CHICAGO, Ill. — The violence and unrest in the Middle East is reverberating with the Palestinian and Jewish communities in Chicago.
A massive group of protesters from The Chicago Coalition for Justice in Palestine filled Congress Plaza in downtown Chicago Wednesday to condemn what they characterized as Israeli aggression. But Pro-Israel groups say the fighting is in response to Palestinian provocations.
Demonstrators hope their calls for peace are echoed from the Magnificent Mile to the Gaza Strip.
The protest comes after Israel on Wednesday pressed ahead with a fierce military offensive in the Gaza Strip, killing as many as 10 senior Hamas military figures and toppling a pair of high-rise towers housing Hamas facilities in a series of airstrikes. The Islamic militant group showed no signs of backing down and fired hundreds of rockets at Israeli cities.
It’s the latest escalation of tensions that have lingered for decades — a never-ending argument over who should control the holy city of Jerusalem.
While Palestinian groups condemn Israeli military action, Jay Tcath, Executive Vice President of the Jewish United Fund in Chicago, says there’s a distinction.
“We should not confuse the arsonist with the firefighter,” Tcath said. “The arsonist lights the fire and the firefighter responds and tries to put it out.”
He says he’s worried that the outbreak of violence could escalate into a full-scale war, with ramifications beyond the Middle East.
“Israel is responding with restraint and proportionate force,” Tcath said. “Its targets are terrorists that it is aiming to attack. Hamas, in contrast, is specifically aiming for civilians, and it has all too often hitting and killing only civilians.”
United Airlines announced the cancellation of flights from Chicago to Tel Aviv – a worrisome development for Tcath, who says his son remains in Isreal.
“He is OK, thankfully,” Tcath said. “He is spending most nights in an air raid bomb bunker.”
In the meantime, pro-Palestinian protesters in Chicago say they stand in solidarity with those in the Middle East, arguing the violence is really the venting of longstanding frustrations. Protesters, who marched down Michigan Avenue to the Israeli Embassy to voice their anger, say Palestinians face discrimination and displacement and call for an end to what they call the Israeli occupation.
“I’m here to voice my opinion and say ‘this is inhumane,'” said protester Marwan Tamimi.
“People need to stand up,” added Najia Sobhy. “We’re here again and again, year after year to make a difference.”
The violence comes during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Wednesday, Cardinal Blasé Cupich, who noted that Jerusalem is a holy land for Judiams, Isalm, and Christianity, issued a statement that read, in part: “I join my prayer to the Holy Father’s in the hope that all parties heed the call of the God of peace, the God of mercy, the Creator of all, who wants all people to abjure violence and injustice with the aim of securing lasting peace.”