Though the audience at Thursday morning’s Multnomah County Board of Commissioners meeting engaged in some heated squabbles, county commissioners were united in their “aye” vote on a resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. 

The resolution, submitted by Commissioner Lori Stegmann, has been in the works for weeks, and the contents of it remained in flux until the 11th hour. Ultimately, commissioners voted to approve an amended version of the resolution that appeared on the county board agenda last week

Some people who spoke at the board meeting said they wanted the resolution to indicate more outright support for people suffering in Israel, even though three out of five commissioners previously signed a statement of support for Israel in the immediate aftermath of the October 7 attacks by Hamas. Others asked commissioners to direct their attention to local issues instead of commenting on events across the globe. 

But a majority of commenters stressed the importance of using any power a person may have to speak up about the scale of violence people in Gaza have faced over the last five months. The commissioners agreed.

“Standing up for justice is not easy. It requires us to confront our own biases, acknowledge our privilege, and be willing to listen and learn from those whose experiences may differ from our own,” Stegmann said at Thursday’s  meeting. “Being a global citizen means recognizing that we are all interconnected, and that our actions have an impact on others around the world.” 

Multnomah County commissioners. taylor griggs

 

Pre-amendments, the resolution included points that many pro-Palestine organizers found unnecessary and thought diluted the primary message they wanted commissioners to support: An immediate, permanent cease-fire in Gaza. With Stegmann’s amendments, the adopted resolution is much shorter and more concise than its earlier iteration. 

“Keeping with Multnomah County’s values, we call for an immediate ceasefire, return of hostages, safe passage and free access for humanitarian organizations to provide medical aid, food, water, clothing, fuel, power, and shelter to Gazan civilians,” the resolution states. 

The statement also points to the United States’ ability to “influence the actions of Israel’s government…as a long-standing ally and supporter of Israel.” 

The amended resolution does not include the term “permanent cease-fire,” a specification many advocates asked for. 

“We had hoped for the inclusion of ‘permanent cease-fire’ in the final language, especially because if there is a cease-fire over Ramadan it is likely that it would be temporary,” Rebecca Stavenjord, Stegmann’s chief of staff, told the Mercury after the meeting. “Our hope is that we do see a permanent cease-fire in the future.” 

Mohammed Usrof, who is from Gaza, was one of the first people to provide public testimony urging commissioners to pass a cease-fire resolution during the meeting. Usrof spoke about the suffering he has seen his family and friends in Gaza experience over the last five months, saying they’ve “lost everything.” 

“Not just the home they lived in, not just the happiness and the life they had. But they also lost every access to culture, houses of worship, schools, mosques, and every single thing that makes life there possible,” Usrof said. “Please, calling for a cease-fire is the courageous thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. You are our voice here in Multnomah County.” 

Hundreds of pro-Palestine cease-fire advocates attended the meeting to show their support, with dozens testifying in support of a resolution. Their testimony drew attention to the fact that more than 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza over the last five months, more than 12,000 of them children. People also said the Israeli military’s campaign in Gaza amounts to the legal definition of a genocide, and asked the commissioners to include that in the resolution. 

Michelle Bombet Minch, a volunteer on the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, was one of several people who asked commissioners to equally recognize the experience of Israelis during this time. 

“I do have concerns with the newest resolution…Why is there no inclusion of the word ‘Israeli’ in front of ‘hostages’ in this current resolution?” Minch said. “Of course, we do not want to see any loss of life. I’m just disappointed that none of the prior testimonies showed any empathy toward the suffering of Israelis.” 

About 1,200 people were killed during Hamas’s attacks on Israel on October 7 of last year, and Hamas currently holds more than 100 Israeli hostages. Israeli authorities hold more than 7,000 Palestinian prisoners in detention, many of them children, some of whom they have released in exchange for their hostages. 

Minch also said she would “prefer that the county spend time on issues at home where they have an impact.” 

Despite the disagreements between attendees at the board meeting, which occasionally became heated, the county commissioners were able to find common ground on a once-rocky subject. 

“Were I the only author, this is not the resolution I would’ve written,” Commissioner Jesse Beason said. “But it is the resolution I believe bridges our differences.”

Beason acknowledged that Multnomah County may have “no power or jurisdiction over what horrific terrors befall the Palestinian and Israeli people thousands of miles away,” but county residents and employees have called on the board to say something. 

Commissioner Sharon Meieran, the only Jewish member of the county board who has previously been criticized by pro-Palestine advocates for her comments on this subject, said she was listening to people who spoke up and learning from their insights and perspectives.

“In a situation that can feel hopeless and fraught, that is entangled with history, mistrust, misunderstanding, persecution, it's hard to imagine the path forward,” Meieran said. “But through coming to a resolution today that we can all sign onto as a board, I feel some hope.”