Dozens of Palestinian supporters marched through West Ridge on the North Side Sunday calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war to save civilian lives in Gaza.
“Innocent kids are being killed, and we want everyone to condemn this,” said Syed Ilyas, a community leader and local business owner who organized the protest and has hosted other events in the West Ridge area. “There should be no human rights violations anywhere in the world.”
The war, now in its 16th day, started after the surprise Hamas attack on a series of Israeli communities on Oct. 7. The protest on Sunday comes as Israeli forces are on the verge of launching a ground offensive in Gaza.
This also comes as some 200 hostages taken on Oct. 7, including five with ties to Illinois remain held captive in Gaza. Two Evanston women, Judith Raanan and her daughter Natalie, were freed by Hamas on Friday.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said Sunday that the death toll in Gaza had reached at least 4,651 people, with another 14,254 people wounded in the besieged territory bounded by Israel and Egypt. More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, most in the initial Hamas attack.
The group of demonstrators marched west on Devon toward California Avenue in a stretch of the neighborhood known as Little India.
West Ridge is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Chicago, and the area is home to a sizeable Muslim community.
Shahed Iqbal, of the American Islamic Society who was one of the speakers at the event, said there’s been a lot of negative messaging about the religion being amplified since the war broke out. He wants the world to know that they just want peace.
“We want to get the message across that we are a peaceful community,” Iqbal told the crowd. “Islam is peace, Muslims are a peaceful people. The second message is, as a Muslim, we condemn what has happened to Israel, and we also strongly condemn what is happening to the people of Palestine.”
Iqbal added that “what is happening in Gaza is unjust,” pointing to the number of civilians killed, and demanded a resolution be passed to establish a cease-fire in the region.
“As a community we all need to come together and pray for the people of Gaza,” Iqbal said.
Husna Tabassum, of Glenview, said she joined the protest to show her opposition to Israel’s bombing of Gaza and the deaths of civilians.
Tabassum said that the U.S. government should use its influence over Israel and step in to put an end to the destruction.
However, on Sunday afternoon, President Joe Biden, in a joint statement with the leaders of Canada, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, said they “reiterated their support for Israel and its right to defend itself against terrorism and called for adherence to international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians.”
Loyola University student Iqra Wadood, another speaker at the event, asked the community to spread awareness of the devastation in Gaza through social media so people can see firsthand accounts of the situation.
“Please, if there is anything you can do go share that, go and tell your friends to come out and protest,” Wadood said.
She said it’s going to take a sustained campaign of public demonstrations to force changes.
“This is not only going to take one day.”