First pro-Palestinian march of the year in London calls for immediate ceasefire

Thousands take to the streets after UK and US carried out airstrikes against targets in Yemen

Speakers at pro-Palestine demonstration in London talk to The National

Speakers at pro-Palestine demonstration in London talk to The National
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The first organised pro-Palestinian march of the year in London began on Saturday as thousands took to the streets of the English capital to call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

Thousands of protesters marched through central London as the International Court of Justice hears a case brought against Israel by South Africa alleging genocide in its war with Hamas.

The protest was part of a day of action involving 30 countries. It came after the UK and US attacked Houthi rebel bases in Yemen in response to missile launches against Red Sea shipping.

Three people were arrested on suspicion of showing support for a proscribed organisation, which is an offence under the Terrorism Act, by distributing leaflets.

There were three arrests for inciting racial hatred – one related to a placard and two for chanting – while there were a further two arrests for racially aggravated public order offences.

A ninth arrest was made for possession of stickers to be used for criminal damage.

Large pro-Palestine marches have taken place in London on many Saturdays since the attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas on Israel and last weekend was the seventh.

So far 23,469 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza, according to the Hamas controlled health ministry.

Speakers at the packed event included former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the President of Sinn Fein Mary Lou McDonald, who called for an “immediate and permanent ceasefire”.

Little Amal, a puppet representing child refugees around the world whose name means “hope” in Arabic, was at the march.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, accused the British government of “complicity” with Israel.

He said Palestine was a “nation of freedom fighters”, saying: “I stand before you with a broken heart, but not a broken spirit.”

A coalition led by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and comprising the Palestinian Forum in Britain, Stop the War Coalition, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Friends of Al Aqsa and the Muslim Association of Britain has been organising the demonstrations.

Ben Jamal, PSC director, said Saturday’s march was one of many taking place across the world to express support for the Palestinian cause and to call on governments to put pressure on Israel to halt its military action.

“In the face of the failure of governments, including the UK, to act to uphold international law and defend fundamental human rights, people continue to take to the streets to protest, week after week,” he said.

“Once again on Saturday, we are showing that the majority of British people stand with Palestinians in this dark hour of their decades of oppression.

“A permanent ceasefire must be the starting point to address the underlying causes, including Israeli military occupation and a system of oppression against the Palestinian people that is considered internationally to meet the legal definition of apartheid.”

Saturday’s march began at in the City of London at Bank Underground station and made its way towards Parliament Square.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said he had been briefed by Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Mark Rowley on plans to “ensure order and safety” during the protest.

“I back them to use their powers to manage the protest and crack down on any criminality,” he said.

Earlier, a government adviser had proposed that organisers of marches should pay for the cost of policing, a move condemned as an assault on the democratic right to protest by Mr Jamal and others.

Met Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist recently told MPs that £17 million ($21 million) had been spent on policing the pro-Palestinian protests between October 7 and December 8.

The Met has used 28,000 officer shifts to deal with these protests and 1,600 officer shifts on mutual aid with 5,500 rest days cancelled, Mr Twist told MPs.

More than 800 hate crimes are being investigated and more than 6,000 hours of officer time will be needed to deal with them all, he revealed.

Lord Walney, formerly a Labour and independent MP, who was asked by the government to carry out a review of political violence and disruption before the war in Gaza, has now said the march organisers should be made to pay the cost of policing.

The peer said payments made by football clubs for regular policing serve as a precedent for seeking to charge protest organisers.

Previously he has said the police should be able to ban demonstrations because of their impact on the Jewish community, which he said was facing an “emergency” because of an “explosion” in anti-Semitic incidents linked to the marches.

Updated: January 14, 2024, 9:35 AM