Marching through the city of Chicago on May 16, a sea of about 25,000 people engulfed Michigan Avenue, completely closing the streets for the Nakba 73 protest, pleading for Palestinian liberation.
Palestinians have endured crimes against humanity: genocide, ethnic cleansing, apartheid, forced displacement and persecution at the hands of the Israeli government. The protest was a commemoration of the Nakba – “catastrophe” in Arabic – which marks the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homeland 73 years ago.
Adolescents, students and families – including toddlers and the elderly – brought with them the spirit of resistance and the passionate struggle for liberation. Many proudly held up their placards, waving the Palestinian flag and draping Kufiyas, traditional scarves that symbolize resistance and protest in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, around their shoulders.
The crowd marched through the loop chanting “Free, Free Palestine”. Their chants were electric, summing up the Palestinian struggle in a few words: “End the occupation now”, “Ethnic cleansing is a crime” and “Resistance is justified where people are occupied”.
Other chants, such as “Save Sheikh Jarrah” and “Hands Off Al Aqsa Mosque,” commemorated current events and challenged decision-makers. Leaders of the protest also spoke directly to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden, denouncing the genocide perpetrated by the former and the funding the US has given Israel.
The Chicago protest joined ranks of similar events across the country and the world. The scale and scope of these solidarity marches have brought the Palestinian cause back to the forefront of human rights in a way that makes it difficult for the media and the world to turn a blind eye.
Among many Arabic chants, one that I found particularly powerful was “Bel roh, bel dem, nafdeek ya falasten” which translates to “With our spirit, with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you, Palestine”. This means that we are paying the ransom; we give ourselves, our spirit, our blood for Palestine. It is a traditional song used throughout the Arab world since 1948, showing national pride and passion for the Arab homelands.
This is the first time that I have seen so many Middle Easterners, North Africans and Arabs coming together in one space for a single cause in the United States. The Palestinian liberation struggle has united many people who traditionally do not get along.
About 50 students from the Northwest attended the protests, each carrying with them unique elements of their identity that they found to resonate with the Palestinian liberation struggle.
A majority of the protesters were from the MENA region and / or were Muslim, but many other minority groups – racial, ethnic and religious – were also present.
The participants proudly held posters demonstrating a wide range of solidarity identity groups in Palestine. A Latino organizer spoke at the start of the demonstration and sang “Viva Viva Palestina” in Spanish, which means “Long live Palestine”. As we walked, we even chanted, “From Palestine to Mexico, the border walls must disappear.
The organizer’s song was just one example among many of the solidarity I witnessed during this event. Statements and placards with sayings such as “From Kashmir to Palestine – the occupation is a crime!” “,” The Philippines will not be free until Palestine is free – long live international solidarity “and” The hearts of Egypt are with Palestine “.
Between chants, one of the protest leaders also pointed out the presence of an Algerian flag in the crowd which drew the successful Algerian struggle for independence from colonial rule from France as a parallel to the current struggle. of Palestine for liberation.
The protest also saw intersections with the Black Lives Matter movement – another recent movement whose members stand in solidarity with the Palestinians. Attendees chanted a pro-BLM slogan at the event, among some of the other calls. The creator of GoodKidsMadCity, a non-profit organization that aims to create change for the youth of Englewood, also made a statement, further emphasizing the solidarity between the black community and the Palestinians.
Mari Gashaw, recent graduate of SESP, the outgoing coordinator of For Members Only, said she attended another Palestinian liberation protest. Gashaw also visited Palestine with Hillel in the summer of 2018, witnessing the experiences of many Palestinian residents. This, Gashaw said, conveyed the need for solidarity between the black and Palestinian communities.
“When the Ferguson organizers were beaten and attacked by the police, it was the Palestinians who showed us how to protect and fight,” Gashaw said. “There has always been solidarity because we, me, can’t stand to see another group oppressed. “
Gashaw also described the striking similarities between Palestinian and black American oppression; when she visited Palestine, she noticed that Palestinians could not drive on certain roads and did not have access to clean drinking water, which parallels blacks’ experience with Jim Crow and Flint , Michigan. She also pointed out that the US military is exchanging tools and resources with the Israel Defense Forces, “making it easier for them to kill both of us.”
