Divided Lebanon City Council takes first step toward passing Israel-Gaza cease fire resolution

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-24-2024 10:00 PM

Modified: 02-25-2024 9:32 PM


LEBANON — A divided City Council adopted a verbal resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, a return of all hostages and for the allowance of humanitarian aid to the region. An advisory board has been tasked with crafting a written resolution for the council to consider. 

On Wednesday, the City Council voted, 4-0, with three members abstaining, to direct the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, a city advisory board, to draft a resolution calling for an immediate and permanent end to the current armed conflict between Israel and Hamas forces — which has resulted in the deaths of over 1,200 Israelis and over 29,000 Palestinians, and 1.7 million people being displaced since the conflict began on Oct. 7, according to the United Nations.

The split between councilors was specifically over a citizen-sponsored cease-fire resolution, which was submitted to the council by members of Upper Valley for Palestine, a coalition group that supports “a Palestine liberation,” including for Israel’s withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territories.

The resolution, which the council considered on Wednesday, called for an immediate and permanent cease-fire, a release of all hostages, a denouncement of anti-Palestinian racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism and for the U.S. to divert military funding going to Israel to instead help Palestinians rebuild their homes and infrastructure that has been destroyed during the conflict.

Rachel Kent, a Lebanon resident who co-sponsored the resolution, said that more support from city and state leaders for a cease-fire could put more pressure on Congress to seek action.

“This, right here … right now, is the fundamental function of our democracy,” Kent said on Wednesday. “It is incumbent upon us to appeal to every measure of democracy at our disposal, municipal government included, to make our voices heard.”

Kent said a petition in support of the resolution received 247 signatures, 77 of which were from Lebanon residents.

Over 30 members of the public weighed in on the proposed resolution, including Dartmouth College students who do not reside in Lebanon.

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Proponents of the resolution pointed to the urgency of a cease-fire, particularly as the Israeli military prepares an assault on the city of Rafah, where more than 1 million displaced Palestinians in Gaza are currently seeking shelter.

What Israel is doing “is not what my religion says,” said Jordan Narrol, a Dartmouth student who is Jewish. “They are bombing indiscriminately, and they’re not taking peace negotiations seriously. What is happening is just wrong.”

But others in attendance called the resolution biased, including its call for the U.S. government to “cease all funding and arming of Israel as a consequence of its government’s well-documented crimes against humanity.”

“This resolution ignores the slaughter, murder and rape of the Oct. 7 massacre (launched by Hamas),” said Ben Spiro, of Lebanon. “This resolution ignores that there was a cease-fire on Oct. 6 that was broken by the genocidal Hamas terrorist group.”

Lebanon resident Richard Abel, a former state representative, said that the document seemed to express vitriol toward Israel and that many Jewish residents of the Upper Valley may perceive it as an attack upon them.

“If this resolution goes through as it’s worded now, it’s only going to increase divisiveness in the community,” Abel said.

Councilor Douglas Whittlesey expressed similar concerns about the resolution, saying that it seemed to place the blame for the ongoing conflict primarily on Israel.

“Not to absolve Israel of its part in this or what it has done, but the attacks were initiated by Hamas,” Whittlesey said.

Councilor Devin Wilkie, who supported the resolution, suggested that the council vote to support the resolution’s broadest goals — a cease-fire, a return of hostages and to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza — and task the DEI Committee, on which he serves, to draft a resolution that would be supported by a majority of councilors.

Wilkie, Assistant Mayor Clif Below and Councilors George Sykes and Erling Heistad voted in favor of that proposal.

Councilors Whittlesey, Karen Liot Hill and Chris Simon abstained.

Mayor Tim McNamara and Councilor Karen Zook did not attend the meeting.

Liot Hill, who is running as a Democrat for the District 2 seat on the state Executive Council, said that she felt the council needed to give this resolution more time and consideration, not just due to the sensitivity of the issue for members of the community but because global conflicts are not the council’s normal subject matter.

“It is unprecedented for the council to weigh in on a foreign policy matter like this, and I think it’s something that we need to take more time to consider,” Liot Hill said in a phone interview.

Liot Hill was the first to recommend sending the resolution to the DEI Committee for discussion, noting that the council typically uses its advisory boards for such purposes.

Kent said in a phone interview on Friday that the council’s vote was “a great first step” and that she looks forward to working with the DEI Committee to secure the council’s passage of a full resolution.

Lebanon is the first New Hampshire city to vote on any kind of a cease-fire resolution, even in abbreviated form, though city councils in Manchester, Portsmouth and Durham are currently considering resolutions, Kent said.

Patrick Adrian may be   reached at padrian@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.