As early as four in the afternoon, supporters of Israel gathered on the Old Town Square in Prague to express solidarity with the country after the terrorist attack on October 7, in which 1,400 people were murdered. Another two hundred people are still being held hostage by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip. Photographs of the hostages were on a number of banners and, along with blue and white flags, formed the visual backdrop of the demonstration. Especially the beginning of the event was very moving and some participants couldn’t help but cry. A few hundred people gathered in the square at the beginning, and their number grew over time.
The event was moderated from the stage by Ester Janečková, who invited Petr Papoušek, the chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities, who convened the entire event, as the first speaker. Papoušek declared that the October 7 terrorist attack was an attack on the Jewish community worldwide and singled out the Islamist Hamas as the sole culprit for all the killing. At the same time, he added that the regret for wasted lives belongs to all people on both sides of the conflict without distinction. He also warned of a new wave of anti-Semitism in Europe.
As another representative of the government, the Commissioner for Human Rights Klára Laurenčíková spoke, who recalled the Shoah and spoke out not only against anti-Semitism but against all intolerance and violations of human rights.
Prime Minister Petr Fiala came as the second speaker to great applause, who also expressed his shock at the “unprecedented violence and brutality”, and expressed his desire to be the voice of Israel in Europe and also a friend of Israel, which needs friends and has only a handful of them. As another representative of the government, the Commissioner for Human Rights Klára Laurenčíková spoke, who recalled the Shoah and spoke out not only against anti-Semitism but against all intolerance and violations of human rights. The demonstration was also attended by other ministers and leading politicians not only from the government coalition but also, for example, Patrik Nacher from the opposition movement ANO.
They don’t know what we’re going through
“Most of our non-Jewish friends have no idea what we are going through,” said another speaker, the president of the Czech Jewish Youth Union, Emma Günberger, adding that she no longer feels as safe in the Czech Republic as before. According to her, Jews are often questioned and made responsible for something they are not responsible for. “Your Jewish friends don’t owe you any answers,” she said, urging caution in expressing and handling terms that can polarize society. A medical student from Israel recalled from the podium all those kidnapped by Hamas. Among the speakers was director Jan Hřebejk, who recently tweeted emotionally about the terrorist attack.
During its course, a small counter-action with Palestinian flags and a banner calling for an end to the occupation of Palestine quietly joined the pro-Israel demonstration. During the demonstration itself, only a few people paid attention to it, yet the police separated the pro-Palestinian camp just in case. The participants of the pro-Palestinian event had their mouths taped shut and thus demonstrated silently. After the end of the event, some of the participants flocked to them and demanded the police to intervene. More aggressively, the pro-Israeli group began to define itself only when one man shouted something like “Fuck Palestine, You have blood on your hands”. The bystanders applauded him and started shouting and singing too. However, there was no outright aggressive behavior, the pro-Palestinian event left after an agreement with the police, and some of the pro-Israel demonstrators present continued to argue with the police.
For objective information
A group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators set out from the Old Town straight to Wenceslas Square, where a demonstration for objective information on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began at half past six. A group of pro-Israel demonstrators, who also headed to Wenceslas Square, could create a counter-action after their arrival and switch roles. A few hundred people arrived at the modestly equipped pro-Palestinian demonstration on horseback, at the time of the subsequent march around five hundred.
Jana Ridvanová was the first to speak into the megaphone, which provided the sound system for the event, at the demonstration for better and more balanced information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She criticized Czech Television in particular for not broadcasting any stories from the Jabaliya refugee camp bombed by the Israeli army, while these stories also appeared, for example, on the American CNN. After the opening speech, there was a minute of silence.
Another speaker, longtime pro-Palestinian activist Zdeněk Jehlička, began his speech with quotes and paraphrases from the Czech moderator Jan Kraus, who, according to Jehlička, called all pro-Palestinian activists anti-Semites, while anti-Semites are also because they envy the success of Israel and the Jews. Jehlička refused this and wondered what Israel is supposed to be so good at. He condemned the Czech media debate, in which terms such as apartheid or occupation are not used, thereby shifting the entire discourse. Jehlička also drew attention to a recorded and unbroadcast interview with the Palestinian poet and activist Ahmed Abu Arteba, with whom another interview was eventually published on ČRo, but had to be immediately replaced by a pro-Israel expert, while according to Jehlička, many pro-Israel experts have their doors open to the public media all the time, without their views were confronted.
Another speaker already spoke English. An activist from the newly founded group Prague youth 4 Palestine, in a fiery speech condemned the violence of Hamas but at the same time said why she leaves this question unanswered when asked about it. According to her, this is the legitimization of violence in Gaza, and she cited a number of examples that should be condemned by Israel. “I don’t owe you an answer,” the activist said. Like bombing civilians and killing children. According to her, Israel must understand that the occupied country wants its territory back. At the end of her long speech, she shouted the slogan that resonated perhaps the most in the subsequent evening march through Prague: Cease fire! Now!, i.e. “Calm down! Now!”.
From Wenceslas Square, the crowd headed towards Old Town Square. He passed a group of pro-Israel protesters without incident. Other speeches took place on the Old Town Square, including a condemnation of the Israeli bombing from the standpoint of Christian theology. The crowd went on to Klárov, where the protest was ended. Overall, it was the fourth protest in support of Gaza in Prague since October 7, when Hamas attacked and the Israeli army attacked Gaza in retaliation with the aim of militarily destroying Hamas.