COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Vigils for the citizens of Israel and Palestine were held in Columbia on Thursday night as casualties continue to rise as violence continues in the region.
One vigil took place on the University of Missouri campus at Speakers Circle and was organized by Mizzou Students for Justice in Palestine. According to a release from the group, the students wanted to show their support for Palestine "in its fight for liberation and acknowledge the suffering of innocent lives on both sides."
“We do want to highlight the atrocities that are going on right now on both sides but especially in Gaza where it is being relentlessly bombarded," Ethan Waterman, the Communications Chair and former President for Mizzou Students for Justice in Palestine, told ABC 17 News.
At the vigil, students condemned the loss of civilian lives. A Palestinian flag was placed in the center of Speakers Circle with candles. Students also brought with them signs and flags voicing their support for Palestine. Multiple speakers addressed the crowd before they took to the streets in protest while chanting “Free Palestine.”
Waterman said the goal of the group is to educate other students about what has been going on in the West Bank in Gaza. He said broadening their message will help in their push for a policy change from the United States government.
“There have been multiple military incursions into Gaza ever since the siege which has resulted in the death of thousands of Palestinians and also has resulted in one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world,” Waterman said. “As the UN said in a report a few years ago, ‘Gaza is no longer livable’ so you can only imagine the type of situation they are dealing with on a daily basis.”
The vigil was followed by a peaceful protest calling for a resolution to the fighting in the region as supporters marched down the street.
Waterman, who is Jewish, added that the group has received some pushback from Hillel at Mizzou.
“They feel like maybe we should be a little bit more balanced in the types of things that we say. And we say to them ‘we are balanced’ we condemn the loss of all innocent life and you just like us want peace in the region,” Waterman said.
Another Vigil for the Jewish community was held at the Congregation Beth Shalom later in the day.
Congregation Beth Shalom said earlier this week that it is increasing security at the synagogue ahead of the vigil. Police were on scene but the event took place without incident.
Community members mourned the loss of life as they sang songs and listened to a message from Rabbi Matt Derrinbacher.
Derrinbacher said planning for the vigil began Saturday after the initial attacks from Hamas began.
“It was horror after horror,” Derrinbacher said. “Recognizing that Saturday and Sunday were the deadliest days for the Jewish people since the Holocaust, we felt it was very important that it could be a space where people come to be in community. To mourn together. to be together, in community, and hope for peace.”
Attendees at the vigil included Mayor Barbara Buffalo and Boone County Commissioner Kip Kendrick. Rabbi Derrenbacher said he is grateful for the support the community has shown because some of his colleagues in other cities have not been as lucky.
“Antisemitism has continued to grow at an astronomical rate over the past few years, unfortunately. A lot of times when things happen in the Middle East, antisemitism flares up across the world as a result of that,” Derrenbacher said. “To receive all the support that we have this time has been a very beautiful change.
Derrenbacher spoke about a message of unity when asked about the vigil that took place earlier at Speakers Circle.
“One of the greatest Jewish values is the protection of life. So all lives are sacred regardless of the political boundary, regardless of the religious affiliation, cultural affiliation whatever it may be,” Derrenbacher said. “The loss of life is just terrible. So right now as a Jew, I’m deeply mourning the horrific attacks in Israel and as a human being I’m mourning for all of the loss of life because the horrors of the attack are only going to lead to more violence.”