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‘It’s up to us’ says peace-march priest  

17 November 2023

Christian Aid

The words “How many killed is too many?” are projected on to the Palace of Westminster, last Friday, by charities, including Christian Aid, Action Aid, CAFOD, and Medical Aid for Palestinians

The words “How many killed is too many?” are projected on to the Palace of Westminster, last Friday, by charities, including Christian Aid, Action Aid...

A RETIRED priest who served for 19 years in the Light Infantry has described attending the Palestine Solidarity Campaign march on Saturday as an attempt to answer “a challenge from the dead to the living”: to “do better” than in previous conflicts.

The priest, the Revd Tim Daplyn, who serves in the East Clevedon benefice in the diocese of Bath & Wells, was among an estimated 300,000 people who took part in a march from Marble Arch to the US embassy in Nine Elms on Saturday.

The Metropolitan Police had resisted calls to ban the march after the Prime Minister described it as “provocative and disrespectful” and as presenting a “clear and present risk that the Cenotaph and other war memorials could be desecrated” (News, 10 November).

On Saturday, the Met said that the “vast majority” of the 145 arrests made had been of members of a far-Right counter-protest. They had subjected the police to “extreme violence”, the Assistant Commissioner, Matt Twist, said on Saturday. “They arrived early, stating that they were there to protect monuments, but some were already intoxicated, aggressive, and clearly looking for confrontation.” Nine officers had been injured.

At the end of the PSC march, the police had identified “breakaway groups behaving in an intimidating manner” and had made some arrests after fireworks struck officers in the face. The police were also investigating “a number of serious offences identified in relation to hate crime and possible support for proscribed organisations”. Online, the force has asked for the public’s help in identifying “a number of individuals who appear to be wearing clothing or holding signs advocating for terrorist organisations”.

The march, the PSC said beforehand, was intended to “send a clear message . . . that we represent the majority of the population in our calls for a ceasefire and that the movement in support of the Palestinians is growing in strength. . .

“Our call for a ceasefire is rooted in a sincere wish to see an end to all violence, especially that which targets civilians, while recognising that this cannot be achieved unless the root causes of that violence, the 75 years of ongoing Nakba against the Palestinian people, are adequately addressed.”

Fr Daplyn, who is 71, served in the Light Infantry for 19 years, with tours including Northern Ireland and with the UN in Cyprus, and time working for the Directorate of Military Operations in Whitehall, where his office overlooked the Cenotaph.

It was near here that he was interviewed on Saturday morning by the BBC about his decision to attend both the Cenotaph and the PSC march. “It’s been termed a pro-Palestinian demonstration, I think it’s a pro-peace demonstration,” he said. “There are no sides in this. My United Nations medal is inscribed ‘in the service of peace’ and that is what we are all about: old soldiers, on Armistice Day, calling for armistice. And there can’t be anything wrong with that.”

He continued: “So much was got wrong in the past in past conflicts in past warfare; so much is going wrong today. It’s up to us, and we owe it to those who went before that we do better.”

He quoted the last verse of the poem “In Flanders Fields”, written during the First World War by John McCrae, and remarked that “very few people” remembered these closing lines, which were “a challenge from the dead to the living: ‘To you, from failing hands, we throw the torch. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.”

In a letter to Church Times this week, he described placing poppy crosses in the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey for military friends who had died in service. On Tuesday, he said that among the memories that he carried was that of a young man who had set fire to himself in 1990, “in protest at the war we were planning”. He had prayed “for forgiveness and peace for me and for all”.

He had attended the gathering in Hyde Park to “actively support the cause of an immediate Armistice on Armistice Day” and also to visit the memorial to the victims of the 2005 London bombings. His niece, Liz, was among those who died, and he had prayed for both her and Germaine Lindsay (Abdullah Shaheed Jamal), “the young man who, in killing her, also destroyed himself”.

He continues to serve as an honorary chaplain to a self-help military veterans group “living — and regrettably dying— with the effects of PTSD”.

Among other Christians who attended the PSC march was the Revd Helen Burnett, Vicar of St Paul and St Paul, Chaldon, in the diocese of Southwark. She had first attended a vigil organised by XR (Extinction Rebellion) Families, which placed hundreds of empty children’s shoes in Trafalgar Square to symbolise the thousands of children who were victims of the conflict, on both sides.

All of the names were written out and were laid out on the steps — she and her son had written out 600 — and as many as possible were read aloud in Hebrew and Arabic in the time available. There had been “threatening aggressive and abusive behaviour” from the far-Right protesters towards the event, she said.

She described the PSC march as “inter-generational, multi-cultural, enormous . . . One of the most diverse marches I’ve been on. . . My overriding experience was that it was peaceful and that what people wanted more than anything else was a ceasefire.” She was conscious of the protection from far-Right protesters given to the march by the police.

