Easton councilwoman's cease-fire resolution draws community support but dies on the floor
- Easton CCouncilwoman Taiba Sultana introduced a revised version of her Israel-Hamas cease-fire resolution during Wednesday's council meeting
- Dozens of community members came out to speak on the matter, largely in support of the resolution
- Though the resolution failed to make it to a vote, Sultana has pledged to bring it back
EASTON, Pa. — A revised version of Councilwoman Taiba Sultana’s call for an Israel-Hamas cease-fire died on the floor Wednesday but elicited extensive commentary — for and against it — from the crowd.
Tempers again flared during the meeting, at which members of the Lehigh Valley’s Jewish, Muslim, Israeli, Palestinian and other communities approached council to express their support or opposition.
The shortened resolution, which called for the federal government to support a cease-fire resolution, died for lack of a second from council members.
“As almost every council member has shown the interest of calling for ceasefire, I think documenting it and calling for Congresswoman Susan Wild should not be an issue. The conflict actually is leading to a humanitarian crisis with civilians suffering the most. We have Palestinian Americans in the Lehigh Valley whose families are not only trapped in Gaza, but they are losing their families.”Easton City Councilmember Taiba Sultana
But tensions were elevated even before public comment, which was dominated by discussion of the resolution, began.
There were impassioned speeches, shouted retorts from council members and the mayor, and strong reactions from the crowd throughout the nearly three-hour meeting.
The meeting started with Mayor Sal Panto Jr. offering a prayer to the victims of war, both Israeli and Palestinian, in the Middle East.
Starting the session
Panto dove into the session by stating he would not try to remove Sultana’s revised resolution from the agenda, but indicated he would vote against it.
Councilman Roger Ruggles took time to address comments from Sultana at the last council meeting that suggested if he was not aware of public affairs, he should not serve in government.
“I believe that city council has no place entertaining a foreign policy of this matter of this nature. This is not city business.”Easton Councilman Ken Brown, reading a letter he received
Ruggles listed numerous philanthropic endeavors in which he has been involved over the years, both within and outside his position in office, and across the world. Those included missions to supply clean drinking water, shelter, medical facilities, and improved sanitary conditions in various countries.
“I feel that Mrs. Sultana’s attack on me was irresponsible, along with other irresponsible statements that she made at our last city council meeting," Ruggles said.
"Your irresponsible statements are hurtful, and result in throwing fuel on the fire of hate in our community."
Panto also called out Sultana for not sitting in on several committees which she chairs, and Sultana responded that she serves as a liaison and not a voting member.
Councilman Ken Brown, reading a letter he had received, said, “I believe that city council has no place entertaining a foreign policy of this matter of this nature. This is not city business.”
'No one is for war'
Sultana remarked Hamas is not representative of Palestine, and that the focus of her resolution was civilians on both sides of the war, including Israelis.
Once public comment began, Panto warned the crowd to respect decorum, noting “not one person up here is for killing children, not one person is for killing unarmed civilians.”
“That’s not what we’re about, and no one has ever attacked the Palestinians," Panto said. "We’ve attacked Hamas. All of us on this side of the room have talked about Hamas. The resolution never once mentions Hamas.
“No one is for war, no one, unless you’re stupid or insane."Easton Mayor Sal Panto
“No one is for war, no one, unless you’re stupid or insane,” Panto said.
Sultana responded, “Let’s call for a cease-fire, then.”
Councilman David O’Connell said he would not support the resolution, noting Easton City Council does not engage in foreign affairs.
“I believe the best thing you can do is contact your legislator’s office directly so that they hear from individuals and not city council” to those who wished to convey their wish for a cease-fire to higher levels of government, he said.
O’Connell said Israel maintains a right to defend itself, and that Hamas is a terrorist organization.
“Our only focus should be taking care of the city of Easton," he said, and solving the Israel-Hamas war is “not up to us.”
Sultana said the resolution was not a method to create policy, but solicitor Joel Scheer countered that the resolution essentially becomes a rule of sorts, and that it represents the sentiments of the entire city.
“As far as what you're doing, you’re not voicing your own opinions, you’re acting as representatives for the city," Scheer said.
"And I would just suggest that if you act as representatives, you should have a good feel for how everybody in your community feels — if you think it’s even appropriate. That’s what you were elected for."
Public shows strong cease-fire support
Numerous people stepped up to participate in public comment, with the bulk expressing support for Sultana’s resolution as a call-out from their municipality to the higher levels of government, and to show support for the victims of the war — both Palestinian and Israeli, with the common bond being they're all civilians.
“None of us here are supporting terrorism. What we’re asking for is humanity,”Lafayette College student Yaseen Saleh
Lafayette College student Yaseen Saleh told council, “None of us here are supporting terrorism. What we’re asking for is humanity,” and called on the board to support the message behind the resolution.
“I’m not asking you to send missiles or to stop the war all in all," Salah said. "But every step of the way is important.
"When I stand before a group and I call them to collective humanity, I’m reminded of something — nobody will recognize the struggle until we get voices behind it."
Later, Salah added, “any voice that stands up here today to speak for no more lives lost is a voice who has a deep humanity in their hearts, that doesn’t want to see another go.”
Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley Director of Campaign and Security Planning Aaron Gorodzinsky took the podium to say the resolution had no place in city council.
“The resolution to be presented today means absolutely nothing at the city level because the city of Easton has no foreign policy," Gorodzinsky said. "This belongs at [U.S. Rep.] Susan Wild’s desk, it belongs at [U.S. Sen. John] Fetterman’s desk.
