February 05, 2024

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Public Commenters (30 min)
Lois Skinner-Arnold  Kamal Alkiyali  Elana Ross  Omar Kurdi  Rabbi Miriam Geronimus  Khalid Hamdallah  Basma Hamid  Riley Petro  Chance Zurub  Alaa Muhammad 

Lois Skinner-Arnold

Good evening, everyone. Please bear with me, I don't know what I'm doing.

I'm here to speak for the homeless. I'm a nonprofit 501c3 and I came down here looking for funding. I didn't come to speak before y'all, I just wanted help, but here I am. God has a plan.

I'm 71 years old, I started this Outreach in 2017, and we've been working on donations, so I guess this is my time to step out on faith. So I'm here asking all y'all to help me with funding. That's all I want. I don't know how to go about to do it, all I know, they say if you don't ask you never know. And I just want to thank y'all. Thank y'all for hearing me out. I don't have a lot to say, and that's my word for this evening. God bless. Thank you.

0:59 Permalink

Kamal Alkiyali

As-salamu alaikum. Today as we speak on the first Monday in Black History Month, it is imperative to mention how we look to our past and present and see a long line of African and African-American liberationists. They fought to tear down systems of oppression from the inside out and resisted because they would not remain complicit when injustice was committed on them and their community.

And today, as we are here, it is impossible to talk about Palestinian liberation without mentioning the undeniable interconnectedness of Black liberation. We share the same brutal policing tactics, the same manipulation by media, the same white colonialism, and our culture has been stolen in the same way. But also, we share that connected strength to make sure our identities will never die, despite everything that has been taken from us. And as we are here today, Cleveland is a testament to this resilience, with the heart and soul of our city pulsing through our black and brown communities. Yet it is with disgust that the very individuals who should stand with us in solidarity, our brothers and sisters from minority communities who are in front of me today, are actually the ones who have repressed and opposed us. It is clear to us you have all bent down to Zionism and allowed systematic racism and genocide to succeed in the name of the status quo. It is evident to us that while American politicians have different complexions than in the past, the motive will stay the same if Zionism continues to have a foothold in America.

So help me understand how this issue is irrelevant to Cleveland but it's relevant to Chicago, it's relevant to Minnesota, and it's relevant to San Francisco. These cities are all bigger than Cleveland, yet have passed ceasefire resolutions. Is it because 30,000 is not enough? Is it because we are not white but Palestinian instead, so do you not see the hypocrisy of not a single one of you reading the ceasefire resolution? Do you not see us as constituents because we are Palestinian? Do you not consider the Jews who protest and stand with us as real Jews? Do you not see how the Jewish Federation is so far up Blaine Griffin's ass, that he has supported the killing of Palestinians, because that is exactly what it means to intentionally undermine a ceasefire resolution?

The reality is, we live in the country that is responsible for the most death and destruction in modern history, and you are all willfully ignorant in recognizing this genocide exists only because of local and national American influence. So because of your intentional ignorance, we are cleaning your house. We will not stand by until your terms conclude. Instead we will decisively remove you from your positions one by one as we see fit. Thank you for showing us all that while this country might have grown old, it has never grown up, and your Zionist alliance has exposed local government corruption that affects us all on daily basis.

Council, you have brought shame to our city, so it is time to forcefully remind you who you serve. My name is Kamal Alkayali and I am from the Palestinian Hamas community, in the words of a racist, soon to be jobless man who sits in front of me, Michael Polensek.

2:57 Permalink

Elana Ross

My name is Elana and I am a Jewish person who grew up in and recently moved back to Cleveland. I am here tonight to remind you that there are masses of Jewish people around the world, including many in this room and throughout Cleveland, who unwaveringly support a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

Frankly, I shouldn't have to convince you. You've already heard countless members of Cleveland's Palestinian community begging you to see their humanity and urging you week after week to pass a ceasefire resolution. I find it shameful that you still need to hear more from what Council President Griffin has called 'the other side', especially when this other side Griffin refers to is the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.

