Interfaith ‘march for peace’ held in capital, in counter to Jerusalem Day Flag March

Decrying use of religious rhetoric to promote war, liberal Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze religious leaders say event sends message of ‘peace, justice and equality’

Religious leaders head an interfaith march in support of peace and human rights down Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on June 3, 2024. (Jacob Lazarus/Rabbis for Human Rights)
Religious leaders head an interfaith march in support of peace and human rights down Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on June 3, 2024. (Jacob Lazarus/Rabbis for Human Rights)

Some two hundred people led by rabbis, sheikhs and priests marched through the center of Jerusalem on Monday evening in a display of cross-religious solidarity against the ongoing war in Gaza and the upcoming Jerusalem Day Flag March planned for Wednesday.

In the eyes of the organizers of the interfaith march, the Flag March — which annually sees thousands of religious nationalist Israelis parade through Jerusalem, including through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City — has become a “symbol of violence and occupation” over the years, often marred by hate speech and violence towards Palestinians.

“We decided to create a joint march that sends the opposite message, one of peace, justice and equality,” said Rabbis for Human Rights director Avi Dabush, an evacuee from Kibbutz Nirim who survived Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught.

The event kicked off at Zion Square downtown with a series of speeches, after which participants slowly proceeded up Jaffa Street, singing Israeli peace ballads such as “Salaam” and “Shir LaShalom” (Song for Peace) while walking.

Unlike the Flag March, the peaceniks did not enter the Old City, wrapping up the event outside Jaffa Gate with more speakers and a joint prayer in Hebrew and Arabic.

The march, held for the second time around Jerusalem Day, was attended last year by peace activist Vivian Silver — co-founder of the Women Wage Peace organization, which co-sponsors the event — who was murdered during the massive October 7 attack.

Canadian-born Israeli peace activist Vivian Silver, who was confirmed to have been killed in her home in Kibbutz Be’eri by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023. (Courtesy)

“Vivian Silver, may her memory be a blessing, always taught us there is no such thing as a path to peace — peace must be the path,” said Dabush.

Ghadir Hani, a friend of Silver and a member of Women Wage Peace, gave a brief eulogy before the crowd.

“Vivian, who struggled for years to end the conflict, became a victim of the conflict… we will continue down her path until we bring peace,” Hani said.

Before marchers set out from Zion Square, speakers of Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze backgrounds lauded peace and human rights as religious values, with many urging an end to Israel’s eight-month war in Gaza. The war was sparked by the Hamas assault in which some 1,200 were killed in Israel and 251 kidnapped to the Gaza Strip, 120 of whom are still believed to be in captivity, not all of them alive.

“We stand here today praying for an end to the bloodshed, the return of the hostages and for the lives of Gazans to be saved,” continued Hani.

“It takes a lot of courage to believe in God, and in humans, during difficult times,” Dabush said, telling the crowd that “we have no choice but to join forces in order to create a miracle of change and rectification. To turn blood into water and war into peace.”

“We’ve tried war for many years. Nothing has come of it,” Ibtisam Mahameed, an Arab Israeli peace activist from the north, told the audience after reciting a prayer for peace together with Rabbi Tamar Elad-Applebaum. “We’ve tried it for 70 years, so why not try peace?”

Rabbi Tamar Elad-Applebaum (left) and Ibtisam Mahameed recite a joint prayer in Hebrew and Arabic at the start of an interfaith march through Jerusalem on June 3, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

Absent from the ensuing march were the loud chants and protest signs characteristic of most Israeli demonstrations. Marchers sang soulfully, many wearing religious garb. The march was hardly disruptive — each time the light rail passed, participants would move onto the sidewalk to make way.

At the march’s endpoint outside the Old City’s Jaffa Gate, participants heard from Orthodox Jewish peace activist Leah Shakdiel, who decried the use of religious rhetoric to promote war.

“There are people who use the different religions in order to create separation and hatred between human beings, to spread human beings’ desire to rule over one another, to justify violence and wars, to foment and foster feelings of revenge,” she said. “We are marching here today to shout in a loud voice, because it is a horrible sin to use belief in God and in the scriptures given to the world for destruction and devastation.”

The event concluded outside Jaffa Gate, under Monday’s blistering heat, with a musical performance by the Jerusalem Youth Choir.

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