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Israeli-Gaza war resolution conflict erupts at Aurora City Hall as hundreds protest

Israeli-Gaza war resolution conflict erupts at Aurora City Hall as hundreds protest


by MAX LEVY, Sentinel Colorado Staff Writer (Via AP Storyshare)

AURORA | At a meeting marked by passionate outbursts from a crowd of hundreds as well as friction among city lawmakers, a majority of Aurora’s City Council passed a resolution Monday condemning Hamas’ recent attack on Israel.

Repeatedly, Mayor Mike Coffman used his gavel to try to drown out the raucous crowd that filled the council chambers to capacity. During one particularly heated exchange with other council members, the mayor pounded his gavel to interrupt progressive Councilmember Juan Marcano as Marcano was criticizing the resolution after being recognized to speak.

“You can’t do that,” Marcano said.

“I just did,” Coffman shot back.

The resolution sponsored by conservative Councilmember Francoise Bergan denounced the invasion of Israel that Hamas launched from the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7. According to the Israeli government, more than 1,400 Israelis died in the surprise attack, and more than 200 civilians were taken hostage.

Bergan’s resolution was silent, however, on the Palestinian death toll that has climbed into the thousands since Israel launched a bombing campaign targeting Gaza in response to Hamas’ attack. As of Monday, Gaza’s Health Ministry reported that 5,087 people, including 2,055 children, have died in Israeli airstrikes since the latest conflict began, according to Associated Press reports.

Arsalan Ricvi lists the names of 15 children killed during a single Israeli airstrike into Gaza during public comment at an Oct. 23 city council meeting.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

Progressive council members proposed amendments to Bergan’s resolution during a study session last week that would have inserted references to violence and discrimination directed toward Muslims and Palestinian civilians. Their amendments were rejected.

On Oct. 23 — after listening to more than three hours of remarks from members of the public, most of whom accused the majority of council members of ignoring the grief of Aurora’s Palestinian community — progressives sharply criticized and conservatives defended the resolution condemning Hamas and expressing the city’s support for Israel.

“If you read the resolution, it has nothing negative about any Palestinian people,” Bergan said. “It was drafted after the Oct. 7 barbaric terrorist attack by Hamas, a terrorist organization. It was not about Muslim people, and it was not about Palestinian people. It was about a terrorist organization.”

She amended her resolution following public comment to include the statement that “the city recognizes and mourns the loss of all innocent lives caught in the fighting between the (Israeli Defense Forces) and Hamas,” an addition that the crowd heckled.

Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky, who is the group’s only Jewish member, acknowledged that both Muslim and Jewish attendees knew people in the region of Gaza and Israel who have been killed or otherwise trapped in the middle of the current conflict.

“I heard a woman speak about terrors she has had as a Muslim since Oct. 7. I share that feeling as a Jew,” Jurinsky said. “The thought has literally crossed my mind as to who would hide my son should a targeted attack against the Jews happen here like what happened in Israel.”

She was heckled by the crowd after she called Hamas’ attack on Israel “barbaric.” When one man in the crowd questioned whether people would vote for her in 2025, Jurinsky replied that “if I can’t win an election being myself, I don’t want to win it at all,” and was applauded by attendees who had spoken in favor of Israel and the resolution.

Jurinsky engaged in a lengthy back-and-forth with hecklers who had expressed sympathy for Palestine toward the end of her remarks, saying she understood that “in our religions, and in our cultures, maybe some of us grew up with blinders on,” at which point the crowd erupted in yelling and boos.

Jurinsky continued speaking as the crowd yelled at her for over a minute while the mayor tried to restore order.

Marcano tried to bring forward an alternative resolution that would have acknowledged prejudice and violence against Jews as well as Palestinians and expressed the city’s support for both populations, but the conservative majority voted to keep the resolution off Monday’s agenda.

