Why we said Kaddish for the Palestinians that were killed in Gaza.

An attendee affirming our condemnation of the violence and loss of life

On 16th May 2018, over 50 of us — British Jews holding a variety of political beliefs — gathered in Parliament Square to mourn the deaths of the Palestinians killed by the Israeli army last week. We came together for this event, united by our grief for the deaths of so many and in our anger at the Jewish establishment’s failure to condemn the Occupation and siege of Gaza that caused such violence. As Jews, we decided to express this grief and anger in the most Jewish way possible. We recited poems and read texts inspired by our tradition. We sang the Hebrew songs of freedom, peace and justice, with which we grew up. We read out loud the names of those who were killed; and we finished by reciting Kaddish, the Jewish prayer commemorating those who have died, which concludes with a plea for universal peace.

The event was special because we decided to put aside our many differences of opinion on Israel and Zionism, and come together around three simple ideas:

First, that both Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live in freedom.

Second, that the Occupation and blockade of Gaza deprive Palestinians of this freedom and of their basic human rights. Gazans in particular live in an open-air prison, with limited access to electricity, water, goods and travel, largely caused by the Israeli blockade. Even though Israel evacuated its settlements from the territory, it still effectively controls the population. Gazans’ every move is monitored through cameras, drones, balloons, and collaborators. Their economy is crippled by limitations: on fishermen’s fishing ranges, on the reconstruction of a port and airport, on imports of basic goods, and on people’s ability to travel. It is this deprivation and the natural human desire to be free that has caused the protests of the last few weeks.

Third, we believe that until Palestinians are free, Israelis cannot be free either. This is because every system of oppression morally corrupts the society which administers it. Israel’s government promotes racism and intolerance, erodes democracy, and views the perpetuation of Occupation as its primary goal.

Kaddish for Gaza attendees

It is this state of affairs that has caused the deaths of so many over the years, Israeli and Palestinian. During the most recent events in Gaza, we were conscious that some of those that were killed by the IDF were affiliated with Hamas. But we believe that, whatever their political opinions, these fellow humans deserved to live free of oppression. Reading out their names did not mean we agreed with all their tactics to end their oppression. It was a way for us to share our pain and pour out our grief that Israel’s policies had caused more human lives to end too early. Had Israelis been killed in the latest round of violence, we would have read their names too. In this sense, this event was a way to express our solidarity with all our Israeli and Palestinian brothers and sisters that have to endure this systematic oppression.

We were also angry. Angry at the Jewish establishment’s latest reaction to the violence. Angry at their blind support for Israel. Angry at them blaming Palestinians for their own deaths. Angry at their continued silencing of Palestinian voices. And angry at their continued moral, financial and political support for the Occupation and siege of Gaza, which deprive so many of their freedom.

As community members of all ages, including Rabbis, community leaders, and elected members of the Board of Deputies, we wanted to say loud and clear that this did not represent us. Occupation is not our Judaism.

We demand that our communities start listening to Palestinian voices instead of silencing them, recognising that our Jewish liberation is tied up with the liberation of all people. We dream that the UK Jewish community will reaffirm “b’tselem elohim”, that we are all created in G-d’s image, by committing itself to fighting for justice and equality for all in Israel-Palestine.

We sincerely hope that the Jewish establishment will one day stand on the right side of history by joining our struggle for freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians.

The Organisers of Kaddish for Gaza