On a very cold December evening in Glasgow over 70 people gathered to mark the 1st anniversary of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead – the 22 day assault on Gaza which resulted in the deaths of over 1400 Palestinians, thousand of injuries and the wholesale destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure. The candlelit vigil was jointly called by the Scottish Islamic Foundation and SJJP and supported by many other groups and individuals. The day coincided with the Muslim festival of Ashura when Sunni Muslims believe that Moses freed the Jews from Egypt and is marked by fasting from sunrise to sunset. Given the continuing oppression of Gazans through Israel’s blockade and Egyptian support, the symbolism (and indeed, irony) of the event was not lost on those present. In time honoured tradition, the Ashura fast was broken with the breaking of Samosas and Matzoh!
Speakers at the event included MSPs Sandra White and Pauline McNeil, both staunch supporters of the Palestinian cause alongside speakers from the Muslim community and support groups. Our own speaker rounded off the event and focused on the impact the war and blockade is having on children in Gaza – particularly relevant given the time of year when children are very much in our minds. This was a sombre and powerful event; and significant, perhaps not in terms of numbers, but both symbolically and practically. Joint initiatives like this involving Jews, Muslims and other sections of civil society demonstrate a number of things – that criticism of Israel is not anti-semitic as others would have us believe; that there is a joint will for peace and justice in the Middle East and that strong constructive relationships can be built here and now between our communities – a real building block for the future. We should actively pursue further opportunities to engage with the Muslim community and develop a real dialogue over how we can work towards a just peace. We can maybe sometimes underestimate the impact of our network and what our collective activity can achieve.