PALESTINIAN heroine Ahed Tamimi was introduced to the cheering crowd at the end of the 10,000-strong march to 10 Downing Street marking Nakba Day on Saturday as ‘the true ambassador of the people of Palestine’.
The 18-year-old, who was imprisoned by Israel for slapping an Israeli soldier who was trespassing on her family’s property following the shooting of her family member in the West Bank last year, was introduced to the rally by the Palestinian Ambassador to the UK Dr Husam Zomlot, who said: ‘There are 10,000 here today and it’s truly humbling to see you here for Palestine.
‘There are 13 million Palestinians watching us here today, six-and-a-half million in the homeland and six-and-a-half million in the diaspora.’
Introducing Ahed Tamimi to a huge cheer, Dr Zomlot said: ‘She personifies the bravery of the struggle, she is Palestine. It is through her bravery and the millions of Palestinian fighters for freedom that our future is determined.
‘We are still living with the evils of the past. We have been wronged since Balfour over 100 years ago, wronged to be occupied, wronged to be besieged like Gaza, two million people in a cage for 12 years.
‘More than 30 years ago the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) that I represent here in London, we compromised. However, we are now awaiting a peace plan that does not recognise the Palestinian people. No to Trump’s plan. The world was not consulted.
‘We send a message to the American administration. We will not be bought, blackmailed or bullied. Our country, our Palestine, our Jerusalem, our rights, are not for sale. Our Ahed is not for sale.
‘We have rights and we will struggle with millions of people until we achieve them. The Trump administration has done us a favour. It has presented us with a clear choice – we are for Ahed, we are for Ahed, Her Excellency, the true Ambassador of the people of Palestine, Ahed Tamimi.’
Ahed Tamimi said: ‘I want to thank you all. It was your voice that kept me strong while being in the Israeli prison. I want to thank you for your support and solidarity, for everything that you are doing to advocate our cause.
‘I don’t want to speak today about our suffering. I don’t want our story to be written as one of victimhood.
‘We choose to suffer for freedom and justice. Freedom and justice everywhere. From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.’
News Line spoke to a number of people as the march was assembling outside the BBC Broadcasting House in Portland Place.
Equity member Mensah Bediko said: ‘What the British government is doing is immoral and illegal in that they are supporting the illegal settlements in the occupied territories by arming Israel.
‘The trade unions in Britain should organise a boycott of Israel.
‘’We have to draw the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. We have a dishonest corporate media in this country and the US that insists on conflating criticism of the Israeli state and its actions with hatred of Jewish people. Doing that is dishonest and cynical.’
Jeremy Parker, Treasurer of Football against Apartheid, said: ‘We’re here in solidarity with today’s Exist, Resist, Return march. Our campaign demand is that Israel, like apartheid South Africa, should be expelled from FIFA.
‘South Africa was expelled in 1975 and only allowed back after dismantling apartheid.
‘We’ve got affiliates throughout the Premier League and some in the Championship. We demonstrate outside matches. For instance, the other week we were outside Crystal Palace when they played Man City.
‘Generally we get a very good response. There’s always one or two hostile ones, but the vast and overwhelming majority are supportive, trade unionists and youth especially so.
‘We’d like to move to a more international level because it’s through that that this method of punishing Israel for its flouting of international and human rights would be effective, as it was with South Africa.’
Saif Osmani was carrying a placard stating: ‘British Artists Support Palestine.’
He told News Line: ‘I made it because, especially now with Eurovision in Israel next weekend and Palestine completely left out of it, I wanted to show that artists are not held captive by Israel.
‘Unlike our current government, people in east London, which is where I’m from, are constantly in support of the Palestinian cause and determined that we can one day see a free Palestine where people and artists aren’t afraid to say what they feel.’
There were a number of speeches before the march started.
Paul Glover, Unison International Officer, said: ‘Unison is proud to be marching today, especially in solidarity with brave Palestinian ambulance and health workers. Stop buying and selling Israeli goods.’
