February 26, 2024

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Public Commenters (18 min)
Robin Beth Schaer  Benjamin Bilgen  Kamar Taweel  Tanmay Shah  Bayan Taweel 

Robin Beth Schaer

For four months we've asked you to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, and for four months you've refused. Our desperate pleas for intervention bear a chilling resemblance to appeals to American leaders to intercede during the Holocaust. Members of my own family perished in Auschwitz because American politicians like yourselves would not act. The pleas went ignored by politicians then just as you are ignoring them now. The difference being our government is not only disregarding a population's destruction, but actively funding its execution.

What was needed then just as now is a moral response, not just a political one. In a statement on January 29th, Council President declared the council would not release a one-sided ceasefire resolution, and that both communities should reach an agreement together. Who are these two communities, these two sides? Jews have been here week after week and stand in solidarity with our Palestinian neighbors. We put our names on the resolution drafts you've received. If there is another side it is not Jews, but Zionists. We are not one and the same. Jews are an ancient and diverse people, while Zionism is a political ideology. Why must we wait on the permission of Zionists to save Gaza when it is precisely their ideology that fuels this destruction? By requiring the consent of Zionist leaders, City Council has knowingly made an impossible task a required condition.

This is not a neighborhood disagreement over the use of a vacant lot. Insisting on agreement from Zionists on a ceasefire resolution validates an inhumane ideology and puts the survival of Palestinians precisely in the hands of people who seek their eradication. You are democratically elected leaders in a country that promises equal rights to all, so why are you still standing by a right-wing government that oppresses millions under apartheid and continues to violently displace its indigenous population? How does this align with your American values? The ongoing genocide in Gaza should not require input from both sides. To the contrary, our leaders need to make decisions based on moral clarity. If we must speak of two sides, then think simply of right and wrong, just and unjust. If you, our leaders, can dismiss the devastation in Gaza despite clear evidence of human rights violations and indiscriminate violence and horrific death toll over 30,000, then how can we ever trust your morality and your ability to lead and protect us here in Cleveland?

3:14 Permalink

Benjamin Bilgen

Good evening, Council, my name is Benjamin and I'm speaking as a Jewish American asking you to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza. I want to start off by telling you why I think your voice on this issue matters. Even though our national government continues to block all calls for a ceasefire, the tides are turning. Over 70 cities across the country have already passed a ceasefire resolution, and our collective cry for justice is only getting louder. Yesterday that cry for justice was heard around the world from the streets of DC where an active duty service member of the Air Force, Aaron Bushnell, may he rest in power, set himself on fire in protest to the US-sponsored genocide in Gaza.

We often hear this idea that local city councils have no business weighing in on a conflict taking place thousands of miles away, but I'm here to tell you that like it or not, you play an extremely important role in either halting the progress or building the momentum towards a US-backed ceasefire, so your voice matters. So I ask you to acknowledge and think deeply about your authority and your responsibility here. Hundreds of thousands of lives depend on your action and just as equally on your inaction. My hope for you is that you find the courage to join Aaron Bushnell in saying what were some of his final words, 'I will no longer be complicit in genocide.'

Next I want to tell you why my voice and the voices of my Jewish and Palestinian friends matter. I understand that the Jewish Federation of Cleveland sent you a letter urging you against calling for a ceasefire. They say they sent the letter because they thought Jewish perspectives were missing from the discussion. Well, my Jewish friends and I are here today to give you some of that perspective. As anti-Zionist Jews, we reject the conflation of Jewish identity with Zionism we believe that Jewish identity is infinitely richer than its modern iteration and Zionism. Our understanding of what it means to be Jewish is informed by much more ancient sources, by the Jewish prophetic tradition, by those who rejected empty nationalisms in favor of speaking truth to power, like the prophet Micah, who said, 'Hear this you rulers of Israel who despise justice and distort all that is right, who build Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with wickedness.'

