Supporters of Palestine in C-U want the U.S. to stop funding Israel’s attack on Gaza
More than 100 people marched from the Champaign County Courthouse in Urbana to the Alma Mater statue at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Saturday in support of Palestine amid Israel’s intensifying attacks on the Gaza Strip.
UIUC’s chapters of the Students for Justice in Palestine and the Party for Socialism and Revolution organized the protest.
Attendees waved Palestinian flags, held signs and wore Keffiyehs — a checkered Palestinian headscarf — as they made their way through the streets of Urbana.
“Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel’s crimes,” chanted the group.
Protesters, like Champaign resident Samual Froiland, said they want the U.S. to stop funding the Israeli army’s attack on Gaza.
“The U.S. government and governments around the world are complicit in atrocious war crimes,” Froiland said. “I do not want my tax dollars going to the occupation [of Palestine] and deprivation of human rights.”
After the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, President Biden asked Congress for $14.3 billion in aid for Israel to fund air and missile defense, military financing and embassy support.
Although the protest was student-led, older Palestinians and families from the Champaign-Urbana area also marched alongside the university students.
Champaign resident Jameel Saqri attended the protest with his family. The 60-year-old said he was thinking about his relatives in Palestine as he marched.
“When we talk about human rights, what about the Palestinians? Look at what’s happening right now. They have no food. They have no gas. The kids, they have no school. They have nothing. They have nothing to lose,” Saqri said.
Saqri said he has lived in the U.S. for over 40 years, and even as an American citizen, traveling to see his family in Palestine is extremely difficult.
NPR reports Israel’s air strikes and ground operations downed phone lines and internet services, which has made it hard for Palestinians in the U.S., like Saqri, to communicate with their families.
One of the speakers at the event said she had recently learned that her grandmother and cousins in Gaza were killed — among the more than 4,600 Palestinian people who have died since Israel started bombing the Gaza strip after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
Representatives of other student organizations, including Black Students for Revolution and Jews for Palestine, also spoke at the event.
The protest remained peaceful as people marched along the designated path.
One counterprotester with a megaphone met the group at the Champaign County Courthouse and walked alongside the group as they marched. He shouted over protest speakers and was joined by additional counterprotesters at the Alma Mater. He was later heard calling the protesters Nazis.
After the crowd began to disperse, some arguments between protesters and counterprotesters became heated. A 17-year-old event organizer was injured during a physical altercation with a 32-year-old woman who was not affiliated with the protest.
In an emailed statement, the UIUC Police Department said the 17-year-old girl was following the woman while recording a cellphone video. The woman then grabbed the phone from the girl and threw the phone down, striking the 17-year-old’s hand in the process.
Illinois Public Media’s Student Newsroom spoke with the 17-year-old UIUC student who asked to remain anonymous, citing safety concerns.
The student said she started recording a conversation between a protester and a counterprotester and then pointed the camera towards the woman as she walked by. The woman then grabbed her phone and hit her with it before throwing the phone down. Her hand was bruised as a result. IPM reviewed two cell phone videos of the incident — one recorded by the 17-year-old student and another taken by an eyewitness.
“That woman hit me because she thought it was okay,” the student said. “She thought it was okay because of the way the university and the media portrays us.”
Some protesters and speakers said they feel support from UIUC officials has been lacking. They noted that campus officials sent an email to the campus community immediately following the Hamas attack on Israel but has been relatively quiet since, even as the number of Palestinians casualties has risen into the thousands.
One organizer said in an interview that she was disappointed when an email sent to the UIUC campus community in February appeared to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. The message said, “We must respond to such attempts to perpetuate hate and violence by standing together against anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, Islamophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of intolerance.”
The organizer said equating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is harmful not only because it portrays anti-Zionism as hateful, but because it takes away from real anti-Semitism that should be addressed.
On Monday, UIUC Chancellor Robert Jones sent an email to the campus community referencing protests, vigils and rallies that have taken place on campus. Most have been peaceful, he said, but there have been instances, “including this past weekend, where actions and words of some participants were seen as calls for violence.”
The statement continues: “Expressions of antisemitism or Islamophobia or hatred and harm against any individual or groups are antithetical to our university values.”