My community is not a monolith, yet the Federation has made declarations opposing a ceasefire resolution on behalf of my entire community. The Federation statements do not represent the diversity of beliefs in the Cleveland Jewish community, and I am here to reemphasize that. I know there may be individuals who say that voicing my support for Palestine and a ceasefire is abandoning or harming my community, but these assertions are far from the truth. Anti-semites harm the Jewish community, and as a reminder for Councilman Polensek, it is not anti-semitic to desire freedom and justice for the Palestinian people. One of Judaism's core values is 'tzedek, tzedek, tirdof', or 'justice, justice you shall pursue'.

Pursuing justice in this case means recognizing that what is happening in Gaza is not a war of self-defense as the Federation has claimed. It is an exceedingly dire humanitarian crisis, one that hundreds of international law experts, conflict studies professors, and Holocaust scholars have deemed a genocide, a genocide that Israel has created and continues to escalate daily.

Judaism has also taught me that every person was made in the image of God, B'tselem Elohim, and that to save one life is to save the entire world. As council members, you have the opportunity to join a global effort to save millions of entire worlds. It seems that you believe calling for a ceasefire may anger or alienate some members of my community, but I am here as a member of the Jewish Community to underscore how much your inaction has alienated and angered me. I'm asking you to do something you think is difficult, even if you're scared or worried about backlash, because I can only assume you didn't run for City Council expecting to avoid difficulty, fear, and backlash. I know that deep in your bones you are aware that the devastation in Gaza is catastrophic and unacceptable. Someday you will look back on this moment and have to live with what you did as a member of this body.

Join me tonight in pursuing justice for your Jewish constituents and your Palestinian constituents who have showed up here weekly, and for all those who care about human rights. I am asking you to follow in the footsteps of the St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Chicago city councils and pass a ceasefire resolution. Thank you.

2:52 Permalink

Omar Kurdi

Hello. My name is Omar Kurdi, and I was here last on this podium on October 16th, 2023. The death toll in Gaza was at 11,000. Today it's at nearly 30,000. Today, and just like the last time I spoke to you, all I condemned violence against all and stand with humanity, and still demand official measures to combat hate against all in Cleveland, including the rising anti-Arab and Islamophobic attacks here in our city.

I'm here to direct my comments to you, Council President. I met privately with you, I broke bread with you, I explained to you that a resolution is only a recognition of our community's pain and grief. We never asked for more. It is silly to think that we expect you all to have magical keys to solve this issue and end this 75-year-old occupation. What we want is a resolution that recognizes our community's pain and acknowledges the Palestinian community equally, just like most of you did with the Israeli community earlier on when you issued statements or signed letters.

You chose to ignore us, you chose to paint us as violent and disruptive, you chose to ignore 80-plus organizations and 1900-plus signatures. Some of your members showed their true colors making racist remarks towards us, and for what? The rhetoric that we need to direct our energy towards Washington DC is an attempt to gaslight our community. Our connection to federal officials goes through our local politicians. Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Seattle, Oakland, Dearborn, Minneapolis, Albany, Providence, St Louis, and San Francisco passed resolutions. In Ohio, Akron and Dayton passed resolutions. What makes Cleveland different? You had a resolution ready with the consensus language needed, yet you said no. You keep asking us to work across communities, like we aren't here in numbers across many communities every single Monday. This symbolic resolution will put us as Cleveland on the national map, as a city that is open, respectful, and aware of its communities. But instead of working with us, you have worked against us, and today you are in the national map and trending worldwide, but for refusing to pass a ceasefire resolution.

Arab-Americans own businesses in Cleveland. They live and work in Cleveland, and are an important component in the fabric of the city. We are community members, students, professionals, mothers, fathers, and we are voters. I am disappointed, but my work did not start on October 16th, nor is it going to end today. Our next meeting will be at the election polls where no seat is safe. After 122 days of ongoing genocide in Gaza, the gut-wrenching reality is, that ceasefire resolution or not, you do not stand with humanity.

2:50 Permalink

Rabbi Miriam Geronimus

I want to thank Jenna for inviting me to speak in her place. My name is Rabbi Miriam Geronimus. I live in Tremont, in Ward 14, and I'm a Rabbi for Ceasefire. I'm also the founding Rabbi of Cleveland Jewish Collective, a Jewish community that just today took a public stand for ceasefire. You can read our statement on our website and social media.

