OVER 100,000 people took part in the largest-ever demonstration Britain has seen in support of the Palestinian people on Saturday, as Israel invaded the impoverished Gaza Strip.
Over 450 Palestinians have already been massacred by missile strikes from the air, sea and land since last week.
A march of an estimated 100,000 people took place in London on Saturday, but many thousands more also marched in 30 towns and cities across the country, from Glasgow, to Manchester, to Tunbridge Wells, as part of a worldwide day of anger against Israel’s bombing of Gaza.
The London march was addressed by MPs including ex-Labour Cabinet Minister Clare Short, anti-war MP George Galloway and Jeremy Corbyn, as well as trade union leaders from the PCS and NUJ, and celebrities including Bianca Jagger and Annie Lennox and Arab and Palestinian leaders, including the Palestinian ambassador to Britain.
There were banners on the march from across London and other parts of the country, including: Selly Oak Stop The War Coalition, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, ‘Zionism Is the Real Terrorism’, Southend Stop The War Coalition, CND, Hackney Stop The War Coalition, City and Islington College UCU, the National Union of Journalists and the Muslim Association of Britain – just to name some.
There were many more banners and a sea of placards, with marchers still leaving from the Embankment as a rally was taking place in Trafalgar Square.
All through the demonstration there were loud chants of ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free!’ ‘Stop the killing, stop the crime! Israel out of Palestine!’ ‘Olmert – terrorist!’ ‘George Bush – terrorist!’ ‘Israel is a terrorist regime!’ ‘Stop the bombing of Palestine!’ ‘Free, free Palestine!’ ‘People of Gaza – we are with you!’
A contingent from the Workers Revolutionary Party and Young Socialists marched under their banner, which said: ‘End the siege of Gaza; End the occupation of Palestine; For the defeat of Zionism and imperialism’, as they chanted slogans including: ‘What do we want? Palestinian state! – When do we want it? Now!’ and ‘Victory to the Intifada!’
The call was made from the plinth of Trafalgar Square where the march ended for everyone to go on to demonstrate outside the Israeli Embassy in Kensington.
Tens of thousands then attempted to march to the embassy, but their path was blocked by hundreds of police, including police in riot gear.
A group of about 1,000 protesters were trapped in an underpass at Hyde Park, with riot police sent down into the tunnel.
George Galloway emerged from the tunnel to talk to police and the marchers were eventually allowed to emerge from the underpass and go on to Kensington, surrounded by riot police and police vans.
When they reached the embassy thousands more were already demonstrating in the street and had unfurled a giant Palestinian flag.
‘Israel – terrorist!’, ‘Free, free Palestine!’ the crowd were shouting, before news of the invasion of Gaza had reached them.
Later, mounted riot police were used to scatter demonstrators from the road as roads were sealed off around the centre of London.
A national demonstration has been called from Hyde Park to the Israeli Embassy for next Saturday.
Earlier on Saturday, as the London march made its way from the Thames Embankment via Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, dozens of shoes landed in the road opposite the entrance to Downing Street, in a show of anger at the British government’s support for Israel.
As the march started, the crowd shouted ‘In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians!’
Speaking as the marchers were assembling, Sarah Smyth, from Newham Young Socialists, told News Line: ‘We disagree with the deaths being caused.
‘If it was our family, we would feel as the Palestinians do. We would be really upset.’
Abul Bakar, from Hackney, added: ‘Thousands of Palestinians have been made homeless by the bombs.’
‘And there’s no medicine, don’t forget,’ added Kim Francis, from Newham.
Naz Alam, who had come to join the London march from Surrey, said: ‘We need to make our voices heard, to make people realise the inhumanity and the injustice that’s been done to the Palestinians in an ongoingwar for the last 60 years.
‘It’s a David versus Goliath war.
‘What is taking place is indiscriminate slaughter and it’s barbarity and every human being should stand up and say it is.
‘Gaza has been described as hell on earth because of the Israeli blockade; they have turned Gaza into a concentration camp.
‘Nelson Mandela has said it is one of the greatest injustices being done to humankind at this moment.’
