About 50 people, several of them members of the Christian Reformed Church, took part in an interfaith “Vigil for Palestine” on Tuesday night in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich.
They gathered about 7:30 p.m. at the local Ladies Literary Club, where they listened to CRC pastor Rev. Elizabeth Vander Haagen, Muslim Imam Sharif Sahibzada, and Jewish community leader Diane Baum offer prayers of repentance and lamentation regarding the loss of life, particularly of Palestinian children, during the recent conflict in Gaza.
Fighting between Israeli and Palestinian fighters in the Gaza Strip began in June and is currently on hold after both sides agreed to a long-term ceasefire.
According to news reports, the seven-week conflict saw the deadliest violence in years. More than 2,100 people were killed, the vast majority of them Palestinians.
“Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza who are homeless. It is a human catastrophe,” said Nidal Kanaan, a founder of Healing the Children of Conflict, a West Michigan organization that helped sponsor the vigil.
“It is as if six nuclear bombs went off in Gaza,” said Kanaan. “It is going to take 20 years to rebuild.”
Mariano Avila, coordinator of Hope Equals, says his group was inspired to support the vigil as the result of a trip it made this summer to Israel and Palestine at the time hostilities broke out.
They make these trips regularly with college students but have never been there when fighting like this has occurred.
“We were in the West Bank and the fighting was in Gaza, but we spoke to many people who were affected by it” and to many others who spoke more generally about it and the pressure and problems it causes, said Avila.
At about 8:15 p.m., participants left the literary club. As they did, they carried candles and quietly sang songs such as Turn Me Around, We Shall Not Be Moved, and Jacob’s Ladder, drawing the attention of people walking or sitting at bars or in doorways along the streets.
At first, they we were going to promote this march through the city simply as a peace vigil, focusing on peace for everyone everywhere.
But then the organizers decided it was important to insert the word Palestinian into the title of the program.
“We wanted to include the word to recognize the right of the Palestinian people for self-determination,” said Avila.
“We also wanted to recognize the role that we in the U.S. have played by providing so much in military aid to support Israel.”
As the sky grew dark, marchers crossed South Division Avenue and walked to the nearby Catholic Cathedral of St. Andrews, where they gathered in Cathedral Square to recite a litany of lamentation.
Written by Calvin Theological Seminary student Jon Gorter, the litany began: “For the times when our ignorance and apathy toward global politics cause us to turn a deaf ear to the call of justice and mercy.”
People gathered in the square responded, “We repent of our sins.”
After that, there were prayers followed by a benediction, inviting participants to go forth and continue working for peace.
Kanaan said that he hopes the vigil can help to humanize and tell the story of what his people — the Palestinians — have been facing for the last several decades under the rule of the Israelis.
“People think that what we have is a boxing match between two equal opponents,” he said. “But for every 25 Israelis killed, you have 2,000 Palestinians.”
Avila says other events will be offered in the future. A program for the “Vigil for Palestine” included information on things to do.