Hundreds of Palestinians raise their hands in support of speakers during public comment, speaking out against a revolution drafted by certain members of the city council, Oct. 23 during a council meeting.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

After public comment, Marcano apologized to the crowd from the dais and said the council would have been better off voting on his resolution, since it was “the inclusive one that was developed with the input of directly-impacted community members.”

“The actions of an unrepresentative majority on this council have divided our city when they should be bringing us closer together, especially now,” Marcano said.

“The matters in this resolution are about as far from municipal politics as you can get, yet some folks decided to play politics with human suffering and tragedy, and bring this forward anyway, knowing this was going to divide our community. All of you deserve way better than this.”

Marcano is running to unseat Coffman as mayor this fall. Marcano proposed tabling Bergan’s resolution indefinitely. That proposal failed 5-6, with Coffman, Alison Coombs, Marcano, Ruben Medina and Crystal Murillo in favor.

The council ultimately approved Bergan’s resolution amended to reference “all innocent lives caught in the fighting” by a vote of 6-4, with Coombs, Marcano, Medina and Murillo opposed.

Supporters of Israel and Palestine spent hours addressing the council Monday night, explaining how the conflict in Gaza had touched their lives.

Most of the speakers railed against Israel’s bombing of civilian targets in Gaza as well as the historical mistreatment of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Many wore Palestinian keffiyeh scarves and traditional Muslim clothing.

“I hope you feel our collective sorrow and anger, and sear it into your minds forever,” said Khalid Mhareb, a Palestinian-American resident of Aurora. “This resolution without a mention of Palestine will only contribute to the genocide of Palestinians, lead to a rise in Islamophobia and antisemitism alike, and alienate the Palestinian community who resides here in Aurora.”

He described how anti-Muslim hate crimes spawned by the Oct. 7 attack — such as the fatal stabbing of 6-year-old Wadea Al Fayoume in the Chicago area, according to police — have struck fear into the Palestinian community in Aurora and the U.S.

“In the past week, I’ve had to look at my innocent 8-year-old brother and watch his smile disappear from his face as I told him it’s best he doesn’t wear his favorite hat, just because it has the Palestinian flag on it, for fear that he, too, might become a victim,” Mhareb said.

“These are real conversations that Palestinian-Americans are having with their children today, continuing a cycle of generational trauma that is caused by rhetoric, or actually the lack of rhetoric, from council members like you.”

One Palestinian-American business owner in Aurora, Mohamed Mouaddine, said he doubted the council’s resolution would accomplish anything besides fueling conflict in the community.

He argued that people concerned about the conflict should focus their efforts on figuring out ways of reconciling young Israelis and Palestinians.

“How can we create social justice? Because when you have social injustice, you create more terrorists. You’re just feeding the beast. You’re not bringing peace. You’re not helping either the Jews or the Muslims,” Mouaddine said.

“My lawyer is a Jew. My business coach is a Jew. My friends are Jews. I don’t have a problem with Jewish people. I have a problem with people who actually exercise apartheid over people who are hopeless.”

Some also related the struggle to get political leaders to acknowledge potential war crimes happening in Gaza to local advocacy on behalf of young people of color.

“If you adopt this resolution, the message that you are sending to your constituents — fair, and clear, and loud — is that, once again, the lives of Black and brown children do not matter,” speaker Arsalan Rizvi said.

When one woman said that those present would remember how council members voted on Bergan’s resolution when it came time for them to seek re-election, most of the audience members raised their hands to signal their agreement.

Bergan is up for re-election this fall, as are Coffman and council members Coombs, Curtis Gardner and Angela Lawson.

Supporters of Israel and Palestine mingled in the council chambers throughout the night, sometimes conversing and arguing about the Gaza conflict. While generally civil, the meeting was briefly paused when a physical altercation broke out between Palestinian advocates and a man wearing an Israeli flag. Members of the crowd joined by Jurinsky eventually separated the two groups.

A security officer outside of the council chambers warned that bags would not be allowed in the meeting due to safety concerns. Several police vehicles were also parked around the Great Lawn outside of city hall with their red-and-blue lights activated by the conclusion of the public comment period.

