The students, dressed in black, held signs listing the names of 18 civilians killed by Israeli shells on Nov. 8, along with their ages and the circumstances of their deaths. The vigil was organized by the Palestinian Solidarity Coalition (PSC), a Harvard student group.
“The purpose is to just make people aware of what’s happening [in Gaza] because it’s silent in the media and in America,” said Ghia G. Zaatari ’07, a member of the PSC.
The information on the signs was taken from B’tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, a non-governmental organization.
Some students associated with Harvard Hillel told organizers that they were concerned the vigil had been organized to advocate a political stance rather than merely to mourn the dead, said Naor H. Ben-Yehoyada, an Israeli student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences who proposed the vigil to the PSC.
“This is a political demonstration. It can’t be apolitical because the Israeli occupation of Gaza is political,” Ben-Yehoyada said.
Zaatari said the while the group wanted to be sensitive to opposing views, it also wanted “to make sure people get the message.”
“We really emphasized the silent part,” Zaatari said. “It’s more effective to get other people’s attention. Also, we do have political differences, so we were silent in order to have a more unified stance.”
Seth R. Flaxman ’08, the education chair of Harvard’s Progressive Jewish Alliance, said that his organization “struggled with how we wanted to participate or not participate,” given the political potential of the vigil.
“I would have framed the message differently—in terms of the value of human life and the importance of applying humanitarian law to all sides rather than in terms of the politics of the conflict,” said Flaxman, who did not dress in black and stood with the protesters for only a short time.
Zaatari said she was happy with the turnout at the event, which drew groups outside Harvard in addition to faculty and students at the University. She said that members of the PSC include Palestinian students, Arab students, and others interested in social justice issues.
“I’m out here specifically as a Jewish person opposing the occupation,” said one attendee, Benjamin Landau-Beispiel ’10.
The PSC intends to make the vigils a weekly event, Zaatari said.
“Seeing that the events in Palestine are ongoing, we also want to be ongoing,” she said.
Partway through the vigil, Harvard University Police moved the participants off the Memorial Hall steps to the grass nearby because the PSC had not applied for a permit. Zaatari said organizers had not been aware that a permit was necessary.
—Shifra B. Mincer contributed to the reporting of this story.