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Published on Tuesday, November 14, 2000
Thousands of Chicagoans Protest Barak & Sharon
by Ali Abunimah
CHICAGO--As the first snow of the winter fell on Chicago, and a cold wind howled in from the north, several thousand people turned out Monday evening to protest the presence of Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak in their city, and to show solidarity with Palestinians being attacked and killed on his orders.

Barak was scheduled to speak at 8 PM before the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities at the UIC Pavillion, a sports arena at the University of Illinois. The United Jewish Communities (UJC), a global federation of Jewish organizations, annually raises over two billion dollars to benefit Israel and allied causes.

Chicago Police had imposed strict security measures, closing off streets around the Pavillion with barricades and trucks. Police were deployed on bridges and intersections throughout the downtown area. By 6PM, several hundred protestors had gathered across the road from the Pavillion, held back by police barricades. Police had issued a permit for the demonstration to take place in the parking lot across from the Pavillion, however since there was a high fence and bushes obscuring the view of the road and the Pavillion, protestors insisted on staying on the sidewalk. At first police attempted to keep protestors inside the parking lot, but relented as long as they stayed behind the barricades. Dozens of press photographers, TV cameras and reporters filled the space between the demonstrators and the line of police, who stood in the middle of the road.

All the while buses unloaded UJC conference-goers at the main entrance of the Pavillion, directly across from the protestors. As they disembarked, they were confronted with chants of "End the Occupation Now," "Hey Barak, What do You say? How many kids did you kill today?" and "Hey Sharon, you can't hide. We charge you with genocide." Protestors waved Palestinian flags and carried homemade signs as well as hundreds of printed posters bearing a photograph of a lone Palestinian child confronting an enormous Israeli tank. The poster read "End Occupation Now" and "Occupation=Apartheid."

Across the road, a group of UJC attendees began to dance what appeared to be a Palestinian debke while waving a large Israeli flag in apparent defiance of the pro-Palestinian demonstration. The debke, a traditional Palestinian folk dance, has been appropriated by Israelis, along with other elements of Palestinian culture.

Many non-Palestinian people and groups attended the rally in solidarity, including a group carrying signs which read "Jews for Palestine," and "I am Jewish and I want Israel to stop killing Palestinians." Many ralliers said they had driven in from neighboring states, and some from as far as Ohio.

Around 7PM, buses began to arrive carrying mostly Palestinian ralliers from all parts of Chicago. These buses unloaded at the far end of the parking lot, while UJC buses continued to unload their passengers in front of the arena. As Palestinian demonstrators streamed towards the barricades and filled the parking lot, chants like "Free Free Palestine" and "Long live the Intifada" got louder. Demonstrators carried stretchers above their heads bearing effigies representing Palestinian martyrs. The stretchers were passed back and forth over the heads of the ralliers throughout the demonstration as a reminder of the many funerals that Palestinians have had for their murdered loved ones.

Meanwhile, youths climbed up into the trees and some hung an enormous Palestinian flag. In a scene reminiscent of those in the occupied territories, one youth managed to hang a flag high up on a lamppost as demonstrators cheered and whistled.

As the crowd got bigger, ralliers tried to leave the parking lot and go into the street, but were prevented from doing so by police. Some Palestinians chanted at police "We're the ones who need protection!" Eventually police allowed protestors out into part of the street once all the conference attendees had arrived and the doors of the Pavillion had been closed.

At one point a group of protestors chanted towards the police, "Killing of children has to stop, Chicago Police arrest Barak!" and "End Israeli Aid, More Police Wages" and even "Less aid for Israel, More hay for horses!" as a column of police horses trotted by.

The protest continued until after 9PM when buses arrived to return Palestinians to their neighborhoods. Some protestors stayed on, while others went home saying they needed a few hours sleep before going to protest Ariel Sharon scheduled to speak at 7AM the following morning.

The massive propaganda efforts of the Israeli foreign ministry and the bitter cold were not enough to stop the voice of the people from telling the world that a visit from Barak and Sharon is no honor for Chicago, but is a dismal, wretched, shameful affair that can only be accomplished by placing half the city under lockdown and bringing in thousands of police. But fortunately for the demonstrators, Barak and Sharon could not bring their snipers and helicopters with them to try silence the voice of the Intifada which was heard Monday night even in the streets of the Windy City.

Ali Abunimah


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