OVER 20,000 youth, trade unionists and solidarity activists marched through central London on Saturday demanding ‘End the occupation – free Palestine!’ on the 40th anniversary of the Israeli invasion of the Palestinian lands in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza Strip.
Israeli forces also invaded Egypt and Syria’s Golan Heights, but were later driven out of Egypt.
Banners from every corner of Britain were on Saturday’s march, including the national banner of UNISON, Britain’s biggest trade union, ENOUGH! – the campaign to end the siege of the Palestinians – the Muslim Association of Britain, Friends of Palestine and Palestine Solidarity Campaigns and Stop The War Coalitions from Leeds to Leicester.
They kept up loud chants in support of the Palestinian people’s epic struggle since 1967 and demanded a boycott of Israel, waving Palestinian flags and placards as they marched.
The demonstration took place simultaneously with protests all over the world.
At a rally in Trafalgar Square, they heard a special video broadcast from the Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya in besieged Gaza, which is surrounded by Israeli land, sea and air forces.
Prime Minister Haniya said: ‘Warm greetings from the land of Palestine, the Gaza Strip, West Bank and from Jerusalem.
‘I am addressing you on this powerful occasion of the 40th anniversary of the occupation of large areas of Palestine.
‘I salute you all for your stand and solidarity and warm, brotherly and patriotic true feelings.’
He said the 1967 war was waged by the Zionist Israeli leadership to complete the ‘occupation of Palestine and ethnic cleansing started in 1948’.
He added that the world paid no attention to the ‘systematic destruction of Palestine’, and this situation persisted until the Intifada – uprising – by the Palestinian masses in 1987.
‘The Intifada awakened the world and made it known that a new generation of Palestinians were yearning for freedom.
‘During the first two years, Israel killed 594 Palestinians, most of them children,’ the Palestinian prime minister continued.
‘Through the Intifada the Palestinian people expressed themselves.’
Ismail Haniya told the London rally that the Palestinian people are ‘rooted in their land’.
He said that after the 1993 Oslo accords, ‘contrary to expectation, Palestinian life became much more difficult . . . the rate of settlements increased.
‘Israel threatened the very existence of the Palestinian people on their land.
‘Israel has ignored the international community and continued with the building of the Apartheid Wall.
‘In this 21st century, would any Western government find it acceptable for its people to be caged in?’ he asked.
He said with all the obstacles Israel has put up by force and persecution and ‘facts on the ground’, it has become ‘impossible’ to establish a viable Palestinian state on the 1967 territories.
He demanded the ‘lifting of the inhuman economic siege’ and ‘the freeing of Palestinian captives’, adding that 20 per cent of the Palestinian people had been taken prisoner since 1967.
Prime Minister Haniya added: ‘Forty years have proved that Israel has conquered land but failed to conquer the people, the people’s mind, conscience or heart.
‘Over the course of history, people have found ways to overcome their oppressors.
‘Israel’s wars have caused the loss of the balance in the region.
‘By continuing to support the oppression, the West is prolonging the conflict.
‘1967 remains the unfinished chapter,’ he said, calling for ‘a sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.’
He concluded: ‘On this painful anniversary, the anniversary of the occupation of Palestinian land, we adhere to Palestinian rights and constants, similar to those of any people in the world, and the Palestinian people’s right to defend themselves and resist occupation. . .
‘And third the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes.
‘Fourth, the human dimension of our cause: mutual respect and respect of the Palestinians’ inalienable rights.
‘Fifth, we greet all Palestinian people in Britain, Europe and the world over. We are positive you will return one day to the beloved land of Palestine.
‘Thank you all for your continued support and solidarity.’
The rally was told that two Palestinian ministers had been denied visas to attend the rally, but Mustafa Barghouti, the minister for information in the government of national unity was present.
He told the rally: ‘There is something wrong when 40 years of occupation pass, there is something wrong when 60 years pass since the dispossession of Palestinian refugees and they don’t go home.’
He said there is something wrong when Israel continues to occupy the Palestinians’ land, to confiscate their water, to oppress the Palestinian nation and persecute the people ‘and the international community supports them, instead of prosecuting Israel.’
He concluded by calling for an international boycott and sanctions campaign against Israel.
‘Palestine will be free.’
Anti-war MP George Galloway said: ‘We in the Stop The War Coalition will be marching on June 24 against our own government at the Labour conference in Manchester, whether the police in Manchester like it or not.’
He continued: ‘Action speaks louder than words and we must now move into the phase of action.
‘We must first demand the release of hero prisoner Marwan Barghouti and all political prisoners. They are not terrorists.
‘Don’t equate the violence of the occupiers and aggressors with the violence of the oppressed in resistance to occupation,’ he added to loud applause.
Another MP, Jenny Tonge, said: ‘I want to see more action.
‘If we can’t get action from the government then we must take action ourselves, in the form of boycotts of goods, boycotts by academics, by my own profession, the doctors, boycotts by trade unionists.
