Emotions ran high in Langley City Council chambers this week, as South Whidbey residents urged the council to adopt a resolution in response to the ongoing crisis in Gaza.
Drafted by the city’s volunteer-led Dismantling Systemic Racism Commission, the resolution, which was unanimously approved, calls for the city to condemn the violence that has claimed the lives of over 1,200 Israelis and over 22,800 Palestinians. It also calls for a permanent and immediate ceasefire in the conflict.
Langley joins several other U.S. cities that have passed similar resolutions. They include Seattle, Olympia, Bellingham and Port Townsend.
Barbara Schaetti, a member of the Dismantling Systemic Racism Commission, led a presentation highlighting the importance of passing such a resolution. Schaetti drew comparisons between the geographical size of Whidbey Island and the Gaza Strip, and the population on Whidbey and the number of people killed or wounded in Gaza.
“We’re not only seeing a genocide in Gaza, we’re also seeing an ecocide,” she said. “That means that its environmental resources are being poisoned, depleted and otherwise destroyed, and may take generations to recover.”
Although she showed support for the resolution, Councilmember Harolynne Bobis said she perceived it as being “totally aspirational.”
“I don’t want people to believe that because we’re voting for this and because we may be supporting this that things are going to change,” she said. “Not necessarily.”
Quoting Professor Nada Elia, a recent speaker in Langley, Councilmember Rhonda Salerno said that while individual resolutions can be toothless on their own, they can contribute to a groundswell of pressure that leaders and elected officials do listen to.
Councilmember Chris Carlson, however, expressed concerns about some parts of the resolution.
“I personally think that it would be inappropriate for a city council 7,000 miles away to make criminal accusations of individuals, let alone entire countries or ethnicities, like this resolution would have us do in its current draft,” he said, adding that if the United Nations International Court of Justice has not yet found parties in the conflict to be guilty, then Langley must wait for due process.
Visibly emotional, Councilmember Craig Cyr said he has met South Whidbey residents who have family members in Gaza right now that are trying to survive. He shared the story of a woman whose husband is trapped and unable to leave Gaza. Cyr said he has met other local Palestinians and practicing Jews during a regular Saturday morning vigil in Bayview.
“And so the question must be asked, will this resolution make a difference? And I think it will,” he said. “And in fact, it’s already made a difference because the conversation is happening in Langley tonight about this topic.”
Councilmember Gail Fleming said she found the resolution inspiring, but wondered how the city is going to commit to not purchasing products or services from companies that have a proven record of complicity in Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people.
Over a dozen members of the public, from Langley and beyond, packed the room and shared comments in favor of passing the resolution.
“Every other genocide in history, we have always looked back and wondered how it was allowed to happen,” said Basil Hassoun, whose grandparents were evicted from their homes in Haifa in 1948, which had been part of Palestine at that time until an Israeli invasion. Hassoun added that the bulldozing of 16 cemeteries in Gaza by the Israeli army is not a typical action of war, nor is the bombing and destruction of the vast majority of hospitals.
Former Langley mayor Scott Chaplin encouraged the city to divest from military support for Israel, via its local government investment pool.
Omar Aldahleh, the son of Palestinian refugees, shared a heart-wrenching story about his grandmother, who died in Gaza on Oct. 20 without her family by her bedside.
“With the city of Langley, I am so thankful to all of you, when I drove by and saw you waving Palestinian flags in places that I never thought would stand up,” he said, breaking into tears.
Beck Diamond, who has been organizing weekly rallies in solidarity with Palestine, pointed out that the International Court of Justice has told Israel to stop all genocidal acts, which means genocide is indeed happening.
Kim Nguyen, a member of the Navy, expressed support for the ceasefire.
“And if Langley isn’t talking about oppression, then what other city in Island County is going to be talking about it?” she said. “This ceasefire resolution is already having an impact on a resident in Coupeville such as myself.”
Carlson emphasized that he did want to see the resolution passed that night, but there were sections he found inappropriate, such as the reference to a political poll. Like Fleming, he wondered how the city would identify which companies have a record of complicity in the treatment of Palestinians. Carlson suggested that this latter piece be removed from the resolution, which Cyr supported because he felt it was an acceptable change to make in order to receive a unanimous vote.
The amended motion passed unanimously.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the year Basil Hassoun’s grandparents were evicted from their homes in Haifa, and mistakenly identified the city as being part of Israel then. The story has since been updated with the correct information.