October 7th, six months on – our statement

By David Mason

October 7th, six months on – our statement

The suffering we have witnessed in Israel and Gaza over the last six months is devastating. As a Jew, as a rabbi, and as Director of HIAS+JCORE – the UK Jewish voice on refugees and racial justice – I am mourning the loss of innocent Palestinian lives alongside those of the Israelis killed in the heinous October 7th attacks, and praying every day for an end to the violence so that people can live in safety, dignity, and peace. At the same time, I am also deeply troubled by the growing antisemitism and Islamophobia we are witnessing here in the UK, and working closely with other faith leaders to ensure that the strong inter-communal relations we have built over decades do not become yet another victim of this conflict.

In taking this approach, I am guided by our Jewish teachings. The famous ancient Jewish scholar Rabbi Akiva stated that ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Leviticus / Vayikra 19:18) is the core principle at the heart of the Torah. His colleague, Rabbi Ben Azzai, disagreed, claiming that ‘These are the generations of Adam’ (Genesis/Bereshit 5:1) was even more important. In other words, Ben Azzai was reminding us that our tradition’s most significant teaching is that we are all descendants of Adam, and therefore, that all humanity is connected. So, while we may love our families and our communities, we must never forget our wider human family.

The Jewish Council for Racial Equality, or JCORE, was founded in 1976 to end racism in all its forms in the UK, grounded in the Jewish values espoused by great thinkers such as Rabbis Akiva and Ben Azzai. In the last several years, as we have developed our relationship with the global Jewish humanitarian organization HIAS and become HIAS+JCORE, we have deepened our connection to the global displacement crisis and the lifesaving work of providing humanitarian aid to all who need it, regardless of race, religion or background – not because they are Jewish, but because we are Jewish.

It is because of these Jewish values of compassion and solidarity that the ongoing conflict in Gaza is so painful for us, and why, as we mark 6 months since the horrendous attacks of October 7th, that we must speak out to demand an end to the suffering of all those caught up in this crisis.

Too many people will wake up on April 7th displaced from their homes and unsure when – if ever – they will be able to return. Mercifully, the hundreds of thousands of people in Israel who face this reality have received an outpouring of assistance from civil society, including via HIAS, which has provided support to over 236,000 conflict-affected people over the last six months. Although their lives have been shattered, their basic needs are being met.

For two million Palestinians in Gaza, however, the situation could not be more different. Children will wake up in tents that offer little protection from the elements, as their parents struggle to provide them with the most fundamental necessities of life: nutritious food to eat and clean water to drink. As blockages on aid continue to be imposed and aid workers continue to be killed, the most vulnerable are already falling victim to starvation.

HIAS+JCORE is not a political organisation. But as humanitarians and as advocates for human rights and justice, we believe some principles are above politics. Among them: that it is unconscionable in 2024, in a world of plenty, for a single person to starve to death. Indeed, our Jewish values demand that we not be silent in the face of famine. We will be reminded of this principle in just a few weeks, as Jews across the UK and around the world gather with loved ones to celebrate Passover, opening their seders with the ancient words, “Kol dichfin yeitei v’yeichol”: All who are hungry, let them come and eat.

That is why we are adding our voices to the call for an immediate political process to stop the conflict, ensure the release of all the hostages, and avert a famine by enabling a massive surge in humanitarian aid to reach Palestinians in need. HIAS+JCORE supports the vision of a secure, inclusive, and democratic State of Israel living side by side in peace and security with a Palestinian State, so that Palestinians and Israelis alike can live in dignity and free from suffering.

Here at home in the UK, we must redouble our commitment to the interfaith work that has been the product of decades of effort, but which is now being damaged by the conflict in Gaza. This starts by acknowledging the anger, fear, and pain being felt by so many across our country who are deeply connected to what is happening in Gaza and Israel. In this moment, Jews and Muslims must try harder than ever before to understand each other’s narratives and how the other is feeling in this present crisis: Jewish people will feel trauma and anger at the Hamas attack of October 7th and the resulting spike in antisemitism. Muslims will feel anger at Israel’s military response and the increase in UK Islamophobia. The question is, can we hear each other? If we can’t, we will retreat into our own silos, and the only winners will be the extremists who hate us both, who will use whatever excuse to divide us and try to stop us from uniting against our common enemies of xenophobia, racism, and hatemongering. We cannot let them succeed.

The UK’s strength lies in its diversity, and we must commit to protecting this diversity by speaking out against inflammatory rhetoric, including by politicians who seek to use it to their own political advantage, at the expense of our communities.

If we can do this, we can unite to champion the values which unite us and encourage our government to stand on the side of fairness, justice, and human rights for all.