200,000 March On Israeli Embassy

Workers Revolutionary Party and Young Socialists banner among marchers approaching the Israeli Embassy
Workers Revolutionary Party and Young Socialists banner among marchers approaching the Israeli Embassy

OVER 200,000 people joined the largest-ever demonstration in Britain in support of the Palestinian people, when they marched in London on Saturday.

About 10,000 people also marched in Edinburgh and there were demonstrations in towns and cities throughout the country.

At a rally in Hyde Park, at the start of the London march, UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt, on behalf of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), demanded: ‘Free Gaza, free Gaza now! That’s what 6.5 million trade unionists are telling our government to do.

‘The TUC unreservedly condemns the illegal war on the people of Gaza and calls for an immediate ceasefire.

‘No more bombs, no more murder, no more excuses. Peace for Gaza!’

She continued: ‘We’re joining forces with people being murdered through no fault of their own.

‘We joined with the International Transport Workers Federation and the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions and flew food and medical supplies into Egypt for the Red Crescent in Gaza.

‘Send money to the TUC’s appeal to send real help to people who need it in that country!

‘Solidarity for people who are struggling for a just peace.’

Hunt concluded that the situation demanded ‘all trade unionists across the world . . . stand up and shout: Freedom for Palestine, for peace, peace!’

Gail Cartmail, of Unite, the largest trade union affiliated to the TUC, spoke of her ‘disgust and horror at the atrocities being rained down on our sisters and brothers in Gaza’.

But she said the massacre taking place in Gaza was not the first.

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The Palestinians have suffered ‘decade after decade of atrocities and oppression and horror’, she told the vast crowd that continued to swell Hyde Park before the start of Saturday’s demonstration.

She added: ‘Israel does not want us to see the pictures of children injured, murdered.

‘We must do all in our power to end this oppression, exploitation and horror against the Palestinians of Gaza!’

Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), told the rally: ‘It can never be right to bomb schools and educational institutions. They must be safe havens, and the things we are seeing being done in Gaza are utterly unacceptable.

‘We must stand with trade unionists internationally to support the people of Gaza, for freedom for Palestine.’

Alison Shepherd spoke on behalf of UNISON, the largest public sector trade union in Britain, with 1.3 million members.

She said her union has a record of ‘decades of campaigning on behalf of the Palestinian people’, adding that she was ‘very sad we are here today with such a situation. We are appalled by the situation in Gaza.’

Calling for a ceasefire to come into immediate effect, she said: ‘We are so disturbed by the medical situation. Hospitals and ambulance workers are coming under the most appalling attacks and caring for the sick and injured is so very, very difficult.

‘We call for an end to the occupation, because that is the source of the difficulty.’

The deputy general secretary of the PCS civil servants union, Hugh Lanning, said: ‘We should have been here year after year while Israel was oppressing the Palestinians.

‘Over the last two years Israel has sent 16,000 shells into Gaza, over 120 Palestinians were killed before the latest war and invasion, 5,000 Palestinians have been killed over the last eight years.

‘Our media say it’s the missiles and never the occupation. Palestinians were driven into Gaza by the occupation.

‘You can never equate the violence of the oppressed with the violence of the oppressors.

‘We must make sure there is a lifting of the blockade, a lifting of the siege. No EU trade agreement with Israel, no arms to Israel, no selling of Israeli products!’ he concluded to huge cheers.

Rally chairman Anas al-Tikriti said: ‘Israel is committing war crimes.

‘We say to our Palestinian brothers and sisters, we are with you until you are liberated.’

Andrew Murray, from the Stop The War Coalition, said: ‘This march has the support of all the major trade unions in the country.

‘We are here to demand stop the Gaza massacre, that Israel gets out of Gaza, to demand that the British government halts its support for the Israeli aggression and to free Palestine.’

A speaker from the Palestine Return Centre, said the British government and other Western governments had the power to stop the massacre and added: ‘We must show the Palestinians in Gaza they are not alone!’

A speaker from the Islamic Human Rights Committee, said: ‘What is new is international leaders from East and West supporting these murderers. How can they, when they see men, women and children being slaughtered by the Israelis?

‘We must not rely on these international leaders,’ he added, calling for a mass boycott of Israel.

Betty Hamilton, from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: ‘The British government will have to stop its complicity.

‘We have to get out on the streets and tell Brown and Miliband: stop supporting Israel!

‘Withdraw funds from Israeli companies, end the EU-Israel trade agreement, and boycott Israel.’

A letter was read out to the crowd from former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who called for the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador to London and the suspension of EU-Israel trade agreements.

Children’s poet laureate Michael Rosen also addressed the crowd with a poem for the children of Gaza.

There was silence when four children came on stage to read out the names of some of the hundreds of Palestinian children slaughtered by the Israeli occupation forces in the last two weeks.

Others speakers included a member of the European Human Rights Committee, as well as Bianca Jagger, Brian Eno and Annie Lennox.

