Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Evanston Ceasefire coalition clashes with City Council over resolution

Daily file photo by Henry Frieman
For months, the Evanston Ceasefire coalition has petitioned City Council to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Evanston resident Maha, who is Palestinian American, said she moved her family to the city over 20 years ago for its “progressive” community — where “people are open and share values of decency, dignity and social justice.”

But in the past few months, Maha, who did not provide her last name, said she’s been nothing but “disappointed and disheartened” by the city she once loved.

“It may not have been perfect, but City Council always made an effort to rectify whatever problems and concerns community members had,” she said. “Until it came to the Palestinian people.”

Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that killed about 1,200 Israelis, Israeli officials said, the Israeli government’s bombardment and ground invasions of the Gaza Strip have killed over 34,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian officials.

Over the past several months, calls for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza have emerged across the globe. In the U.S., more than 100 municipalities, including Chicago, have passed ceasefire resolutions.

Evanston hasn’t been one of them. 

Maha said City Council’s lack of action amid the war in Gaza has shown “morally bankrupt leadership.”

“We as a city have to stand up and oppose this ethnic cleansing,” Maha said. “Do we need a genocide here in Evanston in order for City Council to have some empathy and sympathy for the Palestinian community in Gaza?” 

In December, the city’s Equity and Empowerment Commission voted unanimously to withdraw a resolution calling for a ceasefire and the release of all hostages by Hamas. At the meeting, opponents to the proposed resolution voiced concerns about its lack of direct reference to the Oct. 7 attack and its potential impact on the safety of Evanston’s Jewish community.

Shortly after the EEC’s decision, a revised resolution began circulating — one that calls for a ceasefire, condemns Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack and demands the release of all hostages it holds. Behind this resolution was a newly formed group of Evanston residents advocating for Gaza: the Evanston Ceasefire coalition.

“A group of us who were very upset after the meeting started coming together, and we thought we could write our own resolution to respond to people’s concerns,” said Evanston resident Lesley Williams, a founding member of the coalition. “Our goal is for City Council to pass it to show their support for a permanent stop to the killing.”

Since December, Evanston Ceasefire has garnered community support for the resolution through an online petition, which currently has over 1,400 signatures, Williams said.

Resident Sara Mountjoy-Pepka said Evanston Ceasefire does not have official leadership roles. Rather, it is a “coalition of individuals who came together because they care,” she said. 

Mountjoy-Pepka, who is Muslim, added that her newborn baby, who is Pakistani and white, motivated her to speak up about the conflict in Gaza.

“Having a baby made me realize if I want to raise him to have principles, ethics and be unashamed of being Muslim and having brown skin, I have to demonstrate a complete lack of shame in speaking out for what I think is right,” Mountjoy-Pepka said.

Now, Mountjoy-Pepka assists with Evanston Ceasefire’s Instagram. Alongside other coalition supporters, she also plans and attends local events that draw attention to the issue and maintain political pressure, she said.

Meanwhile, Evanston Ceasefire supporters have taken their advocacy directly to City Council. Williams said many residents have pushed for a resolution during council meetings, ward meetings and one-on-one conversations with councilmembers. 

At the March 25 City Council meeting, 10 out of the 20 public commenters used their allotted time to urge councilmembers to consider the ceasefire resolution. Maha was one of them. 

“We are in the midst of a genocide, the first genocide of this century,” she told the council. “While you all are not caring about it and looking all smug, we are besides ourselves with grief.”

Following the public comments, an individual in the audience interrupted the ensuing agenda item to call for a ceasefire resolution. 

The person called out about the “dehumanization” and “slaughter” of Palestinians in Gaza.

“How can we convince Evanston that Palestinian children are just as important as our children?” the person shouted from the audience.

Though city officials and councilmembers initially attempted to ignore the audience member and proceed with its agenda, Ald. Devon Reid (8th) eventually responded, saying he doesn’t have the “bandwidth” to focus on a ceasefire resolution. 

Mayor Daniel Biss also chimed in, trying to direct attention back to the meeting agenda and saying councilmembers “have to be able to do the work of the city.”

According to Evanston Ceasefire supporters, councilmembers have echoed this viewpoint for months, saying that they cannot allocate attention to the conflict in Gaza on top of their local responsibilities.

Williams, who is Jewish, said she views this stance as a “lapse in moral leadership.”

“When mass human atrocities are going on, it should not be business as usual,” Williams said. “City Council’s business is not more important than the murder of 30,000 people. Stopping this should be a priority for every community.”

In an interview with The Daily, Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said a resolution passed in Evanston would have no impact on outcomes in Gaza. Though he personally supports a ceasefire, City Council must focus its time and energy on “making change in the community of Evanston,” he said.

But Evanston Ceasefire supporters disagree, saying the issue directly affects the city — especially its Palestinian, Arab and Muslim American communities. 

“This is a refusal to acknowledge the deep pain and suffering that these people are experiencing right here in our community,” Williams said. “To not have your city government recognize that trauma with a resolution feels like a deep betrayal to so many people in the community.”

City spokesperson Cynthia Vargas said in a statement to The Daily that the councilmembers prefer not to weigh in on issues beyond the city’s purview “unless doing so unifies the community.” 

Weinberg sophomore Evgeny Stolyarov, an Evanston Ceasefire supporter, said the ceasefire resolution fits this exception. 

Stolyarov, who is Jewish, serves as the national representative of the Northwestern chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that he said “centers Jewish life away from the state of Israel and fights for Palestinian solidarity.”

“City Council has talked a lot about how a ceasefire resolution is very divisive, particularly for Jewish residents of Evanston,” Stolyarov said. “With JVP, we want to remind them that Northwestern students are Jewish residents of Evanston, and that many of us are not seeing City Council’s excuses as valid.”

Evanston Ceasefire supporters said they have also called upon Interfaith Action of Evanston — an association of 40 faith organizations across the city — to publicly support their resolution. 

Though Interfaith Action has not signed the resolution, dozens of its members published a statement in the Evanston RoundTable on April 3 calling for an “immediate end to the bombardment of civilians in Gaza and in Israel.” The authors also called for humanitarian aid to reach Gaza and denounced Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Two days later, Evanston Ceasefire supporter Siobhan Moffitt posted an online comment under the letter as an official response from the coalition. 

Though grateful to Interfaith Action for speaking out, the coalition said parts of the letter overlooked the war’s impact on Palestinians, such as “the thousands of Palestinian hostages” and “the wide-spread charges of sexual assault and rape by Israeli soldiers against Gazan women.” 

And at the end of its response, Evanston Ceasefire once again called for City Council to pass its resolution — now with the “clergy’s recognition of the tremendous local importance of this issue.”

Despite Evanston Ceasefire’s ongoing efforts, Nieuwsma said there are currently no plans to bring the resolution to an official vote in City Council. 

But Mountjoy-Pepka said the coalition isn’t giving up.

“Although I’m extremely disappointed that Evanston has absolutely fallen on its face with this issue, I am inspired and able to get out of bed each day knowing that not everybody is falling on their face,” she said. “These folks keep me going. Nobody’s going away. We know it’s not over.”

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