Thousands march with Pro-Palestine signs and Palestinian flags in a protest demanding a ceasefire in Gaza. The Texas Capitol, State Theatre and other landmarks of downtown Austin are visible.

Will Texas Cities Stay Silent on Gaza?

From Austin to San Antonio and Dallas to Houston, pro-Palestine advocates are pleading with recalcitrant local officials to take a stand for Gazans.


Last Thursday, a stream of Austinites poured into their city hall and packed the council meeting chamber—some carrying signs, some with hands painted red, and many sporting black-and-white keffiyehs, headscarves that serve as international symbols of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.

The activists were there to push the city council to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. But since no such item was on the agenda that day, they’d simply booked all the slots in an open public comment period to make their case. 

“I am a Jewish mother; I am also the descendant of survivors of the Holocaust in Germany and the pogroms in Russia. I have been devastated every day watching this genocide unfold,” said Abigail Mallick, one of a series of Jewish speakers who addressed the council that day to oppose Israel’s recent military actions. “We must pass a ceasefire resolution. … We must join the growing chorus of voices saying ‘never again’—‘never again’ for anyone.” 

“We must join the growing chorus of voices saying ‘never again’—‘never again’ for anyone.”

The testimony was part of a monthslong effort in Austin and other cities across Texas and the country to get local governments to weigh in on the tragedy unfolding across the world in Gaza, the 140-square-mile slice of Palestinian territory that abuts the Egyptian border and the Mediterranean Sea. Since October 7, when Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that governs Gaza, executed a horrific attack in southern Israel that left 1,200 dead and more than 200 kidnapped, Israel has retaliated by unleashing Hell on Earth for 2.2 million Gazans. As of late January, about 25,000 Palestinians have been killed with the majority being women and children, per the Gaza Health Ministry. A quarter of Gazans are starving, and nearly the entire population is displaced. 

South Africa has brought claims of genocide against Israel at the International Court of Justice; Israel denies the charges. Many scholars have warned for months of a possible genocide unfolding, though Israel’s defenders including the U.S. State Department dispute the claim.

Both Arab and Palestinian Americans are undercounted by the U.S. Census, according to the Arab American Institute, but Texas ranks among the top five states for both communities. The state’s biggest urban areas, especially Harris County and the Metroplex, all boast significant populations. 

The Texas Democratic Party was the first among all states to officially call for a ceasefire in Gaza; five of 13 Lone Star Dems in the U.S. House have also done so, in addition to the AFL-CIO central labor councils in San Antonio and Austin. Massive protests have been held across Texas cities, including one in November that was likely the largest demonstration at the state Capitol since the 2017 Women’s March. Nationwide, at least a couple dozen cities have passed ceasefire resolutions, including San Francisco, Atlanta, and Detroit. But, so far, Texas activists are running into brick walls with their municipal representatives as council members either stay silent or argue that endorsing a ceasefire would inflame divisions in their cities or that the issue is simply not a local matter.

“Our city always was known for standing for human rights and for progressive values. We need our leaders to stand with us and [against] these horrific crimes that happen to our community.”

At the Austin meeting last week, Council member Chito Vela told the pro-Palestine crowd that he personally supported a ceasefire and had signed an open letter to that effect. “However, I do not want this council to become embroiled in foreign policy matters,” he clarified. “These are far beyond our purview as a local government, and we have too many critical local issues that demand our attention.”

In November, Austin’s Human Rights Commission urged the city council to call for a ceasefire. Three council members issued a joint statement in December expressing their support, and activists believe these three would back a formal resolution. With a fourth member, they could force a vote, but—even in Texas’ most left-wing city—sufficient support remains elusive.

“Our city always was known for standing for human rights and for progressive values,” said Hatem Natsheh, a member of the recently formed Austin for Palestine Coalition and longtime local activist who was born in Palestine’s West Bank. “We need our leaders to stand with us and [against] these horrific crimes that happen to our community.”

