On the march with 20,000 protesters for Gaza

Stuart Griffiths joins the thousands-strong London demonstration demanding justice for Palestine

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Protesters hold up pro-Palestine signs Stuart Griffiths

Everyone from Pedro Almodovar to Brian Eno has condemned Israeli military action in the Gaza conflict, and the British public appear to be equally critical. According to a new poll, 52% of British voters believe that Israel acted in a disproportionate matter.

That sense of injustice was on full display at Saturday’s Gaza protest in London. An estimated 20,000 demonstrators took to the streets, assembling outside the BBC headquarters in Portland Place and marching to Hyde Park. Young and old, Arab and Jewish – all were gathered together on this bright day in the capital to march for Palestine. 

“You got to wake up to what’s happening to the world,” said Amy, 21, who had travelled from South Wales to the protest. “We gotta show strength about what you feel strongly about.”

More than 1,900 Palestinians – most of them civilians – have died since the conflict began on 8th July. 64 Israeli soldiers have also been killed, while three civilians have died in Israel. Rob, 33, described the death toll as a “human catastrophe”.

“I hope (the protest) puts pressure on the British government,” he told me. “They need to know here is some sort of opposition... Otherwise they won’t make any decisions.”

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Two protesters on the London demonstration Stuart Griffiths

Other protesters criticised Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli military campaign to destroy the tunnels running between Gaza and Israel.

“The response is far too over the top,” Jeff, 70, said. “Look at all the destruction and killing just to find some tunnels. I cannot understand why you can’t find them without blasting Gaza to pieces.” 

As thousands of marchers walked through the West End with chants of “Free! Free! Free Palestine!” and “We want justice! We want it now!”, I met up with Jim Radford. An ex-soldier who served in Palestine 60 years ago, Radford now works for Veterans For Peace.

“There are decent, reasonable Jews and there are decent, reasonable Muslims,” he told me. “But both tribes are bedevilled by religious bigots... For Jews and Arabs to live together in peace, a secular state would seem to be essential.”

 As the crowd gathered in Hyde Park, Labour MP and Shadow Minister for Education Rushanara Ali took to the stage, calling for a boycott of Israeli goods and slamming the British government’s reaction to the conflict. 

“I think Israel’s actions in Gaza have been utterly disproportionate and unjustified," she said.  “Our government has failed to tell it like it is and failed to speak for people in this country.”

As the three-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas enters its second day, Egyptian state media reports that indirect talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have begun in Cairo. Meanwhile, a United Nations inquiry has now been set up to investigate possible war crimes committed by both sides in the conflict. Only time will tell if the truce will hold, and if those killed in the Gaza conflict will truly find justice.

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