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C-U residents protest siege of Gaza in ‘Hands Off Rafah’ demonstration

Protesters marched down University Ave. in Champaign during the “Hands Off Rafah” protest on March 2.

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Champaign for the “Hands Off Rafah” protest — a march against the Israeli siege of Gaza and U.S. aid to Israel.

The protest, which started at Champaign’s West Side Park, was organized by the Champaign-Urbana branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation and was part of a larger international day of action organized by the “Shut it Down for Palestine” campaign.

Protesters marched for over two hours. The event featured speeches from local activists calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and urging local government officials to pass ceasefire resolutions.

Champaign resident and Palestinian-American, Muna Osman, said that her parents and grandparents survived the 1948 and 1967 wars in Palestine, which saw the death and displacement of many Palestinians.

Osman said her family immigrated to the U.S. in the ‘70s. Now, she uses her voice to show support for her relatives. 

“I’m here just to support my ancestors in Palestine and to make a statement that we don’t accept genocide anywhere,” she said. 

Derek Briles, a spokesperson for the Party for Socialism and Liberation, said that the group’s efforts have yielded action from the Urbana City Council, which is set to vote Monday, March 5, on a ceasefire resolution calling for the “end of the Gaza war and lasting peace.” Briles said he hopes to push other cities to do the same. 

“We’re working with groups in Bloomington, we’re working with groups in Champaign, we’re working with groups in Peoria to pass similar resolutions, which are meant to put that pressure on our elected officials to take the action and listen to the voices of the people,” he said.

Other major cities that have passed ceasefire resolutions include Chicago, Atlanta and Detroit.

One of the speakers at the march, who asked to stay anonymous for their safety, said they want liberation for those in Gaza no matter how long it takes. They explained why they continue fighting for peace in Palestine. 

“I feel that I should be a part of this because I am human. I do not believe that this is a religious cause. I do not believe that this is a cause just for the people of the region. This is a humanitarian crisis. This has nothing to do with anything but being human,” they said.

Also in attendance was Anna Valle, a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She said her identity as a Mexican-American pushes her to fight for the Palestinian cause.

As minorities, as well, we kind of have a history of colonization. That’s what they’re going through right now. They’re being colonized. They’re being pushed out… We’ve seen history of this happening, again we’re just letting it repeat,” Valle said.

A handful of counter-protesters marched alongside protesters voicing support for the Israeli government. During the march, fights broke out between the protesters and pro-Israeli protesters, including a physical altercation that was disrupted by police and members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

Despite the attempts of counter-protesters to distract from the cause, Osman said she remains focused on her goal to spread awareness about the ongoing war in Gaza. 

“We just want people who might not know about what’s happening or might not think that it’s important, to see that there are people here who are tied to it,” she said. “…We want people to speak out against injustice where they see it, to reach out to our representatives to let them know that we want them to call for a ceasefire.”

According to NPR, since Oct. 7, more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war.

Illinois Student Newsroom

Illinois Student Newsroom

At the IPM Student Newsroom, journalism students from the U of I's College of Media work alongside professional journalists -- public radio reporters, editors and producers -- to produce multimedia stories on issues affecting east-central Illinois. Follow us on Instagram: @illinoisstudentnewsroom

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