Richard WattThe march in solidarity with the Palestinian people in London on Saturday

The potential for marches to give rise to anti-Semitism and make Jewish people feel unsafe “always has to be a concern”, she said. “Inevitably on the fringes of any march you go on there will be people who do idiotic, inappropriate, or in this case anti-Semitic things, and one can’t control every single person on the march. What I felt fairly confident about, with my knowledge of activism generally, was that this march will be well-stewarded. I was reassured by the statements made by the march organisers that they would be taking every precaution to make sure everybody felt safe.

“Having said that, I can imagine that, even as a liberal Jew who was pro-Palestinian, unless you were with a group who were creating a bloc, and there was a Jewish bloc . . . [you] would not perhaps have felt comfortable turning up alone.”

She had not personally witnessed any anti-Semitism.

The Church of England had not been “very vocal” about the conflict, she said. “I would have loved there to be a much greater presence of members of the Christian faith, and members of the three Abrahamic faiths.” The voices of “ordinary people” were either not being heard or being ignored. “One of the things that the marches do is give people a sense of solidarity in their humanity.”

Her main fear had been “the hatred whipped up by the Government”, which had created “a much more dangerous situation”.

Before being sacked as Home Secretary on Monday, Suella Braverman condemned what she described as “hate marchers”. In a piece for The Times last week, she wrote of “a perception that senior police officers play favourites when it comes to protesters”.

She wrote: “I do not believe that these marches are merely a cry for help for Gaza. They are an assertion of primacy by certain groups — particularly Islamists — of the kind we are more used to seeing in Northern Ireland. Also disturbingly reminiscent of Ulster are the reports that some of Saturday’s march group organisers have links to terrorist groups, including Hamas.”

On Saturday, the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote on social media: “The scenes of disorder we witnessed by the far-right at the Cenotaph are a direct result of the Home Secretary’s words.”

The Telegraph reported on Sunday that the Government’s independent adviser on political violence, Lord Walney, a former Labour MP, was to recommend “a change in the law to let the police ban marches based on their impact on the Jewish community”.

“I think the atmosphere that’s grown in London since Oct 7 is showing that the current framework is not set right,” he said. “It is not enough simply to say that lots of the people who go on the marches aren’t anti-Semitic and just care about the plight of people in Gaza, therefore they should be allowed . . . the marches are clearly a vehicle which is contributing to this huge rise in anti-Semitism, and we would not accept that argument in other contexts.”

On Wednesday, a co-director of the CCJ, Georgina Bye, a former CEO of Mitzvah Day, said that the “anxiety and fear” associated with the marches was “there with good reason”, given the surge in anti-Semitism since 7 October. She spoke of the paint thrown at Jewish schools, and anti-Semitic incidents on public transport and on the streets. There had been “clear anti-Semitism” at the marches, which were happening every weekend. “There are many Jewish people who do feel really uncomfortable to go into central London and to be in those environments.”

She said that there had been calls after the protests for people to head to Jewish areas. Security at schools and synagogues had been increased “exponentially”, with “very good reason”.

A newsletter sent last month said that, while statements had been issued by Christian leaders, the CCJ had heard of “a sense of silence that many Jewish leaders are feeling” (News, 20 October). “There was perhaps a lack of understanding that a majority of British Jews and diaspora Jews, they will know someone who has been murdered or taken hostage, and I can say that for myself,” Ms Bye said. “There is a real feeling of: this is our family; it’s personal.” The holding of hostages was particularly hard, she said. Continuing Jewish gatherings were centred on a call to “bring them home”.

Another co-director of CCJ, the Revd Dr Nathan Eddy, a United Reformed Church minister, said that the the organisation was encouraging Christians to “reach out and be good interfaith colleagues, friends, supporters”. It was hearing stories of Jewish people feeling vulnerable, unsafe, and being “questioned or harassed by people wanting to know their views on the conflict”.

Reaching out could simply mean asking “How are you doing”? Ms Bye said. “At CCJ, we are all about building relationships. . . We are not expecting people to have the perfect language. . . Being willing to understand someone else’s pain is the starting point.”

Dr Eddy suggested that people could send an email or letter to their local synagogue to ask if anything was needed. Speaking at the Masorti Judaism vigil in the wake of the 7 October attack, he had never witnessed “such a sense of vulnerability. It wasn’t a political event, just a gathering of grieving and deeply worried people struggling to make sense of horrific events. Any Christian in my place would have had their heart torn open in that setting.”

Between 7 October and 10 November, the Community Security Trust recorded at least 1205 anti-Semitic incidents across the UK: the highest ever total in such a period of time and a 531-per-cent increase on the same period last year. This included 59 assaults and 111 “direct threats”. Incidents included lit fireworks thrown towards Jewish girls in Manchester, and a swastika with the word “Nazi” daubed on a door in Cheshire.

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