Thousands of people marched through the streets of central London yesterday calling for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine, despite the presence of far right and Zionists aiming to disrupt the protest.
Around 5,000 people turned out for the annual Al-Quds Day parade, which was organised by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, which highlights the ongoing suffering of the Palestinians.
The march began at the Saudi embassy to protest Riyadh’s growing ties with Tel Aviv and it ended at 10 Downing St. It passed off without major incident despite fears of sabotage by right wing and pro-Israeli protestors, including Maajid Nawaz, who had organised a much smaller counter demonstration. Many of them were upset by the presence of Hezbollah flags at the march.
One person from the counter demo was arrested for possession of a noxious substance.
The IHRC said that throughout the course of the day counter protestors hurled Islamophobic abuse at the main rally and tried to intimidate attendees from the sidelines.
Numbers were significantly up on last year in an act of defiance aimed at the demonisation campaign and the recent murders by Israeli troops of innocent Palestinian protestors in the Gaza Strip.
One protestor at the march said: “Basically this is a gathering for the oppressed ones, people who’ve been oppressed by the Zionist regime and Israel, and we are standing against this regime all over the world, not only in England, all over the world and we will carry on until the freedom of the Palestinians and basic human rights.”
IHRC chairman Massoud Shadjareh added: “Today’s turnout just shows how strong the support is in Britain for the Palestinian cause. Despite renewed threats and intimidation Women, children and men from all walks of life have once again shown up in their thousands to tell Israel that enough is enough.”
Members of the strictly Orthodox Neturei Karta Jewish sect, who oppose Zionism, attended the rally. In between speeches, some demonstrators burned an Israeli flag.
As well as criticism of Israel’s actions those in attendance also recognised the role played by the UK and Saudi Arabia in perpetuating the ongoing suffering of the Palestinians
One of the speakers, Mick Napier, said: “The Saudi Embassy and the Emirates and Israel are playing footsie under the table, they may formally have not thawed relations but they are united and Saudi Arabia is a partner with Israel in the region. The Israelis are prepared to do the dispossession and the killing while the Saudis are perfectly ready to throw the Palestinians under the bus.”
Al Quds Day, named after the Arabic word for Jerusalem, is an anti-Israel day of protest held around the time of the final Friday of Ramadan, first initiated by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979.
A Zionist counter-demonstration was held in a designated space 100 metres from the Al Quds protest, with police officers maintaining a “neutral zone” between the two.
Supporters of Israel played the country’s national anthem on speakers, as well as Israel’s recent Eurovision-winning entry.
Fiona Sharpe, the co-founder of Sussex Friends of Israel, told the Jewish Chronicle : “It’s important that the Jewish community has a presence here. While we don’t want to curtail anyone’s freedom of speech, we do not want it to become hate speech.
“Flying of the Hezbollah flag crosses the line – Hezbollah being a known terrorist organisation. It’s a threat to us all, not just the Jewish community. We wouldn’t want to see the flying of an Isis flag on the streets of London. I don’t think it’s appropriate to fly the Hezbollah flag.”
As the Al Quds march proceeded towards Downing Street, Zionist activists chanted “Terrorist scum, off our streets”, and “Whose streets? Our streets”.
Earlier in the day, members of a group of far-right football fans were cleared from the area after attempting to enter the zone in which pro-Palestinian demonstrators had congregated.
Banners reading “Make Britain Great Again” were displayed by far right nationalists. Behind a wall of police they goaded demonstrators, calling them “terrorist scum”.