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Divided we stand Naperville's Walk for Israel and Protest for Palestine

Supporters of both sides of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine gathered for overlapping Downtown Naperville events on May 23 to voice concerns over the most recent flare-up of violence in the Middle East.

Both the “Walk for Israel” and “Naperville Protest for Palestine” were local responses to violent outbreaks in the region that began on May 10 when Hamas and the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, both Palestinian militant groups, launched rockets into Israel and Israel responded with a series of airstrikes. The attacks continued for several days, resulting in over 200 reported deaths, the majority Palestinian. On May 21, the parties reached a ceasefire, both sides claiming victory.

THE WALK FOR ISRAEL

The Walk for Israel was primarily organized by Naperville Central junior and Jewish community member Talia Raab. About 70 people attended the rally scheduled from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Naperville City Hall. The event began with the playing of both the United States national anthem and the Israeli national anthem. Statements followed from Rabbi Mendy Goldstein of the Chabad Jewish Center of Naperville, as well as Talia Raab and former Central students Daniel Raab, Nina Raab and Sarah Gadd, as well as Sarah’s father, Sean Gadd. All of the speakers identified themselves as Jewish.

Rabbi Mendy Goldstein, Talia Raab and Sean Gadd all spoke after the playing of the Israeli and United States national anthems.

The group then marched around the downtown area and returned to City Hall around 1 p.m., when the event was cut short by the Naperville Police Department, who asked them to disperse before the pro-Palestinian protesters began to march, citing safety concerns. There was a heavy police presence at the event.

Talia began organizing the walk on May 10 after she saw the news of what was happening in the Middle East.

“When I watched the news and saw all the rockets going into my homeland, instantly I was worried about my family, I was worried about everyone,” Talia said. “And then I go to social media, and I'm seeing all these posts from people who are uneducated and they really don’t know the context of it.”

A subsequent rise in anti-semitism further infuriated Talia, who received death threats after announcing the event.

“I just wanted to unite the Jewish community and show we stand with Israel, we are supporting Israel, no matter how much hate we get.” —Talia Raab

Talia created the Instagram account @walkforisrael to spread information regarding her event. Several thousand pro-Palestine comments were left on the various posts condemning the event and recent actions of Israel.

The walk ended before its scheduled 2 p.m. end time as the nearby pro-Palestine protest attendees arrived and the atmosphere became tense.

“The police had asked that we end early because the counter-protesters were disrupting us,” Talia said.

Some attendees holding Israeli flags and counter-protesting could still be seen throughout the day after the official ending of the walk.

Naperville Central seniors Ben Fish, Peter Orlandino and Doug Deutsch pictured at the "Walk for Israel" in front of Naperville City Hall amongst several other community members.

THE PROTEST FOR PALESTINE

The Naperville Protest for Palestine was organized primarily by Nasar and Ali, two Palestinians from the Chicagoland area who requested that the Central Times only include their first names due to concerns for their safety. Central students Leena, Maryam Tariq and Bilkisu Tariq also helped in organizing and spreading the word. Leena also requested to be referred to by her first name for safety concerns.

It began at noon at Rotary Hill, with various speakers. Afterward, the crowd of over 500 people, including local residents and those from neighboring communities, marched throughout the Downtown Area chanting phrases including “free, free Palestine” and “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free.”

Nasar led half of the march down one side of Aurora avenue as the group left Rotary Hill.

Nasar said he organized the protest because he wanted to shed light on the Palestinian perspective while the Israeli protest was happening.

“In the city of Naperville we want to spread awareness, especially to people who don't know about the issue,” Nasar said. “Realistically, many of the people don't know about what's going on. They don't know both sides of the story and we want to show that this is what’s really going on. There are war crimes being committed, innocents are being bombed, children are being killed.”

“They don't know both sides of the story and we want to show that this is what’s really going on. There are war crimes being committed, innocents are being bombed, children are being killed.” —Nasar

Several Central students attended.

“I think a lot of what I've been seeing on the news and social media just really made me want to do something and not just be a bystander, besides just donating,” said senior Stelios Gerousis. “I wanted to demonstrate to our local authorities that we are supporting the Palestinians.”

