Bethlehem City Hall is where all city council meetings take place twice a month. On Feb. 20, 2024, City Hall nearly reached full capacity with students, professors and local residents. (Nicole Hackett/B&W Staff)

Bethlehem residents ask city council to call for ceasefire


Bethlehem City Hall neared full capacity Feb. 20 as several Lehigh University students, professors and citizens entered the chambers prepared to speak to the city council on the Israel-Palestine conflict. 

The 7 p.m. meeting began with public comments. Thirty-four community members spoke, 23 of whom asked the city council to call for a cease-fire in Gaza.

“It starts here, right?” Bethlehem resident Harry Faber said. “How are we going to stop the federal government if we don’t start at the local government?” 

As of Jan. 31, approximately 70 U.S. cities have passed resolutions on the Israel-Hamas war, with 48 calling for a cease-fire, according to reporting from U.S. News & World Report. 

Many Bethlehem residents are now asking city leaders to take the same course of action in hopes that municipal efforts will pressure President Biden to help put an end to the fighting by removing any further U.S. aid toward the conflict. 

Allison Mickel, the chair of the Lehigh University Global Studies program and an anthropology professor, said she came to support her friends, colleagues and co-organizers.

Mickel is also a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. She said her grandfather was born in Poland in the 1920s, and by 1945 he had no living relatives left. 

“He went around camps and found only corpses,” Mickel said. “So when I look at what’s happening now, to Palestine, in my name, it feels very familiar.”

As of Feb. 18, multiple outlets have referenced Gaza Health Ministry statistics stating over 30,000 people have been killed in the Israel-Hamas war. Out of that number, 28,473 are Palestinian and roughly two-thirds were women and children.

Drew Swedberg, a professor at Moravian University, said he attended in support of an immediate and permanent cease-fire in Palestine. 

“My steadfast belief is that this is a local issue as our tax dollars and Bethlehem are funding this brutal U.S.-backed genocide,” Swedberg said.

Speakers at the event pointed to the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, which claims that Bethlehem has sent an estimated $1,092,980 of federal tax dollars to arm Israel. 

Though the city council had its regular meeting scheduled for Feb. 20 with a full agenda, public comments on the conflict in Gaza lasted until 9:30 p.m. 

Rather than immediately moving on to the rest of the agenda, Councilman Bryan Callahan proposed a vote to move new business immediately after public comments. 

New business was originally set to be the last section of the agenda. Council members voted 6-0, unanimously in agreement to move the new business discussion. This allowed council members to begin debating the merits of calling for a cease-fire.

Councilwoman Hillary Kwaitek, who is also a communications specialist for Lehigh’s human resources department, said she was inspired by the community members who came to speak and thanked everyone for being sensitive and understanding.  

“Jews have been historically oppressed, genocide has been committed against them,” Kwaitek said. “At the same time Muslims, Palestinians, are also historically oppressed people who had genocide and ethnic cleansing voiced upon them as well.” 

Callahan also proposed the council vote on an immediate resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza that night, rather than wait until the next meeting. 

Council voted 5-1 against Callahan’s proposal. Mayor J. William Reynolds said it’s important to draft the document carefully, using the right language. 

“If it’s not going to be just symbolic, if it’s not just about those two words, cease-fire, it’s important that you capture the spirit of this room, the spirit of the people that are not here tonight that will have the opportunity to weigh in over the next two weeks and the spirit of the people on city council,” Reynolds said.

Council president Michael Colón said he wanted to remind the audience that all council members’ direct emails are listed on the City of Bethlehem website.

He said he urges people who spoke that night to send their speeches over so the council can review them as they plan to draft a cease-fire resolution. 

City council’s next meeting will take place Tuesday, March 5, 2024, at 7 p.m. and the agenda for the meeting will be posted on the website the Friday before.

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