ARIANA TAFTI FOR THE HOYA Students lit candles in memory of the victims of the Israel-Palestine conflict at a vigil on Thursday night.
Students lit candles in memory of the victims of the Israel-Palestine conflict at a vigil on Thursday night.

In commemoration of the lives lost during this summer’s conflict between Israel and Hamas, J Street U Georgetown hosted an apolitical candlelight vigil in Red Square in an attempt to humanize the usually politicized debate.

With the media coverage of the violence filled with statistics, J Street U wanted to focus on empathy for the human loss.

“Now many of us here, myself included, found this simple and human idea of empathy and compassion incredibly difficult to express this summer. The intense polarization of an already highly political and politicized issue often prohibited any sense of sympathy for the other side and perpetuated the idea that any such sympathy was a sign of wavering loyalty and betrayal,” J Street U Co-President Katelyn McNelis (SFS ’15) said. “Tonight we recognize that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while inherently political, transcends politics.”

Although J Street U, which promotes a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, does have a political stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they found it important that the event eschewed a political nature.

“We also do have strong political stances that we are not scared to take, but for this event we wanted to kind of put that aside and show that there was a human aspect to this that wasn’t really being shown this summer,” McNelis said. “All that was being shown was destruction and rockets but they weren’t showing the actual humanity behind what happened after and before the destruction.”

The event included narrative accounts of life for people affected by the violence. One story included that of a family bombed whose father was worried about the overwhelming fear of his children.

“‘I have learned from past experience not to let the kids see the damage that the rockets cause because it can be very traumatic,’” Noah Buyon (COL ’17), a member of the organization’s board of directors, said as a narrator.

The event was also an attempt to show that even in a polarized debate, it is possible to rise above politics to a focus on the human aspect.

“People tend to see this conflict in black and white terms and there’s a good side and a bad side and this event kind of marks a transcendence of that worldview in my mind. The way I see it, if even one person dies, it’s one person too many and so this is a very nice way of building off of that sentiment,” Buyon said.

The inability to empathize with the conflict on a more human level was in large part due to the media coverage.

“When I could see myself following the news, it was just so hard to really put it in a human perspective because after a while all you saw was numbers and all you saw was the amount of rocket attacks and the number of people killed and you kind of lost the idea that that number was a person,” McNelis said.

Mitchel Hochberg (SFS ’15), who attended the vigil, said that is gave him an opportunity to reflect on the events of the summer.

“Discussion of last summer’s conflict became incredibly polarized,” Hochberg wrote in an email. “Having a safe space to set that aside helped me remember that humanity and compassion should drive our response to needless violence.”


  1. Are people who support Hamas akin to people who supported the Nazis?

    Seems to me they are.

    Nazis destroyed all the Jews of Europe. Hamas never stops talking about destroying Jews.

    Nazis depicted Jews as beneath contempt just as Hamas does. Nazis blamed Jews for all their problems and so does Hamas.

    Seems to me the only difference is Hamas does not have the military required to really kill off all the Jews of Israel. If they did have these weapons everyone knows they would use them as indiscriminately as the Nazis did.

    I wonder what sort of person supports an organization that is today’s Nazis. What moral and intellectual blindness do these Nazi worshippers suffer from?

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