London Jews who recited kaddish for protesters killed in Gaza last week have defended their public prayer in Parliament Square – despite knowing that most of the dead were Hamas members.

Amid accusations and anger from within the Jewish community, a rabbi and a youth trip coordinator were among the mainly-young group to stand by their decision to say a Jewish prayer traditional recited in memory of the dead.

Nina Morris-Evans, an Oxford undergraduate due to lead RSY-Netzer tours to Israel this summer, said: “We all agreed that – as Jews – we could not condone this loss of life, and that we rejected the Israeli government’s justification of the killings.”

A total of 62 protesters were killed on Monday last week, bringing the total shot by IDF snipers to more than 100 in recent weeks, which has led the international community to demand an independent investigation.

Jewish groups in the UK were among those to criticise Israel’s actions, with some protesting outside Downing Street and others meeting in Parliament Square to say kaddish. But hours before the latter were due to meet, a senior Hamas figure revealed on TV that 50 of the 62 dead were Hamas members.

This week, however, Morris-Evans said: “I do not accept that the IDF acted in self-defence. Firing live ammunition at these unarmed protesters was not justifiable.”

She added: “By Jewishly mourning the lives lost, we were not condoning terrorism, Hamas or violence of any form. Rather, we were facing up to the ugly reality of what the occupation results in time and time again.

“On Seder night we dip our fingers in red wine while reciting the ten plagues to commemorate the Egyptian deaths that resulted from the Exodus.

“As diaspora Jews… we have a right and a responsibility to confront the reality of the devastation caused this week, and to come together to promote freedom and dignity for all. By saying kaddish we were showing that our Judaism acknowledges the humanity we share with others; that its roots lie in justice and equality.”

Reacting to the abuse he and others had received, Jake Cohen, another attendee, asked “why there seems to be no space in our community to mourn death and violence? Why is it that the idea of grieving over deaths, that only take us further away from peace, is met by so much vitriol and harassment in our community? Why has our community forgotten that ‘to lose a life is to lose an entire world’?”

Nina Morris-Evans and Jake Cohen