By Socialist Worker journalists
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2879

Monster march for Palestine in London as Israeli forces assault Gaza

Half a million people raged against Israeli terror—the third and biggest mobilisation in London so far
Issue 2879
A crowd shot showing the huge size of the Palestine march in London

The march turned Embankment into a sea of Palestinian flags (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Half a million pro-Palestine supporters poured through the streets of London on Saturday. It was a sea of people, streaming out of the Tube exits, chanting for Palestine as they moved through the stations, determined to show their solidarity. 

They marched in great blocs of people, thundering out the slogans the Tories thought they could ban—such as, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” And later in the day hundreds of activists occupied Waterloo station in direct action for Palestine. We need more of that sort of initiative.

Everyone on the march was outraged at the Israeli offensive against Gaza on Friday night and Saturday morning. It saw a massive and murderous missile and artillery bombardment for many hours and ground troops and tanks fighting inside the territory. 

“It is mass murder, it is wiping out a whole generation of people,” London marcher Aafiya from West London told Socialist Worker. “I cannot just go on with daily life. I know people like me are being killed even as we speak, and babies too.

“The Israelis are the worst criminals, nobody can support them. This is not about a Hamas attack, it is killing our dream of justice for the Palestinians,” she said. 

Ashraf al-Qudra, the spokesperson of the health ministry in Gaza, said Israeli assaults had turned Gaza into a “ball of fire”. At least 377 more Palestinians were murdered overnight. That brought the Palestinian death toll since 8 October to over 7,700.

Al-Qudra added that Israel’s actions had caused complete paralysis of the health system, medical teams and ambulances in Gaza.

Terry Lawrence, a health worker from Watford on the march, said the trade unions need to do a lot more to stand with the people of Palestine. “My own union, Unison, was very slow to come out with a statement calling for people to be active. They seem terrified of upsetting the media and Keir Starmer,” he said.

“I support those who fight back against Israel in Gaza, and who are we to give them advice about that?” he added.

Hamas said its fighters confronted Israeli troops on Friday night and Saturday morning. Hamas official Ali Baraka said, “There were significant losses in enemy ranks, both in soldiers and equipment. The enemy fell into ambushes set up by the Palestinian resistance on several fronts.”

And Palestinians are taking to the streets in the West Bank and Jerusalem. There was fierce fighting in Jenin in the West Bank where Palestinians fought back against Israeli forces. 

In revenge, Israeli forces destroyed a memorial for the slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. They razed the street where she was shot dead by an Israeli soldier in May 2022.

In Nablus, a major city in the West Bank, demonstrators were dispersed by the security forces of the corrupt and treacherous Palestinian Authority. It polices Palestinians in Israel’s interest.

There was anger across the London demonstration against Keir Starmer’s refusal to back a ceasefire and to support Palestine.

Jess is a member of the Unite union and a former member of the Labour Party. “I resigned my membership of the Labour Party. In the past I had stood as a councillor and everything,” she said.

“But the things that Keir Starmer, David Lammy and Emily Thornberry have been saying have been disgusting.

“I started my activism fighting the Iraq war. I can no longer be part of a party that backs imperialism and war. Now I say to all trade unions that they should withdraw their funding from the Labour Party.”

A man holds a placard as people take direct action at Waterloo

Pro-Palestine protesters take direct action at London Waterloo station (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Jess added, “Trade unionists can facilitate conversations about Palestine. The union of the Tube driver that was suspended for chanting free Palestine over the loudspeaker needs to back him and ensure he keeps his job.” 

Naomi, who has Congolese roots, said that she thinks what’s going on in Gaza is a genocide.“I know all too well what genocide looks like and today I see that history is repeating itself,” she said. 

“We cannot let it happen this time. But we also have to talk about what causes genocide— it’s colonialism, racism and capitalism.”

four Muslim women in the foreground at the Palestine march

The demonstration was young and radical (Picture: Guy Smallman)

‘This is a new level of killing behaviour’

In its latest offensive, Israel has unleashed a murderous attempt to obliterate all Palestinian resistance to the Zionist regime.

To that end the Israeli state has already driven almost 1.5 million Palestinians from their homes in Gaza. The intention is to create free-fire zones where everyone who moves can be eliminated.

The Israel government fully intends that Gaza, which was the biggest open-air prison in the world, is to become the world’s largest cemetery. And those Palestinians who are not blown apart or immolated will be expelled in a chilling recreation of the expulsion of the Nakba of 1948. They have already faced resistance, and they will face more.

Delays in beginning this attack, and the hesitations that remain, are because the Israeli leaders are scared. They fear either crushing defeat or being bogged down in a war where their forces will take losses every day. 

