About 3,000 white flags were planted on McKeldin Mall Wednesday for a vigil organized by the University of Maryland’s Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace chapters.
Each flag honored about 10 Palestinians who have been killed since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel from the blockaded Gaza Strip. The white flags represented the “innocence and the fragility of the souls that were taken,” according to a Students for Justice in Palestine board member who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
“Our primary purpose is to commemorate and educate the wider campus community about this,” the member said. “This is just a moment to reflect and educate others in a way that’s just purely visual.”
More than 25,000 people in Palestine and more than 1,200 people in Israel have been killed since the Oct. 7 attack, the Associated Press reported Sunday. Efforts to reach a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas might be gaining traction, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. A ceasefire must include the exchange of “hostages held by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel,” and humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip, according to the Associated Press.
The nine-hour flag display at this university took place on the first day of classes to set the tone for the rest of the semester and emphasize that this university’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter is “not going away anytime soon,” the board member said.
About 100 attendees watched as some students gave speeches about the ongoing violence in Palestine against the backdrop of the flags.
Two students spoke to the crowd about their family members who were killed in Gaza.
Freshman computer science major Sarah Edwan said her cousin, Jehad, and Jehad’s three children were “targeted by an Israeli missile” and killed in a building collapse that occurred soon after a temporary ceasefire ended in November.
“Over the following hours, after digging through the rubble, Jehad’s husband, who was also injured, managed to pull Jehad and her children, his wife and his children, piece by piece out of the rubble,” Edwan said.
Speakers at the vigil also referenced a poem called “If I Must Die” by Refaat Alareer, a Palestinian poet from the Gaza Strip who was killed Dec. 7. The poem was written on a white kite attached to a Palestinian flag in the middle of the exhibit on the mall.
“‘If I Must Die’ symbolizes all of the martyrs, or what we call the victims, of everything happening in Gaza,” senior geographical sciences major Iman Akhtar-Smith said. “We’re telling the stories of the martyrs in Palestine.”
Akhtar-Smith, the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter’s vice president, was one of the students who planted the flags on McKeldin Mall around 7 a.m.
Senior biology major Hershel Barnstein, president of the recently-formed Jewish Voice for Peace chapter, said the organizations wanted to host an impactful event for the semester.
“We wanted to grab people’s attention in some way,” Barnstein said. “If you’re standing on the right side of history, then you’re standing with the Palestinians.”
In a statement to The Diamondback in response to the vigil, this university said organizers followed university protocols established to “prioritize safety while protecting First Amendment rights.”
Freshman environmental science major Diego Henriquez came to the vigil to stand in solidarity with Palestinians even though he does not have personal connections to Palestine, he said.
Hearing from students about their family in Gaza especially resonated with him, Henriquez said. He emphasized the importance of combating oppression regardless of one’s background.
“It’s a very important mission,” he said. “Especially if you want to live in a better world.”