As of writing, over 170 Palestinians have been killed in the latest wave of Israeli bombings on the Gaza Strip as part of its “Operation Protective Edge.” Last Friday, the United Nations published a report estimating that as much as 77 percent of the victims are civilians and called for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. More than 1100 have been injured and 17000 people have sought refuge in shelters in seven days of bombing that is showing no sign of end.
In response to the escalation of violence, protests calling for an end to the bombing and violence in Gaza took place all over the United Kingdom, and around the world – in Paris, Oslo, New York, Delhi and Kashmir.
As a student who has been actively campaigning within the Palestinian solidarity movement, I was one of the thousands who travelled to West London, last Friday, to voice my anger and disgust at the violence and bloodshed perpetrated by Israel on a densely populated open-air concentration camp. Rather than calling Gaza an “open-air prison,” I believe that concentration camp is a far more accurate description. Since calling it a “prison” implies that the people – majority of whom are refugees kicked out of Israel upon its creation – have committed a crime.
The area was a sea of keffiyehs, flags, placards and people who had travelled from all over London and across the UK, including some who had travelled from as far as Scotland. Reports suggest that there were around 10,000 protestors at the demonstration near the Israeli embassy with traffic coming to standstill, shop staff looking through the windows of their empty stores and buses in the street left abandoned. In one of the double-decker buses, demonstrators were able to sit inside and get a better view of the protest taking place around them. That bus later saw demonstrators, including a rabbi, climbing on its top – holding a banner that condemned the illegal siege on Gaza and the occupation of Palestine.
Chants included “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” “1, 2, 3, 4, Occupation No More! 5, 6, 7, 8, End The Killing, End The Hate!” and “Gaza, Gaza, Don’t You Cry, We Will Never Let You Die!” There were placards that read ‘Gaza: End the Siege,” “Free Palestine” and some that had the photo of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the 16-year-old Palestinian who was kidnapped and brutally murdered on 1 July 2014 in a suspected revenge attack in response to the killing of three Israeli teenagers. Students from Kings College London – where a motion calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and companies complicit in the illegal occupation of Palestine was passed in the student union council in March – produced a banner with the names of all the victims.
Another placard stated the facts that “Palestine Has: No Navy, No Air Force, No Army. This Is Not A War. This Is A Genocide.” This highlights the problem with the discourse surrounding Palestine and Israel portraying that the two sides as equal forces, therefore calling for restraint from both the sides, frames the situation as equal conflict with equal amounts of violence. Not only do the Palestinians not have an army, navy, or air force, they are resisting against an entity that is one of the world’s leading nuclear powers, with one of the world’s most powerful army and receives billions of dollars of US aid. We must remember that it is not the Palestinians who are in violation of over 60 UN Resolutions, who constantly ignore international law when it comes to illegal settlements, the Apartheid Wall, imprisoning children and using collective punishment against an oppressed people. In fact, international law enshrines the Palestinian right to resistance against an occupying force, Israel.
The protest saw a smaller group of demonstrators continue chanting down the high street and disperse at Hammersmith tube station. The police reported that the demonstration was largely peaceful with no reports of violence. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the Israeli operation in Gaza where since the London demonstration over 70 more people have been killed. Further action has therefore been called for with a national demonstration due to take place on Saturday, 19 July, outside 10 Downing Street.