In the end Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s political future depended on him being seen to be ruthless. And he will have to smash the Palestinians to satisfy his far right cabinet.

Netanyahu was also fearful that support for an invasion was ebbing away. On 19 October 65 percent of Israelis supported a ground invasion of Gaza. On 26 October, as Hamas began to release some of the detainees it had taken, only 29 percent did.

The path to this moment has been prepared by racist propaganda and open demands for genocide. Israeli MP Ariel Kallner from Netanyahu’s Likud party said last weekend, “Right now, one goal—Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of 48.”

An Israeli army veteran who was involved in the 1948 massacres of Palestinians called on Israelis to “erase the memory of families, mothers and children”.

Ezra Yachin, 95, is one of more than 300,000 army reservists Israel has mobilised. He will serve to “motivate” soldiers. “Be triumphant and finish them off and don’t leave anyone behind. Erase the memory of them,” Yachin said while addressing Israeli troops last week. “These animals can no longer live.” 

Israel’s killing machine can rely on powerful friends. As the Economist business magazine wrote this week, “President Joe Biden has sent two hulking aircraft-carriers to support Israel. They are a 200,000-tonne show of strength at a time when much of the world believes that American power is in decline.”

Biden is anxious that the Israeli actions could stir up the Arab masses and bring down Western friends in the region. But he won’t back off from support for Israel. As he has said repeatedly during his political career, most recently 11 months ago, “If there were not an Israel, we’d have to invent one.”

The Zionist state acts as the most trusted guarantor of the power of Western imperialist profit and power in the region.

On the London demonstration Rania, who is Palestinian, called out the hypocrisy of Western leaders who back only some countries facing invasion and occupation.  “The support that the Ukrainians were given would never have been given to Palestine,” she said. 

“Near where I live someone has hung a Ukrainian flag since the war began. Someone tried to hang a Palestinian flag, and it was taken down in days.” 

Rania said that she often feels “helpless” watching the news. But getting out onto the streets makes a difference. 

“I feel like I’ve been silenced my whole life. I think all Palestinians feel like that. But in the last two weeks, the narrative flipped. I’ve never experienced so many people speaking about Palestine,” she said.

What you can do

Every socialist, anti-imperialist, anti-racist and worker must now build the counter-offensive to Israel and the West.

Don’t stop raging. Join the marches for Palestine and make them as militant as possible. A great wave of murder by Israel is taking place. Most of the slaughter is not hidden or covered-up, it is done openly and buttressed by the media’s and politicians’ lies.

Netanyahu, Biden and Rishi Sunak think they can get away with this. We have to prove them wrong. We need a great outpouring of protests, strikes, occupations and riots.

Mass demonstrations are very important. But at this moment the question is, “When will we go further? How many deaths, how much ethnic cleansing would it take before we move into a higher plane of struggle?”

Those trade union leaders who now back the Palestinians should call for walkouts. The Palestinians can’t wait for the unions to have a consultative ballot first.

If you’re a student, try to close the campuses and blockade schools on Monday. If you’re a worker try to stop, even for a short time. Fill the streets, stop “business as usual”. Rise up for Palestine.

Union leaders and Labour MPs speak

The rally at the end of the demonstration heard repeated chants of “Ceasefire Now”,  “Free Palestine” and “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free”.

Alex Kenny for Stop the War and from the NEU co-chaired the raly and introduced the Palestinian ambassador Husam Zomlot.

He told the cheering crowd, “Let it sink in that Israel has slaughtered 3,000 children. They have cut off Gaza because they want to commit crimes in the darkness. When 14 countries vote against peace we shall remember them. What has happened to our humanity?

“What has happened to our values, what has happened to an international system that promised equal rules for all? The world has failed. This is a historic moment standing with human rights for all.

“We can choose darkness or we can choose to raise our voices. Your voices are crucial. Palestine will fight for our future and your future.”

Ismail Patel from Friends of Al-Aqsa said, “Today is a very dark day, not just for the Palestinians but also a dark one for us here because it is power here that has given the green light to Israel for the genocide.”

He called for every building to fly the Palestinian flag. “Let us work to bring the meaning to the words ‘Never Again’. Don’t let the Palestinians die in silence.”

While every mention of Keir Starmer or David Lammy was booed, a number of Labour MPs spoke at the rally. East London Labour MP Apsana Begum said, “We are people from all around the world, from all ethnicities from all backgrounds. We are calling for peace and we are calling for justice.”

Leeds Labour MP Richard Burgon emphasised that a parliamentary motion for a ceasefire was backed by up to 100 MPs from a range of political parties.

He said, “I promise you today that when parliament returns in ten days we will build an even bigger campaign. We can secure a Palestinian state, that is needed for Israel and needed for lasting peace across the whole Middle East. Let’s fight from here around the world and for justice”. 

