Press Release Shalom Festival 2023
A DIFFERENT SOUND IN THE MIDST OF THE WAR
The light shines brightest in the dark and the creed of peace is even more vital when missiles fly back and forth. With that in mind, the annual Shalom Festival at the Groenplaats in Antwerp went ahead October 15th, despite the increased threat after the terrorist attack of October 7. “For Israel, but also for the Palestinian people who groan under the terror regime,” said coordinator Katia Van De Broeck. “Today in particular, we think it is important to be here.” With increased police security and a less festive program (focused on the families affected by the terrorist attack), the organisers gave a multicultural and varied sound of peace for Israel and prosperity for the Middle East.
Why Shalom? The Shalom Festival is an initiative of Jewish and Evangelical Christian organizations that join forces to combat anti-Semitism and promote peace and coexistence in their own city, country and in the Middle East.
“We have come far,” says Eugenia Daskalopoulou, one of the organizers, in the opening speech, while standing next to Regina Sluszny, a Jewish community leader (who survived WWII hidden by Christians), showing her appreciation for the warm cooperation. “We have often stood together on this stage and on behalf of Christians I have asked forgiveness for the suffering inflicted on the Jews over the centuries ‘in the name of God’.” She encourages the public to act as peacemakers, and take responsibility to seek the path of friendship, standing on the many factors that bind people in the same city and region. Regina adds that our value as human beings is not based on religion or origin. “As human beings, we are all equal. It is our choices that count and speak of who we are.”
The Israeli national anthem Hativkah, Israeli, Jewish and gospel music, but also a performance by the blues singer Boogie Boy, who had written a song especially for the occasion, are alternated with speeches from the afternoon until the evening, sharing hope, comfort and faith. The 120 kidnapped citizens from Israel appear on the projection screen and boards with photos are raised, from a six-month-old baby to an elderly person in a wheelchair; parents, children, women and men. Representatives of different nationalities, each express their involvement. This includes an Iranian community leader who has lived in Belgium for years. Aware of the hostility from his country of origin, he expresses his solidarity with the affected families and his deep appreciation for the democratic and spiritual-moral values of Israel. He refers to the rich history and relationship that Persia traditionally had with Israel until the Islamic Revolution and calls on its people to be reminded and revert. His wish is that Iran will also participate in the Abraham Treaties in the future. “I love Israel,” says an Iraqi visitor, who, while holding three Israeli flags, has his photo taken with one of the organisation’s leaders present.
Idit Rosenzweig Abu, Ambassador of Israel, calls for support in the fight: “Hamas is ISIS; same ideology, same ways. Hamas uses the same terror against the Palestinian people. The fight against Hamas is ultimately the joint battle to save the world from terrorism. Are you going to give us the same support as was given to the US when it was dealing with ISIS?” “There is no longer a place for moral neutrality,” adds Patricia Teitelbaum (Belgian Friends of Israel) in her call to hold Hamas accountable. André Gantman, a city councillor in Antwerp, continues: “If we want to have peace in the Middle East, terrorist organizations must be wiped off the map.”
A common thread that connects the different perspectives is the fight for a shared future instead of polarization and demonization. A journalist: “You talk about the terror of Hamas, but what do you think about Israel’s actions against the Palestinians for years?” MEP Michael Freilich replies: “On the one hand, there is no point in bringing the conflict in the Middle East to Europe. There is more that unites us than divides us. We work together, we live together and we must see that we can solve our problems together. “On the other hand, most Israelis and people from the Jewish community as well as many Palestinians are in favour of a two-state solution, as long as the parties recognize each other’s right to exist and do not have the intention of wiping Israel off the map.”
News report video:
The Alliance for Peace in the Middle East
The Belgian Coalition for Israel