Rob Dyas, from north London, said: ‘The British trade unions should continue to lobby parliament and use whatever control they’ve got over the Labour Party and the people in power to stop the bombing.’
Anne Dyas said: ‘Israel wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for American support.
‘I support the call for a boycott of Israel.’
Rezina Malik, from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: ‘I think the media coverage is so biased.
‘They don’t tell the true story.’
Ajmal Afzal, from London, said: ‘I think if people stay silent and let the brutality continue, then people think it’s okay.
‘But we have to show the government here that the majority of people in Britain are not happy with their support for Israel.’
Student Maeve Kelly from London said: ‘I’m here because innocent people are being killed.
‘I think the turnout here shows people won’t ignore Israel’s atrocities. They can’t just kill people and then brush it under the carpet.
‘I think the British government is wrong to block the United Nations and stop them from passing a resolution to stop the bombing of the Palestinians.
‘I think there should be a boycott of Israel. People have to stay true to their consciences.’
Abdul Rahman, from Croydon, said: ‘We are marching to stop the war, to stop the killing of innocent people.
‘Big countries like America, why are they not opening their eyes? And Egypt should open their eyes and help the Palestinians now because they are the closest ones.’
Mohamed Irfan, from Crawley, said: ‘America should be for peace, not selling weapons to Israel – they are killing innocent people.’
Rosa Dunn and Roxy Khan, students from Essex University, said: ‘There is a big leftist movement at our university and we all came down today to support the Palestinians.
‘Young people must remember this is human lives being taken and it’s happening now.
‘At Essex University we want to occupy to demand a halt to the bombing.’
Sean Vernell, from the UCU lecturers trade union at City and Islington College, said: ‘Our union campaigns vociferously for the freedom of the Palestinian people.
‘The British trade unions must put as much pressure as possible on our government to get the Israeli government to immediately stop bombing Gaza and continue to put pressure on our government and the American government to pull troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.’
Police ordered one group of protesters to take down their banner.
One protester said the banner had a slogan on it saying that ‘Britain has blood on its hands’.
‘They said the banner was unacceptable and it was too big and that it had a metal support.’
The crowd shouted ‘Israel and Gordon Brown – terrorists!’ as the march passed Downing Street.
Another banner on the march proclaimed ‘We are Hamas’, demonstrating the mass support for the elected Palestinian government in Gaza by both the Palestinian people and people all over the world.
An Israeli flag was also set on fire by angry demonstrators.
‘It’s important, the people need to voice their opinion, to show the world we can’t stand by and let this happen and show the world we’re not happy with what’s happening,’ said one demonstrator on the way to Trafalgar Square.
One placard read: ‘Palestinian deaths: 450-plus, Israeli deaths: four. Who’s the terrorist?’
Mudassar, from Birmingham, said: ‘At the moment there is nothing the British government is doing for the Palestinians.
‘The British trade unions should take strike action.
‘If one British soldier dies in Iraq, it is all over the news.
‘Four hundred people die in Palestine and what is the British government saying – nothing!’
‘The Palestinians are fighting with whatever they’ve got, just bricks, and the Israelis have got the superpower America and the British government behind them, and they have got all the latest weapons.
‘They are occupying Palestinian land in the first place. They shouldn’t even be there.’
One of the first speakers at the rally at Trafalgar Square was Bianca Jagger, who said at least 400 Palestinians had been massacred by Israel in Gaza, including more than 50 children, in the last week.
‘We as a society that stands for human rights can’t allow that to go on,’ she said.
Habib Rahman, who followed her, said: ‘We demand an end to the massacre of the defenceless people of Gaza.’
In a message to the Palestinians, he said: ‘The people of Britain cannot, have not and will not abandon you. We share your grief and we share your loss.
‘We say to the Israeli regime: this is barbarity of the worst sort.’
He added ‘shame on you’ to the leaders of the British and American governments for giving ‘tacit support’ to the slaughter of Gaza’s inhabitants.
And he added further: ‘To the western media, we say your silence is deafening. Let the people know what is going on in Gaza.’
