DOWNTOWN — Thousands of protesters marched through The Loop Saturday, chanting “Long live Palestine” and “End the siege on Gaza now.”
More than 5,000 demonstrators, who were led by the Chicago Coalition for Justice in Palestine and six other organizations, called for a ceasefire in Gaza during the march.
“We’re here to say ceasefire now because Gaza is really under fire right now. They’ve been cut off from water, electricity, internet,” said Rifqa Falaneh, an adviser to Students for Justice in Palestine Chicago. “Right here, we’re here to say ceasefire. It’s simple.”
Similar marches have been held around the world in recent weeks — including protests in Chicago throughout October — with advocates calling on Israel to end its airstrikes and ground invasion of Gaza. The invasion is continuing, with Israel sending more troops into Gaza and saying it’s intensifying its operation this week, according to CNN.
Critics have said the invasion has led to civilians, including children, being killed and cut off from aid, and numerous countries have called for a “humanitarian truce.” More than 8,000 Palestinians have been killed in the violence, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Supporters of the invasion have said it’s necessary to quell Hamas and protect Israel.
The heightened violence kicked off Oct. 7, when Hamas militants killed more than 1,400 people in Israel and took more than 200 people hostage during a surprise attack. Israel began retaliatory strikes in Gaza and invaded with troops and tanks. Hamas has released only a handful of the hostages, and it fired rockets at Israel as recently as Monday morning.
Before the Oct. 7 attack, Human Rights Watch had already declared Gaza an “open-air prison.” Israel and Egypt have restricted Palestinians’ movement from Gaza into the West Bank.
On Saturday, demonstrators wore keffiyehs, a traditional Palestinian headdress, to express solidarity with Palestinians. They gathered on Wacker Drive before heading south on Michigan Avenue toward the South Loop.
Some protesters carried coffins with pictures of children’s faces taped to them.
Falaneh said the decision to carry coffins came after President Joe Biden said he had “no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using” to count the death toll in the Gaza strip. The Gaza health ministry released 7,028 names in response.
“We want to indicate that 7,000 people, they’re not just names, they’re not just that,” Falaneh said. “They’re actual people that have lives. We need to put meaning and we need to put a face to this. We want people to actually know what 7,000 means.”
Sarah W., a marcher who did not want to share her last name, called the situation “slow violence and slow death.”
“All of these attacks on Gaza, they have nothing to do really with Hamas,” she said. “It’s just [for Israel] to continue to expand and expel the Palestinians.”
Christopher Fogarty and his wife, Mary, carried signs that said “Where is America’s Conscience?” and “No More U.S. Tax $$$ To Israel Occupation.” Fogarty said he’s shown up to protest before, and he thinks it’s “shocking” the U.S. government is putting money toward the Israeli attacks on Gaza.
“I cannot believe that our government, which was founded in freedom, is now engaged in the participation in a genocide,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Fogarty said that he hopes supporting Palestine publicly might inspire policymakers to demand a ceasefire. He and his close friends and family regularly write to their representatives in Congress, he said.
Showing up is important because it allows the government to hear the people’s demands, said Alithia Zamantakis, a protestor who came to the demonstration with the Party for Socialism and Liberation. She called for not only a ceasefire but also for the United States to divest from Israel.
“We know that our liberation is tied to the liberation of the Palestinian people,” she said. “As Latinos, as queer people, as working-class people, there is no liberation for any of us without the liberation of Palestine. We’re out here to support Palestine until it’s free.”
There have been demonstrations throughout Chicago every weekend since Oct. 8, and Falaneh said there are no signs of stopping. She said coming back week after week should pressure Israel to stop the attacks on Gaza.
Seeing people from all backgrounds come out to the protest is “amazing,” she said.
“It’s solidarity right here because this is a Palestinian liberation movement that everyone can get behind and everyone should get behind,” Falaneh said. “Honestly it’s beautiful, it shows you how dedicated” everyone is.
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