Across Newham, where a large number of residents are of Muslim origin, the Gaza war and humanitarian crisis has sparked protests, calls for an end to hate-speech and sombre acts of unity by faith leaders praying for peace.
By Aidan White
Since the massacre of around 1,400 Israelis on 7 October and the capture of more than 200 hostages, Israel’s armed forces have laid siege to Gaza and launched missiles, killing more than 6,000 people and forcing a million Palestinians to flee their homes.
Protests and vigils in support of the victims, both Palestinian and Israeli, have been held across the Borough, at the Greater London Authority headquarters in the Royal Docks, at East Ham Town Hall, and at a moving peace vigil supported by religious leaders from Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities at St John’s Church Stratford.
The vigil was one of the actions proposed by Newham Council on 13 October in a resolution prepared by Councillor Rohit Dasgupta which also called for fresh resources to combat hate crime and for action to support a major charity working on the ground in Palestine to ease the humanitarian crisis.
Newham’s religious and interfaith community gathered to call for unity and solidarity with those who have been displaced, injured or missing loved ones as a result of events unfolding in Israel and Gaza.
On the day of the Stratford vigil Councillor Josh Garfield, the cabinet member covering education announced on X, formerly Twitter, that he was standing down from his cabinet position.
According to his leaked letter of resignation this was in protest over the Council’s resolution on Gaza, which he said went against Labour Party policy that discourages Council statements on the conflict.
However, the Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz, who spoke at the vigil has warned of growing divisions.
“A big concern for all of us will be the impact that the war is having on our communities in Newham, from all faiths and none,” she said in her weekly newsletter.
“I know that there are some trying to tear us apart, when we need to come together as a community to provide comfort, encourage dialogue to deepen understanding, respect and peace.”
She warned of a dangerous surge in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in London and is urging people to report hate crimes to the police.
Combating hate-speech also means showing more respect in online discussion says councillor Dasgupta.
“A calling-out culture without putting issues in context that we see in some WhatsApp groups is not helpful in the current situation,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Stratford-based charity the Refugee Council is leading calls for a Ukraine-style support scheme to help bring Palestinian families displaced in the Gaza conflict to Britain.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council. “People who aren’t secure and safe in their homes need access to safety and the UK must be ready to play a role by implementing a package of emergency measures at short notice.”
“I think this is an excellent idea,” added Councillor Dasgupta.
He said the Council had passed some time ago a motion saying that refugees are welcome in Newham.
“But Newham does not have the resources to take on this task without government support. This action has to be co-ordinated and paid for by central government.”
Instances of anti-Semitism can be reported to the Community Security Trust at www.cst.org.uk and anyone facing anti-Muslim hate and prejudice can find similar support at the Islamaphobia Response Unit at www.theiru.org.uk
As well as the Mayor, those attending the vigil at St John’s Church in Stratford included: The Right Reverend Monsignor John Armitage from St Margaret’s Catholic Church; Edwin Shuker, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews; Dr Farzana Hussain from the Project Surgery; and Cllr Canon Ann Easter, the Commissioner for Interfaith and Interreligious Dialogue at Newham Council.