Students rally for Palestine on campus

Catherine O’Donnell / Executive Editor /

Students and faculty gather on the Durick Library steps for the rally and vigil for Palestine on Saturday, Dec. 2. Photo by Jack Polatchek.

On Dec. 2, St. Michael’s College students and faculty gathered on the steps of Durick Library for a rally and vigil for Palestine. It was a display of support for Palestinians in Gaza as well as victims of violence in the local community.

The event was coordinated by the St. Michael’s College Diversity Coalition, Students with Disabilities Advocacy Alliance (SDAA), and Common Ground.  

Taylor Galgay ‘24, the president of SDAA, and Henry Haddad ‘24 were the lead organizers of the event.  

“We [Galgay and Haddad] were kind of frustrated with the lack of correspondence on the school’s part and administration’s part on telling students what’s going on,” Galgay said. “We didn’t feel there was a lot of support on campus for Palestinian Americans.” 

When the seven-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas ended on Friday, the Israeli military promptly resumed its heavy bombardment in Gaza, according to National Public Radio (NPR). Nearly 200 Palestinians were killed on the first day after the ceasefire, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. 

Galgay and Haddad reached out to clubs to help coordinate an on-campus event in support of Palestinians.  

“We’re often not able to see issues outside of campus, and I think it was important to bring it here in people’s faces, in students’ faces, and let them know that it’s [their] responsibility to do something and say something about this,” Galgay said.  

The shooting of three Palestinian students in Burlington on Nov. 25 increased the demand for the event and expedited the planning process, according to Galgay.  

The victims, three 20-year-old college students, were all wounded and hospitalized. They were in Burlington visiting family for Thanksgiving break, according to a press release from the Burlington Police Department.  

Juneau Rich ’24 holds a poster to show their support of Palestine. Photo by Jack Polatchek.

During a press conference on Nov. 27, Miro Weinberger, the mayor of Burlington, called the incident “one of the most shocking and disturbing events in this city’s history.” 

Galgay said that the rally and vigil were not approved by St. Michael’s College administration, but the student organizers were supported by professors.  

Student speakers included Henry Haddad ‘24, Juneau Rich ‘24, and Isabella Paredes Mendoza ‘24. Haddad spoke to his personal experience as a Palestinian-American student.  

“It is necessary to speak now for peace because if we cannot speak now, when members of our own community have fallen victim to the hate growing around the world, when will we ever be able to?” Haddad said.  

There were also speeches by Dina Alsaffar, a peer tutoring coordinator, Jason Hirsch, an instructor in Sociology and Anthropology, and Fr. Michael Carter, who led the crowd in a prayer for victims.  

The rally was followed by a candlelight vigil and a moment of silence.  

The victims of the shooting were Kinnan Abdalhamid, Hisham Awartani, and Tahseen Aliahmad. They were walking on Prospect Street at approximately 6:30 p.m. when a man approached them with a handgun. Without speaking to them, he shot at them four times, according to the Burlington Police. 

The suspected shooter, Jason Eaton, 48, is a white Burlington resident. He has been charged with three counts of second-degree attempted murder. He was arrested by Burlington Police the day after the shooting, according to the Burlington Police.  

Burlington Police reported that at the time of the assault, two of the men were wearing keffiyehs, traditional scarves worn in the Middle East. Though a hate crime is suspected, there is currently not enough evidence to support a hate crime enhancement, said Sarah George, the Chittenden County state’s attorney during the press conference on Nov. 27.  

According to the United States Department of Justice, a hate crime is a crime motivated by bias against race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. 

In an interview with NBC News, Tamara Tamimi, Abdalhamid’s mother, voiced her certainty that the shooting was a hate crime, motivated by Islamophobia.   

Dina Alsaffar reads her speech with the group of student speakers behind her. Photo by Jack Polatchek.

“There is no doubt,” Tamimi said. “It just defies logic. Why else would it be? … If they were not wearing the keffiyeh. … If they were not speaking Arabic.” 

Interim President Lewis Thayne addressed the incident in a campus wide email on Nov. 27. He expressed his solidarity with the victims, as well as Arab and Muslim members of the St. Michael’s College community.  

“We condemn hatred, bigotry, and racism in all its forms,” Thayne wrote. 

Wafic Faour, a Palestinian activist and member of Vermonters for Justice in Palestine spoke to the experience of Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab community members in the wake of the shooting.  

“They are angry, they are fearful, but at the same time they are determined,” Faour said. 

Faour feels that the United States media has favored Israel in order to align with the government. When Palestinians are dehumanized in the media, violence and Islamophobia in America is the outcome, Faour said.  

Sarah George also spoke of the media’s role in the incident. “When [harmful media content] is coupled with a nation obsessed with firearms…violence is not just predictable, it is inevitable.”  

According to the New York Times, Hisham Awartani, one of the victims, wrote a message to his classmates at Brown University.  

“Any attack like this is horrific, be it here or in Palestine,” Awartani wrote. “This is why when you send your wishes and light your candles for me today, your mind should not just be focused on me as an individual, rather as a proud member of a people being oppressed.” 

At the rally, Dina Alsaffar announced that more on-campus events in support of Palestine are currently being planned.