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Bring the children home
On World Children's Day we must remember the child hostages held by Hamas for six weeks, and the children in Gaza.
As the international community marks World Children’s Day, 40 children and babies are still among the 240 hostages taken by terrorist group Hamas on 7 October. One hostage has given birth to a baby while held hostage.
They should be with their families, not in dark tunnels. Who knows how well they are being looked after. After seeing the terrifying violence inflicted on Israeli civilians who were tortured, raped and murdered by the Hamas terrorists, we can only hope and pray that they are well.
On top of this horror, thousands have died in the conflict in Gaza, including children. (The numbers are not yet verified.) Hamas has long used civilians as human shields and would have known that the inevitable consequence of its brutal attack would be a military response. But the lives of the people living in Gaza did not weigh with Hamas. World Children’s Day is a day to particularly reflect on the plight of all the children caught up in the violence.
Last night I attended the ‘Never Again Is Now’ vigil outside Downing Street. It put the hostages front and centre, asking that they be returned. This is the vital first step towards a credible proposal for peace, which will alleviate the suffering of civilians both in Israel and Gaza. It’s also the only answer to the prayers of the grieving and anxious families of the hostages.
Two of the families of hostages spoke from the stage. Iris Haim, mother of 28-year-old Yotam Haim, who spoke of the pain of being separated from her son, knowing he is held by a Jew-hating organisation, and has had no contact with the outside world, not even the International Red Cross.
Thomas Hand, father of Emily Hand, who just turned nine spoke about her capture and the murder of so many in his Kibbutz on 7 October. His pain was palpable. The crowd sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Emily and I don’t think there were many dry eyes among the thousands who crowded Whitehall.
Among the crowds were Christians and Jews, as you would expect, but also Muslims and Iranian and Kurdish contingents, all in peaceful solidarity.
International days should be used to mobilise public opinion and political will. Today should be a day that the world clamours to #BringThemHome, especially the poor children.
The United Nations has not yet called for the return of the Israeli children hostages on World Children’s Day.
The speech I gave at ‘Never Again is Now’ outside Downing Street:
Thank you Christian Action Against Antisemitism for organising today and thank you to all of you for being here.
I know too many Jewish people who have hidden or removed their Star of David and who do not feel safe in London since the 7th October.
I am here for them. We are all here for them.
This week I interviewed a Jewish lady called Dora who survived the Holocaust. She said that when she came to England it was the first time she could tell people she was a Jew. She had never experienced freedom like it.
She told me that she hasn’t felt free since the 7th October and she too has hidden her Star of David.
I interviewed another Holocaust survivor called Ruth who came to this country on the Kindertransport. She said she has always been profoundly grateful for being rescued. She does not believe that antisemitism can truly be defeated because she says hate is as natural to human beings as love.
Alexander Solzhenhitsyn said in The Gulag Archipelago that the line separating good and evil passes through all human hearts.
So we have to start with our own hearts. If others march in anger, outrage and fear, we must stand in love, peace and courage.
We are all here to stand in unity with our Jewish friends. And we must all keep the plight of the hostages at the centre. After the 7th October, the balance of sympathy tilted dizzyingly fast away from the State of Israel and her civilians who had been brutalised, murdered, desecrated, kidnapped. What happened that day was an act of evil. We must not forget, or turn our faces away. We must not forget to call for the hostages to be brought home.
Academics said decolonisation is not a metaphor, from the safety of their armchairs. People marched, shouting antisemitic slogans and demanded that Israel not respond, before any military response had been mounted and before Israel had even counted the bodies of the slain or the kidnapped. I was shocked.
I messaged a dear friend of mine, Allison Pearson, a columnist at the Telegraph, and I wrote:
“I think we need to do something… I just don’t know what… I have a terrible feeling about all this. Let’s draft a declaration of support.”
Toby Young, Emma Webb, Toby Guise, Francis Hoar, Jan MacVarish, Ian Rons, Allison and I set up the October Declaration, many others helped, and it was soon signed by over 200 public figures. Since then it has been signed by over 78,000 British people.
The declaration is a powerful show of solidarity with British Jews, and against antisemitism. We support Israel and ask for the release of the hostages. The call for peace begins with the call to bring the hostages home. And we call upon the media to call Hamas what it is in law and fact: a terrorist organisation.
If you haven’t signed it yet, you can stand with us too, by signing at britishfriendsofisrael.org Add your name to the 78,000.
We, here, all know we need to do something. Whether it is signing a declaration, standing outside Downing Street, marching against antisemitism next week in London, or checking in on our Jewish neighbours and friends.
We’re not going anywhere. We will keep going. We will always stand together in unity.
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