Palestine solidarity goes mainstream in UK as 100,000 march in London
For the second consecutive weekend, tens of thousands of protesters marched through the streets of London on Saturday, 26 July, in a massive show of support for the people of Gaza and all of Palestine.
That support is growing fast — and public opinion is leaving the politicians and traditional media, still stuck in their backing for the colonizer, Israel, far behind.
The protesters and the speakers who addressed the crowds on Saturday reflected the depth and the diversity of support for the Palestinian cause in the UK, and, in terms of speakers, a new willingness among the mainstream to speak out for Palestine.
Official police estimates for the march, which began at the Israeli embassy and continued past the Prime Minister’s residence to the Houses of Parliament, was 45,000 people.
However, police estimates for demonstrations are notoriously low, and the numbers who packed Parliament Square, Whitehall and Westminster Bridge for the final rally looked to be closer to 100,000.
Outside Parliament, rock stars Brian Eno and Dave Randall spoke to the crowd, as well as the children’s poet and author Michael Rosen and the comedian Jeremy Hardy. Representatives from major UK trade unions also spoke in support of Palestinians in Gaza.
Support for boycott
Protesters rallied in front of the British Parliament building. (Palestine Solidarity Campaign)
Lesley Mercer of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the body representing 54 affiliated unions and 6.2 million working people in the UK, expressed the TUC’s support for Palestinians in Gaza and reiterated the TUC’s official backing of a boycott of Israeli settlement goods.
Calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) were made by many of the speakers.
Dave Randall of the band Faithless told the massed crowds outside Parliament: “The last time Faithless was on a world tour, we heeded the cultural boycott of Israel. I’m very pleased to see that my colleague and fellow singer, Sinead O’Connor, has also this week said she will boycott Israel. My message to my fellow artists is to join the cultural boycott of Israel. Do not entertain apartheid Israel.”
Brian Eno also called for BDS. He said it was “the little things” he saw on a visit to the West Bank which made him realize the scale of Israel’s occupation.
“It was things like the whole village that had been evacuated and was living in caves so that three Israeli settler families could take their land and be protected by the army,” Eno told the rally. “BDS will make the difference. It’s the only thing that will frighten Israel.”
Walter Wolfgang, the 91-year-old German-born British socialist and peace activist, who was too frail to climb the stairs onto the stage, but spoke from the floor, echoed those calls.
“I stand here to protest against Israel’s barbarism, and I do so as a Jew. This is naked aggression by the Israeli government, and it must be treated as such. We need economic measures. We need to end the siege of Gaza. We need a free Palestine,” he declared.
Israel arms embargo
Ola, a young Palestinian from Gaza whose home was bombed by Israel, spoke at the march on Saturday. (Palestine Solidarity Campaign)
A young Palestinian named Ola, whose family home in Gaza was bombed last week, also addressed the rally at Parliament, defiantly telling the crowds:
Not only have they killed more than 1,000 people, they have destroyed 55 percent of this tiny strip of land. They have destroyed what little land we had left. What they have not destroyed is the hope and the resistance that exists inside every single Palestinian.
This is a regime that was built on massacres and murders. They said of the Palestinians that the old would die and the young would forget. Well, I am a young Palestinian, and I have not forgotten.
Outside the Israeli embassy, before the march set off, Owen Jones, the journalist and commentator, told protestors: “Today we express our unwavering solidarity with the people of Palestine. This isn’t a conflict, this isn’t a war, this is a massacre. A massacre of the Palestinian people.”
Sarah Colborne of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign emphasized one of the central demands of the march and rally — a halt to the UK government’s arms trade with Israel.
“It’s shameful, it’s sickening and it’s revolting that Britain sells components to Israel for its weapons,” she told the crowd. “It’s shameful that weapons that Israel has field-tested on the Palestinians are bought by Britain. The arms trade with Israel has to end now.”
Flying the Palestinian flag
The London demonstration this past weekend was organized as part of a wave of protests in support of Gaza across the UK on Saturday, from Edinburgh in the north to Hastings on the south coast, and from Cardiff in the west to Cambridge in the east. On 19 July, approximately 100,000 people participated in the march through London in support of Palestinians.
The diversity of support for the Palestinian cause is also expanding. On 20 July, the well-known band Massive Attack used the Longitude Festival in Dublin to shout out for Gaza. A lit-up message on the huge backdrop to their set read “Gaza has been occupied or under restrictions since 1948.”
And a letter demanding an arms embargo on Israel — which was delivered to the Prime Minister’s residence on Friday by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign — was signed not just by members of Parliament and academics, but many prominent cultural figures as well.
These signatories included rock stars Peter Gabriel and Ken Loach, as well as designer Bella Freud, journalist and activist Jemima Khan, musicians Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream, Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack, Brian Eno and Bryan Adams, the writers Will Self, Hanif Kureishi, Ahdaf Soueif, Esther Freud, Laura Bailey and William Dalrymple, and the actors David Morrissey, Maxine Peake and Alexei Sayle.
People are no longer afraid to speak up for Palestinian human rights, and the strength and the breadth of the support which has been visible across the UK recently is a sign of that. It puts to shame those politicians and mainstream media organizations who, with their pro-colonizer agendas, are showing themselves up as the out-of-touch anachronisms that they are.