Chicagoans tied to Israel and Palestine react to Hamas attacks, brace for war

Streeterville resident Michael Traison sought cover Saturday night in the inner core of his second home. The one overseas, in an emerging war zone.

The Israeli neighbors he sheltered with at his apartment building in Chicago’s sister city of Petah Tikva were anxious, he said. But even as the country’s complex missile-detection system warned of incoming artillery, the neighbors were surprisingly calm.

Even the children were “taking it in stride,” Traison said.

“It’s a way of life,” he said. “They’re used to that. But nobody’s used to the massacre that took place.”

Following Hamas’ attack on Israel Saturday and Israel’s following declaration of war, Traison and others among the estimated 325,000 Jewish people living in Chicago have organized vigils and grieved those killed.

And both sides of the conflict have been evident here, along with the pain of what’s happened. A mother and daughter from Chicago are among those missing in the Hamas attacks, according to CNN. Eleven Americans are believed to have been killed, according to American authorities.

Judith Tai Raanan and Natalie Raanan were in Nahal Oz, near the Gaza strip, visiting family over the weekend. The kibbutz was attacked by Gazan militants Saturday, according to CNN.

Family members told CNN they hadn’t heard from the pair, and fear they are among those being held hostage.

”My daughter has been captured,” Natalie’s father, Uri Ranaan, said in a Facebook post. He could not be reached by the Tribune for comment Monday.

Many among the similarly large community of Palestinian people who call Chicago home face all-too-similar fears for faraway loved ones.

Around 2,000 people marched Sunday through downtown Chicago and rallied outside the Israeli Consulate in support of Palestine, march organizers estimated. They sought to bring attention to living conditions in Israeli-occupied Gaza, where Hamas fighters crossed border walls to launch their attack.

People attend a rally near the Israeli Consulate in Chicago to protest the ongoing Palestinian and Israeli conflict on Oct. 8, 2023.

People attend a rally near the Israeli Consulate in Chicago to protest the ongoing Palestinian and Israeli conflict on Oct. 8, 2023. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune)

“Free, free Palestine,” they chanted while waving Palestine’s green, white, black and red flag. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

On Monday, dozens of University of Chicago students held a “Uniting for Israel” vigil on the university’s quad. Another vigil was set to take place later at Northwestern University’s Deering Library.

The Jewish United Fund of Chicago will host a solidarity gathering at Glencoe’s North Shore Congregation Israel on Tuesday morning, with Gov. J.B. Pritzker expected to speak. JUF President Lonnie Nasatir said he was feeling “sadness, heartache, anger and disbelief” after the attacks.

“I’m mostly just grieving the loss of innocent lives,” he said. “We’re grieving in a very personal way.”

Last year, Nasatir visited a settlement where Hamas fighters killed 18 people over the weekend, he said. The JUF plans to raise funds and push for political support as the conflict continues, he said, adding praise for the U.S. government’s support of Israel.

“We are as committed as ever,” he said. “This is an unbelievably heinous act against innocent people simply because they happen to live in the Jewish state.”

Nasatir acknowledged supporters of Palestine’s allegations that oppressive living conditions created by the Israeli government helped spark the violence. The relationship between Israel and Palestine is a complex issue, he said.

“But what’s not complex is what happened this weekend. A group of terrorist thugs broke into a country and wreaked havoc on innocent civilians. And that’s the issue that we need to focus on,” he said.

Chicago is home to the largest Palestinian population in America, said Hatem Abudayyeh, who chairs the U.S. Palestinian Community Network and organizes other Palestinian community groups in the city.

His family lives in a West Bank village near Jerusalem, where Israeli occupation has created widespread poverty, he said. Most young men don’t have jobs, he added.

“It’s the reason why this escalation happened,” Abudayyeh said. “The Israeli settler movement, under cover of the Israeli government and military, have been attacking Palestinians with impunity.”

His loved ones fear fighting and crackdowns will spread. Gaza has experienced bombardments that have killed hundreds since Saturday, he said.

