Council calls for Gaza ceasefire

Councillors Jim Memeti and Rhonda Garad are seen amongst the crowd after the motion was passed as they received an ovation.

By Sahar Foladi

Greater Dandenong Council has passed a motion calling for a permanent ceasefire and peace in Palestine in response to more than 14,000 civilians killed.

The council meeting on Monday 27 November was a mixture of emotions as debate begun with the tearful mover, Councillor Rhonda Garad supported by Cr Jim Memeti.

“This motion condemns the Hamas attack on October 7. It concerns all forms of violence,” Cr Garad said.

“We can all see what’s happening, we can all see the murder and slaying of children.

“It is wrong in anyone’s language in any context and any time, there is never a justification.”

The “humane” motion calls out the State and Federal Government to “demand an immediate ceasefire among all parties in the Gaza conflict” and “an end to illegal occupation of the Palestinian Territories” and “anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and racism in all forms, both in Australia and internationally.”

The crowd erupted in applause and cheers in the public gallery as the council voted in favour of the motion, also applauding Councillors Garad and Memeti.

“I love humanity and this is what this motion is about,” Cr Memeti said.

“The motion is an extension of Council’s commitment to support diverse community needs.”

The community turnout at the meeting in support of the motion was so great that the public gallery overflowed. The majority watched the scenes unfold on the big screen at Harmony Square.

According to Cr Memeti, a crowd of 1,500 people gathered outside with 40 seated at the public gallery during the meeting.

“It was very emotional, people burst into tears and they were extremely happy that Council is listening and supporting them.”

He says the impact of the war is so deeply felt in the multicultural community that he had to support this motion.

“Just when I would speak to people they would tell me what they’re facing in their own homes and lives, emotionally as well as mentally, they feel abandoned.

“They love Australia it’s been a great democratic and just country. They just don’t know why Australia is not supporting a ceasefire.”

The crowd both inside and outside the building celebrated as Councillors Memeti and Garad walked out into the crowd of happy faces.

“I can see people from the community sitting over there, I see doctors, teachers, milk bar owners, factory workers, people living in my street this is my community and I am standing up for my community,” Cr Memeti said.

“I’m calling on both the state and the federal government to ceasefire and support Palestine.”

Councillor Garad said she’s never received “so many messages and so much support for a motion” in her three years in the council.

“That’s not one particular community, 100,000 people in the community are marching in the city and we are all calling for the same thing. We want a humane end to this conflict, we want a settlement and a long-term peace…”

Councillors Sophie Tan and Bob Milkovic abstained from voting on the motion after a lengthy and heated debate as councillor Tim Dark firmly stood his ground against the motion.

Cr Dark said the motion’s wording “pandered to one group of the community” particularly pointing out the call for the Victorian Government “to end its relationship with any companies whose weapons are used in the Gaza conflict”.

As Cr Dark acknowledged the “abhorrent and unacceptable” loss of lives on both sides, he strongly expressed the issue is “not the realm of the local government,” which sparked a debate with an outraged Cr Memeti over Council’s role.

“Within the Local Government Act, we have roles and responsibilities, responsibilities of parks, assets and infrastructure of the community services…

“Where in the Local Government Act specifically does it include Council to be involved in foreign conflict and taking a position on global politics?” he questioned Cr Memeti as ‘Free Free Palestine’ and ‘Ceasefire Now’ echoed throughout the meeting from the crowd outside.

As a result of his position on the matter, Cr Dark mentioned death threats he’s received on his personal contact number.

Councillor Memeti said he condemned anyone making death threats, that everyone has the right to their views and decisions in a democratic country and after any notice of motions, “we just have to pick ourselves up and move forward.”

A day prior to the council meeting, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria Inc expressed their position on the motion, labelling it “misinformed” on X.

“The JCCV has written to councillors in the City of Greater Dandenong in response to a one-sided, misinformed motion on Gaza that will be presented this week.

“The JCCV is alarmed by the rising number of local councils presenting biased motions on matters of international affairs.”

Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) president Nasser Mashni said the Council have made a “sensible and honourable decision.”

“I coined this motion as not only the right thing to do but a sensible and honourable decision of council on behalf of its constituents asking our government to stop the killing as it is not political, it is human.”

Multiple questions were raised at public question time. One submitter stated that the council “works with the Ukrainian community in the Noble Park to create artworks and released a statement against Russian transgression” but questioned why hadn’t the council done the same for Palestine.

“I would like to ask the councillors to acknowledge the right to life and freedom to all those on Earth especially those who’re continually oppressed especially Palestinians,” said another.

Social media remains divided over the council’s decision as a local resident, Andrew Vaccaro expressed his disappointment on X.

“I’m extremely disappointed that Greater Dandenong Council got itself involved with this, and intend to write a letter of protest.

“Sadly, there are only two decent Councillors with common sense in Dandy!” he posted less than 24 hours after the motion was passed.

Last week on Thursday 23 November more than 3,000 attended a prayer vigil held at Harmony Square also attended by councillors Memeti and Garad.