Members of the Chicago area’s Palestinian community came together in Tinley Park Saturday for the 16th annual Convention for Palestine, a gathering that aims to preserve culture and history, held this year amid the violence in Gaza.
More than 4,000 people packed the Tinley Park Convention Center for the event that was to be held, as it has been in the past, in Rosemont before the host hotel backed out last month, saying there had been threats, the Daily Herald reported.
The organizing group American Muslims for Palestine moved the event, with a theme of “Gaza’s Resilience” in light of the Israel-Hamas war.
Tarek Khalil, the group’s education coordinator, said Palestinians often are portrayed in news reports in relation to bloodshed, suffering or militant groups like Hamas, overshadowing a rich history and culture.
“We can’t just present [Palestinian] suffering in a vacuum,” Khalil said. “All of these things for the past 75 years contribute to the environment we see today. To focus on things that derive from that environment that’s been created and maintained is to miss the forest for the trees.”
Nida Hannoun, a lifelong Chicagoan, said she came with her husband and three children, hoping to help her kids learn more about their heritage. She said her grandparents left the Middle East in what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or catastrophe — the massive displacement of Palestinians in 1948 from what’s now Israel during the war that led to the creation of Israel. Hannoun, 33, said it’s been hard for her family to return to their homeland and learn about the culture firsthand.
“Having something like this where we can come and the kids can learn the history of their culture and connect with other people who also have that struggle, it’s a blessing, honestly,” she said.
The convention included panel discussions on subjects including U.S. imperialism, media literacy and social media’s impact on documenting history and a bazaar with booths offering halal food, art and clothing for sale.
Yousef Ahmad — co-owner of Palestinian Resistance Clothing in Oak Park — was selling clothes bearing his mother’s artwork. Ahmad, a DePaul University law student, said the gathering helped bring together people in mourning.
“It reignites that sense of community, where you don’t feel alone and, even in these hard times, you can smile because you’re around like-minded people who are suffering as well, and there’s a bond in that,” Ahmad said.
Taher Herzallah, director of outreach for the organizers, said he has been attending the conferences for 13 years. He said he brought his children so they could learn from the panels and to help ensure that the memories of his family aren’t lost.
He said his father’s cousin and her 4-year-old daughter were among those killed in Israeli strikes in Gaza.
“She’s as old as my daughter,” Herzallah, who lives in Minneapolis, said of the cousin’s daughter. “Her favorite thing in the world was dolls and playing outside. I want to make sure the world knows their names and that their memory will not be forgotten. They’re human beings, not abstract aberrations.”