After a series of protest marches drew thousands to downtown Chicago during the 11-day bombing of Gaza, around 75 people gathered in Nichols Park to hold a vigil for Palestine on Saturday, May 22. It was part of an international day of action called for by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Committee, organized by Hyde Park for Palestine before the May 21 ceasefire went into effect.
Esther, an organizer of the vigil, told The Herald, “We’re here today because Palestinian organizers at the rallies downtown told us, ‘Go back to your communities and organize,’ so that’s what we’re doing.” (Organizers asked to have their last names withheld, fearing repercussions from pro-Israel groups for their political views.)
The newly founded Hyde Park for Palestine group gathered at the park on 53rd Street to mourn the more than 250 Palestinians killed and thousands more injured this month, most of them by the Israeli military. In Israel, 13 people were killed and hundreds injured by rockets fired into the country by Hamas. A ceasefire began last Friday, May 21.
In speeches, protesters highlighted how Chicago-based company Boeing and the Crown family, which sits on the board of directors of the defense contractor General Dynamics, contribute to the conflict. Esther emphasized that the Crown family had recently purchased name rights to the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration with a $75 million gift, and cited an op-ed published in the Chicago Maroon criticizing the name change.
“Hyde Park has a lot of Zionists and decision-makers who live here, and we wanted to publicly take a stand in solidarity with Palestine where our community is, and not just have an action on campus,” Esther told the Herald. “There haven’t been many actions outside of downtown, so we wanted something intimate and community-based.” Several passersby enjoying the warm day at the park joined the demonstrators and listened to the speakers.
Dr. Sabha Abour, a Palestinian American from the South Side of Chicago, spoke to the crowd about her mother, who became a refugee on June 6, 1967, when Israel razed her home in Yalu.
“We weren’t able to celebrate Eid this year because our brothers and sisters in Palestine were being massacred and displaced from their homes by Israeli Defense Forces with American tax dollars — $3.8 billion a year, to be exact,” Abour said.
She argued that the recent loss of life and land did not stem from “a religious or political conflict between two states,” but that Israel is “attacking a nation that doesn’t even have an army,” she said. Abour also drew comparisons between Palestine and the South and West sides of Chicago, highlighting the militarized police presence, disinvestment, and discrimination occurring in both areas.
She ended her speech by thanking the march participants for sharing information about violence against Palestine, and exhorted them to contact local politicians about Palestinian struggles.
“Educate. Keep posting, sharing, retweeting. Thank you especially to our Black brothers and sisters here in the US for doing this,” she said. “More people today know about Palestine than they did six years ago because of you. Number two: reach out to congressional members and tell them to sign on to bills that will stop U.S. taxpayers’ money from going to Israel. Here in Hyde Park our representative is Bobby Rush. And three, support the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement. Economic pressure can change the tides.”
Abour referenced the Palestinian Children and Families Act (HR2590), introduced by Minnesota congresswoman Betty McCollum, which states that U.S. taxpayer funds will not be used by Israel to detain Palestinian children; for the seizure, appropriation, and destruction of Palestinian property; or the further annexation of Palestinian land. (Rush is a co-sponsor of the bill.)
Kierstan, an organizer, told the Herald that some students involved in organizing the vigil cancelled a meeting of the previous week’s labor history class in solidarity with a general strike in Palestine. “Many of us study social work and social welfare, labor, and history, and we understand that our commitment to our work demands that we respond to injustice in the world,” she said.
John Hieronymus, a nurse at the University of Chicago Hospital and cochair of the University of Chicago Labor Council, brought a giant homemade Palestinian flag to the vigil to show his support.
“As a nurse, a health worker, and a COVID survivor, the murder of nurses, medics, and COVID researchers in Palestine is horrifying. I’m here in solidarity with health workers in Gaza and the West Bank and their work in supporting the resistance. As workers, we have power,” he said. Hieronymus sewed his own flag because, he said, they were sold out everywhere.
Another organizer, Josh, referenced the ongoing dispossession of Palestinian land since the 1948 Nakba, in which over 600 villages were deliberately targeted for destruction and expulsion by Israeli forces, resulting in 700,000 people being evicted from their homes. He said, “Nakba means 'catastrophe' in Arabic, and it’s still happening today. As Jews, we stand firmly against apartheid and ethnic cleansing being done in our name.”
The vigil ended with the reading of names of those killed during the siege and a moment of silence. It took almost a half hour to read all 250 names, including 66 children and 32 unidentified names.
Update: This story has been updated to include more information about the Israel-Palestine conflict.