The ongoing conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas hit Seattle this morning, when socialist council member Kshama Sawant and her colleague Tom Rasmussen exchanged sharp words over the violence in the region, which has resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries, mostly of Palestinians in Gaza.
Sawant said during this afternoon's council meeting that she is drafting a letter, which she hopes other council members will sign, addressed to President Obama, condemning Israel's actions in Gaza.
UPDATE: The letter, which PubliCola obtained a draft of this afternoon, reads in part:
The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is reaching a critical breaking point. The 139 square mile territory contains 1.8 million people who literally have nowhere to go and no place to hide from Israeli attacks. The UN reports that medical facilities are “on the verge of collapse.” An attack on Gaza power plant has left more than half the population without electricity, and more than 270,000 people are reportedly crammed into 90 UN shelters. Without an immediate end to all hostilities, the Palestinian death toll will continue to rise rapidly.
We also condemn the indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas against the civilian population living in Israel. We stand in solidarity with the ordinary people of Israel and their desire for security, and in particular with the Israeli anti-war movement. We stand in solidarity with the ordinary people of both Israel in their desire for security. ...
We call on President Obama, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate to issue a formal statement denouncing Israel’s siege and blockade of Gaza. We also call for an immediate end to all U.S. government military aid for the Israel.
The Islamist Hamas, labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S., but which governs Gaza after winning 2006 elections there against the secular Palestinian group, Fatah, has clashed with Israel in a spiral of violence for years. Hamas and Israel last went to war officially in late 2008 into 2009, but after a ceasefire, have largely engaged in intermittent, tit-for-tat rocket fire.
Sawant, in a statement at the council's weekly briefings meeting (where the item on the agenda was about the week's committee hearings, not the state of affairs in the Middle East), asked people to attend two anti-Israel protests in downtown Seattle this week and called on her fellow council members to issue a statement denouncing Israel for its actions.
"The last month of killings in Gaza ... are not only stomach turning, they are one in a long and documented series of war crimes stretching over decades," Sawant said. "This has been happening with the tacit or overt complicity of U.S. imperialism. It is the responsibility of elected officials everywhere to speak openly to stop the humanitarian catas and to condemn it in the strongest possible terms."
After Sawant had finished reading her lengthy statement (which also included a reference to Israel's "racist policies," particularly toward Bedouin citizens in the southern part of the state), Rasmussen raised his hand.
"May I say something?" he said. "I want to say that you do not reflect my views. These are your personal views and I respect that. I personally abhor the war and violence that’s occurring in Gaza and in that area in general, but I believe that it’s wrong to condemn one party alone. And so you may use your podium as you wish, but I do not share your views in terms of condemning one party," Israel, over the other side.
Sawant responded, "I don’t condone violence of any kind, but I think it’s necessary to acknowledge the complete lack of proportion between the violence that Hamas is capable of and the violence being done by the Israeli state on Palestine. That’s my view." At this afternoon's full city council meeting, Sawant added, security and peace will never be secured by occupation and blockade."
This afternoon, council member Sally Bagshaw chimed in for the Rasmussen position, telling Sawant that although "I appreciate your heart and I share with you the moral outrage of the situation in Palestine, I feel that I was elected to serve the city of Seattle," rather than to speak up on every international outrage. Giving the example of the more than 200 girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorist group in Nigeria, Bagshaw said, "I'm not going to sign a letter that doesn't have something to do with what we can accomplish in the city."
Council member Nick Licata took Sawant's view, pointing out that the city council has taken positions on other international issues, including a resolution opposing the war in Iraq.