Abudayyeh called the support of Israel from Illinois politicians including Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth “disgusting.” A coalition of Chicago groups supporting Palestine plans to continue to demonstrate in an effort to halt the U.S.’ military support of Israel, he said.

When asked about Hamas’ attacks on civilians, he insisted most of the Gaza force’s targets were Israeli military and described the attacks as self-defense spurred by decadeslong oppression.

“We won’t don’t want anyone to die. We don’t want anyone to be killed,” Abudayyeh said.

Major U.S. airlines American, United and Delta suspended service to Israel as the U.S. State Department issued travel advisories for the region citing potential for terrorism and civil unrest, and many airlines in Europe and Asia also put flights on hold, according to The Associated Press.

In Chicago, United Airlines was scheduled to operate 36 flights between O’Hare International Airport and Tel Aviv — 18 each way — in October, according to flight schedule data from Cirium.

Chicago attorney Steve Greenberg was flying away from Israel just as the attacks were unfolding. Greenberg, who represents R. Kelly, had been visiting Israel as the country celebrated Jewish holidays.

People had just been filling vibrant city streets to celebrate Sukkot, he said. He was shocked to learn of the attacks when his plane landed in London on Saturday afternoon.

“The Israeli people had really felt that they had reached a level of peaceful coexistence,” Greenberg said. “And I think that sense of safety is just gone forever.”

Gone forever too is the Gaza home that Fidaa Elaydi visits on trips to see her family. The Bridgeview resident said the home of her uncle was destroyed by Israeli bombs Saturday.

Her family had anticipated the Israeli attack and left the building before the air raids came without warning, she said. The home had housed three generations of her family.

There were sunflowers and a huge jasmine tree. Her children were with her when they visited last year. They saw the goats, sheep, rabbits and pigeons an uncle raised there, she said.

“They would call it the house with the zoo,” Elaydi said.

She hopes for a cease-fire, a de-escalation of tensions and prisoner exchanges that will free the thousands of detained Palestinians, she said. Hundreds of relatives live across all parts of the Gaza Strip because they were forced out of their villages by Israeli settlers decades ago, she said.

“I’m scared to death,” she said. “Every moment is agonizing.”

Palestinian families are just as afraid as Israeli families, she said.

“They are living in sheer horror,” she said. “Every day I go to sleep and I wake up and I fear that I will receive the worst news.”

People in Gaza typically get around four hours of electricity per day and face sky-high unemployment, she said. Each time she visits, she gets sick because there isn’t clean drinking water, she added. Once extremely rare, suicide has become more common there, Elaydi said.

“It’s a very difficult way to live. And it’s completely, 100% man-made,” she said. “At a certain point, people just can’t really tolerate it anymore.”

At Northwestern Hillel, a center point for Jewish life at the Evanston university, one staff member working while on a fellowship from Israel received a request for voluntary military service over the weekend. He returned to the country Sunday, said Michael Simon, Northwestern Hillel’s director.

Other university graduate students have also had to return to fight, he said.

“It’s very real,” Simon said.

The busy streets of Tel Aviv have become empty as people stay in and hundreds of thousands of citizens are called into the Israeli army, said Traison, who sits on the board of several Jewish attorney groups.

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“We’re holding our breath for what comes next,” he said.

He played over the possibilities of what might come next, fearing other countries with more sophisticated weapons might join Hamas and attack Israel. Residents were told to have three days’ supplies in their bomb shelters, he said.

Traison likened the attacks to pogroms and the Holocaust, noting how the attacks affect a people sensitive to unimaginable historical atrocities.

“All of this is psychologically very, very, very disturbing,” he said. “Israel is simply trying to exist and protect its population.”

Traison heard the missile-warning sirens at noon Monday while driving into Tel Aviv for a meeting, he said.

He pulled over to the side of the road. He lay down next to his car. An explosion sounded far away. He kept driving.

Tribune reporters Nell Salzman and Sarah Freishtat contributed.

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