Israel's small pro-peace movement is determined to go on

Gathering outside Jerusalem's Old City calls for Israelis and Palestinians to stand together to mourn all victims of the war

A small group of Muslims, Christians and Jews gather to honour the victims of the Israel-Gaza war. Thomas Helm / The National
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A small group of Jerusalem residents assembled in silence outside Jaffa Gate on Tuesday. A mixture of Muslims, Christians and Jews, they turned up to pay their respects for all victims of the Israel-Gaza war.

The half-hour vigil was taken up mostly by silent reflection among those who attended, their eyes fixed on the ground. Many were in tears.

The meeting wrapped up with a short Jewish prayer, followed by a few words from a Palestinian Christian priest.

“Many people on this land that we call holy are mourning,” he said. “Many families are no longer with us. The world needs your peace God, but especially here.”

At the end of his speech, peace activist Angela Godfrey-Goldstein said: “I hope we don’t have to be here next week."

The number of mourners were so small that foreign journalists there to cover the event almost outnumbered them. Many of those who attended came from the ever-dwindling number of Israeli peace activists.

Ms Godfrey-Goldstein was determined to honour Gazan victims and reject the widespread desire for revenge in Israel, even though a good friend of hers was among the civilians taken hostage by Hamas on October 7.

“Vivian is Canadian Israeli, from Kibbutz Be’eri,” Ms Godfrey-Goldstein explained.

“I have a friend from Gaza who lives in Edmonton. He checked with people he knows in Qatar who said at least a week ago that she was still alive, and that she would be in the first large group to be released. That hasn’t happened yet. Even for the release of hostages, we need to have a ceasefire.”

The presence of mourners including Ms Godfrey-Goldstein interrupted the normal comings and goings outside Jaffa Gate, which religious Jews pass on their way to the Western Wall.

On more than one occasion, Israelis armed with M-16 assault rifles, most of them young, stopped near the gathering and peered in to try to make sense of what was going on.

They did not disturb proceedings – they simply looked baffled to see Israelis and Palestinians standing side by side, heads bowed in silence.

Not all were happy to learn what the event was about. “I wasn’t aware of any Palestinian victims on October 7,” one Israeli woman remarked sarcastically.

Her dismissal of calls for a ceasefire is shared by many in Israel. Even those on the political left are struggling to show forgiveness to Gazans, following the Israeli civilian deaths. It is made harder by the fact so many from the affluent southern kibbutzim that Hamas attacked were left-wing themselves.

Nonetheless, the small number of mourners are determined. Many planned to attend a protest afterwards outside the Knesset that was organised for the families of hostages. Protesters were to call for a ceasefire.

Their demands will probably fall mostly on deaf ears for now. In the parliament, most Israeli politicians are calling for the continuation of the country's tough response and major bombardment of Gaza, a hard line that resonates with many Israeli voters.

Updated: November 08, 2023, 10:32 AM