Natsheh noted that the council has weighed in on foreign policy before with resolutions condemning ex-President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and the 2003 Iraq invasion. He also observed that Mayor Kirk Watson, whose office did not respond to a request for comment, spoke at a pro-Israel event shortly after the October 7 attack. “We know that the City of Austin has no power over international issues, but we are not asking because of that,” Natsheh said. “We’re asking them to take a moral stand for humanity.”

Pro-Palestine demonstrators march down Congress Ave with the Texas Capitol in the background
A pro-Palestine demonstration in Austin in 2021 (Ivan Armando Flores/Texas Observer)

Just down I-35, in San Antonio, pro-Palestine activists nearly secured a ceasefire vote earlier this month before a council member reversed course.

With three members supporting, which is enough to convene a special meeting in San Antonio, the Alamo City council was set to vote on a ceasefire resolution in either January or February. But earlier this month, Council Member Manny Pelaez withdrew his support, saying, “It became evident that this was causing more pain and anxiety than was originally intended.” Another council member, Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, called Pelaez’s decision “one of the weakest moves I’ve ever seen from any councilmember ever.” 

In late December, a group of Jewish leaders in San Antonio had written city council arguing that the resolution, “while well-intentioned, is morally wrong and will further endanger members of the local Jewish community.” Following Pelaez’s reversal, Mayor Ron Nirenberg penned a memo stating the special meeting was scrapped. In it, Nirenberg suggested the vote would have “exacerbate[d] trauma,” adding that “Wading into a complex and volatile international environment with an incomplete understanding could prove to be reckless.”

The ceasefire push has been led in part by San Antonio for Justice in Palestine (SAJP), a Palestinian-led group that existed prior to October 7 but has been revitalized in the last few months. The group works alongside others including the local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, which has coalesced pro-Palestine Jews across the country. “The call is coming straight from Gaza, straight from Palestine … that we need to do everything within our power to make calls for a ceasefire,” said Sara Masoud, a Palestinian SAJP core member and health science professor with family in the West Bank. She noted that the council in 2022 passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Ukraine and also contradicted Nirenberg, saying a “call for a ceasefire actually reduces trauma because it speaks on behalf of peace.” 

Masoud said her group and allies will keep working to find a third supporter to replace Pelaez.

In Dallas, council members approved a resolution on October 11 stating that the city “stands with Israel in its fight against Hamas.” Since then, as the death toll in Gaza has soared, Dallasites have repeatedly turned out to push the body to consider a ceasefire resolution. “It’s a city issue in that countless Palestinians here in Dallas have been affected by it, have lost family members,” said Sumayyah El-Heet, a Palestinian organizer with the Dallas chapter of the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM). El-Heet said she knew of Dallasites who are mourning dozens of family members killed in Gaza. 

“If we were elected and not expected to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, then I don’t know why the hell we were elected.”

Dallas Council member Adam Bazaldua has authored a ceasefire resolution. Depending on the procedure used, Bazaldua told the Texas Observer, he needs either two or four additional supporters to trigger a vote. He said he has little patience for the argument that the matter is not a local issue or that it would distract from municipal business.

“I personally cannot stand that pushback on any particular item,” Bazaldua said, “because if we were elected and not expected to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, then I don’t know why the hell we were elected.”

Down I-45, Houston has seen months of large pro-Palestine demonstrations and other events. The Bayou City has one of the largest Arab-American populations in the nation. While some council members have voiced support for a ceasefire, ex-Mayor Sylvester Turner—who left office at the beginning of this month—has said Houston City Council simply does not do resolutions of this sort. In an email, spokesperson Mary Benton told the Observer that Houston “does not have a history of issuing resolutions regarding global conflicts” or other issues beyond city administrative business, though she said she hadn’t yet discussed the matter with now-Mayor John Whitmire.

“Houston holds one of the largest Palestinian and Arab communities in the country right now; we have Houstonians who were trapped in Gaza for months,” said Fouad Salah, an organizer with the Houston chapter of PYM, which has been pushing city council unsuccessfully to take a stand on the issue. “We have Houstonians—I mean, myself, I have family, God rest their souls—who have been murdered in Gaza. … To be clear, a lack of calling for a ceasefire is an endorsement of the genocide of our people.”