Musician Brian Eno said the 1.5 million inhabitants of the tiny Gaza Strip had already been denied food, water and sanitation by the siege of the Israeli occupation forces surrounding them, before the bombing began.
‘Yet,’ he added, ‘Israel is pretending to be the victim in a situation in which they are the oppressor.
‘They will continue to build settlements, they will continue to get large grants from the Americans, they will continue to create a Warsaw Ghetto in the Middle East.’
Ex-London Mayor Ken Livingstone said: ‘If you think you can win an election by the indiscriminate slaughter of defenceless men, women and children, you are wrong – this has to end.’
Livingstone called for the withdrawal of Britain’s ambassador to Israel and the halt of imports of Israeli goods to Britain.
Jeremy Corbyn MP condemned the ‘cynical hypocrisy’ of Israeli Foreign Minister Livni, saying, ‘We telephone and text people before we destroy their homes.’
Clare Short MP, former Labour cabinet minister, said: ‘What’s happening in Gaza is immoral, illegal under international law and it will not succeed.’
She said she had been to Gaza two months ago and met Hamas Prime Minister Ismael Haniya.
She said Haniya had told her: ‘We agreed a ceasefire. Who broke the ceasefire? – Israel. It bombed Gaza and then tightened the siege. . .
‘We will accept a long-term truce on the basis of the 1967 boundaries.’
Short concluded: ‘Peace is available. Israel doesn’t want it! It wants the land, not the people.
‘We must change the government’s policy and Palestine will be free.’
Singer Annie Lennox said: ‘The clock is ticking.
‘In 24 hours, it is very likely the Israeli government will order their troops to enter Gaza.
‘Can you imagine what that will be like?’
Professor Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, said: ‘The Palestinian people will not kneel down, we will not accept these aggressors’ crimes.
‘The Palestinians will never be crushed!
‘Our resistance will continue until we gain our independence.
‘It’s a shame to let these war criminals advocate “democracy’’ while committing heinous crimes against the Palestinians.
‘The Palestinian people aren’t going to accept these crimes.
‘Our brave brothers and sisters are resisting this with great boldness.
‘Overcome the occupation and free Palestine!’
Ismael Patel, from the Friends of Al Aqsa, referred to the deaths of ‘five brothers and sisters’, who ‘went to bed and never woke up’.
PCS civil service union deputy general secretary, Hugh Lanning, called for a movement on the scale of the massive anti-apartheid movement that helped to bring about the downfall of white minority rule in South Africa.
John Rees, from the Stop the War Coalition, said Israel ‘is the biggest recipient of military and civilian aid from America in the world.
‘We have to back the Palestinians and the resistance of the Arab masses across the Middle East – open the borders at Rafah now!’
Amina Blake, from the Muslim Association of Britain, said: ‘Surely it is the prime minister’s duty to speak on behalf of the British people.
‘These British people are protesting and shouting “No, no, no!’’
‘This demonstration is the beginning of an even greater voice that will echo around the world: make it stop!’
Palestine Solidarity Campaign General Secretary Betty Hunter said the mass demonstration was a ‘fantastic message to the Palestinian people we’re standing with them’.
Dr Daoud Abdullah, deputy-general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: ‘Israel defeated three Arab states in six days. After eight days, Gaza is still standing on its feet!
‘They hoped with their siege for the last two years that they would bring the Palestinians to their knees.’
He said their failure to defeat the Palestinians in Gaza had made the Israelis ‘hysterical’.
‘This is why they are attacking mosques, schools and universities.’
Anti-war MP George Galloway said Gaza had been turned into ‘the new Warsaw ghetto’, which was murdering Palestinians.
He also added that ‘the Egyptian government bears joint responsibility’.
He condemned Egyptian President Mubarak for ‘embracing Livni as the bombs were falling and locking the border with Rafah’.
Palestinian writer Dr Ibrahim Hamami said the slaughter of more than 450 Palestinians in the last week in Gaza was equivalent to massacring 20,000 people and injuring 100,000 more in a country the size of Britain.
