Duke community honors Palestinian victims of Israel-Hamas war at BC Plaza vigil

Two attendees at an Oct. 20 vigil for Palestinian victims of the Israel-Hamas war in front of an arranged row of 100 teddy bears, each representing 15 children killed in Gaza since the start of the war. Courtesy of All Kibria.
Two attendees at an Oct. 20 vigil for Palestinian victims of the Israel-Hamas war in front of an arranged row of 100 teddy bears, each representing 15 children killed in Gaza since the start of the war. Courtesy of All Kibria.

Editor’s note: A student speaking at the event was concerned about facing harassment if quoted and attributed in this piece, in light of recent events regarding harassment and student safety at other college campuses. 

The Chronicle is committed to maintaining journalistic standards and credibility in our coverage. After speaking with the student featured in the article, The Chronicle has elected to grant anonymity to the student who requested it. The Chronicle has confirmed the accuracy of the quotes published through our own recording of the event.  

Community members gathered at a vigil on the Bryan Center plaza Thursday evening to grieve for the lives lost in the Gaza Strip, which is currently under siege as the Israel-Hamas war develops.

The vigil was hosted by Duke Students for Justice in Palestine, the Center for Muslim Life and the Triangle chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace. Community members gave speeches to over 250 attendees in front of candles and a row of 100 teddy bears, each representing 15 of the children who have been killed in Gaza over the past two weeks. 

The health ministry in Gaza said Thursday that at least 3,785 Palestinians, including 1,524 children, have been killed by retaliatory Israeli strikes since Oct. 7. 

CML Director and Chaplain Joshua Salaam opened the vigil by wishing peace upon the attendees and honoring the loss of innocent lives. He urged attendees to “be fully here.” 

“Palestinians need us to see them. It feels like for 75 years and counting, the world does not see them,” Salaam said. “They have whispered; they have screamed. They have sat down; they have stood up, and it seems like no matter what they do to be free, the world does not see them. The world does not want to hear them.”

Salaam spoke about how life was “precious and sacred,” pointing to verses in the Quran and teachings from the Prophet Muhammad. 

“Don't let war in anger and rhetoric allow us to forget that life is precious. I hope that these bright minds at Duke University can figure out how to end the occupation. How we can help our brothers, our sisters and our family over there return to the peace they knew for a thousand years before 1948. We can live together in peace,” Salaam said.

Attendees then listened to a recitation of verses from the Quran. 

Fatima Shaat, a Palestinian community member who was raised in Gaza and came to the United States after graduating from high school, spoke about how the past 13 days left her “terrified to [her] core.” 

“I saw my childhood memories, teenage labs and college prep moments where I took my TOEFL exam, my SATs to get here [in the U.S.]. I saw them all get wiped out, wiped out in front of my eyes on live TV, with hundreds of brothers and sisters getting killed there,” she said. 

Shaat said that she did not speak to gain “sympathy” from the crowd, but instead urged those attending the vigil not to “wait for Gaza to make it to the headlines” before organizing and coming together again. 

She spoke about how her high school was partially bombed in the 2014 war. Following the bombing, Shaat and her classmates continued their education in their remaining classrooms, shielding themselves from the winter rain by covering the school's window frames with plastic sheets. 

“We continued. We fought. So what I'm asking you here today is to keep fighting. Keep doing it for Gazans and for every child and person in the world to be free," she concluded. "Gaza and Palestine is not your charity project. It's your liberation project.”

Alanna Davis, an organizer for JVP and the IfNotNowMovement, began her speech with a description of her background as a Jewish person who was involved in a Zionist youth movement and underwent three months of basic training in the Israeli military. 

After getting involved with social justice causes as a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Davis felt she had been “bamboozled.” Davis said she reconnected with her Judaism by working towards "collective liberation."

"Through this work, I learned to articulate my own skin in the game. In America, in Palestine, in Israel, no matter what our religion or background, we all deserve a life of safety and freedom for ourselves and our families," she said. "But today, as people in Palestine and Israel mourn and seek safety, corrupt, failed leaders are setting the region on fire and targeting ordinary people with war crimes."

Davis called upon the attendees to demand their leaders prevent civilian deaths and restore food, water and electricity to Gaza. She also called for “ending funding of the Israeli military’s occupation and siege of the West Bank and Gaza” and providing support to those wanting to “live their lives and raise their families in peace.”

Chris Tuttle, pastor and head of staff for the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Durham, offered the support of his community under the “deep and abiding presence of God,” especially with the “poor and oppressed” people of the world.

He called on Christians to be “brokenhearted and angry” over the violence and siege of Gaza that is leading to “desperate suffering,” and to speak out against Islamophobia, antisemitism and “hatred in all of its forms.”

Abdul Waheed, an imam and program associate for the CML, called for God’s blessing on their support for the Palestinian people, a “people that have been yearning and struggling and striving to be the recipients of their God-given human rights to freedom, justice and equality.”

“Let’s use our tongue more to speak out against these wrongs,” Waheed said. “You will ask God to open up our hearts, open up our minds and bless us to be a people that always stand up for justice, always stand up to help and support the oppressed.”

A sophomore student raised up a bear from the row of teddy bears before them, reciting the names of 15 children killed in retaliation bombings since Oct. 7. They noted that approximately every 15 minutes, a child is killed by Israeli forces in Gaza.

“We will not stop until we are free. ‘From the river to the sea’ is our freedom call — not a call for the annihilation of a people! A call for the freedom of Palestinian people. Free from occupation, apartheid and genocide. We will win this fight. God is on our side,” they cried out. 

“From the river to the sea,” some members of the crowd chanted in response.

Student Affairs announced Thursday that the University painted over the phrase “from the river to the sea….” on the East Campus bridge after multiple community members reported that the phrase was antisemitic. 

"We are not okay. Not because we're Palestinian. Not because we're Arab. Not because we're Muslim or Jewish or Christian. We're not okay because we're human. We're humans bearing witness to the genocide of our people,” the sophomore said. 

“They tried to silence us. They paint over our words and ignore the genocide of our people. But we will not be silent. Palestinians are strong. All over the world, Palestinians are strong," they continued. "We are resisting. This is not a new fight. This is a fight that Palestinians have been fighting for over 75 years. And we will not stop.”


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Audrey Wang is a Trinity junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

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