Over 100 people met at Scoville Park Monday night in support of Palestinians as the conflict between Palestine and Israel has intensified with renewed violence, the pain of which has rippled all the way to Oak Park.
“The massive extent of the atrocities going on in Gaza, not to mention what’s going on in East Jerusalem and the West Bank — I was without breath for three days,” said Bekah Levin, of the Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine, which organized the turnout.
Many of those in attendance spoke critically of the part the Israeli government has played in the conflict’s bloody resurgence as Israel continues airstrikes on Palestine with the stated goal of thwarting the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has launched over a thousand missiles into cities in Israel.
“This is apartheid at its worst,” said Levin, who has been advocating for fair and humane treatment of Palestinians for 30 years.
The violence is a resurgence of a decades-long conflict that has plagued the region, spanning the entire lifetime of many of its residents, including that of former Oak Park mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, whose father died in Gaza in 2012.
Abu-Taleb, who attended Monday’s protest, grew up in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip but left at age 19. As his father’s health failed, Abu-Taleb attempted to visit him but was barred from entering the Gaza Strip by the Israeli government.
“I hadn’t seen him for four years, but I couldn’t get in,” Abu-Taleb said.
Despite calls for a ceasefire, the death toll continues to mount as the fighting continued into its eighth day on May 18. The New York Times reported Monday that 10 Israelis have been killed by rockets launched by Hamas and that 212 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza. Israel has maintained its right to defend itself using airstrikes.
“I guess war is a lot easier than peace,” Abu-Taleb said.
Abu-Taleb’s feelings remain the same.
“I feel the same way after every war, and there have been five of them since 2008,” said Abu-Taleb. “I feel terrible for both sides. “
Israel, especially the Palestine region, is considered holy land in Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The conflict between Israel and Palestine dates back to the late 19th century, as both Palestinian Arabs and Jewish people have struggled to establish the region as their respective national homes.
“They believe somehow that God is on their side and they’re killing each other in the name of God,” said Abu-Taleb.
In recent days, protests against the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians have spread and are being attended by people of different faiths and backgrounds including Jewish people like Levin.
“Many Jews, young Jews are feeling more and more empowered to speak up against the Israeli government, which would have been unheard of when I was growing up,” she said.
A longtime resident of Oak Park, Levin previously lived in Israel and worked for the Israeli government during Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s tenure in 1983.
“I worked for the advisor to the prime minister on the status of women,” she said.
In 1985, Levin studied the human rights of those who lived in the West Bank after being asked to join a research team by Israeli parliament member Shulamit Aloni, a noted human rights activist.
Through this work, she says, her eyes were opened. She tried to bring back what she had learned to the United States.
“I was sharing it with people in my Jewish community. And I became persona non grata for doing so because no one spoke up within the Jewish community in a critical way about Israel back then,” she said.
Despite this, Levin continued to tell others about the situation Palestinians still face.
“What’s going on, in my name as a Jew, is totally unacceptable, as it has been for years and years,” she said.
Oak Park resident Faisal Alabsy grew up in the West Bank. His sister, a teacher, still lives there.
“A lot of people ask what are you fighting against,” said Alabsy. “But the real question is what we’re fighting for. We’re fighting for our human rights, to live free, to establish our own country.”
Throughout the years, he said, the Israeli government has demolished homes and displaced Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip and across the West Bank. Before the most recent conflict, the Israeli government tried to evict eight Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
With an end to the fighting nowhere in sight, Alabsy called Palestine’s situation “dire.”
“What’s going on over there,” he said, “a lot of people go to sleep at night not knowing if they’re going to wake up tomorrow.”