‘IT’S A DISGRACE THAT OUR GOVERNMENT IS REFUSING TO CONDEMN THE CARNAGE’ – UNISON deputy general secretary Keith Sonnett tells rally

Demonstrators express their anger towards the US government as the march passed the US embassy
Demonstrators express their anger towards the US government as the march passed the US embassy

Tens of thousands of people across the UK took part last Saturday in demonstrations against the murderous Israeli bombardment of Lebanon.

Eleven rallies were organised by groups such as Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Muslim Association of Britain, British Muslim Initiative as well as Lebanese organisations.

Demonstrations were held in London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester, Edinburgh, Exeter, York, Kirkcaldy and Norwich, and there was a demonstration in Bristol last Friday.

Over 30,000 took part in the London march from the Embankment to a rally in Hyde Park against Israel’s ‘crimes against humanity’, where there was a call for Arab regimes to ‘stop pumping the oil’ and another for British workers to boycott Israel.

The marchers shouted ‘Peace in Lebanon!’; Free Palestine!’; Free, free Lebanon!’; and ‘We’re all Hezbollah now!’

Marchers waved hundreds of Lebanese flags and placards, as well as Palestinian flags and placards.

They carried pictures of Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah and Hamas leader Ismael Haniya.

The PCS civil sevice trade union national banner was on the march as were the trade union banners of Camden NUT and SOAS University UNISON.

The London demonstration marched past the US embassy in Grosvenor Square where protesters shouted slogans such as ‘George Bush, terrorist’ and ‘Down, down, USA.’

A lively Workers Revolutionary Party and Young Socialists delegation won big support chanting ‘Stop bombing Lebanon! Smash Zionism now!’; ‘Victory to Hezbollah! Smash Zionism!’; ‘Bush, Blair – murderers!’; ‘Bush, Blair, terrorists!’; ‘Stop the bombing of Gaza! Victory to Palestine!’; ‘End the occupatio of Iraq! Smash imperialism and Zionism!’

Marchers carried home- made placards saying ‘Lebanon will rise again – in spite of Israel’, ‘Western leaders, Western media – where is your conscience?’; ‘Gaza destroyed, Lebanon burning – How many more mmust die in crimes aginst humanity?’; ‘Israel – terrorist state’.

A delegation of locked-out Gate Gourmet workers were on the London demonstration with their banner.

Parmjit Kaur told News Line: ‘We support the Lebanese people.

‘We are looking for support for our struggle.

‘We want our hardship money and we are calling on everyone to join our first anniversary march in Southall on August 20th.’

Parmjeet Sidhu added: ‘I support the Lebanese people. They are innocent people dying in the war.

‘And we want to show people we are still fighting against the company for our rights.

‘We ask (TGWU general secretary) Tony Woodley why have you stopped our hardship money when our dispute is not finished?

‘We hope we will win our case.

‘We are asking people to join our march for our first anniversary on 20th August through Southall, starting at 1pm.’

Student Fawziah Rafa told News Line: ‘I feel strongly about what is happening in Lebanon.

‘I feel there is a threat to Syria and Iran.

‘It’s just a massacre what’s going on in Lebanon.

‘What is going on in Lebanon is total injustice, innocent people are being killed.

‘The British and American governments have been very quiet. They have the power to stop Israel but they don’t stop it. They are supporting Israel.

‘Innocent people are being killed, that’s why I’m here.

‘Everybody should do whatever they can to stop this. It’s not just a Muslim issue.

‘There are all kinds of nationals in Syria and Lebanon. Those still there are suffering as well.

‘The British got their nationals out but they don’t seem to care about the Lebanese.

‘If their main aim was to stop this, they could have stopped the war, not just take out their own people.’

Phone company worker Kate Birch said: ‘I don’t agree with the innocent Lebanese being victims of war – or any innocent civilians.

‘I’ve got no political agenda but I think British people need to understand it could just as easily be us being bombed.’

Fellow phone company worker Karen Murray added: ‘I think Tony Blair is pathetic, and George Bush is even more pathetic.

‘I can’t believe that those two people in particular are endorsing mass murder of innocent people.

‘If it was Christian people it wouldn’t be allowed anywhere in the world.’

