An event to demonstrate that neither side in the Israel-Hamas conflict had the monopoly on pain and suffering drew a crowd of hundreds on Sunday, to stand in a vigil opposite Downing Street and pledge to work for peace.
Together For Humanity was co-devised by Brendan Cox, whose first wife was the murdered Labour MP, Jo Cox. His message, he said, was that while “sharing in our collective grief, we have more in common than that which divides us”.
As the speakers took to the stage, from MPs Layla Moran, Stella Creasy and Tobias Elwood, from Archbishop Justin Welby, Rabbi David Mason, and Imam Monawar Hussain, from the Bereaved Parents’ Circle co-founder Robi Damelin to the two voices of Israel and Palestine, Magen Inon and Hamze Awawde, it was hard to distinguish between tears pouring down the faces of the crowd and the torrential rain.
Cox said that Together For Humanity had been launched in answer to “hateful extremists, who seek to use this awful war to drive hatred against Muslims, against Jews…you will not divide us. Some say that vigils like this will not stop the killing, and they’re right. Sadly, today, that is not in our power. But what is in our power is to protect our communities, where people of all backgrounds can feel safe; to give voice to the vast majority of the British public, who are too often drowned out, who mourn the life of an Israeli child as much as a Palestinian child, of a Muslim child as much as a Jewish one”.
Rabbi David Mason, executive director of HIAS+JCORE, spoke passionately of the need to denounce antisemitism and anti-Muslim hate, which he said was “borne out of a total and utter insensitivity or hate for one side and their worldview”. Speaking across Jewish community denominations and its diversity, he said that Jews “want to live in a United Kingdom where communities build strong bonds between each other; and where those on the extremes do not get to set the agenda”.
Perhaps the highlight of the event was the emotional contribution by Magen Inon and Hamze Awawde, representing both sides of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Inon, who grew up in the south of Israel, described how his parents died on October 7 when a shoulder rocket had hit their house. “The house burned down completely with my parents in it,” he said. “We pray that they did not suffer in the last moments. The only consolation I have is that they died together, inseparable in life and death.”
When he told people of his bereavement he would often be asked about “revenge”, he said. For him, “revenge” would be to “start building everything the terrorists set up to destroy that day”.
Palestinian Awawde spoke about his grandfather, who had chosen to fight in 1948 and “sacrifice himself so Palestinians will have a better future. And here we are, 50 years after; every year got worse and worse … The violence we used so far did not work. It’s not smart. They call us naive … I think we are not naive because peace needs brave people, needs courage, needs hard work. That’s why not many people are doing it.” He had chosen to take his own son out of Ramallah and leave for Italy, he said, no longer wanting to participate in the endless cycle of pain and retaliation.
As the vigil concluded, Julie Siddiqi, vice-president of the Islamic Society of Britain, and the Right Revd Lusa Nsenga-Ngoy, the bishop of Willesden, led a lantern-lighting ceremony in which all the speakers assembled on stage. They were joined by other supporters of the initiative including Jemima Goldsmith and Rob Rinder.
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