Thousands strong protests in London and Manchester last Saturday showed the depth of the anger against Tony Blair and George Bush for their support for Israel’s attacks on Lebanon.
Over 25,000 people took part in an emergency demonstration in London, with a large number of them from a Lebanese or Arab background.
Nader Jechi said, “I was in Beirut yesterday, but was evacuated. The bombing – it was hell. I couldn’t sleep or do anything. I was crying all the time. I am really angry and worried for the people still in Lebanon.”
Mona Majed, who lives in south west London, said, “The US is with Israel against Lebanon. Arab countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, are cowards. They are not doing anything to stop the war.
“We want an end to all this – but it must be a fair end. We don’t want Lebanon to pay for the peace as well. People need to act, to do something.”
Abu and Abdul, two students from east London attending their first protest, said, “We saw these things going on and thought it was time to get unified and participate in British society.”
The family of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian shot dead by police a year ago, cancelled a commemorative meeting to allow campaigners to attended the protest.
Meanwhile in Manchester, 2,000 protesters gathered. A banner at the front of the march displayed Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, painted in 1937 to condemn the Nazi aerial bombing of the Basque city.
Nahella Ashraf is the convenor of Greater Manchester Coalition to Stop the War and chair of Manchester Respect. She said the size of the demonstration reflected the “high level of awareness” of what was really going on in the Middle East.
“People are angry – not just about Israel but also at our government, which is not speaking up and not supporting the people of Lebanon,” she said.
Many on the march had not been on anti-war protests previously, she added. “Israel’s attacks have been a real eye opener for people who wouldn’t necessarily think of themselves as very political.”
All of this bodes well for the national demonstration planned for Saturday 23 September in Manchester to coincide with the Labour Party conference.
Every speaker talked about the urgency of building the Stop the War movement and making 23 September as big as possible.
“People are making the connections between Lebanon and the US’s ‘war on terror’,” said Nahella. “The US attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan have given Israel a green light to do the same.”
‘I am from south Lebanon which has been hit hard by the attacks. I am worried about my friends and family. The Arab regimes have not stood beside Lebanon. They are not doing anything.’
Ibraham Salami, student at Southbank University
‘They always talk about “precision bombing” but they are hitting civilians. They are killing children. I think that Israel is deliberately targeting civilians to create a regime of terror.’
Lianne Omara, pharmacy dispenser from Isle of Bute
‘Israel does not respect any international laws. We want to support families fleeing from the attacks, and to press this country’s government to call for an end to Israel’s actions.’
Waleed Kamal, General Union of Palestinian Students
About 2,000 people gathered in Edinburgh city centre last Saturday, and a similar number took to the streets in Glasgow.
In Edinburgh protesters held an impromptu march on the Scottish parliament.
In Glasgow about 500 of those demonstrating blocked a road. Menan al-Araibi, a student at Glasgow University from Bahrain, told Socialist Worker, “We are supporting the Lebanese people. Civilians – children and old people – are being killed.
“We are disappointed with the Arab leaders. They should be taking action to stop this war.”
Dr Samawal Alsammoua, a Syrian doctor working in Glasgow, said, “We have to stop the Israeli terror. It’s not a fair war. Israel is destroying the infrastructure of Lebanon – all the things the Lebanese have been working towards for the last 15 years.”
Hundreds of people from across Scotland marched alongside those from the Middle East. Many of them signed up to go to the Stop the War demonstration outside Labour’s conference in Manchester this September.
Stephanie Powell and Fiona Stewart, college students from Coatbridge, are both planning to go to Manchester.
Stephanie said, “I didn’t expect much more from Blair but I am angry. I think everyone should go to the Manchester demonstration.” Fiona added, “I believe in equal rights. I think what is happening now is very wrong.”
Angela McCormick spoke at the Glasgow demonstration on behalf of the Scottish Socialist Party. She said, “Blair is behind every bomb. We will all be in Manchester on the 23 September to lay siege to the city. Blair will hear us.”
Dr Rashid Mohammed from the Lebanese community reminded people of the root causes of the violence.
“Since the establishment of Israel in 1948 the whole of the Middle East has suffered from Israeli aggression,” he said.
Sandra White, a member of the Scottish parliament for the Scottish National Party, told the protesters, “We have to take this struggle not just to the Scottish parliament, but to Westminster and to the European parliament.”
She reminded people that for Bush and Blair the assault on Lebanon was part of a wider strategy. “This is a back door way of pushing into Iran and Syria,” she said.
Protesters from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Stop the War gathered outside the surgery of New Labour’s Margaret Beckett in her Derby South constituency on Friday of last week.
Beckett recently became foreign secretary. Protesters surrounded the surgery, chanting, “UK silence, UK shame… Beckett’s silence, Beckett’s shame.”
The demonstrators were outraged at Beckett’s comments the previous day in support of Israel’s actions.
Beckett had said it would be a “pity” if Israel lost a “window of opportunity in which it can highlight to the international community the scale and nature of the danger which Israel and its people face”.
When Beckett tried to make it to her car she was grilled again by protesters. Chris Fraser, a teacher from Nottingham, shouted to her, “Why is it that you always do what Bush tells you to do?” When pressed on this matter, she admitted, “Well I can see why you might think that.”
Between 400 and 500 protesters joined a demonstration in the centre of Newcastle last Saturday.
The protest, which had a lively and spontaneous feel, having been called at short notice, drew a diverse crowd of people.
The demonstration was addressed by several speakers, including a representative of the Lebanese community, Unison union regional convenor Clare Williams, and health worker and trade unionist Yunus Bakhsh.
About 300 people joined a protest called by the Stop the War Coalition and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Exeter last Saturday.
The protesters held an impromptu march through the city centre.
After some months of being in the doldrums, the anti-war movement is back on the streets in Exeter.
Ninety people attended a protest in Hull on Friday of last week against the Israeli onslaught on Lebanon.
In York 150 attended a protest on Saturday. Lively demonstrations took place in Kirkcaldy and Dundee in Scotland.
Some 500 attended a protest in Sheffield.
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