Easton City Council session erupts over resolution calling for Israel-Hamas war ceasefire
- A ceasefire resolution was removed from Easton City Council's agenda Wednesday night, drawing ire from some council members and the public
- Mayor Sal Panto Jr. initiated the removal, suggesting the matter does not fall within the council's purview
- Councilmember Taiba Sultana and numerous citizens spoke on the matter throughout public comment periods
EASTON, Pa. — Easton City Council erupted into a series of heated arguments concerning Israel and Palestinian territories after a resolution calling for a ceasefire in the region was removed from the agenda Wednesday night.
Council chambers were packed with supporters at the meeting, during which time Mayor Sal Panto Jr. called for a resolution introduced by Councilwoman Taiba Sultana to be removed from the “new business” section of the agenda. Sultana’s resolution was listed as “calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and occupied Palestine.”
Once council approved the removal in a 5-2 vote — council members Sultana and David O’Connell voted against removal — the crowd exhibited strong reactions to the choice, hitting a fever pitch during both public comment sessions.
“Saving Palestinian lives does not mean you are being pro-Hamas. Passing this resolution or moving this resolution is the bare minimum we can do."Easton City Councilmember Taiba Sultana
Sultana’s resolution included references to the 3,500 Palestinian lives lost between the initial Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and Oct. 18, in addition to the 1,030 children and 1,400 Israelis, among others, who have been killed in the conflict.
“Now, therefore, be it resolved that the City of Easton, per our commitment to peace and humanity, condemns violence and barbarity,” the resolution reads, with further resolutions calling upon U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, Gov. Josh Shapiro, Senators Bob Casey and John Fetterman, and the Biden administration to de-escalate the situation and pursue a ceasefire.
Furthermore, the resolution “calls upon the Biden administration to promptly send and facilitate the entry of humanitarian assistance into Gaza and cease additional military funding, troops or weapons being brought to bear, which will only intensify the war.”
After raising a vote to remove the agenda item, Panto clarified his stance on the matter.
“I bring this up because it deals with something that I have no control over as a council member in the city of Easton,” Panto said. “And I think it's very lopsided, the resolution. I don't think it's very balanced. I think we're all against war and the killing of innocent people, especially civilians, young and old. But I certainly don't think that this resolution should be part of a city council agenda.”
O’Connell noted the city council has in the past “voted on resolutions that do go beyond the city’s scope of municipal legislation,” even if he did not agree with the proposed resolution.
Sultana said she would be willing to revise the resolution even if she disagreed with the mayor, though she did emphasize the resolution was a callout against the loss of civilian lives, not for or against Israel or occupied territory governments.
Numerous citizens took to the podium to contest the decision to remove the resolution, including Huma Khan, who said “I believe a ceasefire is for both sides.”
Lafayette College scholar Yaseen Saleh emphasized the use of freedom of speech to confront injustice in the world, “not for Israel, not for Palestine, but for the sake of stopping the [killing of] innocents that are in between, no matter what side they’re on, stopping this killing.”
Following a reading of the resolution by Sultana, Panto raised concerns that the resolution itself had not been presented in a committee prior to coming up in council, as is tradition.
Solicitor Joel Scheer and Councilman Peter Melan concurred the issue should be addressed first in a committee in order to ensure proper language and concepts are agreed upon.
Resident An-Nisa Muqtadir utilized her time at the podium to show how she and her family have supported both Panto and Sultana throughout the years, “but my concern is that I wonder what you believe Israel pulling back is.”
“Because 4,000 people and 2,300 children have died,” Muqtadir said. “Every single day we are seeing journalists put out on the news, ‘This is what happened to us. We have no food. We have no water, we have thousands of people standing in line for bread.’ And you continuously made the comment ‘Hamas is in America, Hamas is this, that,' without actually directly saying ‘Palestine,’ ‘Palestinian children,’ ‘Palestinian people.’”
Muqtadir went on to present the council with photographs of children, telling stories of their lives which have been lost in the conflicts.
"I don't understand the purpose of being so stubborn about this, the purpose of nitpicking at what [Sultana is] saying, and not understanding what it truly says — ‘We are against genocide, illegal occupation.’ Look at how many people have died and look at the definition of genocide,” Muqtadir said.
Shouts from Panto punctuated Muqtadir’s speech during her time, as the discussion became increasingly heated. Other individuals took to the stand to share their own tales of friends, family and others either living through or lost amid the fighting, calling upon council to take the measure to approve the ceasefire message.
During the second public comment session, Robert Brent took his time to encourage council to at least allow for the resolution to go through a committee for consideration.
“As you can see, I'm just the white guy and I don’t have any skin in the game, I don’t have any Jewish heritage or Palestinian heritage, but I did support the ceasefire agreement because I felt like it's a very timely hot topic that needs to be out quickly, not drug through weeks and weeks of future bombings,” Brent said. “And that's why we decide on a committee to form the right words. I hope if you're going to go down the committee path, you do it really quick because people are dying.”
Hagai Feiner, a tech entrepreneur born in Israel who immigrated to America at the age of 22, argued Sultana “has an agenda,” noting “Israel sends out warning leaflets, broadcasts, everybody should get out.”
“All I'm saying is there are two sides of the story, and we have a city council member misrepresenting the facts. So I'm waiting for you to start displaying both sides of the story. To have some balance here. And the same for all of you,” Feiner said.
Mark Charles Rosenzweig, a retired academic living in the city, and a secular Jew, offered his perspective on the matter, as well.
“So, with Taiba Sultana, I say we, at the municipal level, as citizens and as Eastonians, need — as people are trying to do around the country, in [the] city after city — to tell our representatives in Congress, in the Senate, that we stand for a ceasefire now. End the bombing. End the mass displacement. Allow aid to reach Gaza unimpeded. Stop the announced land invasion and help rather than hinder the efforts towards addressing the root causes of the conflict,” Rosenzweig said.
Sultana spoke again, clarifying prior commentary and the language of her resolution in an effort to dispel misinterpretation.
“I am going to say this again, standing up for human rights doesn't mean you are antisemitic. Saving Palestinian lives does not mean you are being pro-Hamas. Passing this resolution or moving this resolution is the bare minimum we can do,” Sultana said.
Councilman Roger Ruggles said he found highlighting the current issues between Israel and the Palestinian government is beyond the scope of the local government, adding if city councils and the like were to do so in numerous situations, it would be “an enormous issue."
"I think that's probably why most local governments have stayed away from it is because how do you identify all of these things that are going on in the world today? I don't have the time to do that," Ruggles said.
Sultana countered that if Ruggles did not have time to consider such issues, “maybe this is not for you because this is a political office,” which drew ire from fellow council members.
“That means we are paying attention to what's going on around the world. If we are not, it's easy to educate yourself. It's about human beings. We are still, at the end of the meeting, we are still talking about Hamas and Israel, but we are not talking about civilians,” Sultana said.
The meeting quickly broke up with a vote to adjourn, rounding out nearly two hours which were dominated by the topic.
No official indication as to the status of the resolution and whether it may be brought up in committee has been confirmed.