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Christians hope to make their presence felt in Gaza protests

15 January 2024

Francis Martin hears what motivates activists on the streets of London

Francis Martin/Church Times

Members of the Christian bloc during the march

Members of the Christian bloc during the march

CHRISTIANS gathered en masse on Saturday in the latest London march in support of Palestine, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and solidarity with Jewish anti-war advocates.

The Revd Grey Collier, an Assistant Curate at St John’s, Waterloo, was part of the group that founded Christians for Palestine UK, a new organisation that is encouraging Christians to march together at the weekly mass protests held in London.

“There are lots of us here, but, spread in a massive crowd, we’re not very visible, and lots of people might think that the Church isn’t paying any attention; but we are,” he said. It was important to “connect with each other and show solidarity”.

The organising group were all drawn from the C of E, but the 100 or so who joined the thousand-strong crowd were from multiple denominations, including Methodists, members of the United Reformed Church, and Quakers.

Fr Martin Newell, a Roman Catholic priest who lives in the London Catholic Worker community in Harringay, was one of many members of the RC charity Pax Christi to attend Saturday’s march in an act of “faith witness”.

“I think it’s really important that this conflict is not seen as Jews against Muslims. Firstly, there are Christian Palestinians; and also it’s not a religious conflict in that sense: it’s about fundamental issues of justice and oppression and violence and war.”

Francis Martin/Church TimesBanner outside St Paul’s Cathedral, during the pro-Palestinian march on Saturday

The director of Sabeel-Kairos, a UK charity “taking action for Palestine”, Charlotte Marshall, was attending her eighth weekly march. She said that the Jewish bloc that had been marching had been “showing that there are people of faith in this country who fundamentally believe that what’s happening inside Gaza at the moment is wrong”.

The decision by Christians for Palestine UK to march behind the Jewish contingent was “not an accident”, but an attempt to show solidarity, she said. “What unites us is our common faith and our belief that there is better way, that there is a better life for Israelis and Palestinians. . . We’re calling for the rights of all people in the Holy Land, including Israelis, to be able to live in safety and security, with full human rights.”

The Christian presence in Palestine was under “a very real threat of being extinguished in the next few years”, she said, but the Christian community was “vital to the country and vital to its future”.

Karen Senior, warden of lay ministry for the diocese of Rochester, also spoke of her concern for Christians in Palestine, and said that she had chosen to attend to give “people in Gaza and in the West Bank, who can’t safely protest, a little bit of encouragement, and know that, whatever the world’s leaders think, the world’s people are much more behind them”.

She said that it was important for a Christian voice on the issue to be audible, partly as “certain segments of the media write [the conflict] off as a Muslim issue” — and also as a reminder that there was a Christian presence in Gaza.

There were dozens of clerical collars on display among the Christian protesters, although some of the ordained marchers preferred not to be quoted. At some points, the question of further interviews was made moot by the presence of a samba band directly behind the Christian bloc.

The upbeat atmosphere, enjoyed by a crowd of people of all ages, was undermined by dismay at the way in which some members of the Government have characterised the marches. A couple who had travelled from Derbyshire to join the Christian cohort referred to the former Home Secretary Suella Braverman and her description of the protests as “hate marches”. The focus was, instead, on solidarity, they said, and the urgent need for a ceasefire.

This message was reinforced by any of the Christian banners on display: a Pax Christi banner quoted Christ’s command to Peter: “Put away your sword”; and a new banner for the occasion proclaimed: “Blessed are the peacemakers, ceasefire now.”

Francis Martin/Church TimesSister Maureen CSF, from Southwark, with her placard

Other home-made placards read: “Jesus weeps for Gaza” and “Christians for peace, ceasfire now!” The latter was carried by Sister Maureen CSF, who has recently joined her Anglican Franciscan community’s house in Southwark. At earlier marches, she had had not felt comfortable carrying a placard, but was doing so now as she walked with the Christian bloc.

Both Ms Marshall and Mr Collier hoped that Saturday’s gathering would be just the beginning of increased Christian activism around the conflict. “It’s a great start, and I’d love to see churches at a national level get behind Christians for Palestine,” Ms Marshall said. “Come along, and let’s get senior bishops here; let’s get the head of the Methodist Conference here; let’s get all these people out, marching in solidarity.”

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