Bend council hears from public over Israel-Gaza letter; cease-fire vigil held

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Communities across the country are doing what they can to get the U.S. and other governments to pressure Israel into a cease-fire and an end to the war in Gaza. Bend is no exception.

That pressure came in the form of a community vigil Wednesday night and a letter drafted by the Bend City Council — calling for an end to the violence — which sparked quite a debate.

The candlelight vigil outside City Hall was in support of peace for Palestinians.

“We want a cease-fire,” said Palestinian Michelle Shehahdeh. “That’s the important thing. We are asking the city or the council to adopt a ceasefire because that’s the only way to save lives. Anything short of that is not going to work.”

RELATED: Netanyahu rejects Hamas’ terms for cease-fire and hostage-release deal

RELATED: Central Oregon Jewish community holds candlelight vigil to honor Israel

A pro-Israeli group also came to city hall with a different message for the council.

“I think they need to mind their own business,” said Jewish community member Steven Schneider. “I think they need to take care of their drug problem here and the homelessness in this county, not worry about something that’s thousands of miles away.”

Inside the council chambers, public comments opened before the letter was even read aloud. Most of those speakers on both sides call the letter a bad idea.

“This letter is not representative of all the citizens of Bend,” said one commenter.

“It is biased and may, in fact, divide, not unify the people of Bend,” said another.

“In my view, this letter not only draws false equivalences that completely misrepresent the reality of what is happening in Gaza,” said a third.

“The city should focus on local issues instead of an issue that clearly most residents don’t know enough about, nor have never been to the region,” said another commenter.

Then, it was the council’s turn to discuss the letter. It was addressed to Oregon Democratic Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, Republican Congresswoman Lori Chavez-DeRemer and to President Joe Biden. It asked them to use their avenues to end the war in Gaza, provide unrestricted entry for humanitarian aid and to free the hostages of Oct. 7.

Given the public comment, Councilman Anthony Broadman was the only one who voted against sending it.

“I’m not suggesting that any of the great work that you’ve done isn’t the right balance to strike, but I think we can have a clearer letter. And there’s a lot of facts in a very complicated situation, and I think we would better meet our obligation to the people of Bend if we took some more time,” said Broadman.

Despite not mentioning a cease-fire, the remaining councilors voted to send the letter out anyway.

Council members agreed not to discuss the Israel-Hamas conflict during any future city council meetings.


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