Interim police chief Art Acevedo said the vehicles were staged outside of the meeting to make attendees feel safe and to discourage people from leaving the meeting to brawl. He clarified at the end of the night that no arrests had been made.

David Ferszt speaks to the hundreds in attendance at an Oct. 23 city council meeting. After he spoke, he yielded his remaining time to be used as a moment of silence to the lives lost as a result of the attacks by Hamas on Israel and the retaliatory attacks on Gaza from Israel.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

Many Jews also spoke Monday about how supporting Israel and condemning the violence perpetrated by Hamas were not equivalent to prejudice against Palestinians.

David Ferszt, who wore a “Jewish Lives Matter” shirt to Monday’s meeting, said he believed the council should vote on a resolution that acknowledged the suffering of innocent Palestinians as well as Israelis. He also spoke about the significance of Israel to Jews who fled the genocidal violence of Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.

“No countries wanted all of these poor refugees who were kicked out,” he said. “There’s one Jewish state. One. There are 49 majority-Muslim countries. I’m not saying that means Israel should be jerks to the Palestinians. I’m not saying any of that. But you have to at least understand where we’re at. We have nowhere else to go.”

Evelinda Urman described her experience of immigrating to the United States and said that, while she was considered white in South America and non-white in the U.S., her Jewish identity has always shaped how people see her.

“Wherever I go, I am a Jew,” she said, “Jews are an ethnoreligious peoplehood that are almost zero percent of the worldwide population. We need your help to survive and have Israel survive.”

During the remarks by Scott Levin — the Anti-Defamation League’s regional director for the area including Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming — some in the crowd held up an Israeli flag and posters featuring pictures of kidnapped Israeli children.

“There is no one who’s come up with an answer of how to be able to get back those hostages, how to ensure that the death, the destruction, the barbaric activities don’t happen again. So on behalf of my community, I’d just say that, while we feel that pain, we also appreciate being recognized,” Levin said.

“Yes, the Palestinian community will also need to be recognized in its way. But this resolution directly is predicated on the actions of Hamas. As is it hard, I’m sure, for my Palestinian friends to hear the words that I speak, it’s hard for me to hear what feels like a justification, and I think we all should know that evil has no justification, and that the actions of Hamas were evil.”

After Levin spoke, apparently unaware that his microphone was still switched on, Coffman turned to Bergan and commented, “What a horrible waste of time this is, this resolution. We are not the Congress of the United States.”

Following the council’s vote in favor of Bergan’s resolution, most of the crowd left, chanting “shame on you” and “vote them out” in apparent reference to council members who supported the resolution.

Aurora City Council’s debate Monday came a week after the group clashed over Bergan’s resolution in a study session.

Attempts by progressives to introduce denunciations of Islamophobia and violence against Palestinian civilians were met with incredulity from some conservatives, who characterized them as inappropriate and detracting from the gravity of Hamas’ attack on Israel.

“What happened to the people of Israel is the worst attack against Jews since the Holocaust,” Jurinsky said last week. “This is a moment for the Jewish people and the state of Israel, and anything you want to amend to this, I pray that my common-sense colleagues will not allow it to happen. This moment right now is for the Jewish people.”

Palestinian militants led by Hamas launched a surprise attack against Israel from the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7, firing thousands of rockets toward the country and assaulting numerous civilian targets, including a music festival near Re’im where at least 260 concertgoers were massacred and others taken hostage.

The Israeli military repelled the Hamas invasion and responded by launching airstrikes against Gaza. Targets of Israeli airstrikes have included residential buildings and other civilian targets, which the Israeli military has claimed were harboring elements of Hamas. Israel has also imposed a “total blockade” on food, water, electricity and fuel to the strip.

Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky rushed to the overflow area of the city council chambers to break up a brief moment of tension between supporters of Israel and supporters of Palestine during an Oct. 23 council meeting.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

A commission of the United Nations Human Rights Council announced Oct. 10 that there is “clear evidence that war crimes may have been committed” in the region. In its announcement, the commission specifically expressed concern about the killing of Israeli civilians by Hamas and the group’s alleged use of hostages as human shields.

