Faith leaders, bereaved families and politicians of all parties have come together in one of the UK’s first mass vigils since the Israel-Hamas conflict began to speak out against antisemitism and anti-Muslim hate.
People stood in the cold and rain outside Downing Street and heard Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby say “there is no good ever in the death of an innocent Israeli, there is no good ever in the death of an innocent Palestinian”.
Fighting brings “agony to the families, fear for the future and it drives peace far away”, he added.
The vigil was arranged in an effort to help protect community relations in the UK.
The Archbishop stepped on to the stage and said he was “awed and humbled” after just hearing “extraordinary and remarkable” testimony from survivors of the conflict with relatives who were killed on October 7, who said they wanted peace and not hatred.
He told the crowd: “As we are here, tomorrow there will be children thinking about going to school in the UK who dread going because they will be spat at, shouted at and hated because they are Muslim or Jewish.
“They will have to go without their uniforms because they identify them too clearly – and that (is happening) in our streets.”
To applause, he added: “We are called to clean up our doorstep in this country, to clean away all antisemitism and all Islamophobia, and to make sure that when we speak of peace we have lit a light of peace here that can give a beacon elsewhere.”
The event called Building Bridges, Together For Humanity was billed as a space to mourn the loss of life on all sides of the conflict and to stand united against antisemitism and anti-Muslim hate “in the first mass event of its kind” since Hamas militants entered Israel on October 7.
Screenwriter Jemima Khan, who has Muslim and Jewish family members, plus barrister and TV personality Rob Rinder, who is of Jewish descent, were among those who joined the crowds.
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who is of Palestinian descent and has a family member who died in Gaza, told the crowd that hope must come out of the bloodshed.
She said: “It is wonderful that so many children have been brought here today.
“We will do everything in our power so that this is the last time.”
Labour MP Stella Creasy said the people of Palestine and Israel are “paying the price” of the failure of politicians to find the words to deal with the conflict.
Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood told the crowd they were standing “in the shadows of Big Ben and at a time when our politics seems ever tribal”.
He said the unfolding events in the Middle East bring the “serious prospect” of a “deepening humanitarian crisis and the unacceptable loss of lives of both sides demands us to rise above the party political”.
He added that this is a time to “stand tall with other political voices and leaders from across our national community and to have the courage to speak up”.
The vigil was held as new figures showed 75% of people agreed that bringing people together to mourn all innocent lives lost in Israel and Palestine and stand against both antisemitism and anti-Muslim hate is important given current levels of tension in the UK.
The poll of 1,538 people, commissioned by Hope Not Hate and Together For Humanity, also found that 50% of people said they felt the conflict has worsened community cohesion in the UK.
A total of 51% of people agreed that the war is increasing anti-Muslim hatred in the UK, 56% agreed the conflict is increasing anti-Jewish hatred. Just 11% and 9% respectively disagreed.
Brendan Cox, whose wife the Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered by a right-wing extremist during the Brexit referendum campaign in 2016, was one of the vigil organisers.
After hosting the event, he told the PA news agency: “This is about sharing in our collective humanity. It is to leave one message which is that no matter where we disagree there can be no space for hatred, antisemitism or Islamophobia.
“Extremism prospers when good people go quiet.
“If we leave the debate to the most extreme voices then what that does is it provides a culture of hate, intolerance and dehumanisation.
“It is then that we know that violence results. I know that from my own family experience.
“I also know that when good people step forward and challenge hatred in all of its forms, particularly when it is coming from people whom you might not agree with on other issues, that it makes a huge difference.”
Mr Rinder told PA: “This is called Together For Humanity for a reason.
“There is so much noise on Twitter and other social media spaces across the board that this is a gift and an opportunity to remind our nation and communities that we are alongside one another, whatever your background and whatever your faith.
“This is demonstrable physical proof of good, of light in the darkness and we need that now more than ever.”
A minute’s silence was held and lanterns were lit to end the vigil.”