Hundreds of Palestinian supporters converged on Evanston’s Fountain Square Saturday afternoon for a rally and march decrying what they said is ongoing mistreatment of Palestinians by Israeli forces.
The event was organized by Chicago Area Peace Action in conjunction with several other activist groups, including Northwestern Students for Justice in Palestine.
But not all attendees were affiliated with those groups.
Victoria Mermel, who brought a large Palestinian flag, said she attended because “what’s happening in Gaza is one of the worst atrocities in recent memory.”
She said Israel’s treatment of Palestinians makes it “an apartheid state.”
A young man who would only give his name as Mohammad said the current conflict is rooted in the long-running, complicated history between Israelis and Palestinians.
“Hamas…is basically freedom fighters, like a regular person” whose loved ones have died over the years at the hands of the Israelis, he said. “They want to defend their country, they want to defend their land.”
There was little mention during activists’ speeches of Hamas’ violent attack last month on Jewish civilians living near the Gaza border.
Karla Thomas, a real estate broker and former chair of Evanston’s Equity and Empowerment Commission, called for an immediate cease fire in Gaza.
She said the chaos and carnage resulting from the non-stop Israeli bombing of Gaza is “a stain on our collective humanity.”
“To say that we are all experiencing collective heartbreak is the understatement of the century,” she said. “We will not be shamed into silence while the world watches a child in Gaza die every ten minutes.”
Other speakers criticized U.S. officials, including President Biden, for not speaking out more regarding the treatment of Palestinians and not requesting a cease fire from Israel.
Sen. Dick Durban (D-Illinois) is one of the few national politicians who has called for a cease fire in Gaza.
But Lesley Williams, president of the Community Alliance for Better Government, criticized Durban for supporting a resolution that called pro-Palestinian student groups antisemitic. “This is part of a nationwide McCarthy-like attack… on all Palestinian organizing.”
She said 2,100 Northwestern alumni had recently sent a letter to the university’s board accusing campus Palestinian groups of antisemitism.
Williams, who is Jewish, said many Jews will not stand by while institutions supporting Israeli actions “weaponize antisemitism in our name.”
“We do not accept the Palestinian exception to free speech which seeks to criminalize any and all forms of Palestinian protest,” she added.