The commission also said it was “gravely concerned” with Israel’s response to the attack, including the blockade imposed on Gaza, which the group said would “undoubtfully cost civilian lives and constitutes collective punishment.”

Bergan said last week that the resolution focused specifically on the harm done to Israel because that country had been attacked and its citizens “have a right to defend themselves.”

“Hamas has violated all laws of war. I mean, what they have done is atrocious. And if that would have happened to the United States, I don’t think we would say that we were committing war crimes by defending ourselves,” she said.

Bergan rejected a suggestion by Coombs to include a condemnation of “war crimes,” which Coombs pointed out both Israel and Hamas are being scrutinized for, as well as “apartheid,” referring to Israel’s treatment of the inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank.

Jurinsky accused Coombs of being antisemitic in a social media post earlier in the day when Coombs expressed support for the Working Families Party’s call for a military ceasefire in the region.

After Medina suggested the statement in the resolution that “the City of Aurora expresses its support for the people of Israel in their pursuit of peace, security, and prosperity” be modified to also reference the people of Palestine, Jurinsky objected, pointing out that Palestinians elected Hamas to lead Gaza in 2006.

She also described Hamas’ charter as calling for the “complete genocide” of Jews. Hamas’ original 1988 charter includes numerous expressions of hostility toward Jewish people, including a quote from an Islamic hadith:

“The Day of Judgment will not come until Muslims fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say, ‘O Muslim, O servant of God, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’ Only the Gharkad tree would not do that, because it is one of the trees of the Jews.”

The group’s updated 2017 charter states that the group does not necessarily oppose Jewish people nor their faith. However, it also explicitly rejects the legitimacy of the Israeli state and endorses “armed resistance” as a way of achieving the group’s goals.

“It’s very sad any innocent casualties that can come from this situation, especially the children in Palestine. But it is no secret, and it’s very public that it is the people of Palestine who elected Hamas to govern them,” Jurinsky said.

Councilmember Juan Marcano proposed that the resolution also condemn Islamophobia and violence against Palestinians, which Jurinsky also spoke against, saying “Israel has a right to protect her people, period.”

“I’m sure Crystal Murillo is next with some sort of amendment, and you guys can play this game all you want, and you can detract, and detract, and detract from what really happened, but let me tell you what really happened: Jewish babies were beheaded,” she said.

Israeli journalists have alleged that babies were beheaded by Palestinian militants in their assault on Israel. Israeli officials and U.S. President Joe Biden initially corroborated this but have since distanced themselves from the claim, which remains unconfirmed.

“Alison Coombs, think about that. Think about your son being beheaded,” Jurinsky added, raising her voice at the council member. “Would you care who did it? Would you care who did it? Would it matter what religion they were, what race they were? Would it matter? Do not try to turn this around into some kind of Islamophobia. You don’t get to have that moment. This moment right here is for the Jewish people and the state of Israel.”

Coombs brought up how 6-year-old Wadea Al Fayoume was stabbed to death and his mother attacked in the Chicago area in what police are now investigating as an anti-Muslim hate crime.

“Hamas did engage in a terrorist attack, and just as we saw after 9/11, people in our country are engaged in Islamophobia on that basis, and so I do think there’s a valid concern there that we should be thinking about,” Coombs said.

Coffman said he also has concerns about Islamophobia and raised the idea of a separate resolution dealing with anti-Muslim hatred but said he thought Bergan’s proposal did not need to encompass that.

Murillo also suggested adding a reference to Palestine in parts of the resolution expressing the city’s recognition of the “historical and cultural significance of Israel and its importance to the global community” and encouraging “dialogue, understanding, and cooperation between the city and organizations representing the Israeli community.”

Conservatives rejected the proposed amendments by Murillo and the other progressive council members. No council members opposed the resolution moving forward from the study session last week.

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