Chicago and nationwide demonstrations demand end to attacks on Palestinians
Thousands of protesters gather in support of Palestinians in front of the Consulate General of Israel on May 12, 2021 in Chicago. | AP

CHICAGO—A protest here by thousands against the Israeli attacks on Gaza was emblematic this week of actions that swept the nation’s cities from coast to coast and of more marches and rallies expected this weekend.

The mass gathering in downtown Chicago, condemning the Israeli violence against Palestinians both in Gaza and within the borders of Israel itself, was organized by the Chicago Coalition for Justice in Palestine.

Participants began to gather Wednesday around 3 p.m. at the Wells and Michigan Ave. intersection. After rallying for an hour, they marched towards the Israeli Consulate, where they continued the peaceful protest until well into the evening.

Protesters condemned what they called ethnic cleansing against Arabs, the displacement of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and other neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, Israeli violations of Palestinians’ rights, and Israeli police-condoned attacks on its own civilians.

They demanded an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and all Palestinian territories and an end to what they described as the “apartheid regime” ruling the country. Many Palestinians inside and outside of Israel’s official borders have described the current right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu as Trumpism on steroids. Netanyahu, they say, has encouraged the emergence into the public of the most extreme right-wing elements in Israel. The right-wing mobs have been roaming the streets of Israeli cities attacking and beating Palestinians and other Arabs over the last several days.

The scene in Chicago Wednesday afternoon. | Aboulfotouh Kandil / People’s World

The diversity of those participating in the Chicago action was noticeable, with demonstrators including Arabs, African-Americans, Latino, and white people, among them Muslims, Christians, Jews, and people of no faith. The multi-generational protest included seniors, younger and middle-aged adults, youth and children, male, female, and transgender.

The protests here and across the country were the largest since tensions began early this month. The demonstration in Chicago was not the first action in the area against the Israeli attacks.

On May 8, Students for Justice in Palestine organized a rally in opposition to the forced removal of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and the replacement of them with non-Arab Israelis. The rally was held in front of the Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago. The Coalition for Justice in Palestine organized a separate rally and car caravan, held on May 11, in the suburban village of Worth. In addition, the Palestinian American Club held a similar protest in the village of Bridgeview on the evening of May 12.

Across the nation, there have been large protests in several other cities, including a gathering of thousands in midtown Manhattan and in Washington, D.C. Actions are planned across Canada for this weekend, and most major European capitals have seen major actions as well.

Aboulfotouh Kandil / People’s World

While some media outlets talk extensively about Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas rocket attacks, they fail to note that these are actually retaliatory in nature. They focus on the few rockets that hit Israel, killed civilians, or caused damage and on the economic losses for U.S. companies like United, American, and Delta airlines. Few in the mainstream media discuss the root causes of the tensions in Palestine and Israel.

The current situation is linked to an expected decision by the Israeli Supreme Court on whether to legalize the May 6 expulsion of hundreds of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in favor of housing Israeli settlers. Due to massive protests in both Israel and Palestine, the court has delayed its decision for now, but eviction efforts have been proceeding anyway.

In conjunction, violence escalated following Israeli police attacks on Muslim worshipers during their holy month of Ramadan and at the sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as in the Bab Al-Amoud and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods since May 7. These continuing attacks resulted in the injury of hundreds of Palestinians, while many were arrested and killed, including children and women.

Palestinians inspect their destroyed houses following overnight Israeli airstrikes in the town of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip,  May 14, 2021. | Khalil Hamra / AP

On May 10, Palestinian authorities in the Gaza Strip asked Israel to withdraw its troops from Al-Aqsa and to release detainees. Instead, Israeli gunboats bombed the coast of the Al-Sudania area in the northern Gaza Strip on May 11. The day after, Israel launched successive bomber raids that destroyed a number of residential buildings. Hamas responded with a series of rocket attacks targeting Tel Aviv and other Israeli areas.

Israeli violations of Palestinian rights, religious practices, and sacred places are not limited to Muslims and extend to Christians as well. The Supreme Presidential Committee for Church Affairs in Palestine has documented dozens of Israeli violations and attacks on Christian sacred places from 1967 to 2021.

For Arabs and Palestinians, the injustices perpetrated by Israel justify what they say is their own version of self-defense. The injustices they take issue with include the occupation of Palestinian lands, the demolition of Palestinian homes, attacks on sacred places, and the killing of innocent civilians.

Some 25 U.S. lawmakers, including Chicago’s Rep. Marie Newman (D), whose district includes a large Arab Palestinian community, are urging U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Biden administration to prevent the eviction of Palestinians, saying, “It is a clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention to demolish Palestinian homes and/or evict the occupants.”

Newman is a co-sponsor of recent legislation introduced by Rep. Betty McCollum that aims to limit U.S. taxpayer funding for Israeli weaponry. Destruction of Palestinian property is prohibited in the bill. McCollum said, “U.S. assistance intended for Israel’s security should foster peace and must never be used to violate the human rights of children, demolish the homes of Palestinian families, or to permanently annex Palestinian lands.”

On May 5, Newman posted on Facebook, “Palestinian families have every right to live in Sheikh Jarrah. I’m calling on the U.S. Department of State to immediately condemn these violations of international law as Palestinians are forcibly being removed from their homes in East Jerusalem.”

Although President Joe Biden said this week that Israel has a “right to defend itself,” he didn’t mention Palestinians’ rights. The U.N. Security Council will publicly discuss the violence between Palestine and Israel on Sunday.


Aboulfotouh Kandil
Aboulfotouh Kandil

Aboulfotouh Kandil is a freelance writer on socio-political issues and human rights with a main focus on the Middle East.