Hundreds show solidarity with Israel at 6-month vigil in St John’s Wood

Colonel Richard Kemp spoke in admiration of the IDF six months on from October 7


Time is Running Out Vigil (Photo: E Jacobs Photography)

One of the UK’s most senior military figures has said that the rest of the world has “a great deal to learn from Israel” in its war against Hamas.

Colonel Richard Kemp, who has commanded British troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Northern Ireland and has spent much of his career fighting terrorism, said: “I believe Israel will emerge strengthened [from the war], with military leaders from around the world going to Israel to find out how they did it.”

Kemp was speaking at a vigil at St John’s Wood Synagogue in north-west London to mark six months after October 7 when 1,200 people in southern Israel were murdered by Hamas terrorists and around 250 taken hostage. Over 130 are still held hostage, of whom around 30 are believed to have been murdered in captivity.

Having spent much of the last six months in Israel, including with the IDF in Gaza, Kemp told attendees that the “genocide” claims were “obscene” when Israel “itself was a victim of Hamas terrorists with genocidal intent”.

Recounting sitting with the IDF when they were planning an operation and how they were going to minimise casualties of civilians who were sheltering in a school, he said: “An army has never taken steps to minimise civilian casualties as much as the IDF.”

Calling the casualty statistics of Palestinian civilians “twisted”, Kemp said that the ratio of deaths of civilians to military personnel was far lower than in other wars where armies had not been accused of war crimes, adding that he was “not aware of any war crimes [committed by the IDF]”.

Addressing the deaths of seven aid workers last week, including three Britons, when a World Central Kitchen convoy was hit by an Israeli drone strike, which led to international condemnation, Kemp said the event was “terrible” and that the IDF had “disciplined the people involved”. But, he added: “War is hell…warfare is very complicated”. Israel has since the strike sacked two senior military officials.

Pointedly comparing President Biden’s reaction to his response the strike on the WCK convoy to the accidental US drone strike in 2021 in Kabul on an Afghan aid worker and his family, who were misidentified as terrorists, Kemp said: “I don’t remember Biden being outraged by that.”

While the situation in Gaza was “terrible”, he told attendees that there was “no famine…Israel has facilitated delivery of one-year’s worth of food”.

Given a standing ovation by some 800 attendees of the vigil, Kemp said it was “a tremendous honour to stand up for the Jewish community” adding, with tongue-in-cheek humour, that “even as a mere goy, I always get a warm welcome from the Chosen People”.

Also delivering an impassioned speech at the Time is Running Out vigil was Dame Maureen Lipman, who has become a familiar face at solidarity rallies for Israel and the hostages.

The actress and writer told the audience: “I wish I were addressing the Palestinian solidarity mob instead of the echo chamber I always seem to be addressing.”

Lipman said she was “tired of my days being spent as a professional Jew instead of a professional actress”.

Addressing the media reporting of the conflict, Lipman asked: “Why is Israel judged more harshly than every other country on earth? When Hamas sends rockets, it is not reported [and] the bad guys are [called] ‘freedom fighters’.”

She called on the community to keep reminding the wider world of the plight of the hostages, saying they should “not accept victims being turned into villains - or into the vanished”.

Her voice breaking with emotion as she called for the release of the captives, Lipman said: “The hostages sit in darkness. I say: ‘Let there be light.’”

On almost every chair in the prayer hall, which was decked with yellow ribbons and balloons, was a poster of a hostage; guests were encouraged to put the poster on an empty chair at their Seder table, post stories of the hostages on social media and tie a yellow ribbon, which has become synonymous with the hostage campaign, in public spaces.

Also speaking was Ayala Harel, the niece of hostage Michel Nisenbaum, 59, who said her uncle was “more like a big brother” to her.

Talking about Brazilian-born Michel, Ayala said that he was a tour guide, spoke three languages and was a volunteer driver with the Israeli ambulance service Magen David Adom. “He also likes to go to shows. The last show he went to was with me. It was Shlomo Artzi.…I miss him so much.”

One of the organisers Nivi Feldman from the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said afterwards to the JC: “I just feel it’s heartbreaking that we’re at six months. The hostages need every voice possible to speak up for them. Time is running out.”

Israeli-born Feldman added that she was “so proud to be part of the UK Jewish community that knows how to come together”.

Other speakers included influencer Oli London, Naomi Brookarsh, who does social media for the Hostage and Missing Families Forum and Adam Rose, a lawyer who is representing some of the hostage families.

The event was organised by the Hostage and Missing Families Forum, 7/10 Human Chain and the National Jewish Assembly, among others.

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