Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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‘Nobody’s free until everybody’s free’: Community vigil seeks peaceful resolution to the conflict in Israel and Gaza

Hannah Webster/The Daily Northwestern
Community members gathered to hear speakers call for a ceasefire and hostage release in the conflict in Israel and Gaza at the “Solidarity Vigil for Justice and Peace” on Sunday.

About 120 people gathered at Fountain Square Sunday to call for a bilateral ceasefire and the release of hostages on both sides of the war in Israel and Gaza. 

The “Solidarity Vigil for Justice and Peace” was organized by Standing Together, a movement formed by Jewish and Palestinian Israeli citizens in 2015 that later spread to the U.S.

Many attendees dressed in purple — an apolitical color in Israeli politics — and held signs with phrases like “Ceasefire now,” “Equality, safety and freedom for all” and “Bring them all home now.”

Hila Ratzabi, the event’s organizer, said the vigil was a space for people to prioritize human lives over political conflict.

“It’s OK to stand for the humanity of everyone who is suffering right now,” she said. 

The vigil comes as Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip has killed over 35,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian officials. The militant group Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel killed about 1,200 Israelis, according to Israeli officials.

Ratzabi organized a coalition of speakers that spanned multiple faiths. Imam Hassan Aly, Faisal Alabsy, Nizam Khatib, and Rabbis Lizzi Heydemann and Danya Ruttenberg also spoke at the vigil. 

Ratzabi said she picked the other speakers because she trusted them to stand for both a hostage release and total ceasefire. Alabsy and Khatib worked on proposed ceasefire resolutions in the Chicago area that were “sensitive to the traumas of both peoples,” she said.

Ruttenberg, a Chicago-based activist and author, spoke about the Oral Torah and Qur’an and said a release of hostages was in line with the beliefs of both Judaism and Islam.

“We redeem hostages because ‘pikuach nefesh,’ because saving lives is one of the most critical principles in our corpus,” Ruttenberg said. “Yet, over 35,000 Palestinians have been murdered over the last seven months — children, women, the elderly, the disabled.”

She then led the crowd in a chant of “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

Evanston resident Howard Cohen said there is a lot of attention being given to the “direct opposition” between Israel and Gaza. 

Since December, several local groups have demanded a ceasefire — including at City Council meetings — but the City has not passed a ceasefire resolution. Cohen said this kind of community action in response to the conflict is “happening everywhere.”

Aly, Director of Humanitarian Faith Initiative, emphasized that all people are equal inside and outside their suffering. He said when people are suffering, it is crucial to amplify their voices and stand against injustice. 

Aly added that peace should be a universal cause so the next generation can coexist harmoniously.

“A Muslim child can grow up next to a Christian child, can grow up next to a Jewish child, can grow up next to every child, who dream of a better future as everybody else,” Aly said. 

Skokie resident Ashley Donohue attended the vigil with her two children. She said it was important that, as Jewish people, her family members understand the need for equality and peace. 

She hopes her children understand that they can make a difference even living far away, she said. 

“There’s so much noise here in Evanston and here in Chicago,” she said. “I think it’s important to show what it looks like to be caring about humanity on both sides.”

The event also included poetry readings and a musical performance. Ratzabi said they were “empowering” and helped her feel connected to everyone, especially at a time when it’s difficult to feel hopeful.

During the vigil, Emma Jacobson and Benji Weiss sang “There Must Be Another Way,” an Israeli song with a mix of English, Arabic and Hebrew lyrics, and the crowd sang along to the chorus. Jacobson, who performs musical theatre in Chicago, said she got involved with Standing Together because a lot of her extended family lives in Israel and because members of Mishkan, her Jewish congregation, are also involved with the organization.

Another Standing Together member, Chicago resident Terrie Albano, joined the organization a few years ago and held a meetup to introduce others to the organization in January. Albano said she was drawn to the group because it represents her core beliefs, calling herself “pro-peace,” “pro-Israel” and “pro-Palestinians.” 

Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann echoed this sentiment. During her speech, she also guided attendees through chants of “we need to tell a new story” and “freedom, justice, safety, peace, from Gaza to Tel Aviv.” 

Alabsy, who grew up in Qibya, a small town in the West Bank, added that people in Israel, Palestine and the U.S. should speak up about the war. 

“Our actions centered around (the idea that) justice and humanity will certainly lead to security and peace for everyone,” he said. “We are living the harshest devastation (of) our communities in recent times.” 

Ratzabi said wars are safe for no one and that innocent civilians should not be punished for no reason. She said Israelis and Palestinians must work together to create a future free of “pain, fear and occupation.” 

Ratzabi added that the event aimed to present collaboration between the two groups as a plausible option. 

“I want them to take away the idea that there’s a different vision that’s available,” she said. “That doesn’t mean taking one side or the other, but to stand in solidarity with all the people who are suffering, to stand in solidarity with both Palestinians and Israelis.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Imam Hassan Aly’s title. The Daily regrets the error. 

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