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Friday, Jun 21, 2024

Middlebury Muslim Students Association hosts vigil for Palestinian lives

The Middlebury Chapel served as host to over 100 students, faculty and staff for the “Vigil for Palestine,” the evening of Nov. 9. The vigil, planned by the Middlebury Muslim Students Association (MSA) featured a variety of speakers who mourned the loss of life in Gaza and reflected on how the Middlebury community has been affected by the ongoing violence in the region. 

The event began with an Islamic chant of the 99 Divine Names, followed by a Quran recitation and translation by Middlebury students, remarks by members of MSA, Muslim Chaplain and Vice President of Equity and Inclusion.

MSA also screened an interview with Asem, a Palestinian child who was injured and whose parents were killed in a recent Israeli airstrike, and showed a picture of three young children, the oldest no more than seven, facing a pile of rubble. 

The vigil closed with a scrolling screen of the names of over 10,000 victims who have died in Gaza from Israeli bombardments since Oct. 7 in order of their ages. The segment of names which had the designation of “0 years old” next to them was one of the longest. The room sat in silence.

It was originally intended for a smaller group of students to gather in the Axinn Winter garden, but the college then offered MSA the chapel’s space due to interest in attending and growing support for Palestine among the community, according to an email from the MSA Board to The Campus. MSA requested anonymity for all of their responses, wishing to only be identified as a collective organization. 

The organization took approximately two weeks to plan the event and coordinate technical details, then began spreading the word around campus about four days before the vigil took place. 

Grace Mtunguja ’26 attended the vigil and appreciated seeing such a big turnout for the event. 

“I don’t know—can you describe a vigil as beautiful? I thought it was beautiful and well-done,” Mtunguja said. “I feel like they did a good job of keeping it non-political — like it was really just about the lives that were lost. Mourning those who die shouldn’t be made into a political thing, because at the end of the day, they’re all lives.”

She added that with the pressure of schoolwork at Middlebury, it can be difficult to take time to grieve. “I think that time and space for grieving is important and grief is something that should be accepted and accommodated for,” Mtunguja said.

The vigil began with a statement from a representative of MSA reflecting on the purpose and emotional power of the vigil.

“Tonight, this is a shared space where we unite in solidarity, empathy, and support for the Palestinian people. Tonight, we come together as a community, transcending boundaries, to honor and mourn the lives lost, while advocating and speaking for the living,” she said.

Hussain began by thanking MSA for creating a space for members of the Middlebury community to come together. 

“It matters that we are here in this moment of profound grief - for many of us - we have not always known if it is acceptable to publicly mourn for the peoples of the Arab world and express heartache, without being misunderstood,” he said. “I’ve sat with students who have anguished over the devastation of Gaza, trying to hold things together as an entire world falls apart..,” Hussain continued. “We all deserve room to hurt out loud in our community. We deserve to really listen and really see one another.”

Collective mourning was shared by MSA board members. 

“The sufferings endured by the Palestinians are not a burden to bear alone—it is a call to action for us all…Let us not be bystanders to history, but active participants in a movement towards a world where every life holds value, where every dream finds hope, and where every child grows up without fear," a speaker said.

The Muslim Chaplain also gave remarks. 

“We have sat longer on our prayer and meditation mats and called on and bore witness. We have had to break out of our autopilot modes of emotion and sincerely feel, and in turn come to life. Amidst this, the God that is never found in bloodshed, reappears. He comes in our heartbreak, in our witnessing, and in our movement towards a peace that heals structural inequalities and injustices,” she said. 

Ellen Sosa-Pena ’26 also attended the vigil and shared her experience.

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“I walked in, and right away I felt a sense of people coming together, of vulnerability. I was a little surprised to see cops inside the church, but since they had it at the Israel vigil, I guess it makes sense?” she said.

Parked in front of Gifford Hall nearby The Chapel was a Middlebury Police squad car, which remained in place throughout the vigil. “We deemed it most appropriate to provide an assurance of security for those who wanted to attend the Vigil to honor the Palestinians,” the MSA board wrote in an email to The Campus. “We aimed to remove any concerns about personal safety for all in attendance as we mourned and paid tribute to the unfathomable loss of lives in Gaza and other Occupied Palestinian Territories.” 

There was also a police presence at the Oct. 11 vigil mourning Israeli victims killed in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

Kemi Fuentes-George, associate professor of Political Science, told The Campus that he is concerned that what is happening in Gaza could be the prelude to ethnic cleansing. 

“I am aware that there are a substantial number of people in Netanyahu’s orbit who believe in a second Nekba, and the ethnic cleansing of as much of the Palestinian Territories as they can. And I know that this is supported especially by far-right movements, and it’s demonstrated by the behavior of settlers in the West Bank,” Fuentes-George said. 

Despite this analysis, Fuentes-George said that he does not anticipate that the killing in Gaza will be recognized as ethnic cleansing as a result of the position the U.S. holds on the UN Security Council.

Middlebury Students for Justice in Palestine recently hosted a teach-in event attended by over 250 students that shared context on the Israel-Gaza war and provided a solemn opportunity to learn about the ongoing humanitarian crisis. 

MSA board members told The Campus that the environment for Muslim students on campus has changed since the beginning of the war in Gaza, specifically for those students who are visibly Muslim.

“As Muslims, advocating for the oppressed is our moral obligation,” MSA wrote. “While the Vigil doesn’t even begin to do justice to the suffering, oppression, and death endured in Palestine, it ensures that the Palestinian struggle for justice and the basic human right of freedom remains a foremost concern in our hearts and actions.”

Editors’ Note: Managing Editor Katie Futterman ’24 contributed reporting.