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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

‘It’s impactful’: Vigil honors Palestinian lives lost, educates about violence in Palestine and Israel


To read about the background of the current violence in Palestine and Israel, go below to the section titled, “‘Deep roots’: Historical violence in Palestine and Israel.”

Attendees discussed the Israeli government’s attacks on Palestine, the media’s perception of the violence in that area and their own personal stories at a vigil held for Palestinian lives lost.

Held outside the Grace Memorial Chapel near the Rhatigan Student Center last Thursday, Wichita State students and other attendees gathered to honor Palestinians who have died and those currently under siege.

Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist political group, launched a surprise attack from Gaza in Israel on Oct. 7, killing Israeli citizens and seizing dozens of hostages in one of the greatest escalations in the region for 50 years, according to Reuters. As of Oct. 14, the death toll in Israel has mounted to over 1,300.

Following the attack, Israel laid siege to Gaza, a narrow, crowded strip of land home to 2.3 million Palestinians; Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade for 16 years, and half of the Palestinians there are under age 19. As of Oct. 15, the death toll in Gaza climbed to over 2,300 Palestinians. 

According to The Guardian, the Israeli prime minister has promised not to turn on electricity and water in Gaza or send fuel there until all Israeli hostages are freed; United Nations experts have criticized the Israeli bombardment as “collective punishment,” which is a war crime. 

Attendees at Thursday’s vigil gathered in a circle, having discussions about the violence in Palestine and Israel and the history leading up to the most recent Hamas attack.

Students taped a large poster to a nearby concrete wall, which included information on the siege in Gaza and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Attendees were also provided with educational resources.

Attendees shared personal stories and connections to Palestine, but participants ranged from different backgrounds.

 To honor the Palestinian victims, candles and flowers rested on a set of tables, which were covered with the Palestinian flag and various headscarves. Some attendees wore these scarves, with one calling them “a symbol of Palestinian resistance against apartheid in Palestine.”

Kylie Flax said she grew more interested in learning about the violence in Palestine and Israel after hearing a personal story from an Arab friend. When her friend and his young siblings were on a bus, they were held at gunpoint and taken to prison.

“That’s minuscule compared to a lot of other things that Israel has been doing to Palestine, but it’s just the principle (of) ‘we were on a bus,’ and they took a child and threw him into prison for 10 hours,” Flax said.

After listening to several attendees speak at the vigil, Flax encouraged them to continue sharing.

“Your story is powerful, and it matters. Tell it,” Flax said. “Tell it in all of the gory details, tell it in all the graphic details. Share your story because it will change people’s minds.”

Attendee Omar Alsmadi said he has family from Syria, noting the Syrian civil war that started in 2011. He said that it was good to see Syria and other countries in support of Palestine. 

“I feel like it will make a huge impact if we bring all that support here in America,” Alsmadi said. “Stuff like this (vigil), you know, it’s very – it’s impactful.”

Alsmadi also noted that to make a real impact, “it’d be more an of an outside thing” because “there’s not that much you can do” in America. 

According to the Washington Post, President Joe Biden has spoken in support of Israel, condemning the Hamas attack on Israel as “unadulterated evil.”

“U.S. policymaking on this issue is not always easy to simplify,” Laila Ballout, a WSU assistant professor of history, wrote in an email. “But currently, the Biden administration has aggressively supported the Israeli bombing campaign in Gaza, which has resulted in high civilian casualties.” 

Alsmadi said that different public figures and celebrities like Lebron James and Justin Bieber, as well as the NFL, have spoken in favor of Israel.

“As uneducated as they are about it, they still have so much base around them,” Alsmadi said. “And so when they post something about that, like, you’ve got music fans, and you’ve got basketball fans and sports fans who are like, ‘Okay, go Israel.’” 

Other attendees criticized how Bieber posted a message of support for Israel with a photo of Gaza, which featured buildings destroyed by Israel; he deleted his Instagram story shortly after and reshared the message again with no background.

