BOYCOTT ISRAEL! – demands Free Palestine rally

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Over 5,000 members and supporters of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign last Saturday marched and rallied in central London under the banner of Free Palestine.

The march and rally marked the 57th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe), the founding of the Zionist entity of Israel in 1948.

Marchers chanted, ‘Free, free Palestine – Occupation is a crime! No justice, no peace! Bush, Sharon – terrorists! The Wall must fall!’

As well as Palestine Soldarity Campaign banners, there were banners from Stop the War Coalition, Anti-Imperialist Bloc, Wandsworth TUC, Natfhe national banner, NUT national banner, Westminster NUT, Camden NUT, and Wandswoth NUT.

News Line spoke to some of the marchers before they moved off.

Halima said: ‘I’m here to support Palestine. I want to see an end to the occupation. Free Palestine – that’s it.’

Abdi Raed, a Palestinian student from Bethlehem, added: ‘I came here to support my people because they are in a very bad situation.

‘I was living in Bethlehem last year and can’t do enough to support them.

‘Our leaders and the leaders of the West have changed their minds.

‘They are not fighting the occupation or to push Israel to a deal under UN conditons – to end the occupation.’

Anita Rani, an actor from Erith in Kent was with a group of her friends.

She told News Line: ‘We’re doing a play about Palestine. It’s called “Walled in. Walled out.”

‘I want to know why it isn’t stopped. Israel has been occupying Palestine since 1948.

‘And there is very little about the palestinian struggle in the newspapers.

‘Workers in Britain should support the Palestinians. They should take action against the occupation here in Britain.

‘It’s all about money and power.

‘Britain has gone to other countries and taken their land, and then when there are refugees, they say, “We don’t want you here.”

‘People should be told what’s going on.’

Natasha Spars from Bromley added: ‘Before we did this show, none of us had a clue about Palestine.

‘We found out the history. What it’s like living under occupation.

‘We’re against the Wall – it’s not just a wall, it’s making Palestine into a prison.’

Helen Revell from Abbeywood said: ‘They’re using it to steal Palestinian land. The Israelis are taking what they want.

‘Tony blair says he wants peace in Palestine but he’s still supplying Israel with military equipment.

‘Bush gives millions to Israel and arms it with jet planes.’

Freha, a lawyer, said: ‘I’m here to fight against oppression. The Palestinian people need to be given their rights and treated with respect.

‘They don’t need to be killed or their homes bulldozed.

‘Blair is turning a blind eye. They go into other countries when it suits their interests but leave Israel to get on with it.’

Dave Ashworth, a school technician from Uxbridge, west London said: ‘I’m here because the occupation of any country is wrong.

‘I stood against the war on Iraq, I stand against the occupation of palestine and I stand against any military intervention in the Middle East.

‘We need to replace New Labour with a proper workers’ government.’

At the Trafalgar Square rally, speakers called for an anti-apartheid boycott of Israel.

The rally supported the decision of the AUT university lecturers’ union conference for an academic boycott of two Israeli universities.

Introducing the speakers, Carol Regan of Palestine Solidarity Campaign told the rally: ‘Today is cup final day. Only recently, Palestinian footballers were shot for protesting against the Wall.’

Sue Blackwell, the Birmingham lecturer who moved the AUT motion to boycott Israeli universities, told the rally: ‘The academic boycott is advice to our members, it’s not enforceable.

‘No one can be booted out of the union for attending a seminar in Israel.

‘The AUT has about 50,000 members.

‘Why is it that the whole world has erupted since the vote for a boycott?

‘Foreign Minister Kim Howell is the latest to join in the attack.’

She added: ‘I do not know of a special conference of the union ever being called after a vote at annual conference.

‘We are against a well-organised campaign.

‘The AUT has received two threats of legal action.

‘We can’t afford a libel action.

‘The University of Haifa said it is defamation but I do not retract one word of that motion.

‘Haifa academics held a conference on “the demographic problem” – they mean Palestinians have too many children.

‘I have been accused of being anti-semitic.

‘But we have let the cat out of the bag now and things will never be the same.

‘As a result of the boycott campaign, the phrase “academic apartheid” has entered the English language.

‘We are here to stay and fight, whatever happens next week.’

Husam Zomlot, of the Palestinian General Delegation in the UK, said: ‘Fifty-seven years and the catastrophe is continuing. The Israelis are contining their ethnic cleansing – assassinations, checkpoints, blockades.

‘There will be no peace no reconciliation until the right of return is fully realised. The right of return is non-negotiable.’

He added: ‘Who would imagine in the 1980s that the Apartheid regime of South Africa would fall?

‘We shall proceed on the path of democracy – but our democracy, not Sharon’s democracy. We shall proceed on the path of peace, but peace with justice.

‘We will not be defeated. We shall overcome.’

NATFHE general secretary and member of the TUC general council, Paul Mackney said: ‘The UK press in recent weeks has spilt gallons of ink on the question of academic freedom.

‘It has said little or nothing on the denial of freedom for many Palestinians.

‘It has barely lifted its pen on what Shaher Sae’d of the GFTU called a living hell for the Palestinian people.’

Mackney called on Blair and Straw to stop the sale of arms to Israel until it ends its occupation of Palestinian lands, demand the withdrawal of occupying Israeli forces and ‘set an example by withdrawing from Iraq’.

Respect MP George Galloway told the rally: ‘Yasser Arafat saved the Palestinian people from being a forgotten people.

‘We call for the release of Marwan Barghouthi.

‘Our country’s responsibility in this crime against Palestinians must be acknowledged.

‘Balfour made his declaration before the descent into bloody fires of hell for the Palestinian people. It’s about time Britain made some reparation for that.

‘Blair said Israel has no best friend. We have to make up for the crimes of the British government.

‘We must rise up and come to the side of the Palestnian people – boycott Israel.’

Amneh Badran of the Jerusalem Centre for Women said: ‘Palestinian refugees have no right of return.

‘The Balfour Declaration was part of a colonial mentality.

‘Palestinians have suffered inequality and injustice. They have been driven off their land. They have been denied the right to self-determination.

‘But the will of the Palestinian people is not broken.

‘We need to carry forward the resistance. But we need international pressure and support.

‘You can help us by doing an economic boycott against Israel.’

Sharif Omar, regional coordinator Qalqilya Stop the Wall Campaign, said: ‘I am a farmer. I’m from a small village. Seventy-five per cent of our land is behind the Wall.

‘All my land is behind the Wall. They allow us through for an hour each day.

‘The Wall is six metres high. It is 28 metres from our houses.

‘They say it is to prevent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians. It is only to confiscate our land and steal our water. It is for denigration.

‘We have daily difficulties, we have daily problems.

‘One million Palestinans are required to emigrate to secure the needs of Haifa University. Sharon will replace them with a million Jews from around the world.

‘The Israeli government says it has the right to confiscate our land for water for sewerage for the settlements.

‘In Jerusalem, they built Maale Adumin. They’ve expanded it now. They’re building 1,500 more homes.

‘Great Britain has the main responsibility for the fate of the Palestinian state.’

He added: ‘We must have the right to return. We call for a serious boycott against Israel.

‘We have a right to our freedom.

‘Support the the academic boycott. End the occupation.

‘Kofi Annan did not tell Israel you have to pull down the Wall. We don’t need compensation – we need freedom.’

Other speakers included Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary, Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, former Labour minister and MP Tony Benn, Muamar Orabi (Anti-apartheid Wall Campaign), and Azzam Tamimi (Muslim Association of Britain).