Since mid- October I have been organizing with Rabbis for Ceasefire, a group of 272 rabbis from across North America, Europe, and Israel. Our numbers continue to grow as we raise our voices with greater and greater urgency, horrified by the tremendous loss of life in Gaza. Jewish tradition teaches that all life is sacred and that our greatest obligations are saving a life and preserving human dignity. Acting on these obligations, we have gone to Washington DC and New York City to urge President Biden to end this violence. Now it is time for me to join with those organizing here in Cleveland. I want to thank the Palestinians, Jews, and allies who have been turning out week after week to this chamber. I also want to thank councilwoman Rebecca Maurer for her bravery last week calling for a ceasefire. I know how scary it can be as a Jew and as a leader to speak up in this moment, to resist narratives of what it means to be Jewish, and what it means to care for Jewish safety.

I became a rabbi because of my deep care for the Jewish people and my deep care for humanity. Some would tell you that as a rabbi I must put the Jewish people first, that I cannot care for both Jews and Palestinians. I know in my bones that is false. My safety does not and cannot come at the expense of another people's safety. The violence currently happening in Gaza only perpetuates and deepens cycles of violence that have been happening for decades. These cycles of violence endanger everyone in the region, Palestinians and Israelis. We must deescalate and interrupt the cycle if there is ever to be peace. If there is ever to be safety for anyone, we must begin with a permanent ceasefire followed by diplomacy toward a just and lasting peace.

Council members, I urge you to resist the false narrative that pits Jewish and Israeli safety against Palestinian safety. Resist the false narrative that says you must pick a side and that to call for ceasefire is to care only about Palestinians. Pass the ceasefire resolution. Choose life.

2:50 Permalink

Khalid Hamdallah

As-salamu alaikum. While many of my peers found Council President Griffin's comments last week to be disappointing, I actually found them quite refreshing. While many were shocked that a community leader would take such a neutral position during a genocide, I was appreciative that the hypocrisy and carelessness was laid bare to witness. Referring to this as an ancient conflict perfectly encapsulates the willful ignorance and enforces the idea that members have been fed talking points by their donors.

This conflict is not ancient. Quite the contrary. Jews Muslims and Christians have lived harmoniously in Palestine for centuries. It wasn't until a sick Zionist ideology based on racial superiority infiltrated our lands and allowed the international community to begin conflating the issue. When you claim that you've met with community leaders on both sides, you mean that you've met with the Federation and that those that disagree with them, because I can assure you that they don't speak for all Jews. As you've just seen, as we have demonstrated by filling these halls week after week with hundreds of our Jewish brothers and sisters who speak loudly for a ceasefire and proclaim that this genocide cannot and will not be carried out in their name. Your misdirection disguised as a genuine attempt at harmony is nothing more than a deflection aimed at getting us to do your job for you, and we will not accept that. But I'll be honest. I'm not waiting on a ceasefire from you. Do I believe that Benjamin Netanyahu and his insanely racist fascist government is waiting on Cleveland City Council to speak on this issue? Absolutely not, and the people of Gaza sure aren't waiting on you either. This was a chance for you to show your community members that you care, and you failed that test time and time again, week after week, and if you want to focus on issues that directly affect Cleveland and its residents, then we can have some tough conversations about divestment from the entity that is Israel and reinvesting in our communities and our own people.

We spend millions every year as a local and state government in an attempt to highlight the beautiful relationship we share with them. I'd love to talk about the paid trips to Israel or the lobby's influence and contributions to your political campaigns, but in a week that DC is voting on a$7 billion aid package, I'm not sure you're prepared for those conversations. Instead we can talk about a certain council member's racist voicemail that he left for a constituent last week. In his unhinged tirade, he referred to the body of people that fill your halls every week as the 'Palestinian Hamas community', a gross misrepresentation of passionate people who simply don't want to see their fellow human beings slaughtered with impunity. These comments disgust me. They make me sick to my stomach as an American. Who has appointed the Jewish Federation the representative of all Jews in this country anyway? Is it their financial contributions that have earned them that position? The only anti-Semitism that we've seen in these halls has been from people like you dismissing certain Jews simply because they don't align with the lobby. You claim to want a condemnation of a government that terrorizes discriminates and kills innocent people, then I eagerly await your condemnation of the Israeli government. Thank you.

