Suburban Palestinian family threatened to remove ‘Free Palestine’ sign from lawn or ‘burn’

Chicago
By Chicago 5 Min Read

A Palestinian family in southwest suburban Hickory Hills is reeling after receiving a letter threatening them to “burn” in what police are investigating as a hate crime.

Lila Gaber, a Muslim Palestinian American woman, put a sign in her yard that reads “Free Palestine” after the conflict escalated between Israeli and Hamas forces earlier this month, leading to thousands of civilian deaths and a heightened Israeli occupation of Gaza.

When she got the mail Tuesday afternoon, she opened a letter addressed to “resident” and read: “THIS IS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA NOT PALESTINE!!!!!!! REMOVE THE SIGN FROM THE LAWN OR B U R N.”

A photo of a letter sent to Lila Gaber threatening that she will “burn” if she doesn’t remove a “Free Palestine” sign in her yard.

A photo of a letter sent to Lila Gaber threatening that she will “burn” if she doesn’t remove a “Free Palestine” sign in her yard.

Provided

“I had to reread it twice because at first I’m like ‘Is this a prank?’” she said. “I froze for a minute, I took a deep breath. I needed to get it together. I started to shake, I got a little nervous.

Gaber, 34, reported the incident to Hickory Hills police, who are investigating it as a hate crime. There are no suspects as of Thursday afternoon, police said.

Gaber also reported the letter to the United States Postal Service, and she was told not to open any other suspicious mail and bring it to the post office so they can test for DNA, she said. The USPS didn’t immediately confirm the report.

Gaber, whose parents are from the city of Ramallah near the West Bank, said she had displayed the sign multiple times without issue throughout the past several years.

“I feel in my heart that Palestine needs to be free, and I have every right to speak up and say what I mean on behalf of my people over there,” Gaber said.

But since Oct. 7, when militant group Hamas launched a terror attack kidnapping hostages and the Israeli military responded with several airstrikes in Gaza, it’s been harder to carry on without fear of being targeted.

Lila Gaber, center, and her family.

Lila Gaber, center, and her family. The family was the subject of a possible hate crime in Hickory Hills when a letter was sent to their home threatening they would “burn” if they didn’t remove a sign showing support for Palestine.

Provided

“We’re literally looking over our shoulders now,” said Gaber, who is Muslim and wears a hijab. “I used to go walk in the mornings, three miles every morning. I’m kind of scared now to go walk … I’m scared they’re going to see that I’m with a scarf.”

Hate crimes against Muslims, Arabs and Jews have risen drastically as tensions worsen in the Middle East. The Council on American-Islamic Relations reported more than 770 hate crimes nationwide targeting Muslims since Oct. 7, and the Anti-Defamation League said reports of antisemitic instances have risen 400% nationwide in the same timespan.

For Gaber, the letter instilled fear in not only herself, but her three sons. She recalled Wadea Al-Fayoume, a 6-year-old Muslim Palestinian American boy who was stabbed to death in Plainfield Township allegedly by his landlord who prosecutors said was emboldened by listening to conservative radio. The letter and other hate crimes make her wonder if she’s safe at home, she said.

She said one son “freaked out” when someone came to the door to deliver an Amazon package, but she doesn’t want to be scared into removing the sign.

“I don’t want him to freak out at any little thing,” she said. “Is this really coming to my doorstep now? It makes me think, it’s not going to frighten me and take down the sign.”

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