GWENDOLINE LAMB rose long
before dawn yesterday, dressed entirely in blue and white to
match the Israeli flag, then began her 350-mile journey to
She was among about 40,000 people to converge on London for
the biggest show of Anglo-Israeli unity in history. She drove
from Middlesbrough to Newcastle upon Tyne to board one of
three coaches leaving the city to join the Israel Solidarity
Rally, an unapologetic display of affection and loyalty for a
country that many Jews see as vilified, terrorised and
Jews flocked from all over England and Scotland to
Trafalgar Square in such unexpectedly large numbers that they
had to cling from traffic lights, hang on to a statue of
George Washington and climb the walls of the National Gallery
to squeeze into the space.
A fearful mood has gripped Jewish people as anti-Semitic
attacks increase and events such as the Jenin fighting fuel
Every coach had a representative from the Community
Security Trust, which protects synagogues and schools, in case
of anti-Semitic attacks en route. Even a sober, professional
man such as Bryan Slater, 50, a Manchester lawyer, said: “The
reason there weren’t little children here is that we were
frightened of suicide bombers. I actually wondered whether I
would come away with my legs still on my body.”
Families brought bags full of snacks and soft drinks, but
there was no party atmosphere. The crowd arrived subdued and
sombre, with occasional bickering between hawks, who seemed to
be in the majority, and the occasional dove, expressing
concern for Palestinian rights.
The crowd was so vast that speakers such as Peter Mandelson
and Lord Janner of Braunstone could be heard by only a
minority, but when Benjamin Netanyahu appeared, a respectful
silence fell across the square.
Raising spectres of the most terrifying enemies of the Jews
— Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden — the former Israeli
Prime Minister compared Yassir Arafat to all of them.
For Israel to deal with Arafat was like saying: “The
British people would have to come to terms with Hitler because
Hitler is the German leader of the German people”, he said.
“Arafat is bin Laden with good PR,” he said. “What do you
do with Saddam Hussein? Talk with him? Make concessions to
him? You throw him out. Israel must and will throw out Yassir
Mr Netanyahu’s message visibly changed the mood of the
crowd, as if a burden of fear and dread was being lifted.
Opposition to him came from a group of about 300 peace
activist Jews, shepherded by police on to the steps of the
church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, who waved placards saying
“Jews against occupation” and “Occupation not in my name”, and
shouted “Shame” at the right-wing leader. The anti-Sharon
group were booed and called “Nazis” by the main crowd.
The other opposition came from about 500 Palestine
sympathisers, penned into an area at the end of The Mall, led
by a black London Muslim who shouted anti-Israel slogans in
rap rhythm to a drum beat.
“Who let the bombs out?” he chanted. “Bush! Sharon!” the
crowd of veiled women, bearded Muslim men and Socialist
Worker sellers cried.
One Arab, waving a Union Jack, said that he was a
Palestinian refugee who has lived in England for two years.
“I love Britain,” Abed said. “It’s America and Israel that
are the problem. Palestine is my country. They,” he said,
indicating the thousands carrying Israeli flags in the square,
“don’t have a country. My grandfather was born in Palestine.
These people come from places like Lithuania.”
A little boy, his face contorted, screamed “Israel, you
will pay, Hizbollah on their way” from the shoulders of a
From the safety of Trafalgar Square, with a huge police
cordon protecting them, two children of Israeli supporters
stuck their thumbs down at the Muslims.
The pro-Palestinians chanted: “Sharon and Hitler are the
same, the only difference is the name”. They wore badges
distorting the Star of David into a swastika.
Resting on a low wall in front of the National Gallery was
Alfred Goldschmidt, 77, who escaped Hamburg in 1939, just in
time to avoid joining his parents in Auschwitz. “Of course
it’s offensive,” the grandfather of six from West Hampstead in
northwest London, said, shaking his head.
John Gerwitz, 63, from Stanmore, North London, said: “Jews
are very frightened. I was speaking to a concentration camp
survivor who has advised her children to go to America. She
said it started like this in Germany with synagogues being
desecrated. She is perhaps overreacting.”
By the end of the rally, Ms Lamb, like tens of thousands of
fellow Jews, was feeling confident, cheerful and defiant. As
the crowd dispersed, she said: “This is wonderful, wonderful.
Just look, this is to show people that we are not an
insignificant minority as the BBC makes out. There are
thousands of coaches on the Embankment. This is a peaceful
rally to show that Jewish people throughout Britain are only
decent, clean people who want a homeland.”