On Saturday, 200,000 people joined Friends of Al Aqsa in London for a historic national demo in support of the people of Palestine. A fortnight of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza led to the deaths of 243 Palestinians, including 66 children, with more than 1910 people injured. Widespread outrage across the world led to hundreds of demonstrations. In the UK, there have been over 80 protests in the last two weeks. The large demonstration on Saturday in London was no surprise given Britain’s historic role in the region, its current complicity through the arms trade and the brazen attacks on Palestinians.
A diverse crowd marched through central London, passing London Bridge, Downing Street and Trafalgar Square before arriving at Hyde Park. A sea of placards calling for “End the Occupation” and “Hands off Al-Aqsa” were carried by the crowds. Many also had the Palestine flag and chants demanding an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine echoed the streets of London. As protestors passed Downing Street, they chanted “stop arming Israel” and “shame on Boris Johnson”.
Hawa, from Leicester, said she was protesting because “as an ordinary person, this gives me an opportunity to ask the world leaders to be guided by ethics and morality. And it was important to show my love and solidarity for the Palestinian people at the hour of their need.”
Whilst Hawa welcomes the ceasefire; she considered it as a temporary measure since it doesn’t solve the central issue.
“Israel continues ethnically cleanse and dispossess Palestinians from their land. We will continue with our efforts until the apartheid and colonisation stop.”
Saad, 19, attended the national demonstration with a large group from Luton. He believes protests like these are essential in helping to counter the biased pro-Israeli narrative.
“These national demonstrations allow us to create lasting dents in the closely protected armour of Israel’s reputation. There is only so much the media can pretend not to see.”
Protests on Saturday also took place in other UK cities such as Birmingham, Bristol, Huddersfield, Gloucester, Nottingham and Peterborough. The widespread support for Palestine demonstrated on Saturday will only further challenge Israel’s colonial ambitions. It is abundantly clear that Israel’s latest assault on Gaza caused a tidal wave of anger and, correspondingly, an outpouring of support for the Palestinian cause.
In a 2017 poll from Yougov, participants were asked whether they thought the 2005 Palestinian call for BDS was reasonable; 43 per cent thought it was. That was more than three times the number who believed that it was unreasonable. After repeated breaches of international law and numerous assaults on Gaza, support for Israel is only likely to have waned further.
The former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, the former Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell and half a dozen MPs spoke at the national demonstration.
Addressing the crowd, Mr Corbyn said “We will be here as long as is it takes until the Palestinian people are free. We will never give up on the Palestinian people; we will never go away from the Palestinian people and their cause.”
Mr McDonnell echoed his sentiments and reiterated the calls from Palestinian civil society for BDS. “Let’s be clear; there will be no ceasefire in our campaign to boycott, disinvest and sanction the Israeli apartheid state. The message is clear; we will not cease our campaign in solidarity until there is justice.”
Ismail Patel, Chair of Friends of Al-Aqsa urged the crowd to continue lobbying, campaigning and promoting BDS. He asked the gathering to coordinate their efforts by following Friends of Al-Aqsa on social media.
The national demonstration was, no doubt, a symbolic gesture of solidarity with the Palestinian cause. However, its importance in putting pressure on the British government to end its complicity in the oppression of the Palestinian people cannot be overstated. There are growing calls for Britain to impose sanctions on Israel and end its extensive arms trade with Israel.
On Saturday, the British public made their support for the Palestinian people loud and clear. It’s time for the government to listen.