put forward a resolution on any issue related to an international issue,” Kelleher said.

Kelleher also said that she was asked by an HRC member “What can they do?” if the HRC sends the resolution to them anyway, and Kelleher said she told him that the Council could “fail to appoint you next time.” Kelleher said one City Council member flippantly repeated “well, we could fail to appoint someone.”

Multiple HRC members told ALXnow they interpreted the message as a threat against their positions on the Commission if they sent the resolution forward.

“I do not believe any City Council member in an election year would say that; that’s bologna,” said one HRC member. “I don’t think this was an above-the-board operation.”

Some at the meeting argued it was hypocritical of the City to light up City Hall in support of Israel and then say Alexandria doesn’t weigh into international politics when Palestinians are killed.

Not all members of the HRC agreed that the Commission should consider a ceasefire resolution.

“Our focus is on human rights within the city,” another commissioner said. “This is so outside of our wheelhouse.”

The City of Alexandria did not respond to a request for comment. Mayor Justin Wilson said he didn’t believe the city should weigh in on international conflicts.

Wilson sent ALXnow a message he said he sends to everyone who has written to him on the issue:

I generally don’t think the Alexandria City Council should be in the business of weighing in on the conduct of international conflicts. It’s not something we have expertise in, not something we have a professional staff to advise us on, and generally not all that productive. These are issues that are properly before our Federal policymakers and I am confident that Senator Warner, Senator Kaine and Congressman Beyer would welcome your input.

The City has condemned bigotry, discrimination, and violence against our Muslim and Palestinian brothers and sisters in the past by resolution and the commitments to stand with those who are victimized in our City.

What I will do is continue to advocate that those who do have the power to influence the conduct and outcome of international conflicts act to protect lives, free those unjustly held, and minimize displacement.

I certainly condemn attacks on civilians by both sides of this conflict, and would hope that the diplomatic efforts designed to release all hostages and dramatically increase humanitarian assistance to Gaza are fruitful in the very near term. My heart breaks for the families of Gaza uprooted, injured, and killed by this violence and the Israelis who have been killed, maimed and traumatized. The trauma on both sides of this conflict is unspeakable.

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