Trying to find some light in the darkness of Gaza

by Mick Rhodes |

Before last week, the last time I covered a city council meeting was in 1993, when I was a young reporter in my first full-time job in journalism at the long gone North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, in Incline Village, Nevada.

My beat included the Incline Village General Improvement District, or “IVGID,” as everyone called it, the small town Nevada equivalent to a city council. I’d been a sports reporter up until shortly before then, so hard news was a new beat. I floundered spectacularly for a few weeks before I found my footing. But I eventually ended up enjoying reporting on the carryings on in the tiny resort town, which, like Claremont, had its curmudgeons and civic champions.

Though technically full grown, I know now I was more of a large, hairy manbaby with a press pass. I’d cover IVGID meetings, write down what happened, interview the players, and file my stories. But I wasn’t capable of understanding what was at stake: I just hadn’t yet lived enough life.

I thought about those days as I prepared to cover the February 27 Claremont City Council meeting. It would be my first such assignment in 30 years, and this time I knew I didn’t have the option of detachment. On the agenda were two competing resolutions: one would have the council affirming its support for a cease-fire in Gaza. The other would have affirmed the body’s longstanding tradition of not weighing in on issues not directly related to Claremont.

The unanimous vote for the latter came after some seven hours of public comment by passionate, often emotional residents, students, professors, and other invested speakers, including moving firsthand accounts of traumatic antisemitic and anti-Palestinian/anti-Arab violence.

The room was charged, and the passion spilled over repeatedly. Folks on both sides of this issue have since told me there was some shoving when the chamber doors opened to the public shortly before 6:30 p.m., with both claiming the aggressors were the other party. I didn’t witness the incident, so I can’t comment on who’s version is truthful, but a week later the disconnect seems an apt allegory for the issue at hand.

Meanwhile, outside the packed council chambers demonstrators carried signs and chanted slogans. I counted eight Claremont Police Department officers. One told me the usual contingent at these things was two, with the increased presence there for the large crowds expected due to the controversial resolutions on the council’s agenda. After spending a couple hours at the contentious meeting I understood that decision. Though it never turned physically violent, I could see how under the right circumstances it very well could have. Good on Claremont Police Chief Aaron Fate for having the foresight to beef up coverage for the night.

Inside the council chambers it was both a superb display of bedrock democracy, with citizens’ voices being heard by their government, and a disheartening look into how far people on both sides will go to discredit one another. The audience was primarily civil, but showed their displeasure by sometimes jeering and talking over speakers who had waited in line for their three minutes at the microphone. Not all speakers were targeted, of course, but too many were.

Several times Claremont Mayor Sal Medina cautioned the interrupters to be courteous or they would be asked to leave. I admired the way Medina maintained his cool in the face of the disrespect.

That otherwise rational people attempted to silence one another was unfortunate. But considering the topic at hand it wasn’t surprising.

I too have strong opinions, some of which I’ve shared in previous columns. But as the months since October 7 have dragged on and the death toll has swollen to more than 30,000, a grotesque figure some are saying is incomplete, most of the hostages are still in captivity or worse, and chillingly, the first reports of children dying from malnutrition have begun to appear, my anger has given way to a deep sadness.

Increasingly, I’m finding cynicism much easier to access than hope. It’s not a good feeling, this hopelessness.

So, I’ve been talking to as many smart people I can over this past week, hoping to find some light in this very dark chapter of human history.

To that end, I checked in with The Parents Circle Families Forum, whose mission statement reads:

“The Parents Circle Families Forum is a joint Israeli-Palestinian organization made up of more than 600 bereaved families. Their common bond is that they have lost a close family member to the conflict. But instead of choosing revenge, they have chosen a path of reconciliation.”

This group is doing the hardest work of all: having meaningful discussions, with empathy and compassion, among the people who are perhaps most likely to become hardened and hopeless. Reading and watching their inspiring testimonies helped bring a little light to the gloom. If they can do it, so can we.


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