CHICAGO - Hundreds of pro-Palestine demonstrators marched up Michigan Avenue and through the Loop during Monday's evening rush, to send a message.
"The last two weeks, the Israelis have raided one of the holiest sites for Muslims," said Muhammad Sankari, a member of the Chicago Coalition for Justice in Palestine.
"Every year this happens," said Husam Marajda, another member of the Coalition, which organized the march. "Every year they attack our holy sites. Every year, they stop Muslim Palestinians from worshipping."
Marajda is referring to a clash between Israeli police and dozens of Palestinians heading into the holiday weekend at a holy site for both Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem: the Al-Aqsa Mosque, located on the Temple Mount.
Israel claims its forces were only reacting to provocation from extremists.
"What Israel is trying to do there is holding this place in peace and ensuring that everyone has the right to practice their religion and the way they want to live," said Daniel Aschheim, Deputy Consul General of the Israeli Consulate to the Midwest.
Aschheim said in the wake of a number of Palestinians throwing rocks and firecrackers, Israeli police had no choice but to restore order, and did so with restraint.
"When they started also throwing rocks at the Western Wall--the Holy Site for the Jewish people--the police needed to come in, in order to put the extremists aside," Aschheim said.
But Sankari says he believes Israeli forces went too far.
"If it's 'restraint' to arrest hundreds of people and to beat everyone from 90 years old to six years old, I don't want to know what it looks like to not be restrained," he said.
Monday's downtown demonstration was a peaceful one, with dozens of Chicago Police officers facilitating rolling street closures. Organizers say at its peak, more than 500 people marched.
The Consul General of Israel to the Midwest, Yinam Cohen, released the following statement:
"The State of Israel is committed to and is acting indefatigably to guarantee freedom of religion and worship for Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Jerusalem on normal days and holidays alike, and certainly in this period during which Passover, Ramadan, and Easter converge. Israel’s responsible management of the Temple Mount in recent weeks is indicative of this consistent policy, and Israel’s determination to implement it. In recent weeks, the Israel Police have acted responsibly, with restraint, and with discretion in the face of many dozens of rioters who with their actions desecrate the values of Islam and the holiness of the Mount. The Israel Police’s actions, including last Friday, are what has allowed prayers to take place for tens of thousands of Muslim believers. Such activity came only after all other means were exhausted. Israel is maintaining the status quo and expects all of its partners to condemn extremists partaking in incitement and violence."