A group of students and Hyde Park residents held a vigil in Nichols Park on May 22 to commemorate the lives and mourn the deaths of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in recent weeks. Organizers led chants, read poetry, and observed a moment of silence for those killed by Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip.
South Side Palestinian activist Saba Abour said that while the Israeli state might be located thousands of miles away, it has deep financial ties to the U.S. government, with the Israeli government receiving more than three billion dollars in U.S. military aid in 2019.
“Our tax dollars go to a foreign country that’s been found guilty of human rights violations and war crimes instead of money here on the South Side of Chicago, that could be spent to build infrastructure, to create jobs, to create housing for individuals instead of going to war crimes,” Abour said. “One of the corporations responsible for that is headquartered right here in Chicago: Boeing, [the] second largest weapons supplier in the world.”
Abour said that the narratives about Palestinians that circulate in the U.S. often distort Palestinian history and the nature of the violence that often draws foreign attention to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
“These are not two separate countries fighting each other. A lot of times, people don’t realize that…. They just think that it’s Afghanistan versus the United States, it's Israel versus Palestine,” Abour said. “That’s not true. It’s Israel occupying Palestine and killing civilians and taking [Palestinian] land.”
UChicago assistant professor of comparative human development Eman Abdelhadi spoke to the mixture of emotions the Palestinian community has experienced in recent days. Palestinians are grieving the loss of Palestinian life and homes in Gaza and East Jerusalem Abdelhadi said, while finding hope for the future in worldwide displays of mass protest in support of Palestinian people.
“We feel joy at our unity. We feel joy at our continued resistance,” Abdelhadi said. “While we feel rage at the people who are continuing to call this just a conflict or something that’s too complicated to understand or something with two equal sides, we are also feeling so much hope from the tide turning toward seeing this for what it is.”
A statement shared by vigil organizers, including several students in the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice, formerly the School of Social Service Administration (SSA), condemned the University of Chicago’s refusal to divest its endowment from corporations that sell weapons and other technologies to the Israeli military. Organizers also denounced the University’s decision to rename the SSA in recognition of a donation by the Crown family. Their statement highlighted the fact that trustee James Crown is a major shareholder and the lead director of the board of General Dynamics, a defense contractor whose products have been used in attacks on civilians in Yemen and which supplies the Israeli army.
Organizers and speakers urged attendees to continue participating in protests and to commit to the economic protest called for by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.
“We’re not going to stop until one day, we are able to take the short drive from Jerusalem to the beach in Gaza for a goddamn picnic,” Abdelhadi said. “We’re going to do it without any eight-foot concrete walls, we’re going to do it without any checkpoints, we’re going to do it without different-colored ID cards that tell you who's Jewish and who’s not, who’s Arab and who’s not. And all of you are invited.”