Civic and faith leaders from Oxfordshire joined a vigil on Broad Street today at 5pm calling for peace amidst the Israel-Gaza war.
Supporters included Oxford City and Oxfordshire County Council leaders, district councils, and leading figures in local faith communities.
Attendees were encouraged to bring candles and reflect on those impacted by the conflict. The vigil was “open to all, irrespective of faith or background, who wish to come together peacefully and respectfully”.
This follows the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, and Imam Monawar Hussain hosting a meeting for faith and community leaders. They discussed losses and hostilities from the Israel and Palestine conflict.
Croft commented that it is “vital in this moment of crisis for communities to come together across Oxfordshire in solidarity with those who are suffering and to reach out to one another”.
Hussain expressed how hostilities “perpetuate the vicious cycle of violence, killing and revenge”. Thus, a “path of peace, reconciliation and healing” is needed.
Croft thanked people for joining this “vigil of lament and prayer”. He clarified this was not an event for “disharmony and division” and discouraged waving of national flags, chanting, and heckling.
Police and stewards were present at the event, with their main focus being controlling the crowd to maintain access to the cycle path.
Leader of Oxford City Council Councillor Susan Brown said Oxford is “rightly proud of our welcoming, diverse and compassionate city”. Therefore, those “grieving for loved ones” or “experiencing fear in our city as a result of international events” needed the “peace and solidarity” of today’s vigil.
Brown set out that the community must “ensure that hate and prejudice have no place” in Oxford, which was met with applause from the crowd.
MP for Oxford West and Abingdon Layla Moran said that she was there to “share [her] grief, [her] sorrow, but also [her] hope”.
Moran’s mother is from Jerusalem, and she told the crowd of the “deep grief” she felt at the Hamas attacks and the subsequent deaths now reaching 10,000 in the conflict. Rather than having to pick a side of the conflict, she encouraged attendees to choose the “side of humanity”.
On the vigil, she commented that it is “vital that we have an opportunity to come together as a whole community, stand shoulder to shoulder in support, and call for peace”.
Representatives of the Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, and Buddhist communities also attended. They spoke of the need to recommit to “peaceful living” and wished for “courage and wisdom” in world leaders.
The crowd joined the Buddhist chant “nam-myoho-renge-kyo”, which is a pledge to not yield to difficulties and suffering, as well as having a spiritual protective function.
Attendees lit candles and took a moment of silence before Croft closed the event praying for “peace in our hearts, peace in our homes, peace in our nations, peace in our world”. He also thanked the council, police, and university for the support.
Lyrics of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” were sung in between speeches, with the final words “Yes, and how many deaths will it take ’til he knows that too many people have died?” concluding the tone of lamentation.
Image Credit: Cameron Samuel Keys for The Oxford Student