Thousands march for Palestine in London on weekend of Gaza's truce

Organisers emphasise lawful and inclusive protests amid concerns over hate speech

Demonstrators calling for the end of war in Gaza and honouring the memory of reporters lost during the conflict march in London. Photo: Jess Hurd
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Thousands gathered in London's Park Lane on Saturday calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and highlighting international solidarity.

The latest National March for Palestine in the British capital came on the second day of the four-day truce between Israel and Hamas, which includes the exchange of hostages and Palestinian detainees.

Ben Jamal, director of the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign, told The National he was anticipating a significant turnout, possibly between 100,000 to 300,000 people, although not as large as the previous weekend's turnout where protests were taking place across the country.

“Despite the fact there's a very repressive reaction to the marches from the authorities who are trying to suppress these displays of public support, people are still coming out in very, very large numbers,” Mr Jamal said.

He said the demonstrations reflect "diverse forms of solidarity”, from local protests to events such as flying kites with Palestinian flags.

“We've been alternating the big marches in London with events on week days. The days of action take place across the country,” Mr Jamal told The National.

“Today, as we march in London, there are people in other towns and cities who are really staying where they are to hold protests there.”

“They're seeing the impact on people in Gaza, the indiscriminate bombing, and they recognise these as war crimes, but then they're outraged by the response of our government”.

He also noted the involvement of schoolchildren and families in these protests, with children sometimes leading the chants.

Mr Jamal said the protests were largely peaceful, despite some isolated incidents of hate messages on cards carried by some protesters.

Protesters come from all over the country

Buses brought people from various parts of England including Birmingham, Bristol and Leeds.

Mr Jamal said it was difficult for people to coming to London every week, and more will be done to have local events.

“We need to keep abreast of that. We'll see the numbers today and we will then make a decision about when is the next time we bring people back to London”.

“But we will keep up if we're not in London, then we will be encouraging and facilitating protests locally.”

Police say 18 people were arrested during the march, includingtwo men held on suspicion of support for Hamas for wearing green headbands “similar” to those worn by members of the proscribed organisation.

Two women were also arrested at a static protest organised by Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which took place outside the Egyptian Embassy on suspicion of racially aggravated public order offences over messaging on placards

Families join the marches

Mr Jamal also spoke about the increase in the number of young people attending and leading the protests.

“There are a lot of young people being mobilised, teenagers, people that are already joining polls that people come in with families,” he said.

Sayfe, a father of three, has been attending the marches from the onset.

He told The National he felt it was “his duty” to attend with his children.

“I am compelled to go because I feel so strongly about the injustice that’s happening in Palestine," he said.

“I just can’t wrap my mind around how this is allowed to happen. How in 2023 we are still in a place as humanity where genocide is allowed to take place.

“I couldn’t just sit and home knowing these things are happening and there are people protesting. I just had to be there to show solidarity”.

His children, 9 and 6, have been attending with him.

He said that they sense that their opinions are acknowledged, and appreciate the unity shown during the protests.

He also said that they've been warmly embraced by others, receiving treats such as sweets and chocolate, making it a welcoming event for families.

“This has been particularly liberating for them, especially because they've had limited opportunities to express their feelings on these matters at school."

Zayne, 9, has been one to instigate chants, according to Mr Sayfe.

“Even going up the escalator in Marble Arch station, he got to the top and called out 'free, free' and the whole station answered him back 'Palestine'," he said.

Fears truce will not change much

Shaun, 33, from north London, told the PA news agency there were concerns the truce would not change much.

“I don’t know what’s going to come from it," he said.

"I don’t know if it’s positive, but I know full well that once this truce and temporary ceasefire are done they [Israel] are going to continue bombing and we’re going to be right back where we were, so I’m not holding my breath.

“We’ve seen this before – Israel reneges on its promises in the past, they renege on their promises now.”

Husam Zomlot, the ambassador of the Palestinian mission to the UK, posted a video from the protests on the platform X, previously known as Twitter, emphasising calls for a full ceasefire in Gaza.

Police clarify legal boundaries around chants

The Metropolitan Police said that to ensure order and safety at the marches they distributed leaflets to clarify legal boundaries regarding hate speech, support for banned organisations, and incitement to violence.

This follows criticism from politicians such as former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who accused the police of bias in handling previous protests.

The Stop the War Coalition, one of the organisers, has called for adherence to anti-racist principles and cautioned participants against actions that might lead to arrest.

One person was arrested minutes after the start of the protest, Met Police said.

Another man who was spotted wearing a green headband with white Arabic script was later identified and detained under suspicion of endorsing a banned organisation, the Met said.

Met Police also said they had arrested two women for a racially aggravated public order offence.

Concerns raised by the Jewish community in the UK, particularly regarding chants and slogans in some demonstrations, have been acknowledged by police and political leaders.

New Home Secretary James Cleverly emphasised the importance of addressing these concerns to ensure that minority communities in the UK do not feel vulnerable.

On Saturday a separate protest organised by Hizb ut-Tahrir took place outside the Egyptian embassy when hundreds attended.

Chants of "armies to Gaza" and "armies to Aqsa" were heard as well as calls for Egypt to liberate Palestine "from colonial oppression".

Thousands are expected in central London on Sunday for a 90-minute march protesting against surging levels of antisemitism across the UK.

Updated: November 25, 2023, 11:40 PM