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Pro-Palestine protest in Peoria draws hundreds on Sunday

Hundreds of people rallied for Palestine at the intersection of University and Main in Peoria on Sunday as Israel's war against Hamas continues.
Andrea Baumgartel
Hundreds of people rallied for Palestine at the intersection of University and Main in Peoria on Sunday as Israel's war against Hamas continues.

An estimated 300 people gathered and marched at the Main Street and University Street intersection near Bradley University Sunday to once again protest violence on civilians in Palestine, whom Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called “collateral damage" in a Sunday interview with NBC's Meet the Press.

Since this October, Israeli airstrikes have killed over 11,000 Palestinian civilians, including an estimated 4,400 children. More than 1.6 million Palestinians are now displaced with little access to food, water or clean air. The main hospital in Gaza, Al-Shifa hospital, is no longer functioning after three days without power due to the Israeli missiles. Its patients include 36 infants who are now dying or in critical condition. Israel has claimed without visual evidence that Hamas is hiding in the hospital.

The war began on Oct. 7, when Hamas launched an attack on Israel, leaving at least 1,200 people dead. Both sides have accused the other of war crimes, reports NPR.

The Peoria rally began at 3 p.m. with an announcement from one of the organizers, Imam Mazhar Mahmood of the Islamic Foundation of Peoria. He asked everyone in attendance to protest peacefully, and if counter-protests occurred, then to “not cause a ruckus” in response, but to “kill them with kindness.”

No counter-protests were reported.

Protesters gathered at each sidewalk corner of the intersection, waving Palestinian flags, banners and signs calling for ceasefire. Many passing vehicles blared their horns in support. People of all ages including children and families were in attendance.

In between chants, organizers of the rally gave speeches. Here’s Imam Mazhar Mahmoud:

“Friends, any kindergarten child here will tell you that hospitals are a no-no. Any kindergarten child here will tell you that journalists are a no-no. That water towers are a no-no. That women and children and elderly are a no-no," he said. "Then why are they being bombed to pieces?”

Faith leaders from other local places of worship were in attendance. Here’s Pastor Seth Major of Reachway Church in Peoria.

“I believe that God is in the rubble of destroyed buildings. I believe God is with those who are crying out, including us today," Major said. "With these things in mind, I long for ceasefire. I long for the immediate and comprehensive distribution of humanitarian aid. I long for nations to choose the way of peace and nonviolence. And a day where all people living in every nation speaking every tongue are living together as one.”

Another speaker was Khalid Abu Jabir, a Palestinian elder who traveled to the Peoria rally from Bloomington-Normal with a Free Palestine activist group. Originally from Palestine, he lived through the 1948 violent expulsion and displacement of Palestinians known as the Nakba.

“My name is Khalid Abu Jabir. I am from Be’er Sheva. We lost our town in 1948. They forced us out, my family. After that they destroyed us. They took every (indistinguishable), tractor, machine, everything . . . but they came and forced us to leave our house. And they killed a lot of people," he said. "In my eyes, I see how many people that used to gather. . .they put them under siege and killed them. That’s how my experience was. I was [sic] born that year.”

Activist Lawrence Maushard said "we want to stop America’s support of the genocide and we feel very strongly about that."

In 2022, the United States gave 3.3 billion dollars to Israel.In total since World War II, the US has given Israel $260 billion in combined military and economic aid.

When asked about people who don't like what's happening, but hesitate to call it a genocide because they believe some sentiments could be antisemitic, Maushard claimed that "many people of the Jewish faith are with us."

"I would say probably half the people in America are with the peace group, with the Pro-Palestine side. So that, number one says a lot about things. And genocide- there’s a definnition of it, and all you have to do is look on the news and it’s at least 11,000-12,000 murdered by the occupation. You know, the vast, vast majority of those people are innocent Palestinians," he said. "What do you call genocide? And, you know, I’m sure everyone is worried about minimizing the word, but if- if in modern times, if this isn’t genocide, what is? And the thing about people being afraid to be called anti-semitic- no. Don’t be afraid. You have to stand up to Zionism. We are anti-Zionists, and that is the state of Israel, and all the war crimes and all the actions that they take against the Palestian, the indigenous Palestinian people.”

The United Nations defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, such as: a) killing members of the group, b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to the members of the group, c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

At the end of the rally portion of the protest, Imam Mahmoud led an inter-faith prayer before a march commenced:

“Grant the brothers and sisters in faith, and the brothers and sisters in humanity–the Christians, the Jews, grant the Muslims–the ability to realize that these individuals, Israel and the Zionists’ agenda, they don’t stand for any goodness," he said. "All they wanted from day one is more land, and all that will fill their stomachs is to get that entire region, from the river to the sea.”

The protesters marched west on Main Street towards Laura Bradley Park, and then back up east in the direction of Garfield Avenue before returning back to the University intersection.

On a global level, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, gave a statement on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In the statement, Türk accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes, and “reiterat[ed] increasingly urgent calls” for “a humanitarian ceasefire to allow lifesaving relief to reach Gaza, the release of all hostages taken from Israel, and a ‘sustainable’ end to the ‘nightmarish’ situation for those trapped in the enclave.” (UN News.) Türk noted Israel’s “sharp increase in settler violence and takeover of land across the West Bank . . . which is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

Estrella Diaz, another organizer of the Peoria rally, said Palestinians are people, not just numbers.

"I am here to support Palestine and its people because there’s currently a genocide going on and a lot of people decide, like, because it’s too sad and it’s too vile and too disturbing for most people they don’t want to see what’s actually happening, not realizing that that is the daily reality for most Palestinians. And again, these aren’t just like numbers . . . all they see is a number, not really seeing that these are people. These are children, these are moms, these are dads, and we as people have to speak up for them because, you know, they’re not going to be able to have a voice, so we have to take a stand and be a voice for the voiceless," Diaz said. "But I feel like it’s just basic empathy and basic humanity to just be here to support injustices that do take place because we’re all here on Earth and we need to learn how to coexist and live together in peace without, you know, hurting one another. Because we’re all that we really have.”

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Andrea graduated from Richwoods High School in 2015 and from Grinnell College in 2019. She joined the station as a correspondent in 2023.