Tens of thousands take part in pro-Palestinian protests in UK cities

Protesters chanted ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ despite controversy around the slogan’s meaning.

Luke O'Reilly
Saturday 21 October 2023 21:39 BST
Protesters during a pro-Palestine march organised by Stop the War Coalition and Palestine Solidarity Campaign in central London. Picture date: Saturday October 21, 2023.
Protesters during a pro-Palestine march organised by Stop the War Coalition and Palestine Solidarity Campaign in central London. Picture date: Saturday October 21, 2023. (PA Wire)

Thousands of people have protested in support of the besieged Gaza Strip in London and other UK cities.

The Metropolitan Police said “up to 100,000” took part in a pro-Palestine march in central London on Saturday, with other rallies in Cardiff, Glasgow and Birmingham.

Others protested outside the BBC’s MediaCity headquarters in Salford, Greater Manchester, over its reporting of the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The Gaza Strip has been blockaded and bombarded by Israel after its Hamas rulers launched a series of terrorist raids on October 7.

More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, mostly civilians attacked in the October 7 incursion. Over 4,100 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Thousands gathered at Marble Arch in central London for Saturday’s march, clutching signs emblazoned with “Freedom for Palestine” and “Stop Bombing Gaza”.

Chants included “Judaism yes, Zionism no, the state of Israel must go”, and “5, 6, 7, 8, Israel is a terrorist state”.

A total of 10 arrests were made linked to the protests in London, the Metropolitan Police said.

Five officers received minor injuries, the force said.

The arrests were for offences involving fireworks, public order and assaulting an emergency service worker.

Protesters also chanted “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, despite controversy around the slogan’s meaning.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has previously branded the slogan antisemitic and claimed that it is “widely understood” to call for the destruction of Israel.

Jewish groups including the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust have asked prosecutors to clarify if chanting the slogan is a criminal offence.

However, those who defend the slogan describe it as a “long-standing protest chant” that calls for a homeland for the Palestinian people.

A small group of pro-Palestinian protesters held a separate demonstration in central London on Saturday calling for “Muslim armies” to rescue the people of Palestine.

The group of around 100 people stood on Balfour Mews, just off the street from the path of the main protest.

Speakers addressed the crowd in Arabic and a large banner read “Muslim armies, rescue the people of Palestine”.

In Salford, the BBC was accused of “bias” in its coverage of the conflict.

Martin Odoni, from Eccles, who attended the rally, said: “I’m Jewish and every time Israel commits an atrocity it claims it’s doing it in the name of Jewish people.

“I think it’s my duty to come out here and show, actually, a lot of Jews do not support what Israel is doing. An awful lot of us are not Zionist at all.

“When they’re massacring Palestinians I more than don’t approve, I utterly condemn it.”

On his criticism of the BBC, he added: “Well, look at the headlines they put up.

“When Israelis are killed they say these Israelis were killed by Palestinians.

“When Palestinians get killed, it’s Palestinians died when Israel attacked.

“There’s a blatant bias in the way the BBC reports these events and somebody’s got to tell them.”

The BBC has also been been criticised over its use of language to describe Hamas and its coverage of the immediate aftermath of the bombing of a hospital in Gaza City.

BBC director general Tim Davie met the Board of Deputies of British Jews president Marie van der Zyl and its chief executive Michael Wegier on Friday to discuss their “outrage” at Hamas being described as militants instead of terrorists.

The Board of Deputies, which describes itself as the voice of the Jewish community in Britain, later said the BBC had confirmed it is no longer the corporation’s practice to call Hamas militants, but instead is describing the group as a proscribed terrorist organisation by the UK Government and others, or simply as Hamas.

A BBC spokesperson said: “Careful consideration has been given to all aspects of our coverage to ensure that we report on developments impartially and accurately.

“In amongst thousands of hours of news broadcasting, there will always be some errors – and live reporting will always bring with it huge challenges, particularly when it is on the ground in the toughest of circumstances.

“Where we do get things wrong, we always hold up our hands – as we did this week when one of our correspondents was wrong to speculate – along with others – about the cause of the al Ahli hospital explosion, even if he at no point reported that it was an Israeli strike.

“We have confirmed that we will continue to refer to Hamas as a proscribed terror organisation by the UK Government and others.

“What the BBC does not do is use the word terrorist without attributing it, nor do we ban words.

“We also confirmed that for some days we had not been using ‘militant’ as a default description for Hamas, as we have been finding this a less accurate description for our audiences as the situation evolves.”

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