Chapel Hill council declines to issue Gaza resolution


CHAPEL HILL – The Town of Chapel Hill council met Wednesday, Jan. 24, hearing a feisty discussion on the Israel-Hamas war during the public comment period.

Passionate advocates made arguments both for and against the passing of a town resolution in support of a call for an immediate ceasefire.

Following the 30 minute discussion period, the town council chose not to weigh in on the complex foreign policy matter, with Mayor Jessica Anderson making a lengthy acknowledgement of the fraught discussion and the heightened emotions on all sides.

“Thank you for coming out tonight and for giving comments and for your engagement on this important issue,” said Anderson, in an attempt to placate the crowd. “I want to begin by acknowledging the worry, the fear, the pain and the anguish that this awful situation is causing people across this community and within our own organization. As a council, our job is to look out for the health, safety and well-being of our entire community. So the impact that this is having weighs deeply on us.”

“Since last fall, we’ve been hearing from individuals on all sides of this issue,” she continued. “This has included calls for a ceasefire resolution, a resolution in support of Israel and emails from individuals asking us to stay out of the issue entirely.”

In general, town council resolutions, like the one sought calling for a ceasefire halfway around the world, are non-binding and merely indicate the position of the council. It is unlikely that either Israel or Hamas would take much heed of it.

“For the town council and for all of us, resolutions are an important advocacy tool. We choose the issues we weigh in on with great care and, as a matter of practice, we do not weigh in on things that are outside of our expertise or authority,” Anderson went on. “When we do choose to issue a resolution, we work together to make sure it reflects the interest of our community and typically the council is unanimous in our support. In this situation, where our community is deeply conflicted and the issues are very complex, a resolution is not what is needed. Instead, as we have seen in other communities, it can serve to add to the divide.”

Council members Melissa McCullough and Camille Berry, weighed in, too, noting how a resolution wouldn’t accomplish much.

“What I have chosen to do and what I recommend for other people is that you can support charities who will provide support to those who are affected,” McCullough said. “That is something that we individually can do that will actually make a difference.”

“I am not Jewish. I am not Palestinian. I am your neighbor,” Berry said. “I am your fellow human being. I sit with you tonight as we all do to receive your pain, to receive your pleas. I do not believe it is this council’s right to ask for a ceasefire. What is my personal right is to ask for, as an individual, that human life be valued. That we continue to sit together, share our pain, that we not turn on each other. Not one of us wants to see someone else’s loved one die. Not one of us in this room. It is complex. There are those who are playing a game with life and with the lives of others. Do I hurt? I do. Do I feel? I do and I know each of you does. Please do not see my position to not support a ceasefire as turning my back on those that are suffering.”

Moving on to more local matters, the council received an update on the North-South Bus Rapid Transit, a $141.39 million investment that will span 8.2 miles along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, South Columbia Street and US 15-501 South.

The plan features 17 enhanced station areas, regional transit service connections, transit signal priority, an off-road multi-use path, completed sidewalk network and enhanced pedestrian crossings. It will be free for riders.

“The north-south corridor is our busiest transit corridor both in terms of vehicles, trips and riders,” said transit planning manager Caroline Dwyer. “It is consistently among the highest transit ridership routes in the state and that is what makes it such a great candidate for this investment in Chapel Hill.”

According to Dwyer, the next steps for the project, which is currently in the design and engineering phase, includes utility coordination, preliminary technology discussions, complete surveying and mapping and continued interdepartmental and interagency coordination and reviews which will span the next 12-18 months. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2027 with a full launch in 2029.

The town announced a public meeting on the rewriting of the town’s land use ordinance on Jan. 31 at 6 p.m. at the Chapel Hill Public Library

“The town will be hosting a public information meeting on rewriting our rules initiative,” Anderson said. “For those that are unfamiliar with this project, the town is in the process of rewriting our land use ordinances to make them compatible with our complete community vision.”

Finally, Anderson announced that registration was open for the 2024 Peoples Academy.

“The Peoples Academy is an amazing program that allows participants to learn about the inner workings of the town through field trips and other activities,” Anderson said.

The program begins on Feb. 22 and will last through March 23. Registration is open through Feb. 12.

The Town of Chapel Hill council will next meet Feb. 14.