A protester wears a yarmulke emblazoned with a Palestinian flag at Monday's sit-in. Credit: Jim Daley

On Monday evening, more than a hundred activists representing a coalition of Jewish groups—including the Chicago chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow, and Never Again—and allied organizers demonstrated in Federal Plaza outside the offices of U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth. The activists demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, where Israeli forces have conducted a relentless bombing campaign since a surprise attack by Hamas. 

After singing and chanting together beneath Calder’s “Flamingo” sculpture, the crowd moved south to the intersection of Clark and Ida B. Wells, where about fifty demonstrators sat in the street to block rush-hour traffic for nearly an hour, chanting “Ceasefire now,” “Free, free Palestine,” and “Never again is now.” 

Police eventually escorted demonstrators from the street one by one and issued them citations before releasing them. One demonstrator was briefly detained inside a police wagon; Chicago Police Department spokesperson Tom Ahern said there were no arrests. 

“What the coalition of Jewish organizations in Chicago are calling attention to in this moment is the necessity of an immediate ceasefire to stop the catastrophic loss of life,” Ashely Bohrer, an activist with Jewish Voice for Peace, told the Weekly. She called the loss of life in Gaza “tanamount to ongoing genocide.” A group of United Nations experts warned last Thursday that Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza has created “a risk of genocide” against the Palestinian people.

The demonstration followed sit-ins last week on Capitol Hill, where hundreds of Jewish activists were arrested while demanding a ceasefire, and at U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s (IL-9) Skokie office, where seven protesters with the U.S. Palestinian Community Network were arrested while demanding Schakowsky join proposed congressional resolutions that would guarantee protections for people in Palestine. Recent weekends have also seen mass demonstrations in Chicago and around the world in support of a ceasefire and an end to the occupation of Palestine and U.S. aid to Israel.

Demonstrators march down Clark Ave. on October 23 as part of a protest to demand a ceasefire in Gaza. Credit: Jim Daley

The latest hostilities in the region began on October 7 when Hamas militants in Gaza began firing barrages of rockets into Israel and hundreds of fighters breached the heavily militarized border, killing about 1,400 people, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Since then, IDF warplanes have dropped thousands of bombs on cities in Gaza. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, the airstrikes have killed at least 5,000 people, nearly 2,000 of whom were children, so far. 

The IDF activated 360,000 reservists and its entire armored corps in preparation for a planned ground invasion of Gaza—its fourth since 2008. 

Last week, President Joe Biden visited Israel and met with its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to reiterate what Biden called “unwavering U.S. support for Israel” in the conflict. While there, Biden negotiated an arrangement to allow humanitarian aid trucks to enter Gaza, where Israel has cut off access to food, water, and electricity to the 2.1 million people living there. 

Biden has also asked Congress to approve $14.3 billion in weapons for Israel. In a press release, Senator Duckworth indicated she will support the aid package, and Durbin also endorsed Biden’s plan in a statement. Both have also called for increased humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Bohrer said humanitarian aid is “a fine step” but added that it’s nowhere near enough. “American tax dollars support the military atrocities that are being unleashed in Gaza at this moment,” she said. “Sending aid to people after they have been harmed is absolutely not the same thing as preventing that harm from taking place. And what we are demanding is that [the] harm be stopped.”

Neither senator’s office responded to requests for comment. On Friday, the Senate unanimously approved a resolution supporting Israel’s right to self-defense and condemning Hamas. 

Last week, U.S. Rep. Delia Ramirez (IL-3) cosponsored a resolution urging the Biden administration to call for immediate de-escalation and ceasefire in the conflict. Ramirez told the Weekly that funding should be used to promote peace, not provide more arms in a conflict that is killing innocent civilians daily. 

“The president, our U.S. senators, as well as the rest of Congress should really ask ourselves, if the two-state solution [is] our priority, is further funding the military aid for war going to get us there?” Ramirez said. “Or is it going to make it impossible for us to ever get a solution?”

Ramirez said the current political climate, in which the Hamas attacks were described by some as Israel’s 9/11, presents a “terrible future” reminiscent of the years that followed the World Trade Center attacks, when Muslims and brown people were harassed, attacked, and profiled while the U.S. embarked on a twenty-year war that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. In recent weeks, hate crimes and violence targeting Arab American people in the Chicago area have been on the rise.

“This is why so many of us continue to say the steps to de-escalation and ceasefire is the only way we’re going to save lives,” Ramirez said. “Funding a war that Israel would lead will only extend more war in the region.”

Katzman-Jacobsen said blocking traffic during Monday’s direct action was necessary because the crisis has reached a point where business as usual can’t continue. 

“This is the moment when we can stand up and say, ‘We will not let this go on,’ because to let this go on will only lead towards exponentially more deaths and violence, and impending genocide against the Palestinian people,” she said. “And that’s why we need a ceasefire right now.”

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Jim Daley is an investigative journalist and senior editor at the Weekly.

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