3:07 Permalink

Basma Hamid

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for having me. First I would like to say hats off and thank you to councilwomen Rebecca Maurer and Jenny Spencer, as well as the 70 US cities that stood for peace and humanity and called for a ceasefire in Gaza. This shows our presence and work here is not going unnoticed,

As city council members, it is your job to represent all people in the community. Therefore, let's work together to be pro-human, pro-peace, and say it out loud and clear, demanding a ceasefire resolution in Gaza. We have a lot of work to do. This is just the beginning. And if our presence here makes some city council members disgusted, then pass the resolution and stop using our tax dollars to fund Israel's war crimes in Gaza and Palestine.

Councilman Michael Polensek said when we come here, we make him sick to his stomach and disgust him. Are you aware of how people in Gaza are living? For the past 4 months they have been living without running water, food, medicine, electricity, gas or heat. No functioning hospitals in Gaza. They have been under siege for weeks without medical supplies for any type of movement. Schools, mosques, churches, they all have been demolished and leveled to the ground. Life in Gaza is Hell. Israel keeps dropping bombs on people's homes day and night. They wake up looking for family members under the rubble. Pass a resolution and spare lives of innocent people murdered in cold blood in a genocide war funded by our tax dollars. I was raised at these rallies. Free Palestine been embedded in me and I will never stop to free Palestine. Palestine will be free from the river to the sea.

2:12 Permalink

Riley Petro

I'll be blunt. I'm here to call this Council out on the hypocrisy and dishonesty as demonstrated, and being unwilling to even consider voting on a ceasefire resolution.

Council President, you've said you did not want to alienate people with a one-sided resolution, yet you had no problems tweeting in October that you were praying for Israel yet, or signing the Jewish Federation of Cleveland's letter in public support of Israel, and despite your slander of saying that the people calling for a ceasefire resolution aren't from this city, you saw no problems with not only attending a pro-Israel rally in Beachwood, but also using our tax dollars to use Cleveland Police as security.

The truth is the only people you don't want to alienate are Zionists like Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, board member of the Cleveland Clinic, and one of your biggest donors, even giving you over $15,000 to help beat the People's Budget proposal. Palestinian lives don't matter to you because they aren't the ones lining your pockets.

I want to turn my attention to to Mr Mike Polensek, a man who's writing and not looking at us, a man who in his voicemail to one of his constituents said hate has no place here while in the same message, labeling an entire group of people terrorists by calling them the Palestinian Hamas community. In that voicemail and in an email he sent to me, he has labeled those of us calling for a ceasefire anti-Semitic, despite the fact that not only is our coalition multinational and inner faith, but the only Jewish voice on this Council is also the only one who has been brave enough to call for a ceasefire. It would seem however that Mr Polensek's accusations of anti-Semitism are a deflection. He would probably like us to forget about the unhinged email he sent about his now colleague, Councilwoman Maurer, when she was running for Council, claiming she was organizing a secret Kabal of extreme leftwing candidates to overthrow the city government.

Every accusation made at us, that we are racist, hateful, and anti-Semitic, is a confession. Despite all your attempts to silence and to slander us, all you have done is made us stronger. We have forged a community and have learned to recognize our collective power. We have found our collective voice and we will not be silenced. And through us you will hear the cries of Palestine and of those suffering in our own city and you will have no choice but to listen.

2:53 Permalink

Chance Zurub

My name is Chance. I am a member of the Palestinian youth movement. Today marks the 12th week that we have attended Cleveland City Council meetings. That is 3 months in total. We have asked Council to pass a ceasefire resolution for Palestinians and Cleveland and our families in Gaza undergoing a genocide.

As we have reached three months, this Monday is also the first to commemorate Black History Month. As someone who is both black and Palestinian, the connection of both Palestinian and black history are forever intertwined. This is why black leaders such as James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Kwame Ture, Huey Newton, understood the importance of a free Palestine from the river to the sea. This is also why Nelson Mandela, who was instrumental in ending apartheid in South Africa stated, 'our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinian people', and we see that ide a continue today in the International Court of Justice. So when our coalition says from Cleveland to Palestine, it isn't just a hollow statement, but it is a call for our collective liberation.

