Chicagoans demand an end to U.S.-backed attacks on Gaza – Mondoweiss


Last week, a weekend of solidarity efforts in Chicago began on Saturday, October 21, as demonstrators from across Illinois gathered in the thousands to protest for Palestinian human rights and demand the withdrawal of U.S. support for Israel as Gaza continued to endure another week of Israeli siege and air strikes. ​​The weekend took an intense turn the following days at a counter-rally in Skokie, IL, just 15 miles away, where two pro-Israel protesters attempted to attack Palestine solidarity demonstrators, one with gunshots and another who sprayed military-grade mace.

Saturday’s massive protest was organized by the Chicago Coalition for Justice in Palestine — which is comprised of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), American Muslims for Palestine Chicago (AMP Chicago), Palestinian American Community Center (PACCUSA), Al Nahda and Palestinian American Council (PACChicago). Despite being announced only two days prior, the protest drew 25,000 participants according to official headcount by the organizations.

The assembly convened at 1:00 p.m. in Congress Plaza at the crossroads of Michigan Avenue and Ida B. Wells Drive, and the main message was to call for the end of U.S. government support for the genocide taking place in Gaza. This call to action followed public statements by U.S. government officials and President Joe Biden, who has since drafted a package of $14 billion in emergency supplementary military aid to Israel.

The demonstrators also expressed strong objections to the Chicago City Council, which passed Ald. Debra Silverstein’s resolution declaring solidarity with Israel and condemning Hamas by a majority vote on October 13. Protesters insisted the resolution lacked nuance by not also condemning Israeli treatment of Palestinians and also incited violence towards Palestinians.

During the hearing on the October 13 resolution, students from SJP Chicago had shouted out in the council chamber as Silverstein delivered her address. As the uproar continued to ensue, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson ordered the council chamber cleared, leading to students and protestors being dragged from the room. Students gathered on the first floor of City Hall to continue their protest for the following three hours. 

A time to grieve Wadea and Gaza

Tragically, the day after the City Hall session, Wadea Al-Fayoume, a six-year-old Palestinian-American boy, was killed when he was stabbed 26 times in his home in nearby Plainfield Township, Illinois, as the landlord yelled, “You Muslims must die,” authorities said.

It is clear the current political environment puts Palestinian Americans in a vulnerable position and at risk, and the grieving Al-Fayoume family, along with the broader community, have insisted on recognizing young Wadea’s murder as an anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian hate crime incited by negative media rhetoric. His funeral, the Islamic Janazah, was held at The Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, Illinois, and was attended by hundreds, including locals, allies, Muslim community members, Rabbis, as well as aforementioned Chicago mayor Brandon Johnson, and governor, JB Pritzker. 

Saturday’s demonstration followed these events and gave Chicagoans a moment to respond. Several demonstrators carried banners with Wadea Al Fayoume’s image, while another banner had a Gazan child’s image and asked, “How many more children need to die?”

The demonstration remained peaceful as demonstrators, families, students, and allies expressed their grief and apprehensions regarding the events in Gaza. The SJP organization had also appointed marshals to provide crowd management guidance, assist with route changes, ensure safety, and implement other precautionary measures.

SJP Chicago’s co-chair, Jannah Abu, said students came out in the thousands from across Illinois. She said a significant portion of those present were part of the Palestinian diaspora who were collectively experiencing sorrow stemming from both recent events as well as the weight of their entire historical experience.

“We mourn the loss of human life, both this weekend and over the whole course of the long history of Israeli occupation,” Abu said. “It’s not an isolated event. This is a long history of oppression, subjugation, and human rights violations.” 

Abu said her university has also never expressed formal solidarity or support for the Palestinian people despite numerous occasions to do so amid the ongoing infringement of human rights.

Angel Naranjo, a student organizer of an ally organization, Students for a Democratic Society at UIC (SDS), explained that his initial involvement with the organization stemmed from his concerns about the United States funding and financial support to oppressive regimes.

“I was looking at the wars and the billions and billions of dollars that the United States was sending to fund apartheid and genocide across the world, such as the case in Palestine,” Naranjo said. “Part of what being in SDS means is standing up against imperialist aggression. 4 billion dollars going to that regime, from the United States, every year? That’s criminal to me.”

The demonstrators spanned several blocks along Michigan Avenue, with the march circling back to its starting point and concluding at Congress Plaza. The event extended over the course of four hours.

Throughout the demonstration, the crowds maintained their organization, and there were no reports of violence.

The story was different, however, on Sunday.

Violence in Skokie

The following day, on Sunday, October 22, the Simon Wiesenthal Center organized a Solidarity with Israel event, where around 200 protesters supporting the Palestinian people showed up as a counter-rally on the 3400 block of Touhy Avenue in Skokie and Lincolnwood, according to the Lincolnwood Police Department. As the counter-rallies took place, authorities said, a gunshot was fired in the air, and a second subject sprayed at the crowd with military-grade pepper spray, including at an officer and a Chicago Sun-Times reporter.

Palestinian demonstrators started running at the sound of the shot, and several people surrounded the man as he was apprehended by police. No one was injured, and both subjects were immediately taken into custody by law enforcement, police said. 

The subject who fired a gunshot was released from police custody on Sunday, and additional information on the man’s identity and what led up to the shots being fired hasn’t been made available. Lincolnwood Police Department said the subject’s name is being withheld as no criminal charges have been filed in this incident. They just released that the subject is a 39-year-old male residing in Chicago and has a valid Concealed Carry License (CCL) holder.

In a statement released by the office of Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx, officials stated that the subject had no criminal history and was acting in self-defense, concluding that no charges would be filed in his case. Following this, the USPCN released a statement on their webpage, urging the public to call the Cook County State attorney’s office and demand that the unidentified subject who shot at the Skokie rally be charged immediately. 

However, the subject who sprayed military-grade pepper spray at the crowd of Palestinian demonstrators was identified as Zevulen Ebert, 33, and charged with aggravated battery and hate crimes, according to the Skokie Police Department. 

As the Chicago Coalition evaluates its next steps and SJP chapters continue to collaborate, it is anticipated that demonstrations will continue in the coming weeks. The next demonstration is to be held at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 28, in downtown Chicago. Upcoming events are expected to be announced on the organization’s webpage

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