Thousands take to the streets of London during pro-Palestinian march – with many fearing the worst for Gaza

Pro-Palestinian protesters called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to ‘stop arming Israel’

Tom Watling ,Maryam Zakir-Hussain
Saturday 14 October 2023 19:05 BST
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Aerial footage captures thousands of pro-Palestine protesters marching through London

Tens of thousands of protesters descended on the streets of central London to march in solidarity with Palestinians trapped in Gaza as the Israeli army begins their ground assault in the Strip.

More than 2,200 Palestinians have been killed in the enclave since members of Hamas, a militant organisation elected in Gaza in 2007, crossed into Israeli territory last weekend and killed more than 1,000 soldiers and civilians.

The enclave has been under heavy Israeli bombardment since. Buildings have been razed and several hospitals have been hit.

On Friday, more than one million Gazas in the northern region of the enclave were ordered to evacuate southward in what the United Nations said would have “devastating humanitarian consequences”.

In London and across Europe, marches took place on Saturday to voice support for the Palestinian cause and solidarity with those stuck in Gaza.

Protesters began congregating around the BBC building at Portland Place around 11am. By midday, the crowds stretched all the way down Oxford Street.

The protest carried on into the afternoon and fireworks were let off in the crowd as supporters dispersed from Whitehall.

Protesters congregated outside the BBC building just before midday on Saturday

Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the organiser of the event, told The Independent towards the end of the march that they believed 100,000 people had been in attendance.

The police suggested the total was much lower, closer to 10,000, though they admitted it was subject to change.

The protests began walking towards Whitehall just after midday, making their way through Oxford Street and past Trafalgar Square before massing in front of the Cenotaph.

A minute’s silence was observed outside Downing Street by for those killed in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

A series of speeches were delivered by pro-Palestinian supporters, including former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Palestine ambassador to the UK Husam Zomlot.

“It is a day of solidarity and it is a day of hope,” the independent MP for Islington North told the crowd.

Frustration with the government response, as well as that of the opposition, to the conflict was a common theme among organisers and protesters.

Mr Jamal, a British Palestinian, accused Rishi Sunak of “giving the green light to war crimes”, referring to the government’s decision to send military vessels and surveillance aircrafts to assist the Israeli efforts.

He suggested that home secretary Suella Braverman was contributing to the “dehumanisation of Palestinians” by questioning whether the display of the Palestinian flag could be considered illegal following the Hamas attacks on Israeli soil.

He expressed particular anger with Sir Keir Starmer, who earlier this week said the Israeli government was “within their right to defend herself”.

“Here is the likely next prime minister of the UK, a member of the Labour Party for goodness sake, endorsing a state enacting war crimes against an entire population,” he said. “That is grotesque. What message does that deliver to the world about the UK’s response to international law? What does that say to the Palestinian people about its humanity and how it’s respected.”

Many Palestinians with friends and family in Gaza attended the march. Ismail Patel, the chair of the Friends of Al-Aqsa, one of the organising bodies of the march, told The Independent through tears that he had lost contact with one of his friends in the Strip on Friday night, when the first Israeli soldiers stepped into the enclave.

“While I was having one conversation with a friend in Gaza, their phone died,” he said. “I don’t know what’s happened to them anymore. Now it’s becoming more and more difficult to be in touch with people in Gaza.”

His daughter, stood behind him, looked at the ground as her father welled up.

Hassan Kamal, a British Palestinian from Jerusalem, said he has “no idea” what has happened to his family in Gaza and can no longer get in contact with them.

Hassan Kamal, a British Palestinian from Jerusalem, with his daughter at the march in London

Though the march was largely peaceful, there were some brief episodes of violence around Piccadilly Circus.

One man was arrested after he hit one of the volunteers helping with the march. The victim, who asked not to be named, said he “got punched in the face out of nowhere”. He had a bloody lip and nose but was otherwise unharmed.

The assailant did not appear to belong to any group, though he was brandishing an English flag. The crowd responded by chanting: “Shame on you.”

In a letter to senior police officers on Tuesday, Ms Braverman said she would “encourage” the authorities to “consider whether chants such as: ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’” as a potential “expression of violent desire to see Israel erased from the world”.

Her encouragement did not stop protesters on Saturday from signing the song, nor did it provoke the police to prevent it. Multiple placards suggested the home secretary was a “racist” in response.

As the protesters left Portland Place, the famous “From the River” chant, issued from a megaphone on the steps outside the BBC building, was met with rapturous applause and support for the crowd.

Pro-Palestine events were also held in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee.

In Glasgow, Bath Street, close to the Buchanan Street steps where the rally was held, had to be closed because of the large number of people attending.

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