Senior Chase Schwarz also felt compelled to get involved.

“I think a lot of people in Naperville don't understand what's going on and just kind of blow it off as like a complicated topic,” Schwarz said. “Hopefully this will raise awareness and people will then begin to understand what Palestinians are going through.”

The event was peaceful, aside from one isolated incident where several protesters took an Israeli flag that was being waved from a car and attempted to burn it while the larger group marched on. Organizers continuously told them to stop and made clear that was not what they stood for. They also condemned anti-semitism, a sentiment some Jewish people have equated with pro-Palestinian protesters.

“We love our Semitic brothers and sisters, but anyone who tries to take land from someone who already was there, or anyone who tries to kill anyone who's innocent or a child, all of that is what we stand against,” said Nasar. “That's not anti-semitism, that's anti-Zionism.”

Most attendees expressed no hatred for Jewish people, but more so their distaste in the actions of the Israeli and United States governments.

“We're tired of constantly fighting the war crimes committed by Israel,” protest attendee Mimi Khan said. “What infuriates us more as Americans living here is that our tax money is being invested in genocide."

"We're tired of constantly fighting the war crimes committed by Israel" —Mimi Khan

Nasar hopes that protests like these inspire political action in support of Palestine locally and across the country. Similar protests have been held around the world, including one in downtown Chicago the weekend prior.

“We hope we can encourage others to take a stand as well against these issues through [boycott, divestment and sanction] campaigns, contacting lawmakers and all of these different things so that we can see some action being taken by local politicians as well as statewide politicians, and then eventually at the national level,” Nasar said.

THE CONFLICT

Although organizers and speakers at both events called for peaceful demonstrations, tensions were still high throughout the day.

One group of individuals attending the Protest for Palestine were seen surrounding a car and taking an Israeli flag from the window before ripping it apart and stomping on it.

Verbal confrontation occurs when a group from the "Walk for Israel" hold Israeli flag outside car window while the "Naperville Protest for Palestine" marches past. Police approach in attempts to maintain peace.

Talia’s friend was the one inside the truck that was approached by the protesters.

“My friend, Ben Fish; [pro-Palestine protesters] stole his flag,” Talia said. “They ripped it apart and burned it."

This was the only confirmed incident at the event. Police also described deescalating several verbal altercations between individuals throughout the day. Offensive finger gestures were also frequently visible.

Other forms of counter protesting continued throughout the events. Silent protesters holding Palestinian flags stood at the Walk for Israel. One Palestinian counter protester who wished to remain anonymous due to passport concerns shared his thoughts.

“As a Palestinian and as a Muslim, we do not have any conflicts with the Jews,” he said. “People need to understand that Judaism is a religion. And what we have a problem with is with Zionism, not Judaism.”

Zionism is defined as “an international movement originally for the establishment of a Jewish national or religious community in Palestine and later for the support of modern Israel,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

The counter protestors wanted to bring light to the effect of pro-Israel ideals on Palestinians.

“What they are doing by being here is they are pushing for more Palestinians to be killed.” —Anonymous protestor

Pro-Israel counter protesters at the Protest for Palestine also shouted phrases such as “Go Israel,” though they did not remain near the protest for very long.

In the days following the Sunday events, social media posts spread from both sides, condemning the actions of the others.

Emotion ran high following the speakers remarks and the march around Downtown Naperville.

Talia posted several statements to her Instagram account describing the stealing of the flag, personal attacks on her and her family, chanting “kill the Jews” and the waving of Nazi flags at the events, though Central Times could only confirm the incident involving the flag. Raab did not mention the chanting of “kill the Jews” or the Nazi flag during an interview following the events, but did describe being chased and attacked.

“I was personally attacked,” Talia said. “My friends were attacked and [counter protesters] tried to break into their car.”

These claims have been repeatedly refuted by both sides in chains of Instagram stories throughout the week.

Further protests and other events have not yet been confirmed by other sides, but the topic continues to light up social media feeds.

Credits:

Cameron Rozek