Georgetown students protest for justice in Palestine during Christmas tree lighting

December 21, 2023

Photo by Sabrina Shaffer

Each time attendees applauded for the performances in Georgetown’s annual Christmas tree lighting in Gaston Hall on Dec. 1, a row of signs appeared. “Jesus was a Palestinian,” read one. “Faith without works is dead. James 2:26,” another next to it read. 

As part of ongoing campaigns to protest Israel’s attacks and its occupation of Palestine, as well as pressure university action, student activists in Georgetown Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and Zeytoun, a graduate student group advocating for South West Asian and North African decolonization, distributed fliers, raised signs and dropped a banner invoking Christmas’ historical origins and its stark contrast with the ongoing violence Israel has directed at Gaza. 

“Christmas isn’t just about celebration and gifts, it’s about the values we want to see in the world,” Anna Wessels (GRD ‘24) a student organizer part of Zeytoun said. “We wanted to use the Christmas tree lighting to raise awareness of what’s happening to our fellow human beings in Gaza.”

More than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli attacks since Oct. 7 according to Al Jazeera. The student activists are demanding that the university call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and divest from Google and Amazon, who have sold advanced technology to the Israeli government, among other actions

Banner at the Xmas tree lighting with the words: "While we're celebrating the holy land is crying. 20,000+ Palestinians have been killed in Gaza. Ceasefire. Divest. Free Palestine."Photo by Sabrina Shaffer

“Via our tuition money and participation in this university, we are complicit in Israel’s crimes against humanity,” SJP wrote in a statement to the Voice. “Georgetown University has a moral, ethical, and religious responsibility to divest from Alphabet and Amazon.”

The tree lighting, which featured performances by the university’s a cappella groups and the Mask and Bauble Dramatic Society, was attended by over one hundred Georgetown community members and guests and proceeded without interruption. 

The protest echoed Pope Francis’s call for an immediate ceasefire as well as decisions by Christian leaders to cancel Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, in solidarity with Palestinians displaced and killed by Israeli military operations. Palestine is home to the world’s oldest Christian community that make up around 2% of its total population, but Israeli airstrikes have put this population at a possible risk for extinction

“It’s really easy to see a number and not really see the people behind that number, so we really hope that people can understand these are other human lives that are being lost,” Zeytoun member Iklil Bouhmouch (GRD ‘24) said. “Palestinians have lives, aspirations, dreams, they have joy in their lives, they have love in their lives, they have families, so all the things we hold to be true about each and every one of us here applies to Palestinians.”

The demonstration is among several continual actions taken by the student activist groups since the Oct. 7 attacks. These have included an on-campus walkout on Oct. 26, student attendance at a national protest in Freedom Plaza on Nov. 4 and a die-in on Nov. 9. President John DeGioia released a statement on Oct. 19 acknowledging the “inherent human dignity” of members of the Palestinian and Israeli community after meeting with students with personal connections to Palestine, both affiliated and non-SJP affiliated, on Oct. 15, though the university has not met SJP’s demands. 

“As a Jesuit institution, a lot of our values are about caring for the whole person, women and men for others, and also working with faith that does justice,” Wessels said. “Our school has a responsibility to do something.”

Angelena Bougiamas
Angelena is a sophomore studying Political Economy from Queens, New York. She is a fan of print newsmagazines (duh), lemon tea (with honey) and humoring her father by finally updating this bio (hi dad!).

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