Under candlelight, dressed in keffiyehs, more than 150 students gathered at the center of the University of Miami campus in remembrance of all those lost in Gaza, and in Israel, since war broke out on Oct. 8.
100 candles, representing the 6,400 Israeli and Palestinian lives lost in the conflict, lined the stairs of the Rock. As the vigil took place, a reported 700 further lives were lost in Gaza, raising the Palestinian death toll to 5,700.
“There is sadness and grief at the loss we feel – so shocking in its horror, so great in its numbers, and so gripping in its connection to each and every one of us,” Ramsey Shihadeh, former co-president of Arab Students Union and organizer of the vigil, said in his address.
“The numbness we felt first at the sight of leveled buildings in Gaza and in the lifeless, charred bodies of countless children, now assumes the reality of names and faces human tears and family dreams, forever torn apart.”
The vigil, hosted by Arab Students Union, uplifted the voices of Palestinian students and opened a space on campus for all to mourn with the inclusion of three religious leaders. Imam Nasir Ahmad, Father Richard Vigoa and Rabbi Brant Rosen each spoke to the crowd, leading them in prayer.
“We have to be like the air that all of us breathe right now. The air is not limited to one religion, it is not limited to one nation, is not limited to one tribe. Air gives itself to every life that God has evolved on this planet and religion,” Ahmad said.
Rosen, the Rabbi of Tzedek Chicago, co-founded the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council, uniting Rabbis in seeking justice for Palestinians and Israelis.
“We have seen our loved ones and our community members clinging to this belief that Jewish trauma and grief can and should be used as an excuse to bring the very same genocidal violence that we have faced onto the Palestinian people” he said in a recording played at the vigil.
Gaza has been under a “complete siege” by Israel following Hamas’ attack, putting over 2 million people at risk of dehydration or starvation and leaving one in three hospitals non-functional in Gaza, according to the World Health Organization.
An estimated 1.4 million Gazans have also been displaced after an Israeli order to leave north Gaza and the dropping of thousands of tonnes of bombs. The historic Church of St. Porphyrius, several mosques including Al Gharbi Mosque and 41 United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) installations, including schools, have been destroyed in the Gaza Strip.
In mourning the devastation and planning the vigil, the inclusion of the Rabbi and the Israeli death toll was important to Shihadeh.
“If I’m going to stand here and bring awareness to the Palestinians that were killed, I have to also bring awareness to the Israeli civilians that were killed,” he said. “They deserve representation too.”
While a night of solidarity, the vigil also filled a gap in acknowledgement for Palestinians on campus.
“There’s not really anybody speaking for the Palestinians, which is why we’re here doing this. We want the Palestinian voices to be heard,” junior health science major and current co-president of Arab Students Union Liza Houraney said. “It’s not okay for their hurt, for their pain to be brushed off.”
On Oct. 9, UM President Julio Frenk sent a message to the UM community announcing “solidarity with the people of Israel.” The statement included one mention of “innocent Palestinians, Druze, Bedouins” in the region, but there has been no follow-up as the Palestinian death toll climbs.
“I think it’s great to express your sympathies with the Israelis that passed. I think it’s really important to condemn the actions of Hamas,” Shihadeh said.
“But we also want representation on our end. We also want messages from President Frenk condemning the actions of the Israeli government, killing 1,000s of Palestinian civilians. We didn’t get any of that.”
For at least the duration of the 30-minute ceremony, students stood in unity, passing candlelight and support between one another.
“There was so much support that I honestly did not expect,” Houraney said. “It’s just nice seeing that we’re not alone, because sometimes – a lot of the time – we do feel like we are alone.”
The vigil’s presence extended beyond students. UM administrators, professors, community members and former students stood amongst those in attendance.
“When things are bigger than you, it’s important to step forward and take a stance with your community. When something happens in the world that’s like evil and unjust, it affects us collectively,” Palestinian UM graduate Sara Uweyda said. “I’m always going to stand for peace. And I’m always going to stand for what’s right. And that’s what brought me here today.”
Senior political science student, former co-president of the Arab Students Union and fellow leader of the event, Mona Abuzahra was raised in the West Bank. She concluded the evening by reading the names of only a few Gazan civilians killed and a message for the UM community.
“We carry essentially a struggle, aching in our bones, and bear the wounds of generations of trauma. We may appear intact, but we are aching. We need your help,” she said. “We need your help in educating and carrying the legacy of the Palestinians like me.”
For students interested in learning further about the current conflict and its history, a student-led teach-in will be held at the Rock on Wednesday, Oct. 25 from 4 to 6 p.m..