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Hanging Out with Pro-Palestine Demonstrators on Saturday

Tens of thousands descended on London to show their support for Gaza. A handful of anti-semites and conspiracy theorists joined in, but for the most part everyone was reasonable.

by Oscar Webb
Jul 28 2014, 4:30am

Protests happened in various cities around the world on Saturday, as people rallied to show how appalled they were at the situation Gaza. On the same day in Palestine, a ceasefire held for long enough for Gazans to survey the terrible damage the Israeli bombardment has done—namely, rubble where there homes once stood, with the corpses of dead people under that rubble. I headed down to London’s protest to see what people were saying about the tragedy.

Reports coming out of Gaza show a dire situation where the population is so concentrated and the Israeli strikes so apparently indiscriminate that nowhere appears to be safe for Gazan civilians. Schools and hospitals have been repeatedly hit. The UN says Israel may have committed war crimes.

Since it began hitting Gaza with airstrikes and artillery about three weeks ago, Israel has killed over 1,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians and many of them women and children.

There have been more reports of antisemitism since the assault on Gaza started, not least in Paris where Jewish shops have been attacked and "quenelle" gestures have been thrown by pro-Palestine demonstrators. London on Saturday managed to stay—mostly—clear of that kind of thing. But there was the odd idiot telling people to learn about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion—a nonsense book about a Jewish conspiracy to rule the world, beloved of conspiracy theorists even though it was debunked in 1921. And a few placards like the one above, which I think breaks at least one, possibly two of these rules for criticizing Israel without being racist.

These Hasidic Jews were out showing their solidarity with Gaza. Their presence demonstrated the point that not all Jews support Israel, and therefore being anti-Semitic because of what's happening in Israel is stupid (not that I should really need to bother pointing that out, but there you go). However, they wouldn't give me an interview, because it was the Shabbat so they weren't allowed to be picked up by my memo recorder.

The march started at High Street Kensington, where the Israeli embassy is, and ended at Parliament Square where various campaigners and popular faces gave speeches on the situation in Gaza. After the speeches I grabbed some of the protesters and speakers and picked their brains.

Diane Abbott MP

VICE: Hi Diane, with the current attack on Gaza, British MPs seem to have become more critical of Israel than they have been in the past, don't you think?
Dianne Abbott MP:
They have. I think MPs in all parties are quite critical. Unfortunately, David Cameron appears to be quite obdurate. And I think we have to step up the pressure on him. We learnt today that over a thousand Palestinians have died. This type of bloodshed is no way to bring peace to the region.

How do you see that peace working?
Well I think in the first place we need a genuine ceasefire, we have to lift the siege and lift the blockade and we have to end the occupation then we have to negotiate for a two state solution.

Are you doing anything in Parliament working towards that?
Well, yesterday I handed in a letter which was signed by over 21,000 people to ten downing street calling for a ceasefire and I’m going to continue campaigning over the summer.

Mohammed

Why did you come down to protest today?
Mohammed: I came here as a human being. It’s not about religion or anything else – it’s about being human. People need to know what is happening in Gaza. We’re in England and we don’t know what it’s like there—we don’t see what the meaning of losing life. So the protest is important in telling people what is happening in Gaza.

Do you think a lot of people don’t know what’s happening in Gaza?
I think they don’t. We need to send a message that Palestinians have been deprived since 1947 and its an affront to humanity. People need to stand as human beings against the Israeli occupation. They’re killing the civilians and they’re saying that they’re saying its justified as defense.

What do you think the best thing people in Britain could do for Gaza?
People need to come to protests but to be honest the more important thing is to boycott everything related to the Israeli economy. If they’re economy collapses, their war on Gaza will be stopped. They get money from the USA and from other states which they build arms and ammunition with. This needs to stop. People should boycott every Israeli product.

Ibrahim Khan

Hi, can tell us a little about why you’re protesting today?
Ibrahim Khan:
We’ve come in from Yorkshire—ten whole coach loads of us. People are generally disgusted by 60 years of atrocity. Young and old, rich and poor are all getting together and seeking justice. And this is it: We’ve realized that there’s not going to be any peace if there’s no justice—this perpetual war will carry on day in and day out, year in year out.

What do you think Israel’s long term plan is in Gaza?
Well, someone once said that the definition of lunacy is doing the same thing again and again and expecting to get different results. And this is what Israel is doing. I think Israel is in a state of madness at the moment. They did it in 2007, 2009 and 2012. And they’re just repeating it again in 2014. We’re only going to see a policy change if enough people come out on the streets like they are today.

So you think these protests will make a difference?
Yes. I’ve been protesting for the past four years and I can tell you one thing: the movement’s never been so strong and big as it is now. I think this is the largest demonstration I’ve ever seen. Last week there were hundreds of thousands of people on the streets.

Jeremy Corbyn MP

You’ve been to Gaza a number of times—what was it like on your last visit?
Jeremy Corbyn MP:
Yes, I’ve been there several times over the past twenty years. On one level, it was very hopeful—there was a lot of planting going on and a lot of agriculture. People were determined to make Gaza food self sufficient. There were massive problems with water. Education was generally very good. The main problem was jobs. There isn’t a functioning economy because of the siege. The mental health of people is an issue as they’re constantly under siege. I visited a UN school last time I was there and from the fourth floor you look out of the windows and on one side you can see the fence of Israel and on the other the sea and the Israeli navy three kilometres out to sea. And that’s their life. There are frequent power outages and you look out north to Israel and the lights shine on. That’s the reality of just being reminded that, "you’re under siege and you’ll do what we tell you."

You said in your speech that countries like Brazil and Chile have lifted diplomatic and trade relations with Israel. So do you think it would be possible for Britain to do the same?
European countries are much more economically involved with Israel than Latin American countries but we do have this EU-Israel trade agreement that gives preferential status to Israel—and it’s very important to Israel. But that agreement has a human rights clause in it, which the Israeli’s have routinely breached. Whether the UK would break off relations with Israel seems, from one angle, unlikely. But look at it another way: if the UN human rights council investigating war crimes and finds that war crimes have been committed, then are we in a position to continue supplying arms? Are we really going to try to have a normal relationship with a government like that? Parliamentary opinion interestingly has changed a lot recently. Last Monday at Prime Ministers Questions, a very substantial number of MPs were critical of Israel, cross party. And that’s come from a massive lobbying campaign by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and others.

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