x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Dubai vigil criticises world leaders

More than 300 people attended a silent vigil in Dubai, an event organised by the 'Silence for Gaza' group via Facebook.

DUBAI // More than 300 people attended a silent vigil in Dubai yesterday to protest against Israel's ongoing assault on Gaza, which continued for a fourth consecutive day. Participants sat crossed-legged on the ground, holding a candle and a letter, which spelt out "Silence For Gaza", in a car park of the Jumeirah Beach Residence. Not a word was spoken among those sitting on the ground. As the candles flickered in the breeze, determined faces looked back through the lights.

"We're holding a silent vigil because we don't want to shout and scream like everyone else around the world," said Sarah Ajha, one of the organisers of the unofficial protest. "The silence symbolises the silence of the leaders around the world, who haven't done anything. It is a mirror image of their actions." The vigil, which was also held to remember the more than 300 people who have been killed by the Israelis over the last four days, was attended by people from all age groups and many nationalities. While a large number of Palestinians showed up, Arabs from other parts of the region also donned the well-known kaffiyeh in support.

"This is much more civilised, and we welcome people from everywhere to join us and support us," said Ms Ajha, a Syrian national who was brought up in Dubai, but is now studying in London. The event was organised through a group called "Silence for Gaza" on the internet site Facebook, and messages flew over the internet and via cellphones, informing many of the silent protest. "I wanted to use Facebook for something positive for once," Ms Ajha said.

Although some were concerned that Dubai police would break up the gathering because it was an "unofficial" vigil, the police, although present, did not interfere with the vigil. "They are not making any trouble or breaking anything," said one official, who refused to be named. Khaled al Sabi, a 21-year-old Palestinian studying in Dubai, attended the event with his mother. "I'm here as a Palestinian to support my country and to create awareness to the situation," he said. "A lot of people are not really aware of what is going on and don't know what to do, so it's important to hold these events."

He said because the UAE lacks a protest culture, there is often little interest in or awareness of such gatherings. "More needs to be done. This is not about Arabs or Muslims, this is about humanity," he said, adding that a silent protest was more effective, because loud ones tend to create problems for both governments and the people. "I'm not worried about getting into trouble here because this is a peaceful protest, and it's clear we don't want any problems."

All those attending wore black tops, adhering to a request circulated earlier in the day. Dozens of people, including many children, continued to turn up throughout the two-hour sit-in, all decked in Palestinian flags and kaffiyehs. Lina Rashdan, a Jordanian living in Dubai, held a candle in one hand and her two-year-old son, Adam, in the other. "This is the least we could do for them," she said. "We have to show the other countries that their governments have to do something. As people we cannot; it is in the hands of the leaders."

She explained that she brought her son to the event because he was also a part of Arab society, and should show his support. "The children in Palestine are forced to be there, they have no choice. We choose to be here [in Dubai], so the minimum we can do is show our support by attending these events." nsamaha@thenational.ae