Students honor Gaza’s dead at candlelight vigil


Caroline Olsen/The Daily Northwestern

Zahra Haider, events chair of Students for Justice in Palestine, listens to a list of Palestinian civilian casualties that occurred during the conflict in the Gaza Strip. SJP hosted the nondenominational service Friday to mourn the more than 2,000 Palestinian lives lost.

Olivia Exstrum, Assistant Campus Editor

Members of the Northwestern community gathered at The Rock for a candlelight vigil Friday night to honor the lives of the more than 2,000 Palestinians who died over the summer in the violent conflict in the Gaza Strip.

About 50 people attended the service, which was hosted by members of Students for Justice in Palestine. During the event, attendees read the names of the 1,327 known Palestinian civilians who died in the conflict.

“We read the articles online and the media desensitized us to the conflict,” said Medill sophomore Zahra Haider, SJP events chair. “Reading these names is a reminder of the loss of humanity that has occurred over this summer and in past years.”

An estimated 2,137 Palestinians have died in the conflict, which began in July. The list of names, released by the Palestinian Ministry of Health, did not include 810 unknown civilians.

SJP president Ruba Assaf said organizers, who began planning the event over the summer, made a difficult but necessary decision to read all 1,327 names.

“From a programming point of view, I knew it was very hard to have people stand here for a long time,” the Weinberg sophomore said. “But as a Palestinian it was very important to me that every name was read aloud and mourned properly.”

During the vigil, two students at a time read the names. Assaf said organizers originally considered reading only the names of the children who died, but decided against it.

“We’re trying to move away from the ‘women and children’ idea that Palestinian men are complicit in their deaths,” Assaf said.

Before the vigil began, Weinberg senior Serene Darwish, a member of SJP, spoke on behalf of the NU Palestinian community.

“Gaza was in the news because its sons and daughters were dying fast,” Darwish said. “We’re here to remember Gaza’s dead, all 2,200 men, women and children and yes, we are counting Palestinian men as humans.”

Assaf said the SJP executive board felt holding the event was “the least (they) could do to honor and mourn this tremendous loss of life.”

“This is an issue that is very important to students on campus,” she said. “The events of this summer gave us a sense of hopelessness that you can’t imagine.”

McCormick senior Hagar Gomaa, another member of SJP, said the conflict in Gaza is not just a Palestinian issue, but a human issue.

“It’s important that we as people be advocates for social justice,” Gomaa said. “It’s important for every single person to value human life and understand ways in which they can support oppressed people.”

SJP will host a talk on censorship in October featuring Steven Salaita, a Palestinian-American professor who lost a job offer from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign after tweeting negatively about Israel.

Friday’s vigil was one of several events the Northwestern community is holding in light of the recent violence. NU Hillel and the Israel on Campus Coalition will host a picnic Monday in solidarity with Israel.

J Street U Northwestern, a group advocating a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine, will also hold a vigil Thursday to mourn casualties on both sides of the conflict.

“The two groups have different visions for what the conversation should look like on this campus,” said Tal Axelrod, J Street U Northwestern co-chair. “If they want to mourn a specific group of people that’s their prerogative. We’re having a vigil where people can come to mourn who they want to mourn and don’t mourn who they don’t want to mourn.”

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