Different faiths unite for 'Humanity, Not Hatred' vigil

'Many people don't want us to see the human being on the other side'


Progressive and Masorti rabbis joined a Westminster vigil on Wednesday to acknowledge the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians.

The event, under the banner of “Humanity, Not Hatred”, was intended to show solidarity between communities amid rising tensions in the UK caused by war in the Middle East.

It was organised by the Together Coalition, a campaign group co-founded by Brendan Cox, the husband of Jo Cox, the MP who was murdered by a far-right activist in 2016.

“Today we bring people together from very different views and very different backgrounds to stand for a future where people of all faiths and none can live peacefully alongside each other and even when we disagree, we can do so without resorting to hatred,” Mr Cox said.

"We stand together today to send a message - we will not allow extremists to divide us, to whip up conflict in our own communities and to use our grief to promote their hatred,” he said. “Antisemitism does not promote the cause of Palestine any more than Islamophobia promotes the cause of Israel.”

Despite the decision to hold the vigil being taken only the day before, several hundred gathered outside Downing Street, while a short distance away politicians were debating the Hamas-Israel conflict in Parliament. There was a particularly large turnout from the Jewish community, with support for the initiative from Progressive Judaism, Masorti, the New Israel Fund and Yachad.

One of the Muslim community’s most prominent interfaith activists, Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, took part, along with the Reverend Richard Sudworth, secretary for inter-religious affairs to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Senior Masorti Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg and joint chief executives of Progressive Judaism Rabbi Josh Levy and Rabbi Charley Baginsky.

“We want this event to start a wider movement of people coming together,” Mr Cox said.

Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat spokesman for foreign affairs and the first MP of Palestinian heritage, revealed that only half an hour earlier, she had learned of the death of one of her relatives in Gaza.

He had been old and quite frail, she said, but the family had had no reason not to think he would be okay. Their family home had been bombed in the first week of the conflict, and they had been sheltering in a church, sleeping on a mattress with barely enough food and water and “just their prayers to sustain them".

A week ago, she said, “we found out he had got quite seriously ill and he died because he could not be transferred to a hospital because there were no hospitals that would treat that.”

For a moment, she had thought over whether to come to the vigil but she did because “I want to share that grief but also to say that I feel now closer to those in Israel who have also loved others and lost others in this tragedy,” she said.

“A month on, and the bombs keep falling, and the bodies in Israel keep being identified and it’s not getting any better. It’s just getting worse and worse.

“But the answer to that is not to blame, not to hate but to dig deep into compassion, and it is to find our common humanity and to not play politics and to rise above it and say: ‘We don’t stand for this any more.'"

Labour MP Alex Sobel from Leeds, who has Israeli parents, said: “We need to stick together. We need to have understanding between communities. We need to be voices of peace and not turn to anger, to malicious comments.”

London-based Israeli teacher, Magen Inon, whose parents were murdered by Hamas in the October 7 pogrom, told the crowd: “In some ways it feels as if many days have passed since that horrible day. But sometimes, it feels as we are in a never-ending night that drags on and on with no end in sight.”

He said: “I know I will not be able to mourn my parents properly as long as the fighting continues. I pray that no more innocent lives are lost, for the hostages to be back home and for the war, all wars, to end.”

At times, he had to fight back tears as he recalled his father’s work as an agronomist, who had advised farmers on how to grow their crops. “You wait and hope for the rain,” he said.

Sometimes there would be drought and excessive heat. But when he had spoken of his father to friends in Israel yesterday, he had learned “a good amount of rain fell over the fields…. watering the seeds that had been sown very recently. 

“Soon, young wheat sprouts will emerge from the ground. There is much more work for us to do to achieve peace. But all of you coming here today fills me with hope and, like the rain yesterday, peace will come.”

Israeli Palestinian singer Mira Awad said that many people had probably come under pressure from family or friends to take a side in the conflict - “either stand with Israel or stand with Palestine. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you chose to come today to stand with both. Because there is no contradiction.”

She went on: “Many people out there do not want you to see the human being on the other side, don’t want you to see their tragedy, their emotions.” They knew that “if you make that contact and see yourself in others, you will never be able to harden your heart to them".

Sheikh Mogra said the Koran "tells us that God has given dignity and honour to all the children of Adam, so we gather here today to remember all those who have been killed in Palestine and in Israel and we pray for the families that are grieving, some of whom are with us today.

"We pray for peace and justice so that Palestinians and Israelis can live together in safety and security and co-exist as neighbours. We pray for all our communities here, particularly Jews, Chrtstians and Muslims, people of all other faiths and no faith, that we can co-exist in friendship in  harmony and with respect for one another."

As night began to fall, speakers and members of the audience lit paper lanterns.

Meanwhile, around the corner, by the nearby tube station, another crowd, many wearing kefiyahs or draped in the Palestinian flag, were gathering for the parliamentary debate and shouting slogans such as: “We are all Palestinians.”

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