All through the demonstration chants rang out of ‘Free, free Palestine!’, ‘Israel – terrorist!’, ‘Occupation no more!’, ‘Gaza, Gaza, hear us cry – we will never let you die!’, ‘One, two, three four – occupation no more! Five, six, seven, eight – Israel is a racist state!’, ‘Israel, you will see – Palestine will be free!’ and ‘Recognise Hamas!’

The massive demonstration was a sea of banners, placards and Palestinian flags, as people made their way down Bayswater Road, where riot police with batons drawn were guarding some gates to Kensington Gardens.

Police charged into the demonstration at one point as a tense stand-off developed and shoes were thrown at the gates.

But the demonstrators continued on towards High Street Kensington, where they were met by more lines of riot police.

Hundreds of riot police poured into the area as it got dark and sealed off a group of hundreds of people, only allowing a few out at a time and taking their photographs before they left.

Masked riot police, backed up by police on horseback, made repeated charges at the crowds, splitting people up and isolating those they had encircled in High Street Kensington, where the road towards the Israeli embassy was heavily guarded.

At one point police vans drove down the main road, before stopping and letting out police in black boiler suits.

One young demonstrator said: ‘They called us scumbags. They took us out. They took our pictures. They searched me and took my address.

‘I felt shell-shocked. They were closing down the crowd. There were children, ladies, old people.

‘We came here for a peaceful demonstration but they turned ugly and violent.

‘They told me to shut up. They blocked us all off at the Israeli embassy. It was just chaos.’

A woman said there were still hundreds of people trapped in by police near the road to the embassy.

‘I was really pushing to go out,’ she said, ‘but police were only allowing about five people out at a time. They’re taking pictures.

‘There were maybe 500 police around the demonstrators, if not more than that. There are more police on horseback.

‘I didn’t like it. We asked them, okay you want to block the area, so can we leave? and they refused.

‘I was surprised. I only came to see what was going on and then I was surrounded by the police.’

Earlier, some crash barriers were pushed away as people tried to get out.

Demonstrators kept up chants of ‘Free, free Palestine!’ and ‘Free Gaza now!’ and ‘Shame on you!’ at lines of riot police.

One steward announced: ‘They have completely closed off the route past the embassy.’

Euan, a demonstrator from Scotland, said: ‘We were going past the embassy when the police charged out and it caused a crush.

‘I saw people being carried away from the embassy injured.

‘There were women and children in the crush. I helped a young woman with two children get out.

‘Two of my friends have been injured.’

Another demonstrator said: ‘I was running from the police and a guy in front of me fell over. I tried to jump over him and I got two police batons on my back.’

‘There’s a girl who got trampled by a horse on High Street Kensington,’ said Simon, from London.

Peter, a steward, said: ‘There were quarter of a million people here today.

‘This is the biggest demonstration ever in support of the Palestinians and one of the biggest marches since the Iraq war and now there are police everywhere, but there are people still in front of the embassy.’

There were many more trade union banners on Saturday’s march than the previous weekend, when about 100,000 people joined an emergency demonstration from Westminster to Trafalgar Square.

The march doubled in size and included contingents from the PCS, TSSA, NUT, UCU, Unite and many other unions.

Just a few of the banners included those of Wolverhampton Trades Council, Shrewsbury College of Trade Union Studies, Hackney NUT, Kingston CND, Camden NUT, Manchester NUJ, Brent Stop The War Coalition, Oxford Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Southwark UNISON, Goldsmiths Student Union, Kensington and Chelsea Local Government UNISON, Birmingham NUT, the Muslim Association of Britain, as well as banners from Exeter, Nottingham, Chesterfield, Norwich, Southend and many more towns and cities.

There were homemade placards and banners which said things like: ‘Israel – Guilty of Murder’, ‘Livni is a tyrant’, Gordon Brown – Crime Minister’, and ‘Tony Blair – war criminal: Peace Envoy to the Middle East – the only peace you can deliver is the cemetery or the jail. Resign now! Europeans are ashamed of you.’

A contingent from the Workers Revolutionary Party and the Young Socialists kept up chants of: ‘One state – Palestine!’, ‘Free, free Palestine!’, Israel – terrorist!’

Hundreds of people joined in the chanting as they continued demanding: ‘What do we want? Palestinian state!’, ‘When do we want it? Now!’, ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free!’, ‘Intifada night and day! Zionism you will pay!’ and ‘End the siege of Gaza! Smash Zionism now!’

Zakia Begum, 17, from Bow, said: ‘The massacre is inhuman.

‘I think we need to get as much support as we can to the Palestinians.

‘I agree that the government should break off all links with Israel.’

As the demonstration assembled in Hyde Park, media worker Robat Hughes said: ‘You feel helpless watching what’s going on on TV.

‘The Palestinians are human beings like us. The British government is like the Americans, they support the Israeli government.