We reject the twisted logic of the Jewish Federation, which claims that the murder of 30,000 Palestinians, including 10,000 children, is actually an attempt to liberate the Palestinian people from Hamas. We say that Israel's genocidal campaign can never keep Jews or Palestinians safe, it can only condemn us all to repeat an endless cycle of trauma, violence, and death. We will not allow the Jewish Federation or Israel or anyone else declare a monopoly over what it means to be Jewish. Our rejection of Zionism and Israel's genocidal project is not a rejection of our Jewish identity, but rather its most abundant expression.

President Griffin, you told us that you would not table a ceasefire resolution until the Jewish and Palestinian communities came together and agreed on a resolution. Well, here we are, my Jewish and Palestinian brothers and sisters speaking as one voice asking you to call for an immediate ceasefire for the sake of all of us. Thank you.

3:04 Permalink

Kamar Taweel

There are three things I want to educate you today. We have been coming here for weeks after weeks, and it still isn't going through your head. The first thing I would like to talk to you about is a definition, the term 'Semite'. Do you know what it truly means? It encompasses a mosaic of peoples, including Palestinians who speak Semitic languages, so when you brand us as anti-semitic for daring to advocate for Gaza, you're not just missing the point you're erasing our very existence. We are Semites too. We are fighting for our people, our heritage, our right to exist without fear or oppression. Do you know what gauze is, you know, like the medical thing, the medical woven cloth. Do you know where it comes from? It comes from the word 'gazat', because Gazans have been skilled weavers for centuries. It makes me wonder how many of our wounds have been dressed because of them, and how many of their wounds have been left open because of us.

The second thing I want to educate you all on today is a more current topic about our dear city Council President, President Griffin. There's a picture that has been circulating the internet. It consists of a man named Alec Popivker. If you don't know who he is, he was the one the man that was banned from campuses like Case Western Reserve University, John Carroll University, and Cleveland State University. Do any of you know why? Because of harassment, because of assault, and because of theft. Did you know that he has been arrested multiple times at protests and in general, especially on those campuses, for harassment and hate speech, and that is who is in the photo with President Griffin. That is who President Griffin is advocating with. Not the innocent lives of civilians wanting a chance to live, no, but with the belief that it's okay to terrorize women, murder children, and laugh upon their graves.

The third thing that I want to speak to you about is that this isn't a war between religions. It's not about Muslims versus Jews, as we've proved to you over and over and over that the Jewish population stand with Palestine. This is a genocide. This is an ethnical cleansing. When will enough be enough? Palestine is not only a Muslim, brown, or indigenous cause, it's a humanitarian cause, it's about common humanity between all people regardless of race, religion, identity, political opinion, gender, even age. You just have to feel human.

The other day I was scrolling on social media, you know, as one does on their free time, and what I saw was so saddening. I saw IDF soldiers dancing, scroll, IDF soldiers singing, scroll, IDF soldiers making fun of the children and the people that they have murdered. Next post, a Palestinian girl hanging off a wall. A child, a 12-year-old girl was hanging off the wall, pinned to the wall with all her limbs cut off. The next photo, the next video, the same IDF soldiers laughing at that girl, making fun of her. Some of you sitting in front of me approached a couple of us and asked if there's anything we can do. We spoke, we requested to pass the resolution, or at least discuss it, and someone did speak up about it. It wasn't someone that approached us, but she was enough to stand up. We asked to pass a resolution, and you looked me dead in the eyes, and said 'all we could do is pray'. You know who you are. For someone who came to me and said that we have sympathy, we don't want your sympathy, we- [mic goes out]

3:10 Permalink

Tanmay Shah

My name is Tanmay Shah, and the Rabbi Miriam will be speaking with me.

[Other Commenter]: My name is Rabbi Miriam-

[Griffin]: Excuse me, me the rules have that only one person at a time, so if the person who was speaking-

[Other Commenter]: I live in Ward 14 and I am-

[mic goes out]

[Griffin]: - honored- Ma'am you have not registered, the mic is for Tanmay Shah. If we could, could you please, the person that is registered, Mr. Tanmay Shah, thank you. Mr. Tanmay Shah, you have the mic.

[Commenter]: You're really scared of a rabbi speaking, huh?

