General Strike call by protesters outside Parliament

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Young protesters arriving in Parliament Square

‘Ceasefire Now!’ demanded 5,000 pro-Palestinian demonstrators outside Parliament on Wednesday night as MPs were voting on amendments to the King’s Speech over Israel’s genocide in Gaza and the West Bank.

‘1,2,3,4 Occupation no more! 2,4,6,8 Israel is a terror state!’ they chanted, and: ‘Free, Free Palestine.’ Many spoke to News Line.

Communications worker Victor Padeln said: ‘I’m here in opposition to the war and occupation by Israel. It’s happening around the world, people are blamed not market inefficiencies. I want a ceasefire in Gaza now.’

University worker Femi said: ‘A humanitarian pause is not enough. End apartheid now. The trade unions need to take action and call a general strike.’

Analyst Sara Ayyash declared: ‘I’m here because I’m Palestinian. I want a ceasefire and the end of the occupation. It’s horrific what Israel’s doing in Gaza and everywhere. It’s been going on for so many years. The demonstrations of workers and youth around the world are great. The unions should take strike action.’

Jewellery designer Sufyan Zubayr said: ‘I’m here for justice for the Palestinian people. We need a ceasefire but it’s deeper than that – apartheid has to end. The British trade unions should take action. There has to be a general strike.’

Sadaf Mushtaq, a 23-year-old Masters student at King’s College London, said: ‘As someone who has always been deeply invested in global human rights issues, the situation in Gaza is heart-wrenching.

‘I felt a strong moral obligation to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Their suffering, especially the children who are bearing the brunt of this conflict, keeps me awake at night.

‘Attending the rally was a way to voice my opposition to the violence and to support calls for a ceasefire, and force these MPs to look us in the eye when they vote on supporting a call for ceasefire.

‘The images coming out of Gaza are so painful I don’t understand why everyone can’t bring an end to the madness.

‘We, as students and young people, are not just passive observers. We have a voice and a platform, especially in a diverse and cosmopolitan city like London. The world has its eyes on us at all times.’

Fatima, aged 20, an undergraduate student at King’s College, London, said: ‘Seeing the images of destruction in Gaza, particularly in the north and hearing about the incursion into Al Shifa Hospital, I couldn’t stay silent.

‘I have been to every rally that has happened and I can tell you that these numbers will only grow. We demand a ceasefire and we want it now!

‘How can Israel think the whole world will just let them carry on with their lies! Everyone who has a heart should see the Tories and Labour for who they are – one and the same, racing each other to support Israel. Shame on Sunak, shame on Starmer.’

David Fields, a chef, said: ‘Honestly, I was appalled when I learned about the scale of the crisis in Gaza, especially the targeting of civilian areas like hospitals.

‘I was unaware for most of my life about Israel-Palestine and everyone always said the situation is complicated. I don’t think it is complicated – it is war crimes and bloodshed of Palestinians by Israel. They need to end apartheid first before teaching anyone a lesson.’

Inside the House of Commons, Labour Party leader Starmer suffered a major rebellion, with 56 Labour MPs voting for an immediate ceasefire.

Jess Phillips, Afzal Khan and Yasmin Qureshi were among shadow ministers who quit their roles to back the motion from the SNP.

Ten of the party’s frontbenchers left their jobs over the vote, including eight shadow ministers.

Announcing she was quitting her role as shadow domestic violence minister, Phillips said she was voting with ‘my constituents, my head, and my heart’.

‘I can see no route where the current military action does anything but put at risk the hope of peace and security for anyone in the region now and in the future.’

Phillips, Khan and Qureshi, along with Paula Barker, announced they would be leaving shadow ministerial positions in the run-up to the vote.

Other frontbenchers Sarah Owen, Rachel Hopkins, Naz Shah and Andy Slaughter have also left their roles after voting for the motion. Dan Carden and Mary Foy left posts as parliamentary aides.

The vote was on an SNP amendment to a government motion on its plans for the year ahead, presented in the King’s Speech last week.

It called for an end to the ‘collective punishment of the Palestinian people’ and urged ‘all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire’.

It was defeated by 125 votes to 294, with the 56 Labour rebels joining other opposition parties to demand a ceasefire, against the Tories who opposed it.

There are 29 Labour MPs in the shadow cabinet, but around half of the party’s 198 MPs hold some kind of frontbench position, including party whips.

Moving his amendment to the King’s Speech calling for the British Parliament to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said it is ‘shameful that a majority of Tory and Labour MPs blocked calls for a ceasefire – and have condoned the continued bombardment of Gaza’.

Speaking in the debate in the House of Commons, Imran Hussain, the Bradford East Labour MP who resigned from the Shadow Cabinet two weeks ago in protest at Starmer’s support for the Israeli genocide, said: ‘A foreign policy with morality at its heart would not leave over 2 million Palestinians trapped in a humanitarian nightmare without food, water, medicine or power.

‘A foreign policy that puts values first would not be following the direction set by Washington and the United States in addressing this conflict. A foreign policy that is built on morality would not stand by as over 11,000 Palestinians are killed, more than 27,000 are wounded and 7,500 women and children have their lives taken from them, or as schools, hospitals, churches, mosques, refugee camps and homes are reduced to rubble.’

He went on: ‘I remain clear in my belief that that is the right thing to do and the right choice to make, if we want to see both an end to the bloodshed and a lasting peace in the region, which no humanitarian pause will ever be able to achieve. That is why I stood down from the Opposition Front Bench.’

Naz Shah, Labour MP for Bradford West, said: ‘If we had had a ceasefire yesterday, 144 Gazan children would still be alive today.

‘Israel has already crossed every red line imaginable and broken international humanitarian laws. History has shown us that military actions alone do not resolve conflicts, and Israel’s use of force will not resolve this one. We need a full and immediate ceasefire now.

‘My constituents have demanded that, and I will not refuse them. Supporting a ceasefire is the very least we can do.’

Zarah Sultana, Labour MP for Coventry South, said: ‘Israel’s assault on Gaza has now killed one in every 200 Palestinians in the besieged enclave. Hospitals, ambulances and refugee camps have been targeted. Premature babies in incubators – let me repeat that: Premature babies in incubators – are dying because hospitals have run out of fuel.

‘In the illegally occupied West Bank, where Hamas are not in power, around 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or armed settlers. We could spend all day listing the horrors that the likes of the United Nations Secretary-General, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have said amount to clear violations of international humanitarian law and war crimes.

‘The truth is that Israeli officials have been open about their intent. At the beginning of the assault, an Israeli military spokesperson said that the emphasis in bombing was on “damage … not accuracy.”

‘An Israeli Government Minister said that the war would be “Gaza’s Nakba”, a reference to the 1948 catastrophe where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homelands and never allowed to return.’