Kate Hudson, from CND, said: ‘There is no equivalence militarily between the might of Israel and the impoverished people who are trapped in Gaza. Israel is a nuclear armed state.’
Maryam, from Gaza, said as well as killing almost 500 Palestinians there, Israel has wounded nearly 3,000 people and many would die because what hospitals there are have no electricity and medicines have run out.
She said Israeli missiles have hit ‘mosques, schools, civilian homes and even hospitals’.
She said the ‘silence’ of Gordon Brown ‘does not represent the views of the British people’.
She called on the British government ‘to support the legally elected government of Hamas, to demand an immediate ceasefire, to make these illegal criminals stop’.
She concluded: ‘Israel was established on illegal terms, Israel is running the largest illegal prison, Israel is an illegal entity. Free Palestine!’
National Union of Journalists General Secretary Jeremy Dear said: ‘On behalf of the millions of trade unionists affiliated to the Stop the War Coalition, I am proud to stand with you today for peace.’
Dear said that without justice there can be no peace in the Middle East.
He added: ‘There can be no justice while Palestine is under siege, until the occupation is ended, until the Apartheid Wall is brought tumbling down, while refugees are denied the right to return to their homes and tanks, bombs and checkpoints mete out collective punishment to the Palestinian people, and Israel is allowed to act with impunity, in defiance of numerous UN resolutions.’
Another speaker, Sayeed Mohamed, asked: ‘Do leaders in the West think the children in Gaza are lesser human beings?
‘Show us the proof that they are really sincere about human rights. The people and children of Gaza are human beings!’
Ibrahim Hewitt, chair of the charity Interpal, said a campaign was being waged to try and stop the charity, which aids Palestinians.
‘The Americans and Israelis have called us criminals, terrorists!
‘Why? We give food, shelter. We feed orphans and help widows.
‘The people who help the Israelis with their bombs and missiles, they are the terrorists!’
He denounced Israeli Foreign Minister Livni.
Osama, from the Free Gaza boats campaign that sailed to Gaza and broke the siege, got a huge cheer from the crowd in Trafalgar Square.
‘We can do it. Yes we can!’ he said.
‘Two years ago, we had a dream of going to Gaza without going through Egypt, Israel or Jordan, to go to Gaza directly. It took us two years.
‘On August 23 last year we got there on boats,’ he said to more cheers from the crowd.
‘And now, with over 100,000 people on the streets of London, yes, we can do it again.’
The vast crowd shouted joined in chants of ‘Gordon Brown – shame on you!’ as the rally finished with a poem, ‘Long Live Palestine, Long Live Gaza’, accompanied by members of the group Babyshambles.
‘This is not a war, this is systematic genocide, but whatever they try, Palestine will never die!’
After organisers called ‘for an even bigger, national demonstration’ next Saturday from Hyde Park to the Israeli Embassy, thousands responded to the call to go directly to the Israeli embassy to continue demonstrating.
But they were met by large numbers of riot police who tried to contain the crowd, blocking the road.
Some marchers were allowed to slowly make their way through Piccadilly to the embassy.
Nasir Begum, from Birmingham, said: ‘I’m happy that so many people have come out, but I’d like to see more.
‘I think we should boycott all Israeli products. That money is helping to fund the killing of the children in Gaza.’
Ghyda Senussi, from Leicestershire, said: ‘It’s amazing how many people have come to support the Palestinians.
‘We’re going to the Israeli embassy to show our support and solidarity to the Palestinians, so that they know they’re not alone, and also to put an end to Zionism.’
Student Lothfa Ali, from east London, said: ‘I have seen the images from Gaza and the pictures have really got to me.
‘The Israelis could negotiate. No more killing.’
Outside the gates of the Israeli embassy police photographers were filming marchers and there were shouts of ‘Shame on you!’ from the crowd when police in riot gear began trying to disperse the crowds.
A giant Palestinian flag was unfurled to show the support of people in Britain for the besieged population of Gaza and demonstrators kept up chants of ‘Israel – terrorist!’ and ‘Free, free Palestine!’