As community members, Palestinians, and Clevelanders, we understand that the same systems that prevent Black liberation here are the same systems that prevent Palestinian liberation in Palestine. We understand how violence is linked between both of our communities. You cannot fire 137 shots at someone and get away with it without the systematic dehumanization of black people, just as you cannot justify the genocide of Palestinians without their systematic dehumanization. The same racist ideology that allows Israel to target schools, hospitals, and refugee camps, is the same racist ideology that allows for the killing of black people in America like George Floyd, and in our own community, such as Tamir Rice. The same racism that categorizes black people in the United States as thugs is the same racism that seeks to justify violence toward the Palestinian community in Cleveland and Gaza. So, Blaine, at what point does our City Council hold other council members, such as Michael Polensek, accountable for justifying violence against the Cleveland Palestinian community when he promotes racist ideologies and frames us as the Palestinian Hamas community? I asked you in week seven and I'll ask you again, how big does this genocide need to be? What is your number of humans that need to be killed? How many more people do Clevelanders need to lose for you to grow a spine and introduce the resolution that's sitting on your desk? Just because you released a statement does not mean this is the end, so you might have heard that City Council, that the Palestinian people are currently exhausted, that we have given up on our struggle and that we have been defeated. But I will say to all of our comrades, do not believe them. There is no end to our struggle.

3:33 Permalink

Alaa Muhammad

My name is Alaa Muhammad. I'd like to start off by giving credit to one of the most influential people I had met in my life, Miss Vivian Walker. She was a counselor in my high school, and I was in many groups that she would lead, including peer mediation and Unity Club, and my senior year in high school, I had the honor with her of being the Northeast Ohio Diversity Champion.

These groups taught me essential life lessons on how to deescalate situations and how to combat hate, discrimination, racism, and stereotypes for all. Some of you could have used a Miss Walker in your life, seeing how for 12 weeks we've come here and faced hate, discrimination, and stereotypes. Things like saying you're afraid we put a bomb under your car, being sick of Palestinian Hamas community, and stereotypes like being too aggressive, scary, and violent.

Many of you are sick of hearing us week after week talk about how your silence has impacted us, but we are sick of living it. You hear it so much and so often because for years we've been integrated into this community. My family has had a business in ward 11 for the past 27 years in an area dubbed 'Little Arabia'. We've grown in the community and help the community grow. In just ward 11 you have multiple Arab grocery stores, barbers, dentists, lawyers, mechanics, teachers, and one of the largest mosques in Cleveland, just on 117th. From Bellaire all the way to Clifton, every single gas station is Arab or Muslim- owned. These are all taxpayers, people that provide money to help this city grow and flourish, money that should be helping our schools, fixing streets, building neighborhoods, health care, helping the homeless, not going to Israel to give them free access to education and aiding with military and weapons that murder the children of Palestine while our schools here at home can barely get textbooks.

Council President Blaine, you say we've only started showing up these last few months, and that's our bad, that's our mistake for having faith in our representatives to make the right decisions. It's also partly because we're so used to being ignored by our government, and you all have proven us right on that front. But best believe you will see us more often after what we've seen here. You keep saying this problem is ancient and you can't fix it, it's not. It's 75 years old, literally younger than this country's president. And also we're not asking you to fix it. You say you can't pick a side because you don't want the opposing side to start harassing you, but for 12 weeks Palestinians and allies alike have marched these streets, have filled these seats, asking for the simplest things, a call for a ceasefire.

Show support to the community that has tirelessly asked for your acknowledgement. In this time, I could count the people I've seen opposing us on these two hands. It was easy for Mayor Bibb to stand with Israel, with his pockets full of Israeli political money, but we have the votes, and we ask for the city to stand with us. Stand for justice. Stand for peace. We've come with facts, photos, and real life experiences. As Cornell West said, none of us alone can save the nation or the world, but each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to doing so. Thank you and free Palestine.

3:02 Permalink