Guest columnist Leyla Moushabeck: Amherst must back cease-fire for Gaza

FILE PHOTO

FILE PHOTO FILE PHOTO

By LEYLA MOUSHABECK

Published: 03-03-2024 1:48 PM

The Amherst Town Council is expected to discuss and possibly vote on a resolution in support of a cease-fire in Gaza at their meeting at 6:30 Monday at the Amherst Regional Middle School auditorium.

Councilors have been considering whether this is a locally relevant issue. I am a resident of Amherst, a Palestinian American, and parent to two Palestinian Colombian American children, and I am urging the council to vote “yes.”

Global issues are local concerns: The council demonstrated precedent for this when it endorsed a March 2022 resolution supporting the people of Ukraine: “It is the duty of citizens in every democracy to stand up for the cause of democracy and to stand against those who threaten the human and democratic rights of others.” The human rights of millions of adults and children in Gaza are under threat.

With U.S. backing, Israel has killed Palestinians and destroyed infrastructure at a rate higher than any conflict of the 21st century, and is under investigation for genocide in the world’s highest court. As party to the Genocide Convention, the U.S. is legally obligated to both stop and prevent acts of genocide, yet our government has instead chosen to increase military funding.

This gives Israel’s ultra-right-wing government the green light, while polling shows 66% of American voters are in favor of a cease-fire (80% of Democrats and even higher numbers of young and non-white voters). As our country’s highest officials ignore our will and obligations under the Genocide Convention, leadership must come from the local level, from towns like Amherst.

As Amherst elementary schools reckon with budget cuts of upward of $500,000 for next year, forcing us to make choices that will impact our most vulnerable students first, our government sends $3.8 billion of our tax dollars to Israel annually, 99.7% of which is unconditional military funding. As the Biden administration seeks to pass an aid package that includes over $14 billion more, this resolution is an opportunity to send a powerful message that we reject the way our leaders are choosing to spend our money.

Finally, it is the responsibility and in the best interests of the town to ensure the safety of its marginalized communities. The council must pass this resolution to firmly and publicly reject the systematic dehumanization that has made over 13,000 children like mine an acceptable cost of war.

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Councilors must support this resolution because that is what Amherst claims to stand for, and because dehumanization is never contained. In the last four months, we have seen a rise in fatal or life-threatening violence against Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims in progressive towns across America: a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy stabbed 26 times, along with his mother, in a town outside Chicago; a Palestinian American father stabbed near the UT Austin campus; three Palestinian American college kids shot in nearby Burlington, Vermont for wearing keffiyehs (traditional Palestinian scarves) like the one I wear every day.

In this progressive town, my family has received threats and slurs screamed out of car windows, hate mail, and property damage. Our experience and grief have been ignored by our institutions because our very identity is politicized.

On Oct. 16, 2023, the Town Council voted unanimously to pass a resolution condemning Hamas — over which American taxpayers have no influence — to show support for grieving people in Israel and Amherst. If the council doesn’t firmly pass the upcoming resolution and condemn this ongoing atrocity that we can influence, it signals to impacted and grieving members of the community that our lives and safety — and the lives of our friends, family, and people who look and sound like us — do not matter to this town.

There is no peace or genuine safety for anyone, anywhere, if we fail to stand against the unjust and indiscriminate killing of a civilian population by a regime that every legacy human rights organization in the world has determined is committing apartheid. The council must take its lead on this resolution from Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab voices, which have been systematically excluded from decisions for which we pay the highest price. That this is not obvious exposes a privileged position that is out of touch, particularly with the concerns of historically under-resourced and marginalized communities in Amherst.

Anything short of unanimous support of this resolution upholds a double standard that is exclusionary and dangerous for families like mine. We must do better.

Leyla Moushabeck is a Palestinian American resident of Amherst, editorial director at Interlink Publishing in Northampton, and co-founder of Valley Families for Palestine. The resolution can be found online at tinyurl.com/amherst4ceasefire.