At the demonstration, there was also a large group of young Jews holding up signs saying “Just another Jew against Apartheid”, “End Zionism” and “Palestine belongs to the Palestinians”.
Weinberg’s sophomore student Evan Carman, president of the Northwestern Jewish Voice for Peace chapter, also attended the Nakba 73 protest. Carman said he felt responsible for showing solidarity and to demonstrate that not all Jews support Israel’s actions and that many want to see a free Palestine. At the event, Carman said he had experienced no anti-Semitism, despite the perceived opposition between Jews and Palestinians in that speech.
“I feel bad that the same people who bear the burden of expulsion, occupation and genocide have the added weight of still standing up for themselves as non-anti-Semites,” he said. “Allegations of anti-Semitism obscure this issue and evade the root problem, which is the occupation of Palestinian land and the attacks carried out by the Israeli government. “
My experience at the protest and the experiences of these students show how deeply intertwined the struggles of all marginalized groups are. Anti-colonial resistance and the response to oppression are felt by many minority groups. We feel compelled to talk about our liberation struggles, support each other and unite, because it is the same power system that allows different forms of oppression.
Weinberg junior Ramzy Issa, a Palestinian-American student, said he is happy to see the recent increase in the Palestinian liberation struggle, this is just the start.
“For the very first time, the truth about the injustices happening in Palestine is being brought to light and there is a real movement that is bringing positive change for Palestine,” Issa said. “This will never be enough until Palestine is free and Israel is held responsible for its war crimes and violations of international law.
A rabbi, a Christian Orthodox priest from the Middle East and an imam spoke at the protest, representing the three main faiths in the Middle East. I was happy to see a priest of Palestinian descent at the demonstration because Palestinian Christians are often overlooked and forgotten in the midst of speech on this subject. “Palestinian” is often synonymous with “Arab” and “Muslim” in Western media, even though “Palestinian” is a nationality, “Arab” is an ethnic group, and “Muslim” is a religious identity.
These different identities may overlap, but they are not always mutually exclusive. Many seem to forget that Palestine is the land where Christianity was born, a fact that was brought to light when a protester even held up a sign saying “Jesus was Palestinian”.
The foundation for much of the intersectional solidarity seen in America today was laid by the Black Lives Matter movement. I am not discrediting the incredible work that so many Palestinian activists have been doing for years, but rather, BLM has reframed the way Americans view the injustices occurring in Palestine by proliferating knowledge about the jarring effects of colonial oppression. and systemic racism.
With this knowledge and awareness that the BLM has propagated, settler colonialism is no longer an alien concept. The struggles of colonial rule in Palestine are no longer foreign – they have been seen and felt here in the United States, forcing Americans from all different backgrounds to come together and stand with the Palestinians.
Social media also allowed the movement to gain international attention, with numerous hashtags including #SaveSheikhJarrah, #FreePalestine, #HandsOffAlAqsa and #SaveSilwan, drawing attention to the government’s forced withdrawal and displacement of Palestinians. Israeli.
Shocking images and videos of human rights abuses – such as Israeli settlers forcing Palestinians to break down and leave their homes and chanting “Death to the Arabs”, “The 2nd Nakba is coming soon” and “A good Arab is a death “- were able to circulate on social networks. The conversation about the plight of the Palestinians was easier to tap into.
Social media has also normalized the use of certain terms such as “ethnic cleansing”, “settler colonialism”, “forced displacement”, “genocide” and “apartheid”, which are terms that were previously not widely used. in the speech on Palestine. Describing genocide as a “conflict” is increasingly rejected because the word implies that the two parties are on an equal footing, when there is clearly colonizer and colonized, oppressor and oppressed.
This change in rhetoric better reflects the reality of the situation. The use of these terms is now more common and is used by many academics to describe the situation in Palestine.
The protest in Chicago was a beautiful and frightening display of solidarity, uniting many different marginalized groups under justice for Palestine.
It is no longer a moment of solidarity but a movement; the united people will never be defeated.
Sara Ibrahim is a second year student at Weinberg and SESP. Sara can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this editorial, send a letter to the editor at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of all staff at The Daily Northwestern.