Some demonstrators scale an entrance to the ‘L’ to wave Palestinian flags above the group as they march on May 16, 2021 in Chicago. (Madison Muller/South Side Weekly)
Some demonstrators scale an entrance to the ‘L’ to wave Palestinian flags above the group as they march on May 16, 2021 in Chicago. (Madison Muller/South Side Weekly)

On Saturday, May 16, several thousand people gathered in downtown Chicago to call for an end to what was then nearly a week of airstrikes by Israeli warplanes on Gaza. Demonstrators waved Palestinian flags as a steady chorus of car horns and chants of “Free, free Palestine” reverberated through the Loop.

Some pushed elderly relatives in wheelchairs while others pushed strollers or carried toddlers on their shoulders, listening as speakers detailed the mounting deaths in Gaza— especially those of children. 

The rally was one of several that drew thousands to the Loop during the two weeks of fighting in Israel and Palestine, as organizers demanded action from the federal government. That Saturday, protesters demanded President Joe Biden stop blocking a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas, and called for Israeli forces to stop restricting Palestinians from worshipping at al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam. On May 21, Israel agreed to a ceasefire, ending eleven days of bloodshed that killed 256 Palestinians—sixty-six of them children—and thirteen people in Israel, including two children. 

“We are disappointed and extremely appalled that Biden has done nothing to stop murder of Palestinians and by the hypocrisy of the U.S. when it comes to Israel. We call on President Biden to take action,” Deanna Othman, an organizer with the Coalition for Justice in Palestine, said at the march.

The Weekly interviewed May 16 demonstrators, including Othman, about the ongoing occupation and attacks.

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A demonstrator holds a small child on his shoulders to get a better look at the sprawling crowd, which included many families and children, gathered to support Palestine on May 16, 2021 in Chicago. (Madison Muller/South Side Weekly)

Sarah Mustafa, Oak Lawn Community High School teacher, twenty-five

“There’s a big population that’s growing of Arab Americans, and [the Israel Defense Forces] are killing people in Palestine especially during our holy month, occupying holy space, religious worship centers, killing children, burying people alive, bombing cities, evicting families from their homes. As a Palestinian American and a teacher of Palestinian Americans, it’s really important to end the occupation. It’s terrible what’s happening, and I open a platform to let [my students] feel safe and talk about it. I encourage them to use their social media, platforms, voices, and right to free speech that the people in Palestine don’t have. We have it here, and I tell them every day to use it.” 

Haniya Fatima, University of Illinois at Chicago student, twenty-one

“We are here to help stand up for Palestine because they can’t do anything right now. They have a very corrupt government that is coming after them. They are destroying lives, destroying children’s innocence. They are giving them no life so we are here to help support and stand in defense of them. 

“We have all these people here today shouting ‘Free Palestine’ because yesterday marked seventy-three years of Israel’s occupation of that area, so we are here to just fight and peacefully protest. It’s amazing because you don’t really realize that we have so many people here supporting it from all different backgrounds. There’s Palestinians, Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis all these backgrounds here together for one cause. That’s just beautiful to me.” 

Sammy Ramadan 

“It feels great to see this kind of solidarity in Chicago. This is a humanitarian cause, not a religious cause.”

Members of IfNotNow Chicago, a Jewish-American organization, hold signs in support of Palestinian liberation on May 16, 2021 in Chicago. (Madison Muller/South Side Weekly)

Deanna Othman, Coalition for Justice in Palestine, Board Member of the Chicago chapter of American Muslims for Palestine

“It feels amazing to see people come out to support justice and acknowledge the suffering of Palestinian people. We know we have supporters and support is growing, but the fact that it is reaching the mainstream is amazing. There’s been a lot of fear associated with support for Palestinians, and we see people losing that fear. They see this is a social justice cause like any other. Palestinians deserve to live in freedom and safety in their homes without the threat of bombing. It is not a religious conflict between Muslims and Jews. It is based in settler colonialism.”

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Madison Muller recently completed her master’s degree at the Medill School of Journalism and is now a Barbara M. Reiss Fellow for the Medill Investigative Lab and The Washington Post. She last reported on CPD use-of-force reports.

Monique Beals is currently pursuing her master’s at the Medill School of Journalism, where she is a Barbara M. Reiss Fellow with the Medill Investigative Lab and The Washington Post. This is her first article for the Weekly.

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