‘Free, Free Palestine!’ ‘Shame on you BBC!’ shouted 7,000 protesters at a rally for Gaza outside the BBC’s Broadcasting House at Portland Place in central London, before marching to Trafalgar Square for a second rally.
The protest, organised by Stop the War Coalition and Palestine Solidarity Campaign in conjunction with the British Muslim Initiative, condemned Israeli leaders as war criminals and the BBC’s decision not to broadcast an appeal from the Disasters Emergency Committee for aid for Gaza.
The lead banner said ‘Gaza: Bring the war criminals to trial, Stop arms sales to Israel, End the blockade’.
Protesters carried placards saying ‘Gaza – End the blockade’, ‘Gaza – Free Palestine, ‘Stop the Holocaust in Gaza, Lift the Siege’, ‘Biased Bigoted Cowardly – just your typical corporation’ and ‘BBC biased towards Israeli war criminals.’
A lively Workers Revolutionary Party and Young Socialists kept up chants of ‘One State – Palestine!, Palestine will be free – from the river to the sea!’ ‘What do we want? Palestinian State! When do we want it – now!’ ‘Israel – Terrorist!’ ‘Shame on you BBC!’ ‘Intifada night and day – Palestine will make you pay!’
Many joined in their revolutionary slogans.
The event was heavily policed with large numbers of riot vans and a helicopter and police photographers surveilling the crowds.
Barriers were erected and lines of riot police stood ready to defend the BBC.
The march had originally been billed as going via Downing Street, but Stop the War representative Andrew Murray announced at the Portland Place rally that because of time it would go directly to Trafalgar Square.
At one point in Regent Street police provoked marchers and several of arrests were made.
The organisers stopped the march to have people released.
News Line witnessed several arrests and one girl of around 16 having a placard taken off her as she stood on the pavement and being bundled into the street.
Another young marcher Jasmine told News Line: ‘I saw police arrest an old man.
‘They were pushing and shoving him and shouting in his face.
‘I couldn’t hear what they were saying.
‘Several more were arrested, which is why the march was stopped.
‘A journalist who was on the other side of the march told me police were provoking people, then they filmed their reaction and arrested them.’
News Line spoke to some of the protesters before the Portland Place rally.
Dimos Evangeldis, a Greek worker living in the UK, said: ‘What is happening in Gaza and to the Palestinians is unfair.
‘We should be concentrating more on the roots of the problem, and people have to be more active.
‘Any government in this world can act unlawfully to protect the influence of corporations.
‘There has to be action to stop this.
‘The whole situation in Europe is making people more aware.
‘People are more active now because of the economic circumstances.
‘Conditions are becoming right for a change, what it needs is the right leadership.
‘We need leaders who have no personal interest and are ready to sacrifice.’
Council worker and Unison member Sultan Said told News Line: ‘I’ve followed decades of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
‘But this most recent conflict has set a new precedent in war that we have seen, the barbarity.
‘The propaganda of the media in not showing the full barbarity has also been particularly apparent.
‘For example, the refusal of Israel to allow the media to view the full truth of the bombardment on Gaza.
‘This particular war sets a new precedent.
‘We can’t just have a new US president following the same foreign policy.
‘The trade unions should boycott Israeli goods.
‘They should take action against the Brown government if it will not stop its backing for Israel.
‘We should suspend trade agreements with Israel and stop arms going to Israel.’
An Iranian woman living and working in the UK, Fari Ranqui, said: ‘I’m here to support the people of Gaza and ask for justice.
‘It is a genocide that has been taking place in Gaza.
‘It’s like another Holocaust that is happening.
‘The victims have become the aggressors now, doing the exact same thing.
‘I believe this is the major social injustice issue of our generation.
‘We got rid of Apartheid, we got rid of the Nazis and now this is no different.
‘Israel needs to stop, to end its illegal occupation of Palestinian land.
‘And the international community needs to come in the middle to make this happen.
‘I’m hoping that with Obama in now, he’ll start peace negotiations.
‘I think we should come to a standstill until our (UK) government realise we are serious about this.
‘There should be a general strike.’
Shahida Akhtar, an admin manager, said: ‘This situation has been going on for decades.
‘Now, with the internet and satellite channels you are seeing things and getting to know the whole picture.
‘I’ve been to the rallies for the past few weeks.
‘It’s appalling if people turn a blind eye.
‘Innocent civilians are paying the price and have been for a decade and generations.
‘It’s a vicious cycle. This needs to be ended.
‘People should complain to the BBC about the question.
‘This is the time to be counted. We need to get more people involved.
‘We need channels like the BBC and ITV to have a proper look at the situation.
