As the humanitarian crisis escalates, people in London take to the streets to show solidarity with Palestinians.
More than 100,000 people have staged a demonstration in the capital to show support for Palestinians under blockade. The rally was organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Friends of Al-Aqsa, Stop the War Coalition, Muslim Association of Britain, Palestinian Forum in Britain, and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
It followed news that Israel planned a ‘total’ blockade on the Gaza strip in response to the coordinated surprise offensive on Israel by Hamas earlier this month. In the time since, the population of Gaza has been paralysed by restrictions of food, water, fuel, and electricity by the Israeli government.
With the atmosphere thick with the gravity of events, a sense of community spirit pulsed through the crowd of thousands. Immediately noticeable was the diversity in age, race and gender. From the children on their parents’ shoulders, to the elderly resting against nearby steps, there was a definite sense that this issue transcends identities.
One protester, an English student aged 19, said that despite the distance, this cause still feels close to home.
“I’m here because this matters to me. And it should to everyone. We shouldn’t have to imagine if this was happening on our soil to our mothers and grandparents and children to humanise the news. The siege on Gaza is crippling Palestinians, and our country has direct responsibility here that goes back a century,” they told me.
That responsibility was enshrined in the 1917 Balfour Declaration, a statement by British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour which supported Palestine as the Jewish national home.
Questions as to whether Britain facilitated a legal and political vacuum on inhabited land often arise when examining Palestine’s history. This student expressed a desire for our country’s leaders to acknowledge the role it played historically in the region.
Disaffection with political leadership was a common thread throughout the demonstration. Signs held by protesters criticised both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer for their responses to the ongoing conflict.
Sunak issued a statement voicing “unequivocal” support for the Israeli state, while Starmer told LBC last week that Israel has the right to cut off civilian water and electricity to “defend herself” from Hamas terrorism.
Another protestor, a Pakistani immigrant there with his family, alluded to the fine line that public officials walk in their condemnations of violence: “Condemning Hamas is the natural reaction to seeing the horrific things they’ve done. The problem is when politicians tar ordinary Gazans with the same brush and support Israel punishing them. The same way all Jewish people and Israelis shouldn’t be held responsible for the Israeli government, Palestinians shouldn’t be denied rights in this war that nobody asked for.”
The use of language in the media when reporting on this conflict is both delicate and deliberate. Mainstream media is frequently met with accusations of bias in their coverage. This was reflected in the march, which began at the BBC’s Broadcasting House. A student journalist, 20, was among those at the demonstration who felt strongly about media responsibility.
“What’s not reported on says just as much about a company’s intentions as what they do choose to cover. Not even just that, there are subtle wordings that make so much difference to how the public are perceiving things [and] where they channel their support. People need to be critical and challenge the press on this because we rely on them.”
The BBC came under fire for its coverage of the demonstrations across the country over the weekend where they were described as being “pro-Hamas”. The corporation later accepted this was a “misleading description”.
Commitment to showing solidarity to besieged Gazans was shown to be fervent and widespread. If the organisers estimate is accurate, the march in London was one of the top 15 most attended protests recorded in British history.
The BBC reported that similar protest marches took place in a number of other cities around the UK including Glasgow, Liverpool, Bristol, Cambridge, Norwich, Coventry, Edinburgh and Swansea.
This signals to this country’s leadership and media that people aren’t satisfied with the way things are taking shape. Whether or not, or how, this sentiment is responded to has the potential to change the landscape at this critical time in the Middle East.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign have announced further plans for national marches to demand an end to the war, with the next one taking place at Marble Arch on Saturday October 21st.
Featured image by Yusra Abdulahi