close
Non profit living

Chicago Palestinians have connection to distant homeland

Every time Fidaa Elaydi buys fresh falafel for $ 3.99 a dozen from a bakery in Palos Hills, she gives her three children a Palestinian cooking lesson.

Elaydi remembers longing for his father every time he eats sesame bread from Jerusalem, as it reminds him of his own childhood, when he sold loaves of this bread while living in the Gaza Strip.

“I try to make accessible to my children here the parts that were not accessible to my parents in the refugee camp, while helping them understand the nuance,” said Elaydi, 33, a Palestinian refugee from the refugee camp. third generation and an immigration attorney who lives in the southwestern suburb of Justice.

When she tells them about their Palestinian identity, she focuses on the beauty of the area her parents told her stories about when she was growing up – the oranges of Jaffa, the vastness of the Mediterranean Sea and eating figs and pomegranates. directly on the trees.

“I’m just trying to tie everything together … to strengthen their bond with their homeland,” she added.

Fidaa Elaydi with her daughter at one of the recent pro-Palestinian protests in Chicago.
Courtesy photo

This continued connection to their homeland was brought to light recently, when hundreds of people took to the streets of the Loop to show their support for the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel.

the Arab America website estimates that 85,000 Palestinians live in greater Chicago, representing 60% of Chicago’s Arab population.

The community is scattered throughout the metropolitan area, but Arabic road signs are so common in some southwestern suburbs – around Bridgeview, Oak Lawn, and Worth – that the area has been called “Little Palestine.”

“The Palestinians kind of settled in this area, and they chose to stay with each other and build this tight-knit community. If you drive into South Harlem you will see bakeries, dessert shops, jewelry stores, and small grocery stores – anything that cites the names of cities in Palestine, ”Elaydi said.

the Arab-American Action Network, a non-profit community center established in 1995 on the southwest side, is one of several centers for the community. Social services, advocacy work, education, engagement of women and youth, and cultural events are some of the outreach services and programs offered by the network.

This community is linked by a history of conflict and displacement. The region the Palestinians call home includes much of today’s Israel. American Palestinians living in Chicago are just one part of a larger network of Palestinians living in the United States and around the world who connect to their struggle through storytelling, activism, justice social and sometimes simply by existing.

Elaydi’s four grandparents were forced to leave their homes in 1948, a date known to some as Israel’s War of Independence but to others as the “Nakba,” in Arabic for disaster.

They ended up in a refugee camp in Gaza, where Elaydi’s parents grew up until his father, accompanied by his mother, moved to the United States as a student.

“Because Palestinian history is inherently a story of dispossession, displacement and exile, I never believed that my connection, or my Palestinian identity, was less than a Palestinian living between [Jordan] River and the [Mediterranean] Mer, ”she said.

Ahlam Jbara immigrated to Chicago in 1974 when she was two months old. She returned to the West Bank with her family in 1986. But the following year, six months after the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, her family returned to Chicago.

“I always say that the two years I lived there shaped who I am today,” said Jbara, 47.

Ahlam Jbara speaks at an event organized by the Palestinian American Center at Oak Lawn in 2019.

Ahlam Jbara speaks at an event organized by the Palestinian American Center at Oak Lawn in 2019.
Provided

This 73-year conflict continues today and resumed earlier this year in Jerusalem, where Palestinians faced brutal Israeli police tactics at the Al-Aqsa Mosque during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in April.

This, combined with threats to evict dozens of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem by Jewish settlers, was followed by the Hamas group firing long-range rockets into Jerusalem and launching Israel from it. heavy airstrikes on the Gaza Strip.

At least 230 Palestinians were killed, including 65 children and 39 women, and 1,710 people were injured, according to the Gaza health ministry. Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, were killed.

The 11-day explosion of violence ended on May 20, with a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.

During the conflict, American Palestinians and their supporters took to the streets of Chicago and around the world.

The sense of community connection here reflects decades of organization and institution building, said Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network.

Abudayyeh, the son of Palestinian immigrants, is also national president of the US Palestine Community Network – a grassroots group that is also part of the Chicago Coalition for Justice in Palestine, an umbrella organization for pro-Palestinian groups in the region, including including American Muslims. for Palestine, Jewish Voices for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine.

“We were able to react like we did with masses of people because we have institutions. Because we’ve established a tradition and history of community organizing in the city and in the United States as a whole for a long, long time, ”said Abudayyeh.

Coalition rallies closed parts of the loop as protesters demonstrated outside the Israeli consulate, waving Palestinian flags.

Aviv Ezra, Israel’s consul general in the Midwest, said the latest situation was not about the situation in Sheikh Jarrah, but rather the actions of Hamas, which he said “used every pretext … State of Israel.

Protesters hold up a banner for the Coalition for Justice in Palestine during a march through the loop on May 12, 2021. The coalition is an umbrella organization for a number of pro-Palestinian groups in the Chicago chapter.

Protesters hold up a banner for the Coalition for Justice in Palestine during a march through the loop on May 12, 2021. The coalition is an umbrella organization for a number of pro-Palestinian groups in the Chicago chapter.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

In mid-June, the ceasefire was tested when hundreds of Israeli ultra-nationalists, some chanting “Death to the Arabs,” marched through East Jerusalem to celebrate Israel’s capture of the region in 1967. The Palestinians then sent incendiary balloons into southern Israel, causing several fires in parched farmland. Israel carried out airstrikes and more balloons followed.

About a week later, there were clashes between Palestinians and Jewish settlers in an area of ​​Jerusalem where settler groups are trying to evict several Palestinian families, officials said last week.

Thousands of people demonstrate in favor of Palestine and march through the loop, Wednesday evening, May 12, 2021.

Thousands of people demonstrate in support of Palestine and march through the loop on May 12, 2021.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

The growing awareness of systemic racism in the United States sheds a different light on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for some Americans, says Wendy Pearlman, professor of political science at Northwestern University.

“This language of rights and equality also ties into Black Lives Matter and social justice protests in a way that, at least in the American context, people are starting to see in a new light that puts rights. of man in the foreground and it is difficult for Israel and its allies to delegitimize, ”she added.

Tarek Khalil, a member of the Chicago branch of American Muslims for Palestine, said the rallies are “cries for justice, liberation and equality.”

“It is worth it that I am an activist here, because the government that represents me is the same government that provides the same entity that is the source of the oppression of my people – $ 3.8 billion a year in financial, military and diplomatic assistance, ”said Khalil, 36, who grew up in Chicago and lives in Bridgeview but spent four years of his childhood living in the Silwan neighborhood of east Jerusalem.

“It’s personal but also political,” Khalil said. “It is essential that we pressure our government to formulate policies that are not contrary to the values ​​we preach every day.

Contribution: Associated Press

Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.