County Board’s stance on Israel-Hamas war considered amid ceasefire demands

Arlington County Board members broke several months of relative silence on the Israel-Hamas war this weekend.

Responding to demands for a county resolution in support of a ceasefire, several officials on Saturday voiced personal concerns about the conflict’s ongoing humanitarian toll. Although county leaders “do not handle international relations,” Chair Libby Garvey said, “I think we are all absolutely appalled and horrified by what’s going on.”

Board member Maureen Coffey put her own view more bluntly.

“We need to free the hostages on both sides. Bombing needs to stop. That’s where I’m at,” she said.

Though the Board stopped short of taking an official stance, Garvey said members are considering issuing a statement in support of Rep. Don Beyer, who on Saturday voted against military funding for Israel. While condemning Hamas’ attacks since Oct. 7, Beyer argued that “too much of this funding is likely to pay for weapons that recent history says will lead to more civilian deaths.”

Board member Matt de Ferranti added that the Board is seeking to find “a balance” in its approach.

“Many international issues are not ones that I think this body should have opinions on,” he said. “This clearly is a different spot, and so I do think that action is appropriate, as our Chair has described.”

De Ferranti said he is particularly concerned about the threat of famine and the loss of children’s lives.

Board members’ statements on Saturday were a departure from county leaders’ approach two months ago.

When speaker Daniel Gajewski asked Board members to pass a ceasefire resolution in February, Garvey encouraged residents to contact their federal representatives. No other Board members spoke at the time.

Prior to that, then-Board Chair Christian Dorsey addressed the issue on Oct. 11, shortly after the first attacks.

“We can say unequivocally that we condemn all of the violence that has been targeted at non-combatants and civilians that has caused many to be kidnapped and many to be murdered, and we hope that the violence de-escalates quickly without further loss of significant life to civilian populations there,” he said at the time.

On Saturday, Gajewski returned to address the Board, this time with other activists accompanying him. He argued that the impacts of the war in Gaza since October demand further action.

“I can think of no better way for the Board to stand by [Dorsey’s] words than by calling for an immediate, permanent ceasefire,” he said.

Attendees wearing keffiyeh shawls stood behind Gajewski bearing signs reading “stop genocide” and “ceasefire now.” In keeping with the Board’s policy of allowing only one speaker per topic during public comment, they did not speak.

Several other members of the public, however, tied arguments related to the war into their own comments.

One argued that the impact of bombings in Gaza affects Arlington residents by contributing to climate change. Another speaker commenting on housing policy asserted that the county’s obligation to support fair housing extends to the Gaza conflict, which has displaced some 1.7 million people.

At one point, Garvey interrupted a speaker who was calling on the Board to pass a resolution commemorating the Nakba, a mass displacement of Palestinians in 1948.

“It’s not really a different topic,” she said. “So I hear you, we’re going to talk about this and address it, but thank you very much.”