Vigil stresses humanity over politics for Israel, Gaza

Students hold candles and read prepared statements at a vigil Wednesday night that was held to mourn the civilian casualties resulting from the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas. Approximately 30 other colleges held vigils the same night.

Both the Hebrew and Arabic words for peace come from the same root meaning “wholeness” or “togetherness.”

About two dozen students on both sides of the Israel-Palestine ideological divide came together Wednesday evening to mourn the civilian casualties of the recent violence around Gaza in a candlelight vigil.

Similar vigils were held the same night at approximately 30 other colleges around the country, organizers said.

The weeklong face-off between Israel and Hamas that ended with a ceasefire on Nov. 21 resulted in six deaths in Israel and 158 in the Gaza Strip, according to the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

While students at the vigil acknowledged that their efforts will have little effect on an ongoing conflict more than 6,000 miles away from Washington University and few had strong personal connections to those touched by the violence, many appreciated the humanity-centered observance.

“This conflict is so politically heavy that losing the face of civilians sometimes is a real threat, and it’s so important to realize that every civilian has life,” sophomore Ayesha Mohyuddin said.

“Like Dean [James] McLeod said, every face has a name and story, and that’s such a big thing on our campus,” Mohyuddin added. “[It’s] just remembering that’s a worldwide thing.”

Mohyuddin also expressed her hope that the conflict will become a more prominent topic of discussion on campus, where apathy toward political and social issues is a common concern.

“Nothing is very publicly broadcast in terms of news on this campus,” she said. “I think it should [be discussed], maybe staying away from the political aspects of it, but just remembering a life is a life.”

Junior Fadi Abunemeh, a yearlong exchange student from the West Bank, said he appreciated students with differing views coming together for the vigil, but noted that such events will likely have negligible impact on the tension itself.

This map shows the maximum range of Hamas’ Fajer 5 rocket launched from the Gaza Strip. The conflict between Israel and Gaza lasted approximately a week and resulted in about 160 casualties. The majority of the deaths were Palestinian civilians. Rockets from Gaza reached as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, though most were effectively shot down by Israeli defense.

“It is really meaningful, Palestinians praying for Israeli troops and innocent people and vice versa,” Abunemeh said. “This is really nice, being in contact with the other side. But does that affect politics? No. Does that help the situation? I don’t think so.”

“Sometimes you feel a bit guilty about it…you come here, you live peacefully, you do everything you want, and then you talk to your family and it’s going really bad over there,” he added.

The vigil brought together J Street U, a national group advocating for a two-state solution, the Muslim Students Association, the Inter-Beliefs Council, Wash U Students for Israel and St. Louis Hillel.

“It’s to bring the actual people together,” junior Morriah Kaplan, co-chair of the campus chapter of J Street U, said. “It’s also to make a statement that this is how the issue should be dealt with in terms of diplomacy and relationship building.”

Kaplan said that two weeks ago, the group had more than 200 students fill out postcards to urge congressmen to support American leadership in facilitating the peace process between Israel and Palestine.

“We’re not just a dialogue-focused group. We do want to impact policy. But we do think it’s an important conversation to open on campus to keep people informed,” Kaplan said.

St. Louis Hillel Rabbi Andy Kastner led the group in a moment of silence and stressed the importance of both sides coming together to serve mutual interests.

“In Hebrew, the word for peace is ‘shalom.’ In Arabic, the word for peace is ‘salaam.’ And at the root of both of those words is the word ‘shalem,’ ‘shalemut,’ which means wholeness,” Kastner said. “Shalemut—wholeness, completion, togetherness—comes from the capacity of each individual seeing the divine spark in the other—leveling the playing field, seeing the fact that we are brothers, sisters, friends all living under one roof, sharing the same home, sharing resources.”

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