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
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
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
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