A pro-Palestinian protest on Armistice Day has divided public opinion, with some saying it is “absolutely appropriate” to call for a ceasefire in Gaza while others have said they are “very wary” to enter central London.
Hugh Jaeger, 59, from Oxford, said he will be taking part in the march on Saturday because “it seems absolutely appropriate that on Armistice Day of all days we march”.
Rob Lovelace, 35, from Cambridgeshire, who served with the British armed forces for 12 years, said he will be “very wary” of the protest while paying a brief visit to the Cenotaph on Saturday, which he said was “heart-wrenching” coming from a long line of family members to have served in the military.
It comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hauled in Metropolitan Police chief Sir Mark Rowley for an emergency meeting on Wednesday about the march planned in London, saying he would hold the Scotland Yard boss “accountable” if there was trouble.
Sir Mark has faced pressure from senior Tories to ban Saturday’s march but has said the law would only allow him to do so in “extreme cases”.
The planned route for the march goes from Hyde Park – about a mile from the war memorial in Whitehall – to the US embassy in Vauxhall, south of the Thames.
The Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, which will be attended by the King and Queen and other members of the royal family, will also take place on Saturday.
There are concerns that breakaway groups from the main march could look for trouble while counter-demonstrations may add to policing difficulties.
Mr Jaeger, a retired rail industry worker, told the PA news agency: “It seems bizarre that we are where we are 105 years later because that war, horrible though it was the First World War, most of the victims were combatants.
“Whereas the war in Palestine is completely the opposite, where [the majority] of the victims are civilians – and, whatever Israel claims, it is aiming its aggression directly at civilians.”
Mr Jaeger added that he has previously attended the pro-Palestinian marches in central London as well as a local march in Oxford, saying they were “very peaceful” and “family friendly”.
Mr Lovelace, who retired from the armed forces in 2020, said he will be “darting in and out of London quite quickly” because he is “conscious” of the protest.
He told PA: “From what I’ve seen, granted a lot of it’s from social media, that there are the fringes of the pro-Palestinian people that aren’t that friendly and it’s a very good way to sort of demonstrate their anti-Britishness.
“What would be more of a goal than one of them, you know, ripping my medals off and assaulting me?
“I’m being very wary of that, which is a bit heart-wrenching really.
“I come from a long line in my family of people in the military, I carried it on.”
Mr Lovelace said he joined the armed forces in 2008 where he served in the Royal Tank Regiment for ten years before transferring to the Household Cavalry for the last two years of his career.
He said it would be “insensitive” for people to go to the Cenotaph on Whitehall as part of the pro-Palestinian protest.
“If they want to express their views around Palestine, I’m not going to stop it, I hope they do it tastefully,” he said.
He added that he would “fight for anyone’s right to protest even if it’s against my own values”.
“Having served in Afghanistan, I’ve certainly experienced when people don’t have that right to protest and what it means to them.”