Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

After hours of testimony, Allegheny County Council votes ‘no’ on cease-fire in Israel/Hamas conflict

A group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators walk down Forbes Avenue. Some are carrying signs with sayings such as "Free Gaza" and "End all U.S. aid to Israel."
Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators make their way down Forbes Avenue in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood on Oct. 13, 2023.

After more than four hours of public testimony, Allegheny County Council declined to call for a cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas.

At a meeting Tuesday, nine members voted against a motion that urged the federal government to work towards an immediate de-escalation and ensure the entry of humanitarian assistance into Gaza. Two council members abstained and one, Dewitt Walton, was absent. That meant that by the time the meeting ended shortly before 11 p.m., the only votes for the measure were those of its original sponsors: Dan Grzybek, Bethany Hallam, and Anito Prizio.

Council has no say in U.S. foreign policy, but supporters argued that local officials can send a message and pressure federal officials to push for a cease-fire. At least 70 local governments across the United States have called for an end to the conflict as it reaches the four month mark.

“As Allegheny County residents, as United States citizens, I think we have a responsibility and imperative to do everything within our power to end this genocide as it goes on,” said Stephanie Pavlick. “I encourage you, I urge you, County Council, to do what's in your power to stop this genocide and pass a cease-fire” [resolution].

“My Jewish upbringing taught me that never again should any people be dehumanized and targeted for who they are, and that the result is always horrific beyond belief,” said Eva Resnick-Day, who supported the cease-fire.

A number of speakers referred to the conflict as a genocide, a term whose use in the conflict is hotly contested. In January, the International Court of Justice said it could not determine whether Israel was guilty of genocide, but told the country’s forces to refrain from committing any acts prohibited by the international Genocide Convention.

Tuesday night was the second time the council heard comments regarding the ongoing conflict. At a February meeting, dozens of people spoke both in support of and against a cease-fire, though a motion had not yet been introduced on council.

On Tuesday, though, the resolution was before council and nearly 300 residents signed up to speak about it. Council scaled back the time limit on speakers from three minutes to one, and many spectators had to watch the proceedings from overflow viewing rooms.

The vast majority of speakers asked council to vote in favor of the resolution, but dozens of others spoke against the measure, sometimes citing concerns about what the Anti-Defamation League has called an “unprecedented” rise in antisemitism since the Oct. 7 attack.

Some brought up the armed attack by a white supremacist at the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018. It was the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history and left 11 worshipers from three congregations dead.

Speaking on behalf of the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, chief financial officer David Work said that the motion is unlikely to affect American foreign policy.

“This type of resolution will have no tangible impact on the war in Gaza. It serves only to … polarize our community, erode trust in our institutions, and strain intercultural relations,” he said. “While the desire to address international conflicts is understandable, this council must weigh the limited effect of such resolutions against the critical harm they can cause to community members here at home.”

Public comment was often emotional, and several police officers were on hand throughout. At least three audience members were removed from the room over the course of the evening, for reasons that couldn’t be immediately determined Tuesday night.

Speakers accused those on the other side of the issue of spreading lies and misinformation. Some, like Brian Schreiber, criticized the fact that the resolution didn’t condemn Hamas, antisemitism or Islamophobia.

“I want a negotiated cease-fire, too, but this motion only isolates and further endangers the Jewish community here simply for supporting Israel's right to exist,” he said.

Council unanimously passed another resolution in October condemning Hamas and supporting “justice and safety for the Israeli and Palestinian people.” And on Tuesday, council members seemingly acknowledged that although the resolution was mostly symbolic, it carried significant weight for many residents.

“We live in a world in which the desire, sometimes, for simple answers trivializes the enormity and the complexity of the challenges that we actually face,” Councilor Paul Klein said before the vote. Klein’s district includes Squirrel Hill, said to be the home of the second-largest urban Jewish community in the country.

“The humanitarian crisis is real,” Klein added. “But this crisis calls for a real response — real action by those who have the power, those who have the power to make a difference — and not symbolic gestures.”

“I unequivocally support an immediate release of all hostages, the cessation of the ongoing harm being done to all innocent civilians — regardless of their ethnicity, their religion, or their nationality — a peaceful, just and durable end to the violence, and, at an absolute minimum, strict adherence to the rule of international law, even during war,” said Hallam, one of the measure's sponsors. “I vehemently reject attempts to further divide our communities by making this a political or partisan matter.”

DeWitt Walton was absent, and David Bonaroti and Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis abstained. Bonaroti cited the need to curb violence in our own country as the reason he did not cast a vote.

Attendees chanted “free Palestine” as the meeting adjourned.

More than 30,000 Palestinian people have been killed in the conflict, Gaza's health ministry said last week. NPR reported the figure is widely viewed as the most reliable one available, but it is likely incomplete. Israel reports about 1,200 people were killed in the initial Hamas attack on Oct. 7, and 240 people were taken hostage. About 100 people are still being held hostage.

Mediators have been working to broker a pause in the fighting that would allow them to address a worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza. At least 10 children have starved to death, according to hospital records in Gaza, the World Health Organization said.

On Saturday, a U.S. official told CBS news “there's a deal on the table” for a six-week cease-fire during which Hamas would release vulnerable hostages including sick, wounded, and elderly people. The official added that Israel has “essentially endorsed” the framework, leaving it up to Hamas to agree to it.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at