Ballout said that many students on campus have relatives and friends in Israel and Palestinian territories as well as Lebanon, which has also been involved in a limited but dangerous bombing campaign.

“This conflict presents enormous risk to civilians in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon,” Ballout said. “Anyone with relatives and friends in those places is likely to be enormously distraught by these events and worried about their loved ones.”

At the vigil, Flax expressed her concern for those connected to the situation.

“The more I learn from people who are directly involved, the more my heart breaks for it, and the more clear it is that one side is much more in the wrong than the other,” Flax said.

‘Deep roots’: Historical violence in Palestine and Israel

In an email, Ballout, also a historian of U.S. foreign relations with the Middle East in the 1970s and 1980s, wrote that there are many factors that most Americans don’t understand about the Palestine and Israel conflict, but “chiefly, I think there is absence of historical understanding that makes events with deep roots appear as if they only began with today’s events.”

According to Vox, the United Nations adopted a partition plan in 1948 to dissolve Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, which allotted 56% of the land to the Jewish State, including the most fertile regions; Palestine, with its people living on the land for generations, rejected this decision. Previously, Jewish settlers owned 6% of the land

According to Vox, Israel’s displacement of Palestinians started in 1948, when Zionists forced roughly 750,000 Palestinians and destroyed more than 500 villages; this event became known as the Nakba, which means “catastrophe” in Arabic. Israel captured 78% of the land through the Nakba.

In 1967, the Israeli state occupied Gaza and the West Bank during the Six Day War. Several peace negotiations, mostly U.S.-led, have failed to bring peace, according to Ballout. 

From 1977 to 2004, significant Israeli settlements were built in Gaza and are still built in the West Bank today, according to Ballout.

“Many Palestinians see (this project) as trying to incorporate the territory into Israel, rendering negotiations for Palestinian autonomy, independence and land impossible,” Ballout said.

In 2005, Israel forced Israeli settlers out of Gaza and gave political control to Palestinians; Israel still maintained control over the infrastructure, including electricity, and movement in and out of the territory.

In 2006, democratic elections brought Hamas to political power, and they consolidated control over Gaza in 2007. Ballout said that past secular political movements failing to secure Palestinian political rights created an opening for Islamist groups like Hamas to gain control.

“Hamas’s Islamist politics and prioritization of military confrontation with Israel, and repression of Palestinian political alternatives in Gaza, have allowed them to argue that they are the only force in Palestinian politics actively resisting the occupation,” Ballout said.

Since Hamas came to power in 2007, Israel intensified its siege on Gaza.

“That (siege) has restricted access to medicine, food, and water, stymied the economy and led to 45 percent unemployment,” Ballout said.

Conflict broke out in 2009 and 2014; each time Hamas fired rockets into Israel, and Israel bombed Gaza in retaliation.

Ballout said that “this long history of occupation” and lack of political solutions has largely been “a story of Israeli military strengthening and invulnerability” since 1973, with Israeli receiving “intensive support” from the U.S. 

During this period, there were a few incidents of Palestinian military resistance, which led to further Israeli military build-ups.

 With political support, the current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks to expand settlements and annex Gaza and the West Bank.

The Hamas attack on Palestinians pierced Israeli’s sense of invincibility, according to Ballout.

“The recent Hamas attack into Israel has punctured the feeling of Israeli invulnerability to violence stemming from the occupation and has shifted the dynamic in place since 1973,” Ballout said.

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About the Contributors
Courtney Brown
Courtney Brown, News Editor
Courtney Brown is one of the news editors for The Sunflower. She previously worked as a reporter and assistant news editor. Brown uses she/her pronouns.
Allison Campbell
Allison Campbell, News Editor
Allison Campbell is one of the news editors for The Sunflower. Campbell is a junior pursuing a journalism and media production degree with a minor in English. Campbell hopes to pursue a career in writing or editing after graduation. They use any pronouns.

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