‘FREE Gaza now! Free Gaza now!’ was the cry of 5,000 mainly young people who swelled a mass picket opposite Downing Street on Saturday, in a demonstration of support for the Palestinian people and their struggle against the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip.
Banners from the University and College Union (UCU), CND, the British Muslim Initiative and Leeds University students were on the picket in Whitehall – amongst a sea of placards saying, ‘End the Siege of Gaza Now’, ‘Free Palestine’, ‘End the Israeli Occupation’ and ‘Stop Israeli war crimes!’
Children at the front of the picket led the chants of: ‘End the siege!’, as the demonstration continued into the early evening.
Other slogans included: ‘One, two, three, four – occupation no more! Five, six, seven, eight – Israel is a Zionist state!’, ‘Occupation is a crime! Israel out of Palestine!’, ‘Stop the killing, stop the crime! Israel out of Palestine!’, ‘Israel – terrorist!’, and ‘What do we want? Palestine! When do we want it? Now!’
A delegation crossed the road to Downing Street, whilst other demonstrators held up mock coffins draped in the Palestinian flag and dolls splattered with red paint to symbolise the Palestinian infants slaughtered in Israeli missile strikes and sniper attacks on Gaza.
Organisers demanded that the British government end support for Israel and take action to get the siege of Gaza lifted.
And an announcement was made that ‘We’re going to be here every other Saturday until we break the siege. . . What do we want? End the siege! When do we want it? Now!’
Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn and Respect MP George Galloway were among those who attended Saturday’s picket, which took place four days after the Palestinians in Gaza succeeded in breaching the wall at the Gaza-Egypt border and began flooding across the border to get urgently-needed supplies.
Several demonstrators spoke to News Line on Saturday.
Saeed said: ‘We came to support the Palestinians.
‘I think the attacks taking place on the Palestinians in Gaza are the result of the last meeting in Annapolis. I think Israel wants to divide the Palestinians.
‘What Israel wants from this siege is to crush the Palestinians. The Palestinians have no other choice but to break through the wall, they need food, they need to live, to survive.’
Adel Khattab, said: ‘I came here because I love Palestine.
‘Palestine is my original country and I’m not allowed to go there, and I hope the world will understand what is happening to us, and I hope they see the truth.’
Kanwal Tareq Hameed said: ‘I am here to protest against the complicity of Western governments in the crimes committed by the Israelis against the Palestinians.
‘The wall had to be broken. The Palestinians in Gaza are penned in from all sides.
‘They’re cut off from all the basic necessities of life – not only is it a threat to their survival, but it’s an insult to their dignity as human beings.
‘And I just wish Egypt had opened the border.
‘I think the whole occupation of Palestine must end.’
She added: ‘The myth is that Israel withdrew from Gaza and therefore their responsibility for the inhuman conditions of the people there ended.
‘But things like the wall and the siege show exactly who is in control of and who is responsible for the atrocious conditions there. And for me, first of all it’s Israel and then, secondly, it’s the complicity of their Western allies, and also the complicity of the Arab leaders with their shameful silence.’
Jude Flynn, 20, a student, said: ‘I’m here because I think the occupation of Palestine is despicable and it upsets me that the rest of the world either doesn’t know or doesn’t care.
‘It’s so good to see so many people here and all kinds of people.
‘I think young people should demonstrate and boycott Israel and spread awareness amongst their friends.
‘I think it’s really impressive the Palestinians in Gaza have finally managed to break down the wall.
‘That wall was a metaphor for the whole situation, the situation that they’re in, of occupation and homelessness.’
Majid Hussain, from Surrey, said: ‘I’m here because of the humanitarian crisis that’s going on in Gaza and in Palestine generally, as well as the discrimination that’s going on in Israel against the Arab minority.
‘There should be economic sanctions against Israel.’
Abdullah Islam, from east London, said: ‘I’ve come down here because of the injustice to the Palestinians which has lasted for 60 years and no one seems to want to do anything about it.
‘If this injustice was happening anywhere else in the world, it would be stopped. No killing like this anywhere else in the world would be allowed to go on.’
Tahir Gulamhussain, from UCL Friends of Palestine, said: ‘I have come here because I want to highlight what is going on in Gaza now and how people are being contained.
‘It’s the most densely populated piece of land on earth.
‘Up until this week, it was contained by two walls, there was no entry and no exit and no ability to live, because electricity, food, supplies, aid, were being stopped.
‘The United Nations International Court of Justice in 2004 advised almost unanimously that the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem are occupied Palestinian territories and ultimately the Israeli wall is illegal, and ruled that it should be knocked down and the Western powers should make sure it’s done.
‘And, therefore, if the Western powers won’t do it, we’re showing our solidarity with the Palestinians by telling them we support you if you destroy the fence, because, after all, it’s not our opinion – the highest court in the world said so!’
Akram Salhab, 19, from Leeds University, said: ‘We have an active Palestine solidarity group in Leeds and we wanted to send the message today that we have to stop the potential genocide in Gaza that’s happening at the moment.
‘Normally it’s a gradual ethnic cleansing that Israel employs, building the wall up to Palestinian population centres and ethnically cleansing the land in the process.
‘That process is something we constantly work against and is the reason for the establishment of our group.
‘But the situation in Gaza now is even more urgent, so that is why we have come down to demonstrate in London today.
‘We’re demanding Israel stops the siege of Gaza and the government in Britain puts pressure on Israel to end the occupation of Palestine, and that the EU suspends free trade agreements with Israel until the occupation ends.’
Laura McFarlane-Shopes, 21, from Leeds University, said: ‘The occupation has gone on 60 years too long.
‘The restriction of medical treatment is against international law and a crime against humanity.
‘The international community needs to hold Israel to account and Britain should play its part.
‘I think the Gazan people have absolutely every right to break down the walls that are surrounding them. Their children are starving and they have no water or fuel. What do you expect them do to!’
Simeon Das, 18, from Lewisham Young Socialists, said: ‘I’ve come down to defend the Palestinian people, because of what George Bush has done.
‘Everyone knows it’s about oil and he wants to take the oil, I’m not the first to say that.
‘I think there should be action by the working class in support of the Palestinians.
‘Imagine if another country came to invade Britain, we wouldn’t just stand there.
‘And they’re dropping bombs on the Iraqi children as well.
‘When the rich people go to war, it’s the poor people that die. It’s time for a revolution.’
Mohamed Sawalha, president of the British Muslim Initiative, told News Line: ‘We are working with all comrades from the socialist movement.
‘It’s really good today. We think it’s around 5,000 people, of all colours and from every part of the country, who came to show their support for Gaza and to pass a message to the Prime Minister that Britain has an historical responsibility, and now we can’t accept that Britain keeps silent while the Palestinians are suffering and starving because of the Israeli and American siege.
‘Thousands of the Palestinians have already passed away because of this policy.
‘Israel is now cutting their supplies of water and electricity and food and medicine and this is a crime – by anybody’s definition – against international law.
‘And nothing like this has happened before in history, and they have turned the Gaza Strip into a concentration camp, where 1.5 million people are living in a miserable situation, and dying, while everybody is watching.
‘We here in Britain think that all governments like Britain who are just keeping silent are part of the crime itself, and we are asking the government here to be with the people of Britain, who are supporting the rights of the Palestinians.
‘And we are organising this event in the same place every two weeks, and the next one will be on February 9.’