The Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) held a vigil for Palestinian lives lost in January on Wednesday.
Described as an event bringing “Glory to Our Martyrs,” Binghamton University students were invited to “honor and mourn the 30+ Palestinian lives lost at the hands of the occupation forces thus far in 2023.” A post on SJP’s Instagram called for the “emergency” vigil after Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) raided a refugee camp in Jenin — a city in the West Bank and a Palestinian enclave in the area. According to a Reuters report, nine Palestinians were killed, including two civilians.
SJP leaders convened outside the library tower with lit candles, held a moment of silence for the deceased and gave out Palestinian flags to supporters. Afterward, Mousa Tous, the vice president of SJP and a junior majoring in political science, gave a eulogy honoring the victims of the Jenin raid.
“We want to stress that these lives should not solely be remembered as statistics,” Tous said. “This January has been the deadliest January since 2009. We refuse to allow the frequency of these murders to render Palestinian blood cheap.”
The new year has brought renewed hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. On Jan. 27, the day after the Jenin attack, a Palestinian gunman opened fire outside of a synagogue killing seven people in Neve Yaakov, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem — land that Israel has annexed. In response to the increasing violence, the Palestinian Authority (PA), the body that governs sovereign regions of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, froze security cooperation with Israel’s government.
Noelle Dutch, a senior majoring in political science, gave her thoughts on why she braved the cold to support SJP.
“I think for me, as a white person with no connection to Palestine and nothing personally at stake, it’s important to show solidarity with affected groups,” Dutch said. “The student body, in a more general sense, needs to start building more community and connections. Supporting each other makes all of us better off.”
After the eulogy, another participant invoked the recent police murder of Tyre Nichols to draw a link between state violence in both the United States and Israel. At the end of the vigil, SJP encouraged the crowd to finish the chant, “from the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.”
Some proponents of Israel, such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a group that advocates against anti-Israeli sentiment, describe the phrase as “[implying] the dismantling of the Jewish state.” The SJP has stressed in their internal code of conduct, however, that their aim is to use “pro” Palestinian language, not oppositional terms.
Jacob Weber, a sophomore double-majoring in philosophy, politics and law and environmental studies, expressed his thoughts on attending the vigil through the lens of his identity.
“I think as a Jewish person on this campus, it’s really important to hit back against the prevailing narratives of most of the Jewish organizations here that are very pro-Zionist and pro-apartheid,” Weber said. “We need more people, especially in the Jewish community here, [who] look past a lot of the narratives we get in western media.”
In a written statement, the executive board of SJP described why they feel Palestinian voices need to be amplified and heard at BU.
“Here we are talking about a people who were violently uprooted from their land, and faced with the choice of becoming refugees and abandoning their land and livelihood, or to live under a brutal occupation that monitors every aspect of their lives if they live in the West Bank and Gaza, or a dehumanizing apartheid system in the occupied territory of Israel,” the board wrote in a statement. “It’s also important for the Arab body to be represented in [BU], and as it stands we are the only representatives of the Arab voice on campus.”
The board added their belief in the importance of language when used to describe developments in Palestine. They stated that they believed in objectivity, but would refuse a neutral position in their fight against the “sanitization” of the Israeli government’s actions. The name for the vigil was intentionally chosen because “for Palestinians, existence is resistance and any person whose life is taken due to the violence of the occupation is forced to become a martyr,” the board wrote.
Editor’s note (2/8/23): A prior version of this article included a quote from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to describe the phrase, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” The article has been updated with additional context regarding the phrase.