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Free Palestine Rally draws many, involves Community in Uptown Normal

Written by on November 7, 2023

NORMAL, Ill. – On a grassy knoll in the heart of Normal, many people gathered Monday afternoon across the street from Town Hall. Many of them came from all different walks of life. Some young, some old. Different races, different religions and different upbringings.

The one shared belief that brought all these people together could be easily read on a large white banner held by two young adults in front of the crowd which read, “Free Palestine.”

Many spectators had similar signage, cardboard slips with print calling for a ceasefire or demanding the end of what they called an “Israeli Apartheid”.

Participants listening to a speech given by Farah Bassyouni.

This Monday which the rally was held marked a day before the one month mark of the conflict, which began following an attack by the terrorist group Hamas on Israel, which killed 1,400 people.

“This is not a Muslim, Jewish or Christian thing,” one of the speakers of the local Palestinians said. “This is a humanitarian crisis.”

Following the attack, Israeli military forces mobilized and subsequent action from the country has led to the forced relocation of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, an embargo on water and electricity into the country and indiscriminate bombing of hospitals and refugee camps.

The speaker continued to describe the circumstances Palestinians find themselves in within Gaza, an area roughly twice the size of Washington D.C.

“The amount of missiles flying into Gaza in the past three weeks are more that America fired missiles into Afghanistan in one full year,” they said.

The Israeli military continues to bombard large portions of Gaza, stating time and time again their mission to remove Hamas from power. The Palestinian death toll in the conflict during the one month window surpassed 10,000 lives, announced earlier Monday by Gaza. Over one and a half million Gaza residents have been displaced from their homes.

“We could have remembered the brothers and sisters alone, we could have grieved alone,” the speaker began to shift to a more subdued tone. “But it is the spirit of our human values that we remember collectively. We grieve together, we pray together.”

Across the street, the group set up tarps and prayer mats in the plaza for those who wished to take part in the Maghrib sunset prayer, one of the five mandatory daily prayers in Islam. All of those who gathered faced east towards Linden Street in the direction of Mecca; the holiest site within the Islamic religion.

Members of Islam partake in Mahgrib, one of five daily prayers.

The group followed the standing, bowing and kneeling motions of the leader of the session. He solemnly recited the numerous verses of the prayer, a process which continued for several minutes.

All who prayed did so with no footwear on, as prayer is usually done without shoes on unless they are free from impurities. A group of women also partook in the prayer session, but did so on a separate section behind the men.

The words of the local Palestinian speakers were not those of a martyr who has accepted their fate, but instead seek to survive no matter the hardship to continue their legacy. Among the many signs, one stood out in the sheer number which were present, and what likely describes the vision of the attendees at Mondays rally.

The sign read, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”