Thousands of protesters gathered in Grant Park for the second time in five days to show their support for Palestine and denounce recent Israeli violence against the Palestinian people.
Demonstrators gathered in Grant Park and marched through Chicago’s downtown area May 16 as part of a demonstration organized by the Coalition for Justice in Palestine, which consists of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), Palestinian American Community Center, Palestinian American Council, Al-Nahda Center and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
The protest grew so large that at one point it filled Michigan Avenue from West Harrison Street to West Van Buren Street.
Just days before, thousands of protesters gathered May 12 in downtown Chicago for a similar rally and march organized by the same groups.
Hatem Abudayyeh, the national chair of the USPCN, said one of the aims of the demonstrations was to get the attention of lawmakers who have the power to influence the global response to Israel’s violence.
“We just need to continue to press the people in charge to make sure that they force Israel to stop,” Abudayyeh told The Phoenix. “The U.S. government is just as responsible for this as Israel is.”
In 2016, under the Obama administration, the U.S. signed a 10-year security deal guaranteeing Israel $3.8 billion a year in military aid, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
The Biden administration announced this week that it would send $10 million in aid to Palestinian groups, a small reversal from the Trump administration’s 2018 decision to cut $200 million in aid, the AP reported. However, Biden’s administration also informed lawmakers May 5 — a week before current hostilities began — that it had approved a $735 million arms sale to Israel, Al Jazeera reported.
Some elected officials are already on board with the cause — U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL) was one of several politicians who attended the rally and addressed the crowd of demonstrators.
“The death and destruction must end now,” Garcia, who represents Illinois’ fourth district, said to the crowd in Grant Park.
Abudayyeh wasn’t alone in calling out the U.S.’ role in the violence, Ahmed Ben, a protestor at the rally, said the conflict was one-sided due to the funding disparities between the two sides.
“Gaza is defenseless,” Ben, 20, told The Phoenix. “They’re against a state that has 3.8 billion dollars of United States defense funding. People are comparing apples to oranges.”
Israeli airstrikes killed 42 Palestinians May 16, bringing the Palestinian death toll to 192 — including 58 children — with more than 1,200 injured over the last seven days. Ten Israelis, including two children, have been killed by Hamas rocket fire in the same amount of time, Al Jazeera reported.
While amongst the thousands of protesters, and in spite of the violence occurring against Arabs and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, Ben remained optimistic.
“It’s very emotional to see people coming out and supporting our cause,” Ben said. “It’s greater than each individual person here. I believe and I’m hopeful we will take a stand and we will see Palestine free.”
Organized mass demonstrations have become more common over the past year and a half, with a rise of awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement, Stop Asian Hate movement and climate change issues. May 16 protests in support of Palestine took place in Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh after a week of organized marches across the globe. Several thousands of participants each attended rallies in Qatar, Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Germany, according to Al Jazeera.
Rabe Alsilwadi, a 21-year-old protester, hopes the American public will support Palestinians in the same ways they’ve supported other minority groups this past year.
“Palestinian-Americans care a lot about the issues in America,” Alsilwaldi said. “We support Black Lives Matter [and] anti-Asian hate. I hope that as we support the issues going on here they can support us as well and we can move together as a people.”
Alsilwadi’s call for unity was relayed by other protesters who encouraged Americans to view the situation from a Palestinian perspective.
“It’s easy to just live in your bubble and not care about an issue that doesn’t affect you directly but this could easily be you or your family that could be affected,” Kasem Bajwa, 23, said. “There are children being killed and families that are being separated, if that was happening to you would you want the U.S. to be supporting that if you were another country?”
The protest remained peaceful and didn’t result in any violence between protesters, civilians or police, reflecting some protesters’ hope for a solution.
“I hope that we can come to some sort of solution peacefully and coexist with each other at the end of the day,” Bajwa said.
News Editor Kayleigh Padar contributed to the reporting of this article.