Community members gather to honor lost Palestinian lives in Students for Justice in Palestine vigil

Students+and+community+members+gathered+at+The+Rock+on+Saturday+night+to+honor+Palestinians+lost+in+recent+weeks.

Angeli Mittal/The Daily Northwestern

Students and community members gathered at The Rock on Saturday night to honor Palestinians lost in recent weeks.

Joanna Hou and Maia Pandey

Content Warning: This story contains mentions of death.

More than 70 community members gathered to honor Palestinian lives lost to violence from Israeli forces at The Rock on Saturday in a vigil organized by Students for Justice in Palestine.  

On Friday morning, Israeli forces entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem and injured about 30 Palestinians. The mosque has been the center of heightened violence in recent weeks, which has also coincided with the holy month of Ramadan.

An SJP co-president, who asked to remain anonymous for safety concerns, said the goal of Saturday’s vigil was to focus on individual people affected by the violence. 

“A lot of people have a lot of strong feelings about (the Israel-Palestine conflict), and it gets reduced down to these concepts of ideologies or identity politics,” the SJP co-president said. “It’s important to remember that it’s people whose lives are being lost.” 

In recent weeks, at least 25 Palestinians, both bystanders and fighters, have been killed. After an introductory speech from an SJP organizer, attendees gathered in a circle as another student read aloud the names of 17 lost Palestinians whose names have been recovered. Community members then turned on their phone flashlights and held a minute of silence to honor the deceased.

An SJP organizer and Weinberg junior, who asked to remain anonymous for safety concerns, said the recitation of names sought to “humanize” those who lost their lives. People often become desensitized to violence when trauma reports center the numbers of those killed and injured, he said.

As a Palestinian, the organizer said he hopes the vigil raises awareness of the violence to the broader campus community.

“A lot of Palestinians do die, and their stories get lost,” the Weinberg junior said. “We want to remember and honor them as people and not just numbers, so that they don’t get lost in just the statistics.”

The programming concluded with a reading of Mahmoud Darwish’s “In Jerusalem, I mean inside the old wall…” and a prayer in Arabic, during which participants linked hands with each other. 

After the vigil, SJP organizers stayed to paint The Rock with peace signs and the words “Free Palestine.”

The Rock, painted red with white text that reads “Free Palestine” in English and Arabic.
The Rock. SJP organizers painted it at the end of their vigil. (Angeli Mittal/The Daily Northwestern)

Some organizers also expressed frustration with Northwestern’s lack of response to the violence in Palestine. The University has not released a statement about the conflict thus far. 

SJP organizer Tessneem Shahbandar noted the University issued a statement within days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in solidarity with those impacted. 

“When it came to Ukraine, they put out a statement, which is great,” Shahbandar said. “This is another atrocious violent crime, and there is just complete silence from the University. I wish that there was more reception to talking about it and giving it the attention that it deserves.”

Earlier this month, SJP released an open letter calling attention to the spike in violence in Jerusalem during Ramadan. The letter has since amassed more than 200 signatures. Ten student organizations have also signed the letter, including the Muslim-cultural Students Association, the MENA Students Association and NU Dissenters, an anti-war student group. 

“The Northwestern administration cannot pick and choose which violent world events deserve awareness, because by doing so, they pick and choose which human lives matter more,” the letter reads. “During this time of spiritual reflection, never has the violence in Palestine been so poignant yet so silenced.”

With events like the vigil, the co-president said SJP hopes to fight Zionism in the U.S.. When one focuses on those who are dying, there is one oppressor and one oppressed, the co-president added. 

“There’s so much propaganda in America that makes (the conflict) seem so cloudy and seem like such a complicated issue,” the co-president said. “Being anti-Israel has nothing to do with antisemitism at all.” 

Along with issuing a statement, the co-president said SJP hopes NU will take tangible action by stopping the sale of Sabra products on campus. Strauss Group, Sabra’s parent company, financially supports certain brigades of the Israel Defense Forces. SJP has protested Sabra’s presence since February, and several members said the University’s continued sale of Sabra makes it complacent in genocide. 

SJP’s larger goal is to get the Board of Trustees to divest from weapons manufacturers, the co-president said. Campus groups like NU Dissenters have also condemned NU board members for holding financial ties to militarism.

“Despite Palestine, (weapons divestment) is an intersectional fight,” the co-president said. “We stand with Black liberation. We stand against all kinds of wars, Somalia, Yemen, things that the Board of Trustees are profiting off of.”

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Twitter: @joannah_11

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Twitter: @maiapandey

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