[audience applause]

I'm honored to stand next to Rabbi Miriam Geronimus who lives in Ward 14 to express our grief for everyone who was killed on or after October 7th, Palestinians and Israelis, Jews, Muslims, Bedoins, Christians, and others, and also Aaron Bushnell who martyred himself in solidarity yesterday.

In Jewish tradition Mourners Kaddish is recited in honor of those no longer with us. This prayer is in Aramaic, an ancient language going back to the 11th century BCE, a language that predates and is related to both Hebrew and Arabic, a language that was once spoken by everyone in the Middle East, connecting everyone in the region, a language that according to the Talmud was spoken by Adam, the first human, thus connecting all of humanity. Kaddish is one of the oldest Jewish prayers. It has held Jewish grief for millennia. Traditionally it has been recited by family members of the deceased, but since the Holocaust, it has also become a vessel for collective grief that cannot be contained, a way to honor those who have no surviving family members to say Kaddish for them. In that spirit, Rabbi Miriam has planned to recite kaddish for everyone in Israel, Palestine, who has left this realm before their time. City Council has not allowed her to do that. Blaine Griffin has not allowed her to do that. Nonetheless, I invite every Jew in this room to stand to express grief to honor all of the dead, to stand in solidarity with our Palestinian siblings, and to insist as the kaddish does, that there will be a better tomorrow, that peace will prevail.

The loss is massive and we could not possibly name even a fraction of those killed in the time allotted. In place of Kaddish, I will name as many Palestinian martyrs as possible.

[Commenter begins reading names of Palestinian martyrs; other commenter begins speaking haddish]

[Griffin]: Time. Time. Time. [commenters keep speaking] [Griffin]: Time. Thank you. I'm going to ask one more time. Your time is up. Thank you. Thank you, sir, your time is up.

3:38 Permalink

Bayan Taweel

Bismillah. Happy Black History Month. I have decided to stand before you during Black History Month to shed light on the interconnected struggles faced by African-Americans and Palestinians. Those separated by geography, our shared aspirations for freedom, equality, and justice bind us together in a common struggle. We actually have a lot in common. You want freedom and you got it. We also want freedom, but you won't help us get it. Both Palestinians and black people have faced historical and ongoing struggles for equality and justice, and we will resist and fight for our freedom and justice.

In the pages of history, we find the stories of heroes like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X, who bravely stood against injustice and oppression. Their courage and determination inspire us to this day, reminding us that the fight for justice knows no age limit. Did it come easy for them? No. They are labeled as animals, disruptive humans because they stood up for their rights just like us, us as in Palestinians, us as in advocates for humanity.

We have come before this Council to plead for a ceasefire, to urge you to listen to our voices and take action for peace. For months now yet, our calls have too often fallen on deaf ears, drowned out by distractions, inaction, despite our best efforts to follow the rules and patiently await our turn to speak. Our pleas have been met with indifference. We see how you're all on your phones, or yawning or laughing at us. You were too busy not listening to us, too busy to even pay the slightest attention. We are the people you should be representing and helping. We are here to make clear that we are not stopping. President Griffin, you can call us disruptive but at least now we have your attention. At least now that shows we are following the footsteps of the great heroes that made Black History Month even possible. Just as the Civil Rights Movement inspired people worldwide to stand up against injustice, so too does the Palestinian struggle resonate with those fighting for their rights and dignity. In the words of Martin Luther King, we need leaders not in love with money, but in love with justice, not in love with publicity but in love with humanity. Did you hear me? We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice, not in love with publicity, but in love with humanity.

I implore you, President Griffin, Mayor Bibb, and the members of City Council to heed these words and stay on the right side of history. What will it take for a ceasefire to be realized? What will it take for us to recognize the humanity and dignity of the Palestinian people? The time for action is now we cannot afford to delay any longer. I am saddened to share with you with the distressing reality that the last time food was delivered on Gaza was on January 23rd, over a month ago. This dire situation underscores the urgent need for immediate intervention and humanitarian assistance. This ceasefire resolution is not a want, it's a necessity. So I will repeat, President Griffin, Mayor Bibb. members of the City Council, what will it take for a ceasefire? Pass the ceasefire resolution now. Free free Palestine.

3:01 Permalink