Local supporters of Israel march around Red House

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Pro-Israel supporters marched around the Red House in Port of Spain on February 18. – Photo by Angelo Marcelle

SOME 150 people gathered in front of the Red House on February 18 to show their support for Israel amid its ongoing war with Hamas militants in Palestine.

The crowd, which supports a peaceful end to the ongoing conflict, assembled at around 1.30 pm and walked around the Red House while waving Israeli flags.

Organiser of the event, Bishop Dr Victor Gill of the Redemption Christian Centre in Success Village, Laventille admitted the issue is a polarising one but said his support for Israel stems from his belief in the Bible.

“We stand for Israel because we believe that God has given Israel rights to the land and that they have a right to exist.”

The war between Israel and Hamas-led Palestine began on October 7, 2023 when 3,000 Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip invaded southern Israel and killed more than 1,100 people including almost 800 civilians.

The militants also held 253 people captive and took them back across the border to the Gaza Strip.

Israel declared a state of war and launched a targeted military response which included thousands of air strikes and a ground offensive that has left entire neighbourhoods flattened.

Despite warnings from the Israeli military ahead of the strikes, many Palestinians ignored the evacuation orders and the Gaza Health Ministry says more than 25,000 people are now dead and another 62,000 have been wounded.

The Associated Press has reported that the war has left 1.9 million people displaced in Gaza out of a population of 2.3 million.

Asked about the perception that Israel’s response is too forceful, Gill said he believed Israel had a right to defend itself.

“I believe they are facing an existential threat. When you have an enemy that says ‘We want to eradicate you from the river to the sea’ and ‘We don’t want no peace with Israel,’ then they are for destruction.”

“We saw what happened on October 7, and it’s not the first time. So I believe Israel has to defend itself.”

Gill said the support for Israel is not an anti-Palestine stance but rather a wish that Israel be left in peace.

“We are not against this one or against that one. We are simply for Israel. We are standing with Israel the right to exist in peace in the land.”

Pressed for his thoughts on the war, Gill said he did not want to be controversial.

“I didn’t come here to stir up anything about the war. I have one position and that is to stand with Israel.

He added despite his support for Israel he hopes the war ends soon.

Bishop Dr Victor Gill of the Redemption Christian Centre, Laventille, centre, led a group of pro-Israel supporters in a march around the Red House, Port of Spain, on February 18. – Photo by Angelo Marcelle

“Lives are precious on either side. Human life is precious. I have prayed for people on both sides that God will save them, that they will come to knowledge of the truth. But for me, as a theologian, as a pastor, I understand the theological dynamics of all of this. And so it’s in my conscience, I cannot do less than to stand for Israel.”

Meanwhile, Nicholas Jagdeo from Understanding Israel Foundation (UIF) said he was at the march as he believed Trinidad and Tobago needs to forge closer ties with Israel as that country has a lot offer.

“There’s a lot that Israel can do for TT in terms of all of its technological prowess and abilities. TT have a relationship with Israel but we haven’t taken advantage of it because there is a lot that Israel seeks to do for us.”

He said the perception that support for Israel means support for the war is an unfair one adding that the situation is “a lot more nuanced and a lot more complex” than what is being portrayed on social media.

He warned that the public to be careful when coming to conclusions on the war.

“Figures that are coming out are only figures from Hamas. We don’t have the actual figures. Those numbers have not been vetted. So I know people are seeing things and they’re quick to draw conclusions. But the numbers have not been vetted. And that’s why people need to be careful of what they’re seeing and formulating opinions.”

He added, “I know people may look at images and images will guide their feelings and their emotions, but they also have to be aware that there is a lot of nuance behind those images. There’s a lot of context.”

Another attendee at the march, Deryck Mason, said he is a long-time supporter of Israel for religious reasons.

Mason, who runs a store DRM Jerusalem Boutique, a store which sells authentic Israeli-made products and offers trips to the country, said he too wants peace for Israel.

“I’m not here taking sides with the current war that is going on. We know that atrocities have been taking place and we saw what went on all over the news.”

“It’s not mainly about the war that is going on. We are here to stand for all of humanity. And our prayer is not just biased for Israel. Our prayer is that (there is) salvation that the Middle East.”

On February 17, the group Concerned Muslims of TT held a pro-Palestine march at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain, calling for a cease fire.