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Rice Students for Justice in Palestine holds ‘Honoring Our Martyrs’ vigil

Rice Students for Justice in Palestine hosted a vigil titled “Honoring Our Martyrs” in the Multicultural Center courtyard Oct. 18. Brandon Chen / Thresher

By Riya Misra     10/25/23 12:05am

Members of the Rice community gathered in the Multicultural Center Courtyard for a vigil titled “Honoring Our Martyrs” Oct. 18. The vigil was held in remembrance of “our martyrs lost in Palestine, Chicago and Southern Lebanon this past week,” according to Rice Students for Justice in Palestine’s Oct. 16 Instagram post. 

An organizer from Rice SJP said they identify “martyrs” as all Palestinians “killed as a result of Israel’s actions” in what the Associated Press has said is the “deadliest of five Gaza wars for both sides.” The organizer declined to comment on whether Hamas militants are included as “martyrs.”

The vigil opened with eight speakers, each of whom took turns sharing remarks about the Israel-Hamas war. None of the speakers identified themselves on-site. Representatives from Rice SJP did not respond to a request about speakers’ identities or event attendance.

As some speakers discussed, the vigil took place four days after an Illinois landlord fatally stabbed a 6-year-old Muslim boy in what police said was a hate crime motivated by the Israel-Hamas war, according to the Associated Press.

Multiple speakers also talked about a deadly explosion that took place at Gaza City’s al-Ahli Arab Hospital the day before the vigil. According to The New York Times, U.S. intelligence officials estimate the blast killed 100 to 300, while the “Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza gave the death toll as 471.”

Hamas officials have blamed an Israeli airstrike for the explosion, while Israel said it was caused by a misfired Palestinian rocket. Multiple news organizations have conducted visual analyses on the blast, but what exactly caused the explosion remains uncertain.

The first speaker also referenced what The New York Times called a “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza, with little availability of potable water and international aid arriving at a “trickle,” as well as Israel’s use of white phosphorus gas, which Human Rights Watch said can pose “grave risks” to civilians. The speaker accused the Israeli military of the “targeting and bombing of schools, places of worship and civilian homes.”

“We must bring attention to the atrocities and war crimes committed by the state of Israel,” the speaker said. “Now, more than ever, this intent is explicit. And we must not hesitate to call this what it is: genocide.”

The United Nations has said there is a “risk of genocide against the Palestinian people” and has urged the “parties to the conflict” to adhere to international humanitarian and wartime laws that prioritize the protection of all civilians. In the same statement, the U.N. said the “taking and holding of hostages is prohibited by international law,” referring to the more than 200 Israelis, many civilians, taken hostage in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack; a handful have been released as of publication. According to the U.N., “civilians constitute the majority of those killed in both Gaza and Israel.”

The next two speakers cited a “dire need” for humanitarian relief in Gaza, calling for an end to the United States’ financial support to Israel. The United States pays $3.8 billion dollars in military assistance to Israel annually, according to the U.S. Department of State.

“Gaza, the heartbeat of Palestine and the cradle of the Palestinian struggle, remains a symbol of the unbreakable Palestinian spirit. We will never forget or abandon our people there,” the third speaker said. “And we must urge principled individuals, universities and organizations around the world to join hands in bearing the responsibility of standing with them in solidarity.”

Rice SJP released an open letter Oct. 21 calling for the Office of the President to stand in solidarity with Palestine and denounce anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian rhetoric. The letter is co-signed by Anakbayan Houston, Rice Muslim Student Association and The Rice Marxists. As of Oct. 24, the letter has garnered 333 signatures.

“We especially express our disappointment at the recent statements released by the Office of the President, which present a one-sided narrative and fail to acknowledge Israel’s violent assault on Palestine,” the statement wrote.

“As we noted in our communications, Rice denounces the violence in both Gaza and Israel … The ongoing situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories resonates in many ways within our campus and community, and we anticipate that this pain will persist in the coming months,” President Reggie DesRoches previously wrote to the Thresher on Oct. 16 in response to criticism expressed at the “All out for Palestine” protest Oct. 14.

The vigil’s next three speakers recited a selection of passages, including verses from the Quran and excerpts of self-written poetry. One person read aloud “The Words Under the Words,” a poem by Palestinian-American writer Naomi Shihab Nye.

Another spoke as a third-generation Palestinian refugee, using their allotted time to honor some of the recently killed Palestinians. The ongoing Israel-Hamas war “will be the first genocide in modern history that was completely obvious to everyone on social media,” they said.

“Some of them are artists. Some of them are doctors, some of them are lawyers. Most of them are refugees just like me, pushed to the corner for another state to take their place,” they said. “I will continue to create art for them. I will continue to order my favorite cup of coffee for them. I will continue to listen to my favorite song for them. I will continue to talk about Palestine for them.”

The vigil concluded with a moment of silence and an invitation to light candles in honor of the deceased. The last speaker emphasized the power of speaking up and spreading awareness, then announced another protest, held in front of City Hall Oct. 21.

“Our protests, like the one today, this vigil, our social media posts, everything,” the speaker said. “It all has power. People of Palestine … see us fighting for them every day, every day. We cannot let them down. We cannot stop.”

Brandon Chen contributed to this reporting.

[10/27/2023 3:12 p.m.] This article was updated to reflect the uncertainty around the cause of the al-Ahli Arab Hospital blast. This article was also updated to clarify which events the speakers referenced.

[10/25/2023 12:47 a.m.] The third speaker identified themselves as a third-generation Palestinian refugee, not a third-generation Palestinian-American. This article was corrected.

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