The quad near the bookstore was quiet, save for a small group lighting candles around an altar adorned with flowers and posters. Within minutes, dozens of people arrived, including students, faculty and community members. And before long, the crowd was huddled beside the white oak in a circle as organizers and students began to speak.
Days before an announced temporary ceasefire on Nov. 25, a student organized vigil calling for a ceasefire in Gaza was held on Friday, Nov. 17. The vigil comes at a time when other university groups have made similar calls for a ceasefire — an agreement to temporarily halt military activity — as a humanitarian crisis unfolds in the region.
As of Nov. 27, Hamas and Israel agreed to extend the truce by two days.
“I was really moved by all the people who decided to show up, first of all,” Kiani Landel, a senior social work major and student organizer, said. “I think that all the speakers did a wonderful job of motivating people to act and motivating people to care, which I think was one of the main goals of tonight — was to get people to really care about what's going on in Palestine.”
As over 30 students and staff began to gather around the altar, a representative from Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER) — an advocacy group at Portland State University (PSU) — was feeling many emotions.
“I feel warm and cold at the same time,” the representative said. “It’s cold because it’s chilly — and I’m so glad to wrap my hands in the Palestinian keffiyeh — and warm, also, to be surrounded by people who care. And that’s a form of acknowledgement, to feel cared about. Also sad because we’re here to honor the people who have passed. So it’s mixed feelings.”
The crowd quieted as one of the organizers gave an introduction to the vigil and asked the crowd to follow a call and response statement: ceasefire now.
The PSU SUPER representative, who is from Gaza, then spoke about the toll of the war on loved ones.
“I can’t even imagine what my family in Gaza are going through,” he said. “I can’t even imagine what my friends are going through.”
During the speeches, some students were available to offer extra emotional support for those who needed it. Other organizers weaved throughout the crowd passing out candles for attendees to hold as students read stories and poems from We Are Not Numbers, a Gazan nonprofit that publishes stories written by young Palestinians in Gaza.
Sophomore Essa Almusallam drew the vigil to a close by offering a few final questions.
“I’m here speaking as a deeply affected human,” Almusallam said. “The question echoes in our hearts: ‘What more can be witnessed? What more must be witnessed to raise a resounding call for a ceasefire?’”
The vigil ended in song as many moved to place their candles at the center of the circle, and QR codes linking to action flyers were posted to the tables outside the bookstore.
As people left, Almusallam reflected on what he hopes to see come of the vigil.
“I hope to see more things like this — spreading the knowledge, the information and calling for a ceasefire,” Almusallam said.
Editor’s note: It is not normally The Beacon's policy to include anonymous sources. However, the Editor-in-Chief is making an exception in this case to allow a representative from Portland State University to not be named due to concerns about his family’s safety in Gaza.
Riley Martinez is Copy Editor for The Beacon. He can be reached at email@example.com.