Thousands of people joined a national demonstration for solidarity with the Palestinians in London on Saturday.
The march was called by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) in support of the right of return for Palestinian refugees. It also followed an Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip last weekend, which killed at least 25 Palestinians.
One protester, Hajal, told Socialist Worker she wanted to join the demonstration “especially after what happened last week with the bombings in Gaza”.“It’s more important than ever to be here and stand up for what’s right,” she said.
Many speakers and protesters on the march explained why the right of return for Palestinian refugees is so important. Refugees are people who were expelled from their homes when Israel was created in 1948 and their descendants.
Some 850,000 of them were ethnically cleansed from the land 71 years ago in an event known as the “Nakba” or catastrophe.
Israel’s founders wanted to ensure the new state had a Jewish ethnic majority. Israel has refused to allow Palestinians to return ever since, and has a raft of racist laws that exclude and discriminate against Arabs.
Supporters of Israel say demanding the right of return, or supporting a one state solution, is antisemitic because it would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state.
But one protester, Maj, said, “Palestinians have the right to return—they have the right to exist. Israel has no right to dictate to them where they can live—it’s their land.”
Another, Brahim, said “The Palestinians were made to leave and they should be allowed to go back.
“Jews and Muslims have always lived there. They can find a way to co-exist.”
And Jaymain, who travelled from Bradford to join the march, said, “Palestine has always been a place where people of different faiths and races have lived together—that’s just that part of the world.
“So why shouldn’t the Palestinians be allowed to live there? People can live together.”
The march was bigger than many activists had expected—a sign that, despite attempts to discredit solidarity with Palestine, many activists have not been intimidated.
Labour MPs spoke at the rally—Diane Abbott, Richard Burgon and Lloyd Russell-Moyle—as well as a speaker from Sinn Fein and the UCU, Unite, NEU and PCS unions.
Many speakers at the rally spoke of the slaughter in Gaza last weekend—and many pointed to Britain’s support for Israel.
PSC chair Kamel Hawwash called on Britain to stop selling arms to Israel. He said that Tory foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt had “condemned last week the Palestinian people in Gaza.
“But he didn’t condemn the deaths of the 28 people who are Palestinians.”
Abbott read out a message from Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who used to regularly join PSC marches in person.
Part of the message said, “The Labour Party is united in condemning the human rights abuses taking place in Gaza and the Israeli forces shooting unarmed protesters for simply demanding their rights.”
Speakers spoke of the decades of oppression Palestinians have faced, ever since Britain first promised Israel’s founders a state built on Palestinian land in 1917.
Palestinian ambassador to Britain Husam Zomlot said Palestinians had been “wronged for too long.”
“We’ve been wronged since the Balfour declaration 100 years ago,” he said. “We’ve been wronged because that colonial arrogance has never been redressed.
“We were wronged 71 years ago. We were wronged to be occupied militarily. We were wronged to be besieged like in Gaza.”
Other speakers described how Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank still face attempts to drive them from their homes. Israel is expanding its illegal settlements across these territories, with the goal of eventually annexing them and the surrounding land.
Many of them linked this to a coming “peace deal” cooked up by US president Donald Trump. This is likely to demand that Palestinian give up even more of their land, and many supporters of the Palestinians fear it could lead to a “new Nakba.”
Labour MP Richard Burgon said, “Palestinians have a right to exist. That right is increasingly being threatened.”
But other speakers talked of how—despite decades of attempts to silence them—Palestinians continued to resist.
Ben Jamal, PSC director, pointed to how Palestinians had been demonstrating at the Gaza fence for over a year to demand the right to return.He promised that supporters of the Palestinians would stick with Palestinians “until you achieve your birth right—freedom and equality in your historic homeland.”
Some speakers called on demonstrators to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, including a boycott of the Eurovision Song Contest held in Israel this year.
Others said people should join the Palestine solidarity block on the demonstration against US president Donald Trump’s visit to Britain.
Ahed Tamimi—the Palestinian teenager who became famous when she was jailed after being filmed slapping an Israeli soldier who entered her home—was welcomed with a huge cheer.
She told the marchers, “It was your voices that kept me strong in the Israeli prison. I thank you for your support and solidarity”.
But she added that she didn’t want the story of the Palestinians to be one of “victimhood.”
“We choose to struggle for freedom and justice,” she said. “We choose to be freedom fighters.
“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free."