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Alexandria Human Rights Commission approves recommendation for Gaza ceasefire

Human Rights Commission meeting on March 20 (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

After months of discussion, Alexandria’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) voted in favor of a recommendation that City Council pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The workroom in City Hall was packed to standing-room-only with supporters of the ceasefire resolution who have been active for months in both Human Rights Commission meetings and City Council public hearings calling for a ceasefire resolution.

While there have been conflicts between Israel and Palestine for decades, the latest conflict started on Oct. 7 when Hamas attacked Israel, killing around 1,200 people and taking 250 others hostage. After the attack, Alexandria’s City Hall was lit in blue and white in support of Israel.

Since then, Israel’s attack on Gaza has caused extensive civilian casualties and devastated much of Gaza. Several cities around the United States have issued calls for a ceasefire.

There’s been resistance to a ceasefire in Alexandria, however. The HRC had planned to vote on a resolution in February but was told that Commissions cannot pass resolutions and can only make recommendations to the city. The HRC was also told by a member of city staff that three elected officials asked that the HRC not send them a resolution on an international issue.

The HRC held off on voting on the issue until they could meet with the Office of the City Attorney, but a letter sent by City Attorney Cheran Ivery said “given what I have been told transpired at the most recent HRC meeting, I do not believe that would be a productive interaction, so I respectfully decline.

Ivery said in the letter that the HRC does not have the authority to pass resolutions, but that it can communicate its position to the City Council on a topic:

As previously stated in writing, and reiterated to the HRC by staff, it is the opinion of my office that the HRC lacks the authority to pass resolutions. This opinion has nothing whatsoever to do with the subject matter of any proposed resolution. Should the HRC desire to communicate its position to the city council on any topic, it certainly may do so in several different ways,e.g., a letter, report, or memorandum,to name a few mechanisms.

Much of the discussion from the HRC was on crafting language in their recommendation to avoid making it sound too much like a resolution, substituting instances of “request” and “call” to a softer “recommend.”

The final resolution read:

Recommendation to Join Representative Don Beyer in a call for a long-lasting Ceasefire in Gaza

The Alexandria Human Rights Commission accompanies our Jewish and Palestinian residents in their suffering in light of the horrific attacks of October 7th and the catastrophic loss of civilian life that has followed in Gaza.  During its last three meetings, the Commission has heard about the extreme emotional pain experienced by Alexandria residents who have strong personal ties to Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank.  These residents feel that their voices are not being heard as decisions directly affecting them are made by City, state, and federal officials.

Alexandria is a diverse city that welcomes people hailing from all corners of the globe and practicing all religions.  Consistent with the maxim that all human life is precious and must be protected, the City will not tolerate any acts of violence or hatred, including any antisemitic, Islamophobic, anti-Palestinian, or anti-Arab acts against our residents or visitors.  Residents may contact the Office of Human Rights if they are aware of any such events or have concerns to express.

After several months of hearing heartbreaking testimony, the Alexandria Human Rights Commission finds it imperative that we recommend the City Council to call for a durable ceasefire. Several cities around the country have adopted resolutions containing similar calls.

The Human Rights Commission of the City of Alexandria recommends that our City Council join us in echoing the call of Alexandria’s U.S. Representative Don Beyer on December 4th for a “durable ceasefire to secure the release of all hostages, a halt to attacks on Israel, the protection of civilian lives in Gaza, and an end to the appalling loss of life from this conflict.”

“This is about right and wrong,” said Matt Harris. “I think we’ve done the right thing here calling for a ceasefire in this terrible situation.”

Others said they regretted how long the process had taken.

“Several of us regret very much how long it has taken,” Tom Reeder said.

The recommendation passed with 13 in favor and one abstaining.

There were around 30 activists gathered at the far end of the room, many of them with signs sharing the names and photos of civilians killed in Gaza.

Comments from the audience expressed appreciation to the HRC for its work, saying the fight will continue with trying to get Alexandria’s City Council to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire.

“This issue has brought us public participation on an unprecedented scale,” said Marc Bendick Jr. “I hope that you will continue to be active in the city on many issues. Feel free at any time to come to this Commission because you have enriched us in this process.”

A large part of the discussion was also from members of the HRC encouraging activists to continue their work in Alexandria, combating both antisemitism and Islamophobia. Commission members also used the unique level of attendance at the meeting to encourage activists to:

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