Coventry MP Zarah Sultana said, “We speak up until our leaders listen and until they stop. We will speak up until the siege by Israel is lifted and food, water and medical supplies flow back in. We will speak up until the occupation ends and Palestine is free”.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP said, “Britain has played a role in the cycle of bloodshed and killing now unfolding in the Middle East. Our country has a particular responsibility to push for a just and lasting peace in Palestine and Israel. We should not be fanning the flames of conflict.”

Diane Abbott MP added, “The British government supports the siege supports the blanket bombing and opposes peace. Over and over again in this country, its political leadership talks about Israel having a right to defend itself.

“Israel should have a right to defend itself, but what is really happening is that it is bombing sites like hospitals so doctors are operating on the floor. They are having to amputate limbs without anaesthetic. Babies are being disconnected from the incubator. Is that self-defence?

“We are united. We uphold international law. We oppose all crimes and we will not give up until we achieve peace.”

The United Families & Friends Campaign, which had held a memorial procession for those killed by the police, spoke to the rally. So did a number of trade union leaders.

Libby Nolan, Unison union president, said, “The collective punishment of the people is a crime and it must stop now. We will always be stronger when we stand united.

“We send a message to the British government to demand an immediate ceasefire and humanitarian corridors.”

Mick Lynch from the RMT union brought solidarity as did Matt Wrack from the FBU. He received loud cheers when he criticised the Labour Party leadership for being unable to say the word ceasefire.

He added, “We have to challenge our own government. Don’t put your trust in governments or the United Nations—for decades they have betrayed the Palestinian people. We build our own movement of workers, of people who want to see justice, regardless of race, nationality and religion.”

Jeremy Corbyn was cheered when he said, “The world’s nations voted at the United Nations last night in the general assembly by an overwhelming majority to demand a ceasefire.

“It’s not much to ask, a ceasefire, when children are being killed by weapons coming through the rooms of their homes.

“It is in eternal stain that the British Government abstained on that vote.

“I want to live in a world that’s free from racism of all sorts—Islamophobia, anti-black racism or antisemitism. Globally people are calling for a ceasefire.

“They are coming out to call for a ceasefire, to call for peace, to call for an end to the occupation and justice for the people of Palestine. Quite simply we want peace.”

Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini, who resigned  from the Labour Party along with other councillors in Oxford, was loudly applauded when she said, “The Labour Party is led by a human rights lawyer, who struggles to define indiscriminate, bombing of homes, of ambulances and a 2,000 year old church as a crime.”

A speaker from the Muslim Association of Britain added, “You cannot believe that Israel has the right to block food, water, fuel and medical supplies in a medieval-like siege and then lectures us on international law and human rights.”

Ben Jamal from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign was the last speaker, “Next week we want you back in your towns and cities holding events that show that you value the lives of Palestinians,” he said.

“Show that the lives of the children of Gaza matter. The Saturday after we want you back here in your hundreds of thousands in London to make it the biggest march in history, not just on Palestine but any. Palestine will be free and we will stand with them.”

Pro-Palestine protests across Britain

There were again impressive demonstrations outside London. In Manchester some 15,000 people marched in the city centre—its largest protest yet. 

Activists on the ground report that anger at Sir Keir Starmer in the Labour-run city was greater even than against the Tories. 

The march filled St Peter’s Square and included a Queers for Palestine bloc. As with many other places, Manchester had also sent transport to the national demonstration in London. 

Thousands again turned out in Bolton, Greater Manchester, where the main shopping street was a sea of Palestinian flags. One protester there said, “If we stand by and do nothing whilst this is going on, I feel like we are almost complicit in what’s going on in that genocide.” 

In Glasgow around 10,000 marched this week, and 4,000 took to the streets in Edinburgh. There were also demonstrations of several hundreds in other Scottish towns. 

Socialist Worker supporters are hoping that the Palestine campaign will soon announce an all-Scotland demonstration which they think would be “massive”. 

South of the border, Newcastle saw its biggest demonstration yet, with at least 2,000 on the march. On the west coast, some 300 turned out in Lancaster. 

In Yorkshire, Sheffield, Leeds and Bradford saw thousands join protests, with a particularly strong union presence at the Sheffield march.  

There were demonstrations of several hundred in Leicester, Nottingham and Derby, with activists reporting between 500 and 1,000 attending. Well over a thousand people protested in the Welsh capital, Cardiff. 

On the south coast of England, around 250 protested in the naval town of Plymouth. Heba, the chair of the Palestine Students Society at Plymouth university, told the rally, “We will never go silent on Palestine, and never forget the atrocities of the military apartheid state of Israel.” 

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