After 4 more months of silence, another vigil held for Gaza

Attendees light each other's candles at a vigil honoring deceased Palestinians at The Rock Plaza on Feb. 27.

This story was initially published March 6 but was lost in a website update.

For the past four months, war has continued to rage and claim thousands more innocent lives in Palestine. For these same four months, Arab and Palestinian students’ demands for the University of Miami administration have remained the same: acknowledge us.

They have continued to be met with silence.

This inspired junior civil engineering major Ramsey Shihadeh, alongside the Arab Students Union (ABSU) and ’Canes for Palestine, to hold another vigil in honor of the 30,000 people lost in Gaza.

“After five months of basically genocide, and them [UM] not having said a thing, I think it really isolated a lot of us here on campus, and we all were feeling alone,” Shihadeh said.

Held at the Rock Plaza on Feb. 27, pictures and stories of children killed lined the wall and candles illuminated the stairs. Similar to the vigil held four months prior, the candles were lit in honor of all those killed, except this time each candle represented 314 people, not 64.

“These past few months have been pretty difficult for a lot of us here on campus. We faced a lot of harassment for outspoken support of Palestine. The lack of acknowledgement of Palestinian suffering has left a lot of us feeling like we sometimes don’t belong on this campus and that the University couldn’t care less about us,” Shihadeh said to close the event.

In response to Shihadeh’s closing remarks at the vigil, Patricia A. Whitely, senior vice president for student affairs and alumni engagement, provided The Miami Hurricane with a statement.

“The University is committed to providing a positive and engaging experience to each student who attends our institution. We understand that each student is individually influenced by events involving their family, friends, country, and personal experiences. The conflict between Israel and Hamas has impacted a number of our students. We continue to connect with students who want to share how it has affected them and how we can offer assistance. The Division of Student Affairs has overseen events on campus that have let students express themselves and their opinions, which is important to our mission of promoting positive discourse of divergent opinions in a respectable manner. We are always available for further dialogue,” Whitely said.

Just a week earlier Shihadeh and other student-leaders from ABSU and Canes for Palestine sat down with Whitely, UM President Julio Frenk and other administrators to discuss the current climate on campus for Arab and Palestinian students and how the University can improve it.

“What we want is to see public support for us. We want to see you guys [UM] not afraid to put out a statement and allow the campus community and the rest of the South Florida community to know that the University of Miami also cares about Palestinian students,” Shihadeh said.

On Oct. 9, 2023, Frenk sent an email to the UM community with the subject line “In Solidarity with Israel,” following the Hamas attack that killed about 1,200 Israeli’s. The email made a brief mention of Palestinians, Druze and Bedouins but primarily focused on the University’s ties to Israel. ‘Canes for Palestine and ABSU want to see something similar for Gaza.

“We weren’t condemning the email that they made where they said they stood unequivocally with Israel. All we were asking was for another email that equally acknowledges our struggle and shows that they stand with the Palestinian community as well, and condemn civilian deaths. That’s all we ask for.”

In place of the University’s silence, Shihadeh and fellow students have used student-led avenues to give the issue a presence on campus, primarily through events like the vigil.

Shihadeh began the event with the story of Hind Rajab, a 6-year-old girl that was trapped in a car with six dead relatives before being killed herself in what is believed to be an Israel tank attack. The audio from the calls between Rajab and the Palestine Red Crescent, a humanitarian organization working with the International Committee of the Red Cross, were played aloud. Then, the sound of Rajab’s screams and gunfire pierced through the inaudible crowd.

The Israel Defense Forces have stated they are “unfamiliar with the incident.”

The event also included the reading of poem “If I Must Die” by Refaat Alareer, written weeks before he was killed in an airstrike, an address from Imam Nasir Ahmad and a statement of support from lawyer Jalal Shehadeh who spent most of his childhood in the West Bank.

“We can’t bring back the 13,000 children that have been killed by Israel in the last five months. But we can choose to never forget. We can choose to allow their lives not to be lost in vain. We can choose to allow their memories to fuel our advocacy. And as we continue to move towards a free Palestine.” Shehadeh said.