Rally challenges churches to unite in call for justice in the Holy Land

 A passionate appeal to church leaders in Britain to issue a united call for justice in the Holy Land, was made at a rally in Trafalgar Square on Saturday. Stewart Hemsley, chair of Pax Christi Uk said: "Two weeks ago the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor lead the church campaign against the Assisted Dying Bill. Why have we not heard them speak together about the people dying in the Holy Land?" An estimated 20,000 people of all faiths and none walked in the rain along the Embankment, past the Houses of Parliament and Downing Street into Trafalgar Square for the rally which was prompted by the Israeli government's decision to strengthen the economic blockade of the Palestinian people. Dov Weisglass, the Israeli prime minister's adviser, joked recently: "'Its like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won't die" According to a January 2006 UN report, 64% of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are living below the poverty line: In Gaza, 40% of children suffer from malnutrition because of the Israeli occupation. John Ging, director of UN operations there, said "This is the first time bread has been rationed. There's no sugar, oil, milk, the basics." Leila Sansour, director of the Open Bethlehem campaign, spoke of the desperate plight of the people in Bethlehem who have been cut off from their jobs, schools, hospitals and families by the huge partition wall. Bethlehem was until recently a popular centre for Christian pilgrims, she said, describing a beautiful and ancient city where Christians, Muslims and Jews had lived together peacefully for centuries. She appealed for Christian pilgrims to visit her home town. "You will be safe and you will receive a very warm welcome," she said. Other speakers called for a boycott of Israeli products and businesses on the lines of the campaign organised by the Anti Apartheid movement. There were many calls for people to write letters to their MPs. Baroness Jenny Tonge of the House of Lords referred to the hypocrisy of invading Iraq to bring democracy while refusing to recognise the democratically elected government of Palestine. Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said :"We are here today because we believe that peace can only come about through justice for the Palestinian people. Wars like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and occupations only benefit those who sell arms. The losers are the dispossessed in the Middle East region. Peace will not come about through another insane conflict against the people of Iran. Peace and security will only come through recognising the rights of others on the planet." A replica of the Israeli wall and a large banner with the words "Stop Starving Palestinians, End Israel's Occupation and Recognise Palestinian Democracy" acted as a back drop for the speakers who addressed the crowd. A group of Anti-Zionist Israelis, in large fur hats (who had walked more than five miles from Stamford Hill as it was the Sabbath) took up a prominent position near the speakers while young people waving Palestinian flags stood on the railings in Trafalgar Square. The event was organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, with support from many trade union and organisations including the NUJ, Pax Christi, and Christian CND.

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