Protesters rally on NIU campus against Israel-Hamas war

About two dozen gathered at NIU in DeKalb to rally against ongoing war

A protester holds a sign during a rally against the Israel–Hamas war Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, outside the Holmes Student Center at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

DeKALB – About two dozen people gathered on Northern Illinois University’s campus Thursday to protest the Israel-Hamas war.

Some who gathered Thursday called the violence a genocide against the Palestinian population.

“It’s a genocide, like unequivocally, it’s a genocide,” said Nicholas McKay, a 24-year-old junior majoring in Japanese studies.

One student held a Palestinian flag. Another a sign that read, “Ceasefire now.”

Also on Thursday, more than 100 Palestinians were killed after Israeli troops fired on a crowd of Palestinians racing to pull food off an aid convoy in Gaza City, The Associated Press reported. Israel officials said many of the dead were trampled in a chaotic stampede for the food aid and that its troops only fired when they felt endangered by the crowd.

The violence was quickly condemned by Arab countries, and President Joe Biden expressed concern it would add to the difficulty of negotiating a cease-fire in the nearly five-month conflict.

Thursday’s NIU gathering was the latest in demonstrations that have cropped up across the country as the war continues into its fifth month. During Biden’s appearance on “Late Night with Seth Myers” Monday, more than 100 demonstrators packed the lobby at 30 Rockefeller Plaza to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, The AP reported.

More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war started on Oct. 7, 2023, when a surprise Hamas attack in southern Israel killed 1,200, mostly civilians, with Hamas fighter and kidnapped roughly 250 people, including women, children and older adults, according to Israeli authorities, The AP reported.

Hamas and other militants are still holding around 100 hostages and the remains of about 30 more, after releasing most of the other captives during a November cease-fire, The AP reported Thursday. The Gaza City area was among the first targets of Israel’s air, sea and ground offensive, launched in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack into Israel.

The NIU demonstration was originally planned to be a sit-in inside the Holmes Student Center, organizers said. McKay said NIU administrators told them they were prohibited from protesting inside the building. Demonstrators instead rallied outside.

Speaking to those gathered, McKay spoke of the Palestinian death toll and said he believes the U.S. has played a role.

“It makes me immensely frustrated to put it lightly, just especially with our government being complicit,” McKay said.

NIU officials confirmed to Shaw Local News Network that the inside of the Holmes Student Center is not an approved space for protests. Some former NIU students could be seen standing inside the center anyway, holding signs protesting the war.

Johnen Wrolstad, who is not currently an NIU student, said they believe the U.S. government is contributing to the displacement and killing of Palestinians.

“It is just displacing people who want nothing but to live,” Wrolstad said. “... It just doesn’t feel right to sit at home, I guess, and get mad about it and do nothing.”

Dylan Simons, another former student, joined Wrolstad and two others in protesting inside the center.

“American politics does not just refer to domestic politics. We are involved in this,” Simons said. “This is also an American issue because this is a thing that we fund. ... We cannot vote in this country without knowing that this is something impacted by that.”

President Biden twice bypassed Congress in December 2023 to supply weapons to Israel, The AP reported.

Wrolstad said he attended to protest for Palestinian human rights.

“I know what I’m seeing is a direct disrespect of the idea that everybody has an inherent right to live, it is putting conditions on the human right,” Wrolstad said. “Human rights should be unconditional, and once you’ve placed conditions on it you’re no longer saying it’s a right.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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