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U of I students and community members rally in support of Palestine

A woman waves the Palestinian flag as she listens to speakers at a student-led rally in support of Palestine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023.

Around 100 people gathered at the Alma Mater on the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus Thursday in support of Palestine amid Israel’s “complete siege” of the Gaza strip. The University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine organized the “emergency rally” on the organization’s national day of Palestinian resistance.

Attendees chanted, “Free Palestine” — a phrase organizers say goes beyond Israel’s recent siege of Gaza. Palestinians around the world have been advocating for freedom from Israeli occupation for more than 50 years. 

“A free Palestine is: Palestinians living freely in their country. They don’t have to worry about food, water being cut off. Being able to travel wherever they want,” an organizer with SJP said. She requested anonymity, citing previous death threats against students who voiced support for Palestine.

The organizer said her grandparents had to flee Palestine in 1948 and have not been allowed to return since. 

People hold signs as they listen to speakers at the student-led rally for Palestine in front of the Alma Mater at the University of Illinois on Thursday. Nour Longhi

The rally organizers said Palestinians are calling upon members of the diaspora to help them raise awareness, after Israel cut off gas, power and food in Gaza.

“I have so much privilege. I have my electricity. I have my food. I have my water. And I have a platform. It’s my duty, not just as a Palestinian, but just as a person, to stand up for human rights,” said one of the organizers. 

The rally remained peaceful, but some people walking past the protest stuck their middle finger up or called the group terrorists. People screamed “Free Israel” as they drove past the rally. 

Many people at the rally — including most of the speakers— wore sunglasses and face coverings to conceal their identities out of fear of receiving threats.

“We’ve already gotten numerous threats, numerous nasty emails, comments. We feel unsafe,” the organizer said. 

A website called Canary Mission has been posting the names and social media accounts of pro-Palestine students, exposing them to a slew of hate and threats. Organizers said the site frames actions like attending rallies or making social media posts in support of Palestine as anti-semetic or pro-terrorism. 

Attendees block a man trying to record speakers at the protest for Palestine at the U of I on Thursday. Many people wore masks, sunglasses and other face coverings to conceal their identities after event organizers received threats before the rally. Nour Longi

A man who organizers suspect may have been recording for Canary Mission pulled out his phone and started to record some of the speakers. People blocked his camera with signs and flags. Illinois Public Media asked the man why he was recording and he refused to comment.

The rally attracted the largest and most diverse group of attendees SJP has seen since the pandemic, according to organizers. Representatives from a variety of student groups spoke in support of Palestine at the rally. 

“Black people, many of them got here to this country because of colonialism and slavery, and I mean, Palestine is being colonized by Israel,” said Champaign resident Jada Fulcher. “As both people have been affected by colonialism, it’s kind of like an honor and a right to be here.”

One of the groups that spoke at the rally was the University’s Black Students for Revolution. BSFR hosted a presentation on campus Wednesday night about the camaraderie between Black and Palestinian activists throughout history. 

According to NPR, Israel ordered the siege on Gaza in response to Hamas’ attack on Israel that left 1,200 people dead. 

Picture of Nour Longhi

Nour Longhi

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