‘Don’t let’s wait for our governments.
‘A free Palestine means we’re on the road to world peace.’
Emily Thornberry, Islington South MP, said she had recently returned from a visit to Jerusalem.
Comparing it with her previous visit 20 years ago, she said: ‘What has happened to Jerusalem is a tragedy.
‘Settlements are being built all over East Jerusalem. They’re illegal. They’re being built on someone else’s land.’
Dr Assam Tamimi, from the West Bank city of Hebron, said: ‘My town was occupied in 1967. I was 12.
‘My mother was from Beersheba – occupied 19 years earlier by Zionists from Europe, aided by this country to rape my people and turn them into refugees.
‘Israel is what is wrong.
‘Don’t tell us what to accept and what not to accept. Don’t tell us what is our right and what is not our right.
‘My mother’s home is my mother’s home, it can never become a Zionist place.’
He rejected the notion of ‘accepting a racist entity that considers us sub-human and sees themselves as super-human.’
He concluded: ‘Don’t tell a lady who has been raped it is alright.
‘My people have been raped.
‘The whole of Palestine will be free and the Palestinian refugees will return and I will go back to my mother’s home.’
Earlier, Palestinian representative in the UK, Manuel Hassassian, had told the marchers as they arrived at Trafalgar Square: ‘I salute you comrades for being with us today and trying to put down in the annals of history that occupation will never be dominant over the freedom fighters of Palestine and all over the world.
‘Down with such fascist regimes like the one in Israel.’
Ismael Patel, from friends of Al Aqsa, said: ‘The 1967 war was started by the Zionist state of Israel.
‘Menachem Begin said: “We attacked Nasser and we should be honest about that.’’
‘Seventy-eight per cent of Mandate Palestine was occupied in 1948.
‘Ninety years ago the British government’s Lord Balfour decided to give the Jewish people the land that belonged to the Palestinians.
‘We demand the British government apologise to the Palestinian people.’
He added to the leaders of Britain and America: ‘It is not right that they should wage war for “democracy’’, when they can’t accept a democratically-elected government in Palestine.
‘And whilst telling the world not to have nuclear weapons, they are allowing Israel to have nuclear weapons.’
He called for a boycott of Israel and concluded: ‘Forty years is too long – enough is enough!’
Lord Andrew Phillips, a Liberal Democrat peer, called for an end to the British and American government boycott of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya and his government.
Other speakers included UNISON deputy-leader Keith Sonnet, who said: ‘We have to continue to campaign to ensure the Palestinian people get their freedom and the justice they deserve.’
He said: ‘Stop selling weapons to Israel,’ adding: ‘My union demands that the Israelis withdraw to the 1967 boundaries and the rights of the Palestinian people are recognised and the International Court of Justice decision is recognised and the Apartheid Wall brought down and destroyed. We demand it.’
The marchers were urged to join a national lobby of parliament on November 28 by the Enough!
coalition and there was a call for a demonstration to protest against England playing Israel at Wembley on September 8 and support for the official Palestinian Football Association Under-19 tour to the north-west of England in August.
Other speakers included MEP Caroline Lucas, Richard Burden, Chair of the Britain-Palestine all-party parliamentary group, comedian Alexi Sayle, a video message from actress Miriam Margolyes, Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn and Nathaniel Silverman, from an Israeli group called Combatants for Peace.
There were many lively contingents on the march.
Banners included Swindon Stop the War Coalition (STWC), Leicester Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), Peace and Justice in East London, East London PSC – The Wall Must Fall, Tower Hamlets and Jenin Twinning Campaign, Raised Voices, Britain Palestine Twinning Network, Westminster Kingsway University College Union (UCU), Friends of Sabeel, Boycott Israeli Goods, Merseyside STWC, Wolverhampton PSC, Leeds Coalition Against War – No To War, No To Racism, Defend Civil Liberties, Scottish PSC.
There was a banner which said ‘Victory to the Intifada, Israel the Zionist State’, Oxford PSC banner, UNISON national banner, Jews For Justice For the Palestinians, The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Muslim Association of Britain, British Muslim Initiative (BMI) – Freedom for the Palestinian Members of Parliament.
There was the national PSC banner – ‘The Apartheid Wall Must Fall’, British Muslim Initiative – ‘US-UK-EU stop starving the Palestinians’, Enough! End the Israeli occupation, Stop starving the Palestinians, Manchester PSC, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, LSE Students Against the Occupation, British Libyan Solidarity, Brighton and Hove PSC, Liverpool Friends of Palestine, a banner saying ‘Judaism rejects the Zionist state and condemns its attacks’ – and many more.
A contingent from the Workers Revolutionary Party and the Young Socialists with their banner won support for their slogans, including: ‘What do we want? Palestinian state! – When do we want it? Now!’, ‘One state – Palestine!’, ‘Victory to Palestine! Smash Zionism now!’, and ‘Bush and Blair terrorists!’