‘People have been bombed and it will affect us.
‘Whatever explodes in the Middle East will explode in our faces here.’
Student Ayan Dahar, whose family came to Britain from Somalia, told News Line: ‘I’m here to demonstrate against the atrocities that are being carried out in Palestine.
‘They have to give the Palestinians their freedom. The occupation has to end.
‘The international community has to stop helping Israel and to help the Palestinians instead.
‘British workers need to do as much as they can to stop the war and end the occupation.’
Her mother Fahan Jama said: ‘We need help for the Palestinian people.
‘We have to stop the killing of women and children, lift the siege and stop the occupation.’
Addressing the Portland Place rally, former TGWU leader Bill Morris said: ‘Millions will be shocked by the BBC’s refusal to broadcast the appeal for Gaza
‘Even more disgusting was the statement by the BBC that it will continue to report fearlessly.
‘The BBC has been reporting in fear.
‘It’s a shame the BBC has not been standing up for press freedom.
‘The BBC should not have accepted the word of the Israeli foreign minister that there is no humanitarian situation in Gaza.
‘The BBC’s decision is a political decision.’
Taking up the BBC’s claim that to broadcast the Gaza aid appeal would jeopardise its ‘impartiality’ Anas al-Tikriti of the British Muslim Initiative said ‘over the 23 days’ of Israeli onslaught the BBC ‘was never impartial’.
He added that health minister ‘Ben Bradshaw was right to say the BBC should stand up to Israel’.
Shafi al-Ameen of the Young Muslims Organisation said: ‘We demand the BBC stop insulting the intelligence of the British public by sending out biased reports.
‘To the young people, be united in the movement for freedom for Palestine.’
Dave Crouch of Media Workers Against War called on journalists to report the truth, adding that the BBC Director-General Mark Thompson had demonstrated ‘you are a hatchet man for this government’.
Stop the War’s Murray was able to announce that ITV, Channel 4, and Five had broken ranks and will be broadcasting the aid appeal.
Former MP Tony Benn suggested that BBC journalists should ‘broadcast the address of the the Emergency Committee’, saying ‘you can’t sack a journalist for giving out a phone number.
He added: ‘Journalists should tell the world how people are suffering.’
He concluded: ‘How can you be impartial between life and death?’
Birmingham councillor Salma Yaqoob condemned the US, Arab and EU leaders’ summit.
He said: ‘Our cowardly prime minister Brown was not seeking to lift the blockade but to keep the blockade on.’
He added: ‘It was shock and awe to break Hamas, to break the will of the Palestinian people but the resistance is strong.
‘They had the shock of seeing millions demonstrating around the world and in Israel itself.
‘We are not afraid to call Israel a terrorist state. Boycott Israel!’
Mariam Ali Padaya told the rally: ‘The BBC failed its contract with the British people who are paying for its services.’
She added: ‘They broadcast appeals for Somalia, Darfur, the tsunami – are not one million Palestinians worth an appeal?
She said: ‘Israel killed 1,400, 400 of them children, and wounded over 5,000.
‘The truth is Hamas is now stronger. It has defeated Israel. The people of the world are supporting this true democracy.
‘Israel will be labelled the criminals of our time all over the world.’
Respect MP George Galloway declared: ‘This smokescreen of impartiality is as deadly to the Palestinian people as a cloud of white phosphorus.’
He added: ‘The blood of those who die will be on the hands of the executives of the BBC.’
He reminded the crowd: ‘BBC journalist Alan Johnson, who was held by criminals in Gaza, was set free by the government of Hamas and the people of Palestine.
‘Now is the time for BBC journalists to help save the people of Palestine.
‘Let’s see the BBC journalists seize the microphones, seize the cameras to broadcast the appeal.’
Among the speakers at Trafalgar Square, Najan Mohammed of Sri Lanka Muslim Forum, said of the BBC: ‘People are not prepared to listen to your lies.’
He stressed: ‘Israel lost on every point. Hamas will resist.’
Azzam Tamimi of the Muslim Association of Britain said: ‘Didn’t I say we would win?
‘The Hamas health minister said despite the destruction of hospitals and schools you succeeded against Israel and America.
‘The message is our brothers and sisters in Gaza will not be blackmailed will not submit.’
James Grant from the King’s College student occupation said: ‘On Tuesday 19th at 10am 40 students occupied King’s College in solidarity with the Palestinians.
‘The principal honoured Shimon Peres over his so-called efforts for peace, we said no, it’s our college.’
Tabaaha Al-Azami added: ‘There are university occupations at King’s College, LSE, Soas and Oxford. A difference can be made.’