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‘Peoria is not Chicago’: Mayor Ali says city must take neutral stance on Gaza ceasefire

Peoria Mayor Rita Ali speaks during Tuesday's City Council meeting in this screen shot from the meeting video.
City of Peoria
Peoria Mayor Rita Ali speaks during Tuesday's City Council meeting in this screen shot from the meeting video.

Following a lengthy public comment discussion at Tuesday’s Peoria City Council meeting, Mayor Rita Ali issued a statement saying the city must remain “neutral, yet compassionate” about the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

Ali acknowledged 70 cities across the U.S. have approved resolutions calling for a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas. She also noted Chicago’s city council divided on the issue, passing its resolution by just one vote.

“Peoria is not Chicago. We cannot afford to allow this international issue to divide our city or our communities,” Ali said in her statement. “Yet, I don’t want it to appear that our leadership is not concerned about the tragic loss of life that is occurring overseas daily and impacting the families and loved ones of some of our residents. We care about all human life and beyond.”

A large audience packed the Council chambers Tuesday as numerous people spoke during a public comments session that lasted more than 2½ hours. The vast majority present urged the council to adopt a ceasefire resolution. Among them was Imam Mazhar Mahmood, the Director of Religious Affairs at the Islamic Foundation of Peoria.

Mahmood said the city already took a position when the McCluggage Bridge was lighted blue and white to support Israel after the initial Oct. 7 attack by Hamas. He said Israel’s response has been disproportionate, with “10,000-plus hostages in Israeli prisons.”

“Freedom is not subjective. Freedom should be encompassing one and all and it should be generally objective. This is not a Muslim thing; this is a human thing,” he said. “Just glance at your hearts, my honorable leaders which are sitting here today, glance at your hearts and your humanity and make the call that the tens of city councils have made calling for a ceasefire.”

LaDona Fishkin, a former president of the Jewish Federation of Peoria, encouraged the council to stay focused on the city and not engage in global affairs.

“We all want to end the loss of innocent life; we all yearn for peace. We know that Palestinian civilians suffer,” said Fishkin. “But a ceasefire that precludes the demilitarization of Hamas and doesn’t return the hostages will only take us back to the same dangerous situation we had on Oct. 7.”

Ke’Shawn Hess, a substitute teacher and nonprofit volunteer, suggested Peoria’s focus should remain local.

“A lot of you have said you are the voice of Peoria. I would like to know, where is this outpour and all this clamor when many children in Peoria die from gun violence and other types of violence?” said Hess. “I’m not here to take away from anybody’s struggle, I’m simply here to put eyes back on Peoria and the problems we face in this city.”

In her statement, Ali stressed that Peoria city leaders are not elected to legislate national issues and it is not their duty to take sides in the matter.

“This is a divisive issue, and we cannot allow it to divide Peoria,” she said in the release, adding that Peoria’s elected leaders “sympathize with the loss of human life and pray for Peace and Conflict Resolution.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.