Cape Town - During a recent vigil in solidarity with Palestine held at the “Freedom Steps” of the St. George's Cathedral, several children created paper birds to remember and place a name to the thousands of children killed as a result of the Israeli military aggression in Gaza, Palestine.
The uniquely and carefully crafted birds were then pinned to fabric in the colours of the Palestinian flag on the tree against a red fabric backdrop, for all to bear witness to.
The following morning, the bare tree and some of the paper birds were found strewn on the grounds and the fabric missing.
Since the start of the bombardment of Gaza, the church has held a public interfaith ‘Freedom for Palestine’ vigil each Wednesday at 1pm, calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire.
The vigil has taken many forms such as silent vigils, candlelight vigils, and drumming on the steps. The cathedral steps hold particular significance as it was a site of anti-apartheid protests and marches led by the late archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The most recent vigil was inspired by Birds of Gaza, a community art project for children to create a handmade bird for each child killed in Israel’s war on Gaza.
Of the 22 313 people killed in Gaza, 8 500 were children, with the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres describing it as a “graveyard for children”.
Seventy percent of those killed are reported to be women and children and close to 60 000 Palestinians have been reported injured.
St George’s Cathedral member and human rights defender Bonita Bennett said the vigils have been taking place since the first Wednesday after the war on Gaza started and is set to continue indefinitely.
“In trying to remind people that the children who were killed are more than stats, that they had identities, wishes and dreams, relationships of love and care - we sought ways to humanise them,” Bennett said.
“As adults we should be concerned about how we build empathy in the next generations, how we use modalities beyond words and lectures, to help children and youth to understand why they should care.
“Art and tapping into creativity is a wonderful way to engage young minds, and we invited families to join us in the steps, adding young to the vigil which usually consists of periods of silence and periods of chanting.”
On December 6, two law enforcement officers interrupted the vigil of less than 12 people, claiming to have acted on a complaint and questioned whether a permit or permission had been sought for the gathering, held on church property.
St George’s Cathedral Dean, Father Michael Weeder appealed for greater public surveillance and any information related to the incident and others, following similar “seemingly motivated acts of political vandalism”.
Before Christmas, swathes of material draped around the tree suggesting a Palestinian flag, were also removed.
“It’s a recurring problem whenever we put any reference to a free Palestine on any of the trees on the steps, which is on Cathedral property, posters have been taken off... Its been happening since from about November onwards when things have just been torn off and then we just quietly go about replacing it, hoping that people will see that we’re not fighting anybody but we just want to be a consistent protest against an injustice to people elsewhere.”
The church, which has since the mid-1990s, hoisted a rainbow flag in solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community, saw a group of young people lowering and removing the flag from the cathedral's flagpole, in September 2023.