Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 21, 2024

J Street U, in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins Human Rights Working Group and the Coalition of Hopkins Activists for Israel (CHAI), hosted a candlelight vigil for peace in Palestine and Israel last Thursday.

The ceremony, which began at 8:30 p.m. on the Keyser quad, was sparsely attended: only 19 people gathered outside of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library to commemorate the recent violence in the Middle East.

“We are here to honor the innocent who have died, and to remember that we are not mere bystanders in this situation,” junior Rachel Cohen, who organized the event and is the President of J Street U, said to participants gathered around tea candles arranged in a peace sign on the library terrace.

“We want to promote peace, and to realize that we, as American students, can work to help prevent the need for future vigils such as these,” Cohen said.

Between Nov. 14 and 21, over 100 Palestinians and five Israelis were killed and many more injured in acts of violence between Hamas and Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip. The vast majority of the victims were civilians.

After Cohen’s opening remarks, members of the participating organizations took turns telling stories and reading poems from the affected region, before taking a moment of silence and then saying a few closing remarks.

They recognized the suffering of Israelis and Palestinians equally, placing the focus on remembering the losses and seeking peace, instead of choosing who is right or wrong.

Cohen thinks that the event’s message far outweighed the event’s low turnout.

“We were trying to do something that was more pro-peace—trying to bring out the humanity of the situation that this campus lacks at times,” she said. “The hard part is getting people to care about this conflict when it is not on the front pages of violence. Usually when we told people about the event, we got the response ‘well, isn’t it over?’ because the outbreak ended a few weeks ago.”

During the event, they humanized the violence by telling stories of victims from both sides.

They told the story of a 38-year-old Palestinian civilian, a father of six, who was killed in the violence. They told the story of an Israeli civilian with three children who also died in the conflict.

Both stories were tragic, Cohen said, and their juxtaposition showed the loss on both sides.

After the stories, students read both Israeli and Palestinian poems.

The first poem, “The Place Where We are Right,” was by an Israeli poet.

It ended with the especially poignant lines, “And a whisper will be heard in the place / Where the ruined / House once stood.” The second poem, by a Palestinian, called for the audience to “Think of others … As you think of others who are distant, think of yourself and say, ‘I wish I was a candle to fade away the darkness.’”

Then an excerpt from the Talmud was read, saying, “[All who can protest against something wrong that is being done] in the whole world, [are] accountable together with all the citizens of the world.”

After this call to action, the group took a moment of silence to reflect and honor the dead.

“Coming together in recognition of the loss and hardship on both sides is an essential step towards building solidarity, cooperation and friendship in our community,” Cohen said. “Only on such a foundation, based in mutual understanding, can we in America enact meaningful change, and work to avoid further violence in Israel and Palestine.”


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