Lights illuminated the Diag on Tuesday evening as students gathered at the steps of Hatcher Graduate Library to honor victims of violence in Israel and Palestine.
The vigil was organized by LSA junior Nicole Khamis and LSA senior Devin Jones, who are both Palestinian-Americans with extended family members who have been affected by the area’s history of conflict.
Most recently, tensions have been high in the area following a spate of terrorist attacks in the region largely aimed at Israelis, with four attacks occurring Oct. 13.
Khamis began the event by sharing statistics on the number of Palestinians killed and injured due to violence in either Palestine or Israel from live gun fire — 921 in the past 30 days, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
She said it’s important to recognize statistics on the recent attacks in context of those deaths, adding that Palestinians are not inherently violent people.
“I think it’s really important, once we look at the statistics, not to label Palestinians as people who are inherently violent and people who are violent without reason,” she said.
Following the statistics, Jones read the names of 66 Palestinians and eight Israelis who died over the past 30 days, after which students paid homage with a moment of silence.
Organizers indicated that the event, which spanned both a reading of names as well as discussion about the broader issues in the region, was set to honor both Palestinian and Israeli victims, though Ann Arbor resident Joel Reinstein offered remarks condemning the Israeli occupation of Palestine and encouraging vigil attendees to boycott Israel during the second part of the event.
His sentiment was echoed by most speakers.
“This situation is unspeakable, but it’s not complicated,” he said. “This is a violence between oppressor and oppressed, between occupying soldiers and people whose lives are made worse than death.”
Khamis also cited the Israeli occupation during the event, calling it the root cause of the violence in Israel and Palestine.
“Something that’s really important to contextualize is the fact that when we look at the media, everything is novel … everything is new,” she said. “But this isn’t a new problem. This has been going on because of the occupation that has been going on for Palestinians in the West Bank and in the Gaza since 1967.”
In 1967, Israel launched a series of preemptive air attacks against Egypt, which had been amassing troops along Israel’s border in the Sinai Peninsula. The resulting conflict — the Six Day War — ended with Israel gaining control of several new territories, including the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza and the West Bank. In 1977, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula. There is still an Israeli presence in the West Bank.
Khamis, who also spoke during the vigil, cited her personal experiences as a Palestinian living in small town in the West Bank, which she said is now surrounded by a 25-foot wall. She also said Palestinians in some areas aren’t allowed to visit other parts of the region and cannot marry others from different towns.
“All of these are against international human rights, and to subject a population to these racists policies is wrong,” she said. “To sit here and allow these injustices to keep going, a part of us dies. I hope as a Michigan community we can come together to condemn this violence and demand for peace, but furthermore that this occupation needs to end.”
Jones echoed Khamis' remarks, and said he thinks Palestinian citizens of Israel are persecuted.
“This isn’t just a Palestinian thing, for Palestinians who live in the West Bank or Gaza,” he said. “This is for the Palestinians that make up 20 percent of Israel’s population. Palestinian citizens of Israel have been arrested for Facebook posts and for merely existing and for showing up in support of things that are done for other Palestinians.”
In an interview with the Daily, Jones said he believes Palestinians are suffering the most in the ongoing conflict in the area.
“This isn’t mutually affecting both sides,” he said. “There are people from both sides that are injured, but the toll suffered by Palestinian is so much higher than any other side.”
In an interview with the Daily after the event, LSA senior Daniel Pearlman, who attended the vigil, said he was disappointed that the event was heavily politicized. Pearlman is a member of WolvPac, a political group on campus that promotes a strong relationship between the United States and Israel. WolvPac joined with several other Israel-related groups on campus last month to host a vigil for victims of terror in Israel.
“It seemed like a good cause and it seemed like it would be beneficial to everybody who has family and friends affected, Israeli and Palestinians,” he said. “It was very, very one-sided, and I was really disappointed to see that. There are people that are dying on both sides, and I thought that they were being sacrificed for the promotion of a political cause. I’m still happy I went, I just really wish it wasn’t for this purpose.”
Speaking near the end of the vigil, Khamis said the goal of the event was to demonstrate that the violence in the region impacts a range of individuals in the University community.
“Just know that people are on this campus, not just Palestinian, both sides are being affected by this issue,” she said. “Just keep that in your hearts. If you pray, pray for peace. I hope that at the end of the day we can all come together as a Michigan community and put an end to this violence.”
“This situation is a lot closer to home than people think and that it's affecting everyone,” she said. “I think it’s walking away with more context on the issue than just names, and knowing that it’s an issue that’s impacting students here.”