Emory University students, faculty, staff and alumni gathered Friday night in the Cannon Chapel Sanctuary to stand in solidarity with Palestine and mourn those killed in the Gaza Strip over the past week.
Emory Students for Justice in Palestine (ESJP) organized the vigil to provide support and solidarity for students mourning the thousands killed in recent attacks. Members of ESJP, as well as all other speakers present at the event, requested to remain anonymous due to safety concerns.
The vigil follows events from last Saturday morning, in which the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which the United States, United Kingdom and European Union have designated as a terrorist organization, invaded southern Israeli cities near the Gaza Strip. This left more than 1,300 Israelis dead as of Thursday afternoon, according to the Israeli government.
The Israeli military ordered a “complete siege” on Gaza on Monday, retaliating with air strikes that have killed nearly 1,900 people in the Gaza Strip and injured more than 7,700, according to Gazan health officials.
The crisis in Gaza only grows as Israeli forces continue to barrage the city with attacks. More than two million citizens are now trapped in Gaza, with limited access to food, supplies and fuel.
These attacks have sparked a wave of demonstrations and vigils across the globe to honor those killed in Israel and Palestine, and have elicited debate about the conflict on many U.S. college campuses.
During the ESJP vigil, Emory community members sat together in solemn solidarity while listening to speeches and prayers from a diverse array of students. The first speaker, a member of ESJP, emotionally retold the story of her family’s experiences in Palestine. She recalled the first time she was able to meet her aunt, who lives in Gaza, emphasizing the strength and resilience her aunt has displayed through years of ongoing turmoil and destruction.
The speaker also shared the distress she felt upon learning about the current state of her homeland, noting that a missile “completely obliterated” her aunt’s home, as well as a neighboring residential building.
“Last I heard, she survived — the most anyone can do is continue to survive in a situation like this,” the speaker said. “She and her family have been on the ground, helping the wounded, telling me families of 50 have been annihilated, generations and lineages dissipated.”
Other speakers included community members of Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths who recited prayers for civilians still under siege in Gaza.
One of the final speakers read a reflection from a student who is both Palestinian and Jewish. The student did not attend the vigil due to “fear of retaliation and being ostracized by the community,” according to the speaker reading the statement.
“We must remember those who have suffered,” the unnamed author wrote. “As Palestinians, our severed roots run deep through the land … I am living proof of the sentiment that religion is not what separates us.”
Friday’s vigil follows an Oct. 11 campus gathering led by Jewish students to honor Israelis killed in the conflict. The Muslim Students Association also held a Salat al-Jjanazah prayer, or Islamic mourning prayer, on Oct. 12 to honor people killed in Palestine and Afghanistan.
While the vigil served to provide a student-led response to recent events, many students also expressed their dismay toward Emory administrations’ response to the conflict. University President Gregory Fenves’ condemned Hamas’ attacks on Israel in a recent letter to the Emory community, and the University deans have also shared separate letters offering campus resources to students.
“Not a single thing has been said … about the Palestinian lives lost [in these statements],” an ESJP member told the Wheel. “And I’m hoping that this invokes a responsibility.”
Another ESJP member noted that acknowledgment is the bare minimum to expect from faculty and administration.
“If they see how many people are in support of this movement … maybe they’ll step up to their part,” the student said.
Additionally, many attendees added that they have felt increasingly unsafe and unprotected by the Emory administration. An ESJP member told the Wheel that some members have been “called out” by name online for being part of the organization.
“We have been receiving threats from multiple students and organizations online, and it’s terrible because we have a lot of students who fear retaliation and are afraid to speak out on their opinions because of this,” the ESJP member said. “We have students with visas who are afraid that their visa will get canceled or terminated because of what they say online. We have students with scholarships that are afraid of the same thing.”
Despite her discontent with Emory administration’s response, an ESJP member told the Wheel she felt “an overwhelming sense of support” from those gathered at the vigil.
“I was just shocked by the amount of people that came today,” the ESJP member said. “The fact that all of these people came together to show up in support and solidarity, and just remembering all the innocent lives lost, it’s just been beautiful.”
Some students noted the high emotion and sense of unity in the room, while others added that the sense of community brought hope and courage to those in mourning.
“There’s an inherent spirit of resilience and determination to preserve one’s identity and hope for a brighter future,” a speaker said to the audience. “The suffering is a shared burden that forges a unique bond between us Palestinians and strengthens our resolve to seek justice, peace and a life free from fear.”
Ayla Khan (she/her, 25C) is from Nashville, Tennessee, majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology, and minoring in political science on a pre-med track. Outside of the Wheel, Khan serves as a Third-Year Legislator for the 68th College Council, and is a committee member for TableTalk. In her free time, you can find her exploring Atlanta with her friends, watching Gilmore Girls, or listening to either Drake or Led Zeppelin.