‘Free, free Palestine!’ shouted up to 15,000 marchers, as they made their way through central London yesterday to a rally in Trafalgar Square to mark the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba – catastrophe.
The march, organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, set off behind the lead banner which read: ‘End Israeli occupation, Free Palestine – 60 years since the Nakba, End the siege of Gaza, For the right of return of all Palestinian refugees.’
Marchers carried placards saying ‘Stop starving Palestinians’; ‘End criminal siege of Gaza’; ‘Stop Holocaust in Gaza’; ‘Free Palestine’.
There were banners and delegations from Palestine Solidarity Campaign groups across the country, Goldsmiths College Students Union, civil servants union PCS, and Croydon, Camden, Ealing, and Hammersmith trades councils.
A lively Young Socialists and WRP delegation won big support for its slogans of ‘From Baghdad to Ramallah, mobilise the Intifada! Occupation is a crime, in Iraq and Palestine! Hey ho, Israel has to go! Intifada night and day, Zionism you will pay! Free, Free Palestine!’
News Line spoke to a number of marchers. Nearly all supported a trade union organised boycott of Israel.
Retired teacher Roger Enskat said: ‘I want the Palestinians to have the same human rights as I have.
‘The British labour movement needs to regroup outside the Labour Party.
‘The Labour Party is a failed left organisation which is now a Trojan horse for capitalism.
‘Britain should summon the Israeli ambassador to tell his government to cease ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians, and withdraw all support and all trade from Israel until this happens.
‘The British government should send aid ships escorted by the Royal Navy to relieve the siege on the Gaza strip.
‘And the trade unions should refuse to handle any goods going to or coming from Israel.’
University of East Anglia (UEA) student Alistair Dickins told News Line: ‘We’re here to demonstrate our disgust at the Israeli apartheid state and what they are doing to the Palestinians.
‘It’s particularly important now that Israel has announced it is launching a holocaust against Gaza.
‘People need to realise that if things carry on the way they are, in 20 years time the Palestinians won’t have anything that resembles a homeland, let alone a state.
‘There needs to be a boycott of Israel, of Israeli goods.
‘The trade unions should organise a boycott. People should stand up at Trade Union Congress and say we are not having this, we need to hit Israel where it hurts – in the pocket.’
Fellow UEA student Ben Stack added: ‘The cause of Palestine doesn’t receive enough attention and sympathy from the public because of the appalling media bias and the fact that it is not a vote winner.
‘Demonstrations like this are good things as is boycotting Israeli products.
‘If you explain to someone what is going on, they will be sympathetic. It’s a difficult cause not to get passionate about once you know the facts.’
British A-level student Sam al-Majali has Jordanian and English parents.
He said: ‘This is an issue that is close to my heart and it’s important for other Middle Easterners to empower themselves and fight in support of the Palestinians.
‘Arab governments are pretty cowardly, they don’t want to get involved because it is too global.
‘There are not enough people who know about the problem so demonstrations like this are important.
‘Trade unions in Britain should organise a trade boycott of Israel. It’s not enough to leave it to individuals.
‘I would support a Palestinian intifada. They have nothing left, not water, not food, not fuel.’
UCU member Arfaan Khan a lecturer at Queen Mary University, London, said: ‘What is happening in Palestine has been going on too long, for 60 years.
‘The occupation is immoral, it’s definitely unjust the way Palestinians’ rights have been ignored, as well as their democratic choice to elect who they want.
‘It’s about time world leaders made a genuine effort to provide Palestinians with peace, a viable economy and, most importantly, the right to self-determination.’
Syrian Khal Wasfi said: ‘I’m against the occupation. I’m here to call for its end and to stop the systematic holocaust in Gaza.
‘Boycotting Israeli goods is one of the things that can be done by the trade unions.
‘We are also calling for action by governments. Israel gets its power from the support of the Western governments.’
Retired nurse Ann Cochran told News Line: ‘I was a midwife in Nazareth in an Arab hospital years ago.
‘I saw what the Israelis were doing – building settlements.
‘I now have contacts out there and with the Wall I know they are having difficulty accessing medical care and getting to their work.
‘I feel it’s appalling and grossly unfair, like apartheid.
‘I agree with a trade union boycott of Israel.’
Gap year student Niall Reddy added: ‘I’m here because it’s a terrible situation for the Palestinians.
‘There should be sanctions on Israel. The trade unions should take a lead and impose sanctions themselves.’
Palestinian Nisrwen Abdullah said: ‘I’m a refugee from Zdood, south Jaffa, and I’m here because I won’t rest until I get my right to return.
‘It’s outrageous that many people are dying every day – women. children, men – fighting for their freedom.
‘I agree that the British trade unions should boycott Israel, definitely.’
Turkish waitress Ezime Mengies declared: ‘I’m here for Palestine.
‘The situation is terrible there. I think the world doesn’t care for Palestine.
‘The trade unions should boycott Israel. People should stop using Israeli products.
‘And the unions should take action against the British for supporting Israel.
‘People all round the world should join together.
‘We live in dangerous times, they are getting ready for a third world war.
‘It’s a holocaust against the Palestinians, yet the newspapers are silent.’
PLO delegate to Britain Manuel Hassassian told the Trafalgar Square rally: ‘We are here not only to commemorate Nakba but to renew our vows of resistance.
‘The international community are the ones who support the occupation today.’
He warned Israeli leaders that ‘the patience of the Palestinian people is running out’.
He stressed: ‘We have the right to resist occupation and US imperialism.
‘We don’t need the charity of the international community, we need our justice and freedom.
‘Our problem is not humanitarian, it’s political, it’s our right to come back to Palestine.
‘The right to return is sacred and we will never compromise on Jerusalem.
‘With the arrests and shootings, Israel is continuing the Nakba.
‘It will continue until we liberate our people from the occupation.’
Respect MP George Galloway said: ‘Today we remember all the martyrs, down the 60 years – Yasser Arafat, Abu Jihad, George Habash, Sheikh Rantisi and the thousands of others.
‘Today, we remember the thousands of prisoners in Israeli jails.
‘We demand the release of Palestinian hero Marwan Barghouthi so he can take his place among the leaders of Palestine.
‘Palestinians in Gaza are eating off rubbish tips because they are starving
‘Our government, for whatever political reasons, talks about starving in Burma but we are responsible for people starving in Gaza, we share responsibility for letting them starve.
‘We must pledge action for Gaza and the future of Palestine.’
He concluded: ‘It’s time to boycott everything Israeli.’
Palestinian MP Dr Mustafa Barghouti said: ‘Israel has established a world record by the fastest ethnic cleansing in 1948, the longest occupation, and apartheid that is much worse that it was in South Africa.’
He added: ‘Our Palestinian people are fighting for equality, freedom, self-determination, democracy and the rights others have.
‘I come to you with a message from Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin and Gaza – we the Palestinian people will never give up!’
He said that the Annapolis peace conference ‘was an illusion’; that Israel has stepped up its attacks, expanded settlements and built hundreds more checkpoints since.
He concluded, ‘We must regain our unity and establish a unified leadership’ and called for a new anti-apartheid movement in support of Palestine.
Palestinian prime minister Ismael Haniya sent greetings by video link He condemned the ‘brutal occupation’ adding that, ‘Every single strand of life is threatened because we said no to occupation.’
He insisted, ‘We shall achieve freedom and independence and shall never give up our rights to return.’
Other speakers included Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, Dr Tamimi, Tony Benn, and Green Party MEP Caroline Lucas.
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