‘I think Israel are the true terrorists and the Palestinians are just fighting for survival, to stay alive. Israel has turned Gaza into a prison.’

Rashada Perveen, a local government worker, said: ‘We came here to give our support to the Palestinians because all these innocent people are being killed and the Western world isn’t doing anything to stop it.

‘Even the media is with Israel’s side.’

Trevor Harding, UCU member from London Met University, said: ‘I support a trade union boycott of Israel.

‘The unions here must not support the Israeli economy.

‘I urge everyone to support the Palestinians and we should do everything we can to stop the massacre.’

Bibi Farida, from Bradford, said: ‘I want to have my voice heard. I am utterly disgusted with how the government can justify the inaction over Israel’s massacre of Gazan people. I want it all to end, to place the same sanctions they have placed on Hamas, Iran and the other countries on Israel.’

Laura Ainsborough, 20, from Norwich, said: ‘I think we should lobby MPs and demand that they say on our behalf that it’s wrong for Israel to continue bombing Gaza.

‘There needs to be a fair ceasefire. The ceasefire being put forward is only fair for Israel.’

Remi Young, 16, from Lewisham, said: ‘I think it’s horrific what’s going on, sealing off Gaza and bombing it to smithereens. I don’t understand it.

‘Even people sheltering in a UN school, they bombed the UN. There is no reason and no need for that.

‘They said in Gaza they were firing rockets out into Israel, but in comparison to the amount they’re firing into Gaza that is not only unfair, it is inhumane.’

Loud chants of ‘Free, free Palestine’ and ‘Down, down Israel!’ continued to ring out from the vast crowd.

Jessie Fenn, a member of the GMB, union, said: ‘We need to do something. We went to the march last week.

‘We need to call for an embargo. We need to do what we did against apartheid in South Africa.

‘We need to use our trade union power to say we’re not going to put up with it and the trade union links with the Labour Party need to be used.

‘I personally don’t see why we’re funding a government or a party that doesn’t represent us.’

Lamya Elabdi, a student from Hackney, said: ‘We don’t agree with what’s going on, it’s disgraceful.

‘Everyone needs to get out on the streets. We need to go on strike until something is done.

‘People are dying every single day – children. We’re not going to stop until something is done.’

Mirza Khan, Salford City UNISON, said: ‘It’s an atrocity that they’re massacring innocent Palestinians and we’re here to make sure that our voice is heard for justice for the Palestinians – stop the killing.

‘Our union has issued a public call for unions to come here today. We’re going to put pressure on the Labour government to cut the economic ties with Israel.

‘The TUC should call a day of solidarity with the Palestinian people.’

Qamar Ramzan, from London, said: ‘It’s great there’s such a multi-ethnic background of people, of people who have turned out here today.

‘And considering that the politicans haven’t done very much, it just goes to show the people on the grassroots, they feel for what’s happening out there, and this is just a message to the Palestinians that people are thinking of them.

‘There needs to be a boycott of Israel, similar to what happened with Apartheid South Africa. Then maybe the Israelis might realise that by being ostracised and being a pariah state, it’s not good for them.’

Hewar Turk, from Derby, said: ‘How come coalition forces all went into Iraq because Iraq entered Kuwait and yet when the Israelis enter Gaza they can’t do anything about it?’

As the march approached High Street Kensington the chants got louder of ‘Free, free Palestine!’

Police in riot gear were blocking off roads.

There were chants of: ‘Bush, Bush – where are you? I want to hit you with my shoe!’

Joy Tong, from London, said: ‘Israel is showing contempt for the UN.

‘They are not fighting Hamas, they are trying to eliminate the people of Gaza.

‘If you kill women and children, you decimate the population, and that is what they’re doing.

‘I saw children burnt with phosphorus, which is banned. Israel should be taken to the court for war crimes, because they’re committing war crimes.

‘The marching must not stop until Palestine is free.’

Arif Mohamad, from the West Midlands, said: ‘I’ve never seen governments so afraid of the people as they are now.

‘You can see it on their faces; they are really worried. They didn’t expect this kind of reaction from the people. The people of the world have stood up against this massacre.

‘They tried to divide people into black and white, but it didn’t work.

‘Here you see black, white and blue, people of every colour, and we stand for the same thing, justice.

‘They tried to segregate and divide Hamas from the rest of the Middle East people. But now the whole of the Middle East has become Hamas, and they are actually standing up for Hamas, not Abbas and his authority.’

Mohamed Al-Qadoumi, a Palestinian, said: ‘I am a Palestinian. My family is there and I’ve got friends in Gaza.

‘I spoke to one of my friends who lives in Khan Younis in the middle of Gaza.

‘He says he has just spent hours to look for bread to feed his kids – just for one meal – and when he goes out he doesn’t know if he’s going to come back.

‘Imagine all the killing that Israel is doing in Palestine and the government is doing nothing.

‘Not only do they maintain diplomatic links with Israel, they trade with Israel and send weapons to the Israeli army.’