Pro-Israel protestors march in downtown Skokie demanding hostages’ release

About 50 to 100 people have been gathering weekly at Skokie’s Village Green Park to protest and demand that Hamas release hostages kidnapped from Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, according to the group’s co-organizer, Alan Kotlyar.

About 60 people gathered on Sunday afternoon and marched for nearly a mile in downtown Skokie before reuniting at Village Green Park. The group chanted peace songs, demanded the release of Israeli hostages, and waved the American and Israeli flags. According to Kotlyar, the German and Argentinian consulates sent flags to the group in support of its cause because some of the hostages were citizens of those countries.

Sunday’s march occurred without incident, and Kotlyar said that’s how the protests usually go since he has been doing them, starting in December. He said the group has grown from seven people on its first march to upwards of 100 people and includes people with a diverse set of political opinions, but are united in demanding that Hamas releases its hostages.

“All we care about is that hostages should not be used as weapons of war,” Kotlyar told Pioneer Press. “You can’t take innocent, regular, random innocent people and just hold them in tunnels for months, years on end, as a form of some kind of like a political statement. It’s wrong.”

When asked about the World Health Kitchen workers being killed by an Israeli attack, Kotlyar said their killing by the Israeli military was “a very tragic mistake, but people forget the war was started by Hamas… None of this would ever have happened if Hamas hadn’t abducted those people. It’s very sad… but what other option does Israel have to bring (hostages) home?”

Regarding accusations of Israel killing innocent people, Kotlyar said, “the amount of precautions Israel does have on innocent civilians is just amazing” when compared to other armies.

According to an Associated Press story this week, more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, hundreds of thousands more are displaced and a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is worsening.

Matthew Gliebe, a co-organizer of the event, said the slaying of people in Gaza by Israeli attacks was horrible. “The fact that there are reports of it being mostly women and children (killed) is terrible,” he said.

Gliebe said he does not believe that a ceasefire would work because Hamas would not respect it.

“You are effectively saying you want Jews to stop defending themselves,” he said.

Kotlyar said he began walking in the rallies in December, weeks after the Oct. 7 attack, because he felt it was important to bring together people who were feeling lonely and isolated. He said he learned about the group Run for their Lives through his father, wanted to bring people together and formed the first Midwest chapter of the group in Skokie.

Protester Lydia Karoll of Skokie, who was walking in the protest, said there was a big difference between the protest she attended and other pro-Palestinian protests in the Chicago area, which have included encampments at several universities and road blockages with protestors demanding a ceasefire. “Nobody’s destroying anything,” she said.

Jeremy Shefer, from Skokie, said his family was from the Soviet Union and that he is “familiar with evil.”

“Ultimately, Jewish people need to be free, the hostages need to be free and hatred against Jewish people needs to end.”

Carla Gliebe, of Skokie, said “most of the Jewish people don’t want to see Palestinians be erased from the face of the earth. We would just love to see peace if it’s possible.” She said of the difference between the protest she was at when compared to the previous encampment at Northwestern University, which has since been removed, “We are filled with hope, love and survival — while the protesters are filled with hate and anger. It’s my opinion, of course.”

An earlier version of this story mischaracterized a quote from Matthew Gliebe. The Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press regrets the error.