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Call for Middle East peace draws marchers to Cabinet grounds

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Give peace a chance: hundreds gathered for a call to an end to the conflict in the Middle East (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

About 200 peace campaigners took to the streets of Hamilton on Saturday to call for an end to hostilities in the Middle East.

The call for peace was organised by several Bermudian organisations, including The Peace Collective, Social Justice Bermuda, the Muslim Community of Bermuda, Progressive Minds and Bermuda Is Love.

The conflict began last October when Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, launched an attack on Israel, killing almost 1,200 people and taking about 250 civilians — including women and children — hostage. Many of those hostages are still being held captive.

Israel launched a ground offensive and has decimated much of Palestinian-occupied Gaza in the past eight months.

Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said this month that more than 120,000 people in Gaza, “overwhelmingly women and children”, had been killed or injured since October 7, owing to “the intensive Israeli offensives”.

The Israeli military action has drawn condemnation from world leaders in recent months — and also inspired a series of protests from Bermudian organisations.

The march started from the grounds of the Cabinet Office on Front Street shortly after 5pm. The procession snaked its way up Lane Hill and on to Middle Road, passing the US Consulate General’s office before turning off at Montpellier Road and gathering at the Arboretum.

Ahead of the march, Aziza Furbert, of the Peace Collective, asked participants to be respectful and follow police instructions.

She added that organisers had planned the event to highlight the plight of hostages that had been taken by both sides.

Ms Furbert said: “As you might be aware, at least 37,431 people have been killed in Gaza since October 7. Of those, more than 15,000 are children. Another 1.7 million people have been forcibly displaced within Gaza.

“Even faced with these shocking facts, some only ask, ‘why aren’t you marching for the hostages?’

“We are marching for the hostages. Over 100 hostages were freed during a five-day ceasefire. In eight months of horrific destruction, killing and war crimes, Israeli forces have only freed seven hostages.

“Numerous hostages have been killed by Israeli forces, including three people who were shot while waving a white flag.” Reports at the time said they were mistakenly identified as a threat.

“We are marching for the hostages and for the thousands of Palestinian men, women and children who have been taken into custody and detained without charge before October 7 and since October 7 — often while being tortured.”

The march, which included people of all ages carrying large Palestinian flags and placards denouncing Israel’s action in Gaza, was accompanied by a police escort and brought traffic heading out of town to a standstill.

During their walk to the Arboretum, protesters shouted anti-Israeli slogans such as: “Five, six, seven, eight, Israel is a terror state”, and “Free, free Palestine, occupation is a crime.”

On the move: peace campaigners walked from the Cabinet Office to the Arboretum during their march

Other chants accused Israel of committing genocide and war crimes.

Despite the event being described as a joint call for peace, there were no signs of any pro-Israeli participation.

One organiser, who identified herself only as Alba, was asked if members of the Bermudian Jewish community had been invited to attend the peace march.

She said: “Yes, certainly. They never showed up. And that’s all I want to say.

“They have always been invited, especially when we did the candlelight vigil. We were trying to create a conversation.

“We’re not trying to divide. We’re trying to create a space for people to talk. But they decline every single time, which is within their right.

“When you ask questions, please consider that a lot of people have a lot of trauma.”

Although the march had an anti-Israeli flavour, many of those who gathered at the Arboretum claimed to be sympathetic to both sides.

Jane Callard, a guest worker, said: “I’m not here to bash Israel, I’m just here to join the chorus for an end to the bloodshed.

“I do have sympathy for Israel and what happened last year, but their response is way over the top. It needs to stop.”

Trevor Daniels, a Bermudian, summed up his reasons for taking part in the march.

He said: “The whole world is protesting about this.

“Will Bermuda’s contribution make any difference? Probably not, but we still have a voice and our voice needs to be heard.

“We can still be a part of the global conversation for peace.”

Stephen Astwood, 43, from Pembroke, said: “There’s only one side that’s currently engaging in military action and as a result there’s been a lot of civilian lives lost.

“There have been casualties on both sides but it’s been disproportionately on the Palestinian side.

“Peace is something that we look to attain but I just think, even with different military actions going around the world, this particular genocide is a stark reminder that we’re not there yet.”

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