The Mourning of the University of the Martyrs

Guest contribution by Hasheemah Afaneh

A moment of silence overcame everyone standing in the square in front of the student council as chanting students carried Saji Darwish’s body through the streets of Birzeit University. It was silence filled with grief, hurt, anger, and questions of why, why, why… and it was this helpless moment that had me toss and turn last night. Sobs, silent cries, and zaghareed gave life to that moment of silence that cast everyone under its spell until Saji’s body reached the main university gate to go back to his family one last time.

The night before, social media “noisemakers” (i.e. posts) made noise about how Saji Darwish, a sophomore at Birzeit University studying media, was shot and killed by Israeli forces while walking with his family’s cattle. Birzeit University’s student council made an announcement to cancel all classes and call on everyone to join together to pay their respects to Saji on campus and then in Beitin, Saji’s hometown.

Clouds filled the bright blue sky as students filled the square and the streets surrounding it. Saji would never see the sight of the blue sky and his fellow students again. Shortly after, the president of the university, deans, and professors came to join. I looked around at the professors, many of whom have been teaching at Birzeit University for years now, and wondered what they were thinking. Were they thinking of their loved ones as was I? Were they thinking of how matters are getting worse? Were they thinking of the peace negotiations that seem to give more violence than peace? Were they thinking ‘may God give patience to his family’? Were they thinking of the martyrs’ monument on campus listing some of the names of students that were killed in the First Intifada, giving Birzeit the name of University of the Martyrs?

Verses of the Quran played in the background while side conversations ranged in topics, from what events were planned to cursing the occupation to everyday life. The student political factions at the university made their appearances, each wearing the kuffiyeh and sash representing their group, giving speeches with a unified message: a message that mourned a young man and all others who were killed and calling on people to resist. The day before, a judge was killed on Allenby Bridge, and while the speeches dedicated to Saji Darwish were given, two others were killed: a man from a village near Tulkarem called Ateel and a man near Atara. Knots formed between the eyebrows of all those that heard the news.

Buses stood on the hill between the bookstore and the administration building ready to take students to the burial of Saji in Beitin. News agencies, including Ma’an, came only a few minutes before Saji’s body arrived to campus ready to document the janaza, seeming oblivious to the speeches that were given before. As Saji’s body was carried through the streets, we were left to think of what we can do and where to start.

There came an instant where an aircraft flew over, and my mind went on wondering. If the airplane was any closer, would the passengers be able to make out the crowd we formed, the silence that spelled us, and wonder why?

Hasheemah Afaneh

Hasheemah Afaneh is a student at Birzeit University (BZU), studying nutrition and dietetics to promote a healthier Palestine in the future. Recently, she has joined the Environment club at BZU to help advocate for a greener country. You can find her blogging about many things on


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