A giant map of Palestine on the platform of the rally at Trafalgar Square said: ‘Free Palestine, Right to Return, Demolish Apartheid Wall, Dismantle Illegal Settlements, Free Prisoners, End Israeli occupation’.
As the march assembled, Palestinian Mohamed El-Farra, whose family come from Khan Younis in Gaza, told News Line: ‘It’s 40 years of the occupation of my homeland.
‘My family was broken up. I was born in Egypt and because of the war I lived in Egypt for the whole of my life.
‘The first time I visited Gaza was in 1998.
‘This is what it means to me – the 1967 war.
‘And of course we are here to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Palestine, and of course the British public are very important to us, for them to understand the suffering we are under.’
Liz Peretz, from Oxford Palestine Solidarity Campaign, condemned ‘the tragedy that’s happening to the Palestinian people, with so much complicity from the rest of the world, and the increasing pain of everyday life in Palestine, with the Wall and ghettoisation’ taking place.
She added: ‘We want to do what we can by making visible the numbers of people who support the Palestinians.’
Steven Marks said: ‘I’m a member of the National Union of Journalists and I support their decision to call for a boycott of Israeli institutions and Israeli goods.
‘The more people show their support for Palestine, the better.’
Emad Moussa, a Palestinian journalist, said: ‘People around the world are starting to forget about the Palestinian tragedy as we have hectic situations all over the world, and today’s march is giving a message to the world that we’re still fighting for our rights.
‘Nobody exactly knows what is happening there.
‘Originally I’m from Gaza and I know what it looks like there, but it is beyond the imagination.
‘It’s like an alternative life, it’s not real life there.
‘After Hamas took over the Palestinian Authority, it turns out “democracy’’ is not really an issue because we have a really good example of democracy in the Middle East.
‘It’s about political issues there. You cannot make people believe in “democracy’’ whilst their stomachs are empty.
‘The Western boycott of the Palestinian authority is adding fuel to the fire. It’s enhancing the tragedy, and especially in Gaza it’s a really, really tragic situation there.
‘I left Gaza last August and it was really hell out there.
‘I spent 40 days trying to get out of there in order to study on a scholarship. I went back and forth to the border about 10 times.
‘The European observers are not allowed into the border area by the Israeli authorities.’
Bodrul Alom, from London, said he had come to take part in the march ‘because it’s important to let the people in Palestine – who are suffering and have been suffering for over half a century – know that people in the West – of all nationalities and religions and social backgrounds – feel their pain and anger.
‘The march is saying enough is enough and we want peace with justice.’
Annie O’Gara and Jennie Lynn, from Halifax Friends of Palestine, said: ‘We’ve come because we’re part of a group in Halifax that’s committed to working for peace with justice in Palestine.
‘We personally think that the story of the Palestinians is both under-reported and mis-reported and anything that might draw the attention of the British people to the centrality of the Palestinian issue to Middle East peace is worthwhile.
‘Without solving the Palestinian problem there will be no peace in the Middle East.’
Martin O’Shea, from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, said: ‘I believe certainly the Palestinians should have their land back.
‘But I believe there is a right-wing lobby in America that believes in total war in the Middle East and that’s why I’m here to try and stop it. It’s getting very serious.’
Caroline Moles, from Leicester PSC, said: ‘I went to Bethlehem at Easter and I was absolutely appalled at the myriad of invasions of Palestinians’ freedom.
‘Everyone, absolutely everyone – Christian, Muslims, non-believers – all said: “We’re in a prison’’, and they are.
‘We’ve got to put pressure on to get the money back in: the EU is not giving any money to Palestine.
‘I met firefighters who hadn’t been paid for over a year and the same is true of doctors and teachers.
‘I support a boycott of Israel by the trade unions and I’m very glad to see it’s starting to happen.
‘We’ve got to put heavy pressure on.’
Christian Peake, from London, said: ‘Having had a child, now things seem quite different and I’m thinking about the mothers and the babies, things like going into labour and not being able to get to hospital.
‘I would support a boycott of Israel by the trade unions.
‘I’m a member of the National Union of Teachers and I would encourage them to support a boycott.’
Nicola Pratt, a member of the University and College Union from Norwich, said: ‘I’ve come to show solidarity with the Palestinians under occupation for 40 years.
‘My union has voted to start discussing the implementation of a boycott of academic institutions in Israel and what are the implications.
‘I think we need a widespread movement like the one that was built against Apartheid in South Africa.’
Mayada Hassan, from Fallujah in Iraq, said: ‘We are originally from Fallujah, but we are here for 11 years.
‘My sister and mother have been here for two and a half years.
‘They had to flee the war because there are killings everywhere, blood everywhere and you can’t secure yourself, there’s no security there at all.
‘We feel what the Palestinians feel now.
‘We feel they are driving us from our country and we will be refugees everywhere and we don’t want that.
‘Our country, it’s very special to us.’
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