Steve Hedley, RMT Assistant General Secretary, said: ‘The RMT transport union supports Palestine and the people of Palestine. We had a massacre in Derry in Ireland in 1972 called Bloody Sunday. The people of Palestine suffer such massacres time and time again.
‘In the 1980s workers in Dunnes Stores in Ireland refused to handle Apartheid South Africa goods and that’s what’s needed now. Let’s have action from the trade unions to organise a boycott of all Israeli goods.’
Leanne Mohammed, a Palestinian student, said: ‘We have to fight the injustice that Palestinians have been going through for 71 years. The UK government must be told that speaking up for Palestine and criticising Israel and the government of Israel is not anti-Semitic.’
Aliya Yule, from Labour for Palestine, said: ‘Britain was the colonial power in Palestine in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. In 1947, when Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes, it was the British that oversaw it.
‘In the last five years this government has sold over £500 million in arms exports and military technology to Israel.
‘They have underestimated us. This cannot continue. We support the millions of refugees and the right of return.’
Austin Harney, the PCS union Liaison Officer with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: ‘Israel is continuing to rapidly expand its illegal settlements. Israel must be held to account.
‘We send greetings to Ahed Tamimi and will be proud to march with her today. Boycott Israeli goods. We won in South Africa and we can do it again.’
Then the march began. The Young Socialists and Workers Revolutionary Party banner read: ‘End Israeli War on Gaza! End the Occupation! Victory to Palestine!’ with the delegation behind it chanting: ‘End the Siege of Gaza – Smash Zionism Now! No to Trump’s Deal – Victory to Palestine! From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free!’ and ‘Free, Free Palestine!’
Carrying the London Fire Brigade Branch of Unison banner was its Secretary Tony Philips, who told News Line: ‘We’re here to show solidarity with Palestine and state that it’s not a crime to criticise the oppression of the Palestinian people.
‘Our union nationally supports the Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanctions campaign. It’s particularly important to stand up against Israel.
‘We also defend Jeremy Corbyn against all charges of anti-Semitism. He has a long track record of fighting racism and supporting Palestine.’
Other banners on the march included Spurs Fans against Apartheid, Gooners against Apartheid, Lions against Apartheid. No to Eurovision in Apartheid Israel and UK Stop Arming Israel.
Carrying the Celtic Football Club Solidarity banner, Peter Morgan told News Line: ‘We want to show and Celtic football supporters understand the plight of the Palestinians and oppressed people around the world.
‘Our club was founded by immigrants to help the poor and needy and put food on the table of the hungry, mainly immigrants from the potato famine in Ireland.
‘We take our banner to the matches and there’s a lot of support among fans.
‘Famously, the club was fined by Uefa for the display of Palestinian flags at the ground two years ago.
‘In a two-fingered response to Uefa, fans held a collection which raised hundreds of thousands for Palestinian causes.
‘The Football Lads and Lasses Alliance is growing in a huge way across clubs in direct response to the right wing Football Lads Alliance.
At the rally at the end of the march, Vicky Knight, UCU President, said: ‘I was delighted as UCU President to be part of a historic visit of 16 women trade unionists to the West Bank just two weeks ago.
‘We spoke to workers and students. We met trade unionists on the May Day March in Ramallah and found that the minimum wage for Palestinians is just one quarter of Israeli workers’. There’s 60% unemployment, mental health issues at epidemic levels, illegal settlements growing in size every day, tanks rolling past the Tamimi residence every day.’
Sinn Fein Assembly member Karen Mullins said: ‘Recently the Irish Parliament passed a Bill seeking to stop the import of goods and services from the illegal Israeli settlements. Sinn Fein proudly supports the BDS campaign. Ireland and Britain should not participate in Eurovision. I’m putting a direct call to the BBC.’
Gail Cartmail, Unite Assistant General Secretary, said: ‘The last year proves once again the brutality of Israel, with the shooting dead of hundreds of unarmed protesters and the wounding of thousands more.
‘The Palestinian people will never submit to Trump’s plan and Unite will stand with them. Britain has much to answer for. Recognise a Palestinian state. 137 states around the world recognise Palestine, it’s time Britain joined them. If this government will not the next Labour government will.’