Orland Park, IL: The mayor of Orland Park, a Chicago suburb, told Arab Americans who urged the village board on Monday to approve a ceasefire resolution for Gaza that they can “go to another country” if they do not like US government policy.
“First and foremost I’m an American. I’m not a German American, I’m an American. That’s where my allegiances lie. Period. Dot. End of story,” Keith Pekau told Arab Americans who attended a board meeting that was recorded and broadcast live on YouTube.
“And if you’re an American citizen and you don’t feel that way, then in my opinion, you’re entitled to that opinion, but you can certainly go and fight, go to another country and support that country, and all the power to you if you chose to do that,” he said.
“But as long as I’m an American, and I am, I’ve taken several oaths to support and defend the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. I’ll always support America’s interests.”
Orland Park has a large Palestinian-American population and one of the region’s newest and largest mosques, the Orland Prayer Center
Several speakers at the meeting presented a petition they said was signed by more than 800 Orland Park residents calling for the adoption of a ceasefire resolution, and calmly detailed why the board should act.
They noted that the board had previously approved a resolution supporting Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.
“Tonight, we gather not just as community members but as voices for humanitarian action. We’re urging the village of Orland Park to adopt a resolution for a ceasefire in Gaza. With almost 30,000 dead, 1.9 million people displaced, the people of Gaza are being starved, cut from food, electricity, water and fuel,” said the first speaker, Yousef Zegar, who described himself as “a lifelong Orland Park resident.”
He added: “What side of history does Orland Park want to stand on? The side that did nothing, or the side that had compassion for innocents?
“Presented here in my hands is a petition of support for what we’re asking for today. We’ve collected over 800 signatures supporting our ask from your local constituents.
“I’d like to remind you all that you’re elected by the people and are supposed to represent the people.”
Zegar said the community just wants to be heard in Orland Park. “In the past, Orland Park has raised awareness and funds for the victims of Ukraine. There are far more Palestinians in Orland Park than Ukrainians,” he added.
“By adopting this resolution, it also sends a message to the community that we as a village stand against hate.
“Islamophobia is on the rise and hate crimes have taken place here, even locally, all because of misinformation.
“Turning down this very basic humanitarian ask is directly sending a message that you don’t value the lives of your Arab-American or Muslim constituents.”
Chicago adopted a resolution on Jan. 31 calling for a “humanitarian ceasefire” and “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages,” referencing more than 100 Israelis still being held by Hamas.
Zegar said similar resolutions have been adopted by hundreds of cities across the US, including San Francisco, to which Pekau replied: “I’ll tell you what, I’m in Orland Park. I don’t want to look anything like (Chicago) and San Francisco. If that’s how you want to live, go live there because Orland Park ain’t it.”
Pekau said while there was community unity on Ukraine, “Orland Park residents are highly divided on this issue of the Middle East and we’re not going to get involved … I see no reason to currently demand a ceasefire.”
Attendees said they would raise their concerns again on Feb. 10 at a “breakfast with the mayor” that Pekau hosts each month at the Village Hall.