Agnieszka El-Khoury said: ‘’I’m originally Polish and I married a Lebanese man.

‘I’m here to demonstrate against this barbaric war and what is happening to the people of Lebanon – they don’t deserve it.

‘Mostly kids are suffering. We want peace in Lebanon, we want to end the war.

‘There is a diplomatic way. There’s no need to bomb houses, hospitals, bridges, and kill all those innocent people.

‘I don’t believe the Israelis when they say they are targeting rocket sites. They are just bombing everything.

‘I don’t agree with the British and US governments saying a cease-fire is wrong – there should be a ceasefire.

‘They give Israel a green light to do whatever it wants.

‘Workers in Britain should take strike action and force the government to do something.’

Hamid Khan, a student, told News Line: ‘We have to fight against Israel, to protest against the attacks on Lebanon.

‘We have to do as much as possible to stop the war.

‘Israel is a big terrorist, so we have to fight them.

‘The British government is not doing enough to stop this war. It is just supporting America, and America is supporting Israel.

‘British workers should go on strike because of the way Blair is supporting the Americans and Israelis.’

Donna Simpson, a student from Brighton, added: ‘I lived in Beirut for six months.

‘I was shocked to see a peaceful country, which has worked so hard to maintain stability, thrown into chaos.

‘Israel is carrying out collective punishment; it’s ethnic cleansing in the south.

‘You can’t drop leaflets and say “leave your homes” then bomb the roads and bridges.

‘It’s shocking and a tragedy the number of people being killed.

‘I get frustrated with the media with all the reports of Hezbollah being “bedded in” the civilian population.

‘Hezbollah is a social welfare movement as well as political.

‘It provides medical assistance and water aid and it provides services which the state should provide but can’t.

‘The British working class should take action.

‘The trade unions should make a link between what is going on here and what is happening in the Middle East.

‘In Brighton, there’s a factory that makes components for weapons.’

Dima Khazem, a British Lebanese, said: ‘What is happening in Lebanon is appalling.

‘The world leaders have double standards when it comes to human rights.

‘Those who died in Lebanon are mostly civilians and the world is watching and doing very little.

‘I’m a Labour supporter but since the war on Iraq I have been very disappointed with Tony Blair.

‘His position on Lebanon and Palestine is hypocritical and that was shown in the unguarded conversation at the G8 summit.

‘Anyone who believes in human rights should take action.

‘I’m also sad for the Israeli civilians. The people of Israel should question what the Israeli government is doing for peace in the region.’

Paulina Baranska, a Polish student at London Metropolitan university told News Line: ‘I’m against this war. I’m against the whole roots of the conflict and the people who are supporting this conflict.

‘The forces of the imperialist system try to expand their powers at the cost of innocent lives. They try to expand no matter what for power and money.

‘They have no right to take over sovereign states like Lebanon and Palestine.’

Abdullah Sahid said: ‘What the Israelis are doing is wrong and the world is silent.

‘George Bush is making an excuse out of the 9/11 attacks to do this, to support Israel. They went to war on Iraq on a false pretence.’

Among the speakers at the rally, Respect MP George Galloway said to cheers: ‘Hezbollah has never been a terrorist organisation, they’re freedom fighters.

‘I’m here to glorify the Lebanese resistance, to glorify the leaders of the Lebanese resistance – Hezbollah and Hasan Nasrallah.

‘I say to the cowardly Arab regimes, if only Arab leaders were like Nasrallah.’

UNISON deputy general secretary Keith Sonnett said: ‘All the bombs dropped will not stop the fight for freedom and justice for people in Palestine and Lebanon.

‘It’s a disgrace that our government is refusing to condemn the carnage.’

He added: ‘I hope people will join with our union to build international sanctions against Israel. It is a terrorist state. Boycott Israel to stop the carnage.’

Dr Daud Abdullah from the Muslim Council of Britain also received cheers when he said: ‘I’ve a message to the Arab regimes meeting Condoleezza Rice “stop pumping the oil”!’

‘If our government had an ounce of decency they would not cover up for the Israeli war crimes.

‘The new Middle East is the one of Gaza, the Middle East of resistance, not the Middle East of humiliation and defeat.’