10,000 call for hostages to be freed at emotional Trafalgar Square rally

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10,000 call for hostages to be freed at emotional Trafalgar Square rally

Families of those taken by Hamas speak at event organised by Board of Deputies, JLC and UJIA - the largest communal rally for nearly two decades

The focus was on the heartbroken families of those kidnapped
The focus was on the heartbroken families of those kidnapped

The full horror of what happened to those murdered and abducted from the southern kibbutzim and villages of Israel on October 7 was borne to a shocked and silent crowd of thousands in Trafalgar Square on Sunday.

Silent, that is, except for the repetition of the slogan “bring them home”, which rippled and echoed around the square during an hour-long vigil for the hostages taken by Hamas terrorists.

It could not help but be an emotional event. Organised by the Jewish Leadership Council, the Board of Deputies and UJIA, the focus was on the heartbroken families of those kidnapped.

It is not an overstatement to say their testimony was agonising: Ayelet Svatizky, whose mother and brother were taken from Kibbutz Nirim, and whose other brother was murdered; David Julian Bar, who, with his wife, spent hours from 6.30 am on Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon inside the shelter of his kibbutz, Alumim, while they desperately tried to find what had become of her sister; Ofri Bibas Levi, who could barely speak for crying as she spoke of her sister-in-law, abducted with her two tiny children aged four and nine months; Noam Sagi, whose mother was abducted, one of 250 captured or murdered from their kibbutz.

And once they were finally able to leave their shelters, David Bar said, “there were bodies everywhere. I said to my wife, don’t look, but you couldn’t not look.

All of them had “seen things that no one should see”, as the Hamas terrorists rampaged through the south of the country, butchering and mutilating. David and his wife, from Alumim, did finally find that her sister, who was out for her normal Shabbat morning run, had been shot “in the back and in the head, from zero range”. Death, he said, was everywhere.

The Trafalgar Square protesters were told on Sunday: ‘Stop being afraid. Our voices should be heard’

Hamas had had a plan, the families told the appalled crowd, many bearing pictures of the hostages. Maps had been found, showing where the children’s rooms were on the kibbutzim, so that the terrorists could target them first.

Noam Sagi called on the Israeli government to make the return of the hostages its priority. And he told the crowd: “Stop being afraid. Our voices should be heard.”

A visibly appalled Michael Gove, secretary of state for levelling up, listened gravely to the families before addressing the crowd. Seventy-five years ago, he said, “the world said, ‘Never again’. But the difference between 1945 and now is that the Jewish people have a home.”

In pointed comments, David Bar, who was brought up in England, had already said that “to see a Hamas flag flying in a liberal, democratic country after these atrocities means that we, you, this country has a problem”.

Gove clearly agreed. He said: “I feel pride in Israel’s tradition of inclusivity, humanity and democracy.” Hamas “must not win, they will not win, we stand with Israel forever”.

He noted that “the Jewish people are held to different standards. And we have seen that in the last two weeks. There is sympathy for the Jewish people when they are suffering. When the Jewish people say we need to be strong and stand up for our people sand humanity, then you hear the critics and the cynics attacking Israel. As a British government minister I speak for cross parties in the House of Commons — Israel must stand strong and Britain stands with Israel”.

Sunday’s rally came a day after a pro-Palestinian rally in central London at which 10 arrests were made

The event, which attracted more than 10,000 people to Trafalgar Square, was opened by the Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl and addressed by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, shadow international trade secretary Jonny Reynolds, and Rabbi Charley Baginsky. It concluded with the reading of the more than 200 hostages’ names — including children, whose ages were given.

As Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, rang round Trafalgar Square, British Jews wept. “Bring them home,” they called once more.

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