California city first in U.S. to officially back Palestinians, accuses Israel of ‘ethnic

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The Richmond, Calif., City Council voted early Wednesday to support the Palestinian people of the Gaza Strip with a resolution that accuses Israel of “ethnic cleansing and collective punishment” nearly three weeks after war broke out in the Middle East.

The resolution is believed to be the first show of support by a U.S. city for the Palestinian people after the Oct. 7 attack carried out by Hamas on Israel.

Some 1,400 people died in Israel during the initial attack this month, and more than 200 Israeli and foreign nationals are being held captive in Gaza, according to Israeli officials. Since then, roughly 6,000 people have died in Gaza amid intensifying Israeli airstrikes, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health.

The city of Richmond, in the San Francisco Bay Area, passed its resolution of support in a 5-1 vote that started Tuesday evening and ended around 1 a.m. Wednesday after a five-hour public hearing. The resolution calls for a cease-fire and for humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza. It says “the state of Israel is engaging in collective punishment against the Palestinian people in Gaza in response to Hamas attacks on Israel” — while also highlighting Richmond’s support for Jewish people in the local community and its recognition of the atrocities carried out by Nazis during the Holocaust.

On Tuesday evening, as Richmond Mayor Eduardo Martinez opened the hearing for the resolution, people in the audience were shouting, calling out “Nazi!” and other comments that were drowned out in the noise. The disorder derailed the meeting, and a brief recess was called.

Richmond has taken strong stands in the past on international conflicts. In the 1980s, the city chose to divest from apartheid South Africa in a display of opposition to systematized racial segregation, and council members voted to support Ukraine last year during the Russian invasion.

“We are one small city weighing in on a conflict that has the attention of the entire world and on which global superpowers are pouring in money, political attention and military aid,” Martinez said. “The people of [the] United States, whose government and tax dollars directly support Israel’s military, have an immediate moral obligation to condemn Israel’s acts of collective punishment and apartheid state.”

Councilmember Cesar Zepeda cast the lone vote not to support the resolution, recognizing the issue as divisive.

“Let’s call out the atrocities that Hamas has done on the Israel communities and the atrocities the Israeli government has done on the Palestinian people,” Zepeda said, requesting a revised resolution. He said he wanted the city to “bring everyone together in a community for peace.”

Although a majority of speakers backed the council’s resolution, others disagreed with how the City Council broached the topic and language that was used.

“I think it’s shameful that you had to have public feedback until you finally included the 1,200 people in Israel who were butchered and set on fire,” Lucinda Casson from Temple Beth Hillel in Richmond said to the council. Before the meeting, the city’s resolution was amended to include information about the Israeli people who were killed by Hamas militants in border neighborhoods.

Another woman, who asked for an Israeli flag to be held up behind her as she spoke, said she was ashamed of Richmond and scared.

“You have put me in this situation,” she said as she asked the council to reject the resolution.

Others thanked the council for taking a stand against the ongoing war. A man who identified himself as Yusef reminded the council that the conflict between Palestinians and Israel is nothing new.

He said nobody realized “the Palestinian people have been hurting for 75 years and no one [says] a word.”

Before the council meeting, Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia asked the council to table the resolution and work together with the Muslim and Jewish communities to develop a resolution that “validates the voices of both communities.”

The Jewish Community Relations Council in San Francisco condemned the city’s actions and in a statement said that, although the council had amended the resolution, it remained “inflammatory and biased.” The group also noted “the vitriol of resolution supporters” at the meeting.

The Arab Resource & Organizing Center in San Francisco thanked Richmond for taking a stance on the issue.

“We are you with you as the tide shifts across the US, as more decision makers echo the calls of the masses and rise up in support for Palestinian freedom,” the group said in a statement. “We have a long way to go, and we are proud that the Bay Area is leading the charge.”

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