Public Comment: The Resolution Before You Affirms Our Common Humanity and Our Commitment to Justice for All


Ceasefire now march in Philadelphia at rush hour on November 16, 2023. Photo: Joe Piette / (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED)

The following public comment was sent to the Amherst Town Council and posted on the town’s public comment web site on February 29, 2024.

The document in front of you, calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, is co-sponsored by over 660 Amherst residents.  Among them are Palestinians, Israelis, American Muslims, American Jews, and  people embracing a wide variety of other identities. The intersectionality of the sponsors, and their commitment to bridge different understandings, experiences, and histories in the service of peace, offers us an analogy for the kind of compassionate cooperation that is needed in Israel and Palestine.  The framers of this document have taken great pains to strip away accusations and recriminations and recounting the long history of past harms and grievances, to bring forward a focused call to end the burgeoning tragedy in Gaza. The language has been chosen with care to highlight the urgency of the situation and to underscore that repairing all of the past violence that plagues the region can only commence after the killing stops.

The resolution calls for three things  – stop the killing, release all hostages, and release all humanitarian aid to end the growing famine. 

The resolution eschews cataloging the horrors and casting blame for war crimes already committed.  But those bombs are not falling mysteriously and randomly out of the sky. They are being dropped by Israel.  And that weaponry is being provided by the United States who in recent days has deployed its own Air Force personnel to advise on its use.  And the people who are now dying in unimaginable numbers and horrific ways are Palestinians.  The resolution is purposeful in not cataloguing the death and destruction that is proliferating on the ground in Gaza. But it is helpful to know precisely what that carnage looks like so that we may understand that we are calling for a halt to something very specific.  My figures below are now a couple of weeks old.  It would be reasonable for you to assume that the picture they paint is now much worse.

The Toll on the Ground
Israel has deployed more ordinance in the first 100 days of their assault on Gaza than the United States dropped on Iraq in six years of shock and awe.  And Iraq is almost 1200 times larger than Gaza (169,000 sq. mi. vs 141 sq. mi.)

30k Gazans have been killed since the Israeli invasion began on October 27, 2023, 75% of them women and children. More than 70k have been injured. 1.9 million displaced. BBC reports that between 50-61% of all buildings in Gaza have been destroyed. Wall Street Journal reports that over 68% of all residences in Gaza have been destroyed. Nearly all medical facilities, all universities, and most water infrastructure in Gaza have been destroyed.  More than half a million people – 25% of the total population of Gaza are on the brink of dying from starvation while humanitarian aid is blocked at the border. The British Medical Journal reports that we can expect an additional 86k Gazan deaths over the next six months as a consequence of starvation and lack of access to clean water, sanitation, and medical supplies and services. That prediction is reduced to less than 12k with an immediate ceasefire.

Rafah, whose population has swelled to 1.7 million people in the last week and is the last refuge in Gaza, and the place where Israel has directed Gazans to flee for safety, is now being decimated by Israeli bombing. A massacre is happening in Rafah right now.

The intensifying suffering defies comprehension.  To those who object to this resolution I quote Farah Assi Evanson, who addressed the Northampton town council last Wednesday before they unanimously (with one abstention) adopted their ceasefire resolution. She told councilors that their “inaction in passing a cease-fire resolution is only going to embolden racist people to say and do racist things against Arabs, Muslims, and Jews alike. Saying ‘cease-fire’ is not wrong and it shouldn’t be controversial. But staying silent is.”

As an American and a Jew and a human, I find the justifications offered to continue the onslaught to be shameful. I reject and oppose the inhumane actions of the American and Israeli governments that are perpetrated in my name, in our names.  Personally, I can’t find the language to adequately communicate my horror at what is happening in Gaza.  Nor can I find the language to adequately convey my horror, that some descendants of the Holocaust, of which I am one, are not only refusing to speak out against the ongoing mass killing, but are attacking me and other sponsors for doing so.

I can’t help but believe that those who oppose the call for a ceasefire – because they believe such a call is anti-Israel, or antisemitic, or because for them, the resolution requires some additional linguistic sanitizing, are essentially saying – yeah, I’m fine with the carnage continuing until we can get the wording just right.

Both the current Israeli state and Hamas advocate for the extermination of the other side, envisioning a land from the river to the sea that is cleansed of either Jews or Palestinians. But there are 7 million Jews and 7 million Palestinians living in that territory, and the aspirations of one side to eliminate the other are delusional. It will either be endless killing and suffering and insecurity or coexistence. It must be coexistence! Those parties opposed to peace must be pushed aside in favor of sane and humane actors. And the path to peace begins with a ceasefire.

I call on my local government to speak up in support of sanity, peace, and humanity and endorse the resolution for a ceasefire that is before you.

Art Keene is a resident of Amherst’s District 3, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at UMass, and the Managing Editor of the Amherst Indy. He spent much of the 80’s and the 90’s working as an anthropologist in Israel and Palestine.

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2 thoughts on “Public Comment: The Resolution Before You Affirms Our Common Humanity and Our Commitment to Justice for All

  1. Oh, Art. Thank you for speaking your heart. And thank you to Leyla Moushabeck for her earlier, searing piece in The Indy and The Gazette, and to all who are showing up to speak for peace “even when their voices shake.”.

  2. Thank you for sharing your public comment with us, Art. I particularly appreciated the points you made in your opening paragraph, that we “have taken great pains to strip away accusations and recriminations and recounting the long history of past harms and grievances, to bring forward a focused call to end the burgeoning tragedy in Gaza,” choosing our language carefully.

    In the interests of including as many of our townspeople as possible under a big tent, we have indeed taken pains to keep the language of the resolution moderate, even when referring to a situation so horrific that even superlatives fall short of the reality. As you also note, we have attempted to address the situation as it is now, and not to be drawn into a never-ending politics of blame that would prevent us (like our own government, which has three times in the past four months been the only country in the U.N. Security Council to veto a ceasefire resolution) from calling for an immediate end to the violence that continues unabated, not just from rockets, bombs, and tanks, but also from the desperate situation caused by extreme shortages of food, fuel, and medical supplies needed for the survival of nearly two million refugees.

    As Christopher Lockyear of Doctors Without Borders said in his testimony to the U.N. Security Council on February 22nd: “This council should reject any resolution that further hampers humanitarian efforts on the ground and leads this council to continue to endorse the continued violence and mass atrocities in Gaza. The people of Gaza need a ceasefire, not when practicable, but now. They need a sustained ceasefire, not a temporary period of calm “. Our resolution, too, calls for an immediate and sustained ceasefire.

    Please urge our town councilors to approve the Resolution in Support of a Ceasefire in Gaza, due to be considered at their meeting on Monday, March 4th, in the Amherst Middle School Auditorium.

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