OPINION: Westminster hostage vigils are humanitarian, not political protests

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OPINION: Westminster hostage vigils are humanitarian, not political protests

The Board of Deputies continues to organise twice weekly vigils outside Parliament, writes its director of public affairs.

Westminster vigil
Westminster vigil

It’s a grey afternoon in January, and the time is 14:47.

I know the time is 14:47 because I am standing across the road from one of the most famous clocks in the world, in the heart of Westminster. Next to me are a dozen other people, all holding signs with the faces of the men, women and children taken hostage by terrorists during the October 7th atrocities.

Since December, the Board of Deputies of British Jews – of which I am the director of public affairs – has organised twice weekly vigils outside Parliament. The vigils are held on Tuesdays and Wednesday afternoons while Parliament is in session, with the aim of ensuring that the MPs and Peers entering and exiting do not forget the plight of the 132 hostages remaining in Gaza.

Many of those alongside me are members of the Jewish community – most have family in Israel. Others are allies, who have taken the time to join us for a couple of hours, in a show of silent determination.

While MPs and Peers do see us – and some take the time to join us – the majority of those who look our way are the many people walking or driving along Parliament Square. We receive the occasional hoot and a thumbs up from black cab drivers. A small group of Vietnamese ladies take selfies close by. Two women in hijabs wander over to us from a larger group and start talking to us. They are from Turkey.

“We will pray for them”, they say, gesturing to the posters. It is an unexpected moment, and deeply touching.

Westminster vigil

A little later on, we get some further visitors. A group of Charedi yeshiva bochurim from Israel, apparently in London to celebrate at a compatriot’s wedding. They had come to take some snaps in front of Big Ben, and find themselves in our vicinity. They join us briefly in holding posters, although they prefer not to be photographed.

“All of Israel prays for their safe return”, one of them tells us in Hebrew.

The vigils usually feature between 10 and 20 participants – the idea is to keep up a steady stream of vigil attendees – and do not feature flags or any posters other than those of the hostages themselves. This is not a political protest, but a humanitarian one.

What happened on October 7th has had a deeply traumatic effect on our community, and I do not believe we have even remotely come to terms with it. It can seem like the rest of the world has moved on, particularly as the IDF is in the midst of its campaign to uproot Hamas from Gaza and the death toll there has risen.

Every innocent death is a tragedy, and the truth is that none of those innocents would have died were it not for the atrocities carried out by Hamas on October 7th. The fact that over one hundred Israeli men, women and children taken hostage on that dreadful day remain in captivity is something which we cannot allow people to forget.

The way I have described it to Parliamentarians who have joined us is to talk about the concept of Six Degrees of Separation – the notion that all people in the world are six or fewer social connections away from each other. For the Jewish community, I tell them, Israel and the events of October 7th are, at most, one degree of separation away.

Daniel Sugarman

Most people will know someone who lost family – as we do at the Board. One of my colleagues had an 18-year old cousin, Maayan Idan, murdered by Hamas on October 7th. Her father, Tzachi, is one of those 132 people in captivity. There is no way of knowing what condition he is in – we all pray that he is still alive. Standing as we do, in the heart of Westminster, week in and week out, means that those in the heart of power will not be allowed to forget.

There is one other reason, I believe, why these vigils are so important. In a thousand places around London you can see the ragged marks of the torn down posters, where the pictures of those taken hostage were ripped down. The people who destroyed or defaced those posters, blinded by hate, were determined to blot out the memory of those who were cruelly dragged into captivity.

But each week we stand in front of Parliament and hold up the pictures of those who were taken from us. And those pictures will not be torn from our hands.

If you have the time and the ability, please join us, if you can.

To sign up for a vigil, please visit www.bod.org.uk

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