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Community Members Gather In Uptown For ‘Stand for Palestine’ Vigil

Palestinian event 210523.jpg
Samira Kassem
Sisters and students of Normal Community High School lead chants of "Free Palestine" at Sunday morning’s vigil.

More than 50 people attended a “Stand for Palestine” vigil Sunday morning in Uptown Normal Sunday, led by Illinois State University student Hamza Moin with assistance from the Bloomington-Normal Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

In the Facebook post promoting the event, organizers said their goal was to “create awareness and stand up for the Palestinian struggle.” The event followed an announcement Thursday of a cease fire on the 11-day rocket fire on Gaza and parts of Israel that left nearly 250 Palestinians and 12 Israelis dead. Those within Gaza reported extensive damage to homes, schools, hospitals and other buildings.

The event opened with a speech from Bloomington-Normal DSA leader Louis Goseland, who read a brief statement from the national branch of the DSA and its stance on the Palestinian cause.

“We stand in solidarity with the Palestinan struggle and against apartheid, colonialism, and military occupation and for equality, justice and self-determination,” Goseland said.

 Mahmoud Qatanani
Samira Kassem
Mahmoud Qatanani, a 30-year Bloomington-Normal resident as well as a local real estate agent, spoke at Sunday's event.

Next to the mic was the featured speaker of the morning, Mahmoud Qatanani. As a 30-year Bloomington-Normal resident as well as a local real estate agent, Qatanani began by expressing his love for the community and thanks to those in attendance.

Qatanani shared his passion for the cause through his personal story as a Palestinian refugee himself. Several attendees appeared emotional when he talked about the conditions in the Gaza Strip.

“The Israelis will find them, they will bomb them, they will kill them. They call them nothing but ants, they call them nothing but cockroaches. They want them annihilated,” Qantanani said of the Palestinians in Gaza. He went on to say Gaza is like an open-air prison where the Israeli government controls nearly every aspect of its inhabitants’ lives.

As Qatanani also shared in his speech, the Gaza Strip is about 25 miles long by 7.5 miles wide and is currently home to more than 2 million people. The area has been blockaded since 2007 when Hamas came to power there.

The speech was followed by an overview of the history of the conflict from Egyptian-born immigrant and 10-year resident of Bloomington-Normal, Mahmoud Ali, who urged attendees to do their own research on the topic as well as help to educate others on what is happening there.

“We cannot even begin to understand the levels of oppression these people are facing,” he said. “This is not about religion, it is about humanity.”

Other speakers included Moin, Normal Community student and daughter of Palestinian immigrants Noor Alsaqri, Illinois State University associate professor of accounting Bahae Samhan and 15-year-old Jenna Alshabah.

“As a teacher in the community it is important to support our students who are standing up against injustice,” said Stefen Robinson, an attendee and teacher of sociology and history at Normal Community High School. “It is unfortunate that it takes such an egregious violence and oppression for people to see what has been happening all along and with our complicit support and tax dollars, we are aiding and abetting Israel’s atrocities.”

Robinson has been an active advocate for Palestinian rights within the Bloomington-Normal community for several years and said more widespread support for the cause tends to “come in waves.”

Many Palestinian attendees, including Alshabah, expressed the need for continued widespread community support.

“For non-Palestinians to finally be finding out about this is really good because we cannot keep going on like this, everyone needs to know, we can’t keep silent, these people need to be heard,” she said. “I hope that our community can come together as a whole to speak up and for peace and to stop the hate.”

The vigil ended with an 8-minute period of silent reflection meant to represent what organizers said is the nearly eight decades of Israeli occupation of the Palestinians.

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Samira Kassem is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the station in 2021 after graduating from Illinois Wesleyan University, where she was editor in chief of The Argus.