Students and community members gathered on the steps of Angell Hall on June 18 to attend a vigil for the Palestinian citizens killed in Gaza in May. Guest speakers and students shared stories of the people who passed away and honored the lives of all of the victims.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, LSA junior Salma Hamamy, one of the organizers of the vigil, discussed the satisfaction of seeing members of the community show up and attend the vigil to show solidarity with Palestinians.

“It was great, honestly, seeing from people within the community as well as outside of the community…coming in and joining and stimulating a safe space with us for Palestinians and really just honoring and respecting Palestinian lives and those who are killed,” Hamamy said. “If it weren’t for those showing up and supporting us, I would feel completely hopeless. The main motivation throughout this entire movement has been seeing the support – it’s been seeing the countless protests, seeing people show up to events, seeing people dedicate their time and energy into fighting with us.”

Hamamy opened the event by acknowledging the hardships that the Palestinian community has faced and the efforts that are being made to advocate for Palestinians across the world.

“I know we’ve all been quite exhausted and frustrated from our bodies constantly being treated as nothing more than merely just a clump of cells,” Hamamy said. “I know you guys are frustrated, I know you guys are exhausted, and I understand your pain.”

Wayne State University graduate Sherin Shkoukani spoke about the community she has found that has become her support system in fighting for justice for Palestinians.

“One thing that gives me hope is seeing everyone stand and unite as a community,” Shkoukani said. “When I see hundreds of thousands of protests worldwide, I feel hope. When I see non-Palestinians standing in solidarity with us I feel hope. When I see you all standing in front of me I feel hope.”

LSA sophomore Reem Hassan, board member for Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE), spoke about the history of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Hasam, also a writer for The Daily’s Michigan in Color section, is the daughter of immigrants from Palestine who faced oppression and were forced into exile.

“73 years ago, the definition of being a Palestinian changed,” Hassan said. “To be Palestinian is to know oppression and to know resistance and resilience in the face of that oppression.”

During her speech, Hassan declared her commitment to the Free Palestine movement, despite the backlash she has received from the University of Michigan and others.

“As many of us here today, I know the feeling of being silenced as a Palestinian. I know the feeling of attending an institution that pays no regard of the Palestinian voices, or lives for that matter, on their campus,” Hassan said. “I know the feeling of being targeted for speaking out and I know the feeling of advocating day and night for a cause only to be met with claims that my cause, the Palestinian cause, is too complex to be discussed blatantly.”

LSA junior Yazen Alomary and Engineering junior Bashar Hallak were the next speakers at the vigil. They read “The Olive Tree,” a poem by Tawfiq Zayyad, in both Arabic and English. This poem honors the victims of the 1948 Deir Yassin massacre and the 1956 Kufur Qasim massacre.

Basil Alsubee, recent LSA graduate and Syrian filmmaker, spoke about the history of Syrian refugees who originated on Palestinian land and the violent impact of Israeli settlement in both of these lands.

“Israeli settler colonialism fundamentally impacts my people and peoples all over the world. Millions of Syrians today are refugees and thousands of these refugees were Palestinian refugees before they were Syrian refugees,” Alsubee said. “Israeli settler colonialism has not only impacted Syria and Syrians, but has historic connections to deeply racist colonial governments all throughout our world.”

Hamamy built upon Alsubee’s point, explaining the importance of examining the colonialism and oppression that is taking place in Palestine in the same light that colonialism throughout history has been viewed.

“Settler colonialism happened within America — it happened against the indigenous people of America — and it is currently happening within Palestine,” Hamamy said. “You cannot bring light to one group of oppression without bringing light to the other, and you cannot fight for one person’s liberation without fighting for the other person’s liberation.”

Then, each victim of the recent bombing was honored, reciting their names and stories. 

“The whole point of the vigil was for us to come together and just re-energize ourselves — to remember what we’re here for, why we are still a part of this Palestinian movement, why we should not give up, why we should continue doing what we want and what we need to do in order to free Palestine in the long run, or in the short run, hopefully,” Shkoukani said. “It was for us to recognize the losses, including the Israelis that have been killed within the last month-and-a-half and all the Palestinians that have passed away as well.”

Following a moment of silence, a prayer was given by each Abrahamic community.

Hamamy explained the importance of having speakers from different religions speak at the vigil, and the importance of unity within the movement.

“I really wanted to put emphasis on unity, especially within the Abrahamic religions because people love to conflate this as a conflict between religions when it’s nothing of the sort,” Hamamy said. “There are Palestinian Muslims, Palestinian Christians, Palestinian Jews and non-Palestinian Christians, Muslims and Jews who come to support.”

The University of Michigan has received backlash from students and organizations like SAFE for their position on Palestine and their more recent lack of effort to support Palestinian students. In a May press release, leaders of the U-M Central Student Government (CSG) expressed support for Palestine, and criticized the University’s complacency and failure to support Palestinian students by not divesting from Israeli companies that they believe contribute to the oppression.

Hamamy talked about the difficulties of being a Palestinian student at the University because of itss support for Israel. 

“I’m exhausted having to argue with people for basic human rights,” Hamamy said. “I’m exhausted from people trying to minimize and deny the ethnic genocide placed onto the Palestinian people, and Israeli sanctioned apartheid. I’m overall exhausted from witnessing Palestinian bodies pile up in numbers, only for Zionists to then later try to justify us being murdered, and for the University of Michigan to remain silent. In, neglecting their Palestinian students and trying to frame this as a ‘conflict’ when it is colonialism, the University has given us nothing but empty words.”

There have also been calls for better education on and off campus about the history of Palestine and more unbiased media coverage to increase awareness and support for Palestinian communities across the world.

Shkoukani addressed the lack of coverage in the media and the impact it has had on the Free Palestine movement.

“It has been extremely, extremely stressful to make sure that everyone understands what is really going on…protests are very powerful, don’t get me wrong, but how many protests have we seen in the United States and how many of them actually got on the news?” Shkoukani asked. “I can say slim to none.”

Hamamy also talked about the issue of biased media and fake news, which have had consequences on the support Palestine receives. She explained that education is the most important way to learn and support the community. 

”I would like for people to first start recognizing what is actually going on and not what the media tries to portray it as,” Hamamy said. “I think action is key, and you cannot move forward if people are not educated. We need to educate ourselves but we also need to listen to Palestinian voices because Palestinians are the ones being affected.”

Daily Staff Reporter Kate Weiland can be reached at kmwblue@umich.edu.