Content warning: This article discusses death and the ongoing violence in Gaza and Israel. 

On January 17, the Tkarón:to Students in Solidarity with Palestine (TSSP) — a U of T student-led advocacy organization — held a vigil for Palestinian journalists killed in Gaza by the Israeli military. Capturing a sense of “collective grief and frustration,” according to the vigil’s organizer Sara Rasikh, speakers and members of the U of T community discussed the ongoing violence and shared their own stories. 

In addition, TSSP members and attendees reiterated their demands to U of T, which included calling on the university to adopt a new definition of and framework for addressing anti-Palestinian racism and “end its complicity” in violence against Palestinians by cutting ties with Israeli universities and companies that fund the Israeli military.

“Space for a moment of healing”

Around 4:00 pm, around 60 people gathered inside Sidney Smith Hall. Most of the attendees sat on the floor. TSSP members set up posters that included the names and pictures of 117 Palestinian journalists who, according to a January 11 announcement from the Gaza government media office, the Israeli military has killed in Gaza since the October 7 attack. They also placed tea candles that spelled “Gaza” and a sign that read “Palestine” in Arabic. 

As of January 28, nonprofit advocacy organization, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had documented at least 83 journalists and media workers killed in Gaza, the West Bank, Israel, and Lebanon since the violence began, including 76 Palestinian journalists. Additionally, some journalists injured in Gaza have had to evacuate for medical treatment. 

The CPJ has accused the Israeli military of targeting journalists and their families, noting one instance where the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) killed a journalist wearing a press insignia in a location where fighting was not taking place. “In at least two other cases, journalists reported receiving threats from Israeli officials and IDF officers before their family members were killed,” wrote the CPJ on its website

Mohammad Rasoul Kailani, a third-year student specializing in peace, conflict, and justice studies, placed the current violence in the context of historical violence that Palestinians have faced in Gaza. “Thousands of Palestinians were murdered and taken out of their homes in 1948 and 1967, [and] they are being forced off their land today.” 

Kailani was referring to events known by many Palestinians as the “Nakba” and “Naksa,” which mean “catastrophe” and “setback” in Arabic, respectively. During the Nakba, in the war following Israel’s declaration as a state, Israeli military forces expelled 750,000 Palestinians from their homes. 19 years later, the Israeli government displaced over 300,000 Palestinians in the Naksa during and after the Six-Day War with Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.

Rasikh, a first-year masters student studying social justice education, read stories about children in Gaza impacted by the violence that were documented by the London-based news outlet The New Arab

Rasikh wrote in an email to The Varsity that there was “a sense of collective grief and frustration” during the vigil, but it “opened up space for a moment of healing.” She explained that the vigil aimed to highlight the Israeli military’s “targeted campaign against journalists” and “to collectively mourn and honour the memory of the over 100 journalists killed by Israeli forces thus far.” 

Rasikh wrote that she viewed Western media’s coverage of Palestinian journalists’ deaths as “inadequate.” “When such so-called ‘deaths’ are reported on, they are treated as if they were accidental,” wrote Rasikh. “They are portrayed as mere side effects of war.”

TSSP’s open letter and demands for U of T

On November 20, 2023, the TSSP sent a letter to senior members of the U of T administration — including U of T President Meric Gertler, and the heads of the three federated colleges: Mayo Moran, the provost and vice-chancellor of Trinity College; David Sylvester, the president and vice-chancellor of St. Michael’s College; and Rhonda N. McEwen, the president of Victoria College. 

The letter cited six demands for the university: call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire; publicly acknowledge and address the “growing hate against the pro-Palestinian expression”; protect students’ and professors’ academic freedom to speak about Palestine; adopt The Arab Canadian Lawyer Association’s definition of anti-Palestinian racism; restore the Absence Declaration policy adopted during the pandemic which allowed students to declare absences without providing a doctors’ note; extend the present application cycle and waive the application fee for Palestinian applicants; and end “UofT’s complicity in Israel’s continued occupation.”

Parsa Albeheshti, a third-year philosophy major and a TSSP member, said in an interview with The Varsity that U of T is complicit through its semester abroad programs with Israeli universities, such as Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. “We demand that U of T ends its complicity by essentially divesting and ending its ties from those institutions,” he said. 

Rasikh shared this sentiment, noting that the university grants six awards to students interested in studying in Israel. She also mentioned that the university is “indirectly complicit” in the occupation because it engages with companies and brands such as the Royal Bank of Canada, Starbucks, SodaStream, and Scotiabank that, she said, “finance Israel and the occupying forces of the IDF.” 

“We are calling on UofT to end its complicity by cutting ties to all institutions that directly contribute to the occupation of Palestinian land and the apartheid system to which Palestinians are subjugated,” she wrote. 

In a statement to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson highlighted academic supports available to students impacted by world events, including Health and Wellness at UTSG and Health and Counselling centres at UTSC and UTM. They also noted the existence of the Anti-Islamophobia working group, which aims to “address experiences of Islamophobia with a key focus on anti-Arab racism, anti-Palestinian discrimination, and related forms of racism and faith-based discrimination,” according to the working group’s website.

Three days after sending it out to U of T, the TSSP made its letter available to the public and allowed U of T community members to sign on. As of January 28, there are 491 signatories listed on the Google Form version of the letter

At the very end of the vigil, TSSP members and the audience started chanting, chants such as “Meric Gertler, you can’t hide, you’re condoning genocide,” and “U of T, you can’t hide, you’re condoning apartheid.”

If you or someone you know has experienced harassment or discrimination based on race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship and/or creed at U of T, report the incident to the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity office:

You can report incidents of anti-Muslim racism through the National Council of Canadian Muslims’ Hate Crime Reporting form at, and antisemitic incidents at U of T to Hillel U of T at

If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call: 

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566 
  • Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454 
  • Connex Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600 
  • Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200 
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030

If you or someone you know has experienced anti-Muslim racism or is in distress, you can contact:

If you or someone you know has experienced antisemitism or is in distress, you can contact:

  • Hillel Ontario at [email protected]
  • Chai Lifeline Canada’s Crisis Intervention Team at 1 (800) 556-6238 or [email protected]
  • Jewish Family and Child Services of Greater Toronto at 416 638-7800 x 6234

The Hamilton Jewish Family Services at [email protected]