"Regardless of the feelings of whether the thing is going to work or not, the feeling continues to be the same — we're wasting an hour and a half of the council's time on a resolution that does not belong on city council.”
'It doesn't feel right'
Sultana responded by saying municipal governments routinely work alongside their state and federal counterparts.
“We are actually related," Sultana said. "It’s not a different department, it’s a different position, but it’s all one government.”
Gazal Jabir of Allentown called upon the board to consider the impact of the war on civilian lives, and to understand “the best change can originate from a smaller community,” which could in turn spur upper levels of government into action.
“I want to end by saying that we're not just here for a Palestinian mother or child or father, we're here for ourselves," Jabir said. "We are here because our humanity and our collective conscience is begging to be heard.
"We are recognizing that internal voice that is saying, ‘This doesn't feel right.’”
Further calls for a broader understanding of community were echoed throughout comments. Ari Ismail of Easton said, “I understand that we have to focus on Easton, and part of that is by being involved in something so much bigger.”
Allentown resident Robert Wax asked the board to consider joint operations between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which he claimed paid out rewards for those who killed Israeli civilians.
In comparison, Wax said, “How does the Israeli Defense Force respond to this? The IDF is the most cautious, is more cautious about mitigating civilian casualties than any other military.”
That drew laughter from the audience.
'Folk fight the same thing here'
Bethlehem resident Raya Abdelaal said her family conducts business in Easton, including a cousin who runs a warehouse. Abdelaal said her family had encouraged fellow family to come to Easton.
Now, Abdelaal said, she could only imagine their reaction to city council members rejecting a cease-fire resolution.
“And I just want to address the entire room right here, to the folks that came out in opposition of the cease-fire," she said. "The cease-fire doesn't only help the Palestinians, it helps the hostages, too.
“Jewish folk and Muslim folk fight the same thing here. We fight the same racism. But when it comes to this, Israelis killing children every single minute.”Bethlehem resident Raya Abdelaal
"How are folks supposed to get out safely if Israel is bombing them again, and again, and again?” Abdelaal said.
She said propaganda against Palestinians could lead to further division, as propaganda had been a motivating factor in the Holocaust.
“Jewish folk and Muslim folk fight the same thing here," she said. "We fight the same racism. But when it comes to this, Israelis are killing children every single minute.”
She called on the council to speak with local Palestinians about their heritage and history.
An-Nisa Nuqtadir of Easton raised concerns about Panto requesting changes to Sultana’s resolution before standing against it yet again.
“So your excuse for not wanting to pass a resolution is destructive and complete cowardice," Nuqtadir said to Panto, referencing a trip he made to Israel 11 years ago.
"If you believe that this was too much for the council to handle, you should have thought of that when you entered the settler state of Israel to visit the genocidal dictator that is Benjamin Netanyahu in 2012, when the occupation of Palestine was in its 64th year.
“Surely you knew then that you were on occupied land, going there to learn from him? And yet you stand here saying that this is not for you to discuss the cease-fire.
"Richmond City Council passed a resolution. It seems odd that you don't believe you or any of your city council members have any power. That would insinuate that your position is pointless beyond gentrification of the city.”
'There's nothing that is against Hamas'
Howard Nathanson, an Easton resident and member of Congregation Bnai Shalom, expressed his support for a two-state solution in the war, adding he found no joy in the death of anyone — civilian, enemy or otherwise.
Thus, Nathanson said, he supported Sultana’s effort — even if it strayed outside the council’s purview.
"I agree that it's not the business of the city, and it's not something that council can amend. But if it's a simple straightforward resolution, I would support that.”Easton resident Howard Nathanson
“I thank you for amending it, because I had issues with what it was originally,” Nathanson said. “I see no reason why we can't say, ‘Let's have a cease-fire.’ I agree.
"I agree that it's not the business of the city, and it's not something that council can amend. But if it's a simple straightforward resolution, I would support that.”
Other speakers shared their thoughts on the state of Israel and Palestinian territories, commenting on the atrocities of the war and its effects on civilians.
Panto rounded out public comment by defending his opposition to the cease-fire resolution.
“The reason why I'm against this resolution is, I think people made a lot of good points, and may have almost convinced me," he said." But I'm still very upset that there's nothing that is against Hamas.
"I'm very upset that it's on our agenda because it has nothing to do with any rights of any residents in the city of Easton. I'm also upset that this doesn't mention anything about Ukraine or any of the other 26 atrocities that are taking place throughout the world.
"I'm upset that it's divisive in our community.”
'A call for peace and unity'
Sultana promised the resolution would reappear at the next meeting, though Panto contested the notion, pointing out he has control to approve the agenda.
“I don’t know why it would come back,” he said.
Toward the end of the evening, Sultana made a final plea for council to reconsider their stance for the next session.
“I would say siding one side or the other side is divisive. But calling for a ceasefire is a call for peace and unity.Easton Councilwoman Taiba Sultana
“I would say siding one side or the other side is divisive," Sultana said. "But calling for a cease-fire is a call for peace and unity.
“As almost every council member has shown the interest of calling for cease-fire, I think documenting it and calling for Congresswoman Susan Wild should not be an issue.
"The conflict actually is leading to a humanitarian crisis with civilians suffering the most. We have Palestinian Americans in the Lehigh Valley whose families are not only trapped in Gaza, but they are losing their families.”
Easton City Council meets next at 6 p.m. Nov. 22 at City Hall.