Following months of protests that brought thousands of demonstrators to the streets of Chicago in support of Palestine, the U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) rekindled their fight with a week of action July 5-9, this time focused on pressuring Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-9) to sign HR 2590 — a bill that would make U.S. aid to Israel conditional.
The bill, otherwise known as the Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act, would take steps to ensure U.S. aid to Israel isn’t used for the destruction of Palestinian property, detention of Palestinian children or deployment of Israeli forces in the “Israeli-occupied West Bank.” It would also require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Secretary of State to generate reports on the use of U.S. funds by Israel.
“We want to make sure that all the momentum and all the protests that have happened lead to tangible changes,” said Husam Marajda, co-chair of the USPCN Chicago Chapter.
Reps. Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-4), Danny K. Davis (IL-7), Bobby Rush (IL-1) and Marie Newman (IL-3) are just four of the 27 cosponsors who have already signed on to the bill.
“[This bill] is so important because it’s the only one,” Marajda told The Phoenix July 8. “It’s the only one that conditions Israeli aid. This bill, if signed, not only would condition Israel, it’ll change the narrative of how we talk about Israel.”
Miguel Ayala, a spokesperson for Schakowsky, said the congresswoman shares the USPCN’s concerns for Palestinians and her office is working to respond to constituents.
“She agrees the U.S. needs to use all of its influence to prevent the violation of human rights abroad,” Ayala said. “She’s active on the issue and she wants to make sure human rights are respected everywhere.”
In a statement published May 11, Schakowsky said she was “deeply disturbed” by the eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem but stated that Israel’s airstrikes in Gaza were a “legitimate” response to the rockets fired at the country by Hamas. Last year, she joined 190 Democratic members of Congress in sending a letter to Israel voicing concerns over its attempts at unilaterally annexing parts of Palestine.
However, condemnations aren’t what the protesters are looking for.
“[Schakowsky] said she’s criticized Israel before,” Marajda said. “That’s not enough.”
Nearly 60 protesters gathered at the southeast corner of West Hollywood Avenue and North Sheridan Road July 7 to demand Schakowsky to sign HR 2590. The next day, about 40 protestors participated in chants and gave speeches outside Schakowsky’s Edgewater office (5533 N. Broadway Street) to continue to pressure her.
In addition to the in-person demonstrations, USCPN is encouraging supporters to contact Schakowsky through phone calls and on social media to demand she sign the bill HR-2590.
Lynn Pollack, a 69-year-old Jewish woman who attended the protest July 8, said she has “stood in solidarity with Palestinians for two decades.” As a constituent of Schakowsky, Pollack said she wants to see Schakowsky “develop the moral courage” to sign the bill HR-2590.
“What has been going on has just been getting worse and worse and worse, so I come out when I can,” Pollack, an Evanston resident, told The Phoenix July 8. “My identity as a Jewish person is tied up in the concept of pursuing justice. This, to me, is an integral fight all Jews should be in.”
Marajda, who helped organize the July 7-8 demonstrations, said their group has previously been a fan of Schakowsky because of her stance on other issues. However, her inaction on Palestinian issues has caused her to become a target of their protests.
“We’ve always liked [Schakowsky],” the 26-year-old said. “She’s great on other issues like immigration rights and civil rights, … but she’s not good on Palestine. She has not moved on Palestine, she has not spoken up about Palestine and she has not signed off on this bill.”
Marajda wasn’t alone in his support for Schakowsky when it came to other issues. Marty Levine, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace which partners with USPCN, said he’s supported Schakowsky since she was elected in 1998, though he said he finds her inaction on the issue is “embarrassing.”
“A leader is a person who doesn’t talk, but acts,” Levine said during his speech at the July 8 demonstration. “This bill is a way to act. Jan, as someone who’s been with you, it’s time to act.”
Israeli and Palestinian relations aren’t a new issue for Schakowsky — some have been lobbying her for years on the matter.
Rania Salem, a 2018 Loyola graduate who studied political science and worked with Students for Justice in Palestine as a student, said issues she fought for as a student have persisted. Now, as a member of the USPCN, she said it has been frustrating continuing to put pressure on Schakowsky regarding the same issue.
“It does get a little bit frustrating when you’re trying to pressure a representative for years to support you and you see them support everything else and say ‘Oh, I’m [progressive],” the 25-year-old told The Phoenix at the July 7 demonstration. “You can’t stand for one liberal movement and not another. … This is something that should move [Schakowsky].”
The evictions that served as a flashpoint for the most recent conflict may continue, the Associated Press reported. Because of this, Marajda said that the bill could help Palestinians still at risk of losing their homes.
“There are still people in Palestine facing eviction,” Marajda said. “People in Palestine depend on [this bill].”