On Saturday an estimated one million people marched in London to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The march was attended by a cross section of British society with many people taking children and babies along.
On her XTwitter account independent MP Claudia Webbe wrote: “We cannot be silent or silenced. In our thousands in our millions we are all Palestinians.”
The Sunday newspapers were split over how to react to this massive show of solidarity with the people of Palestine. Whilst the Independent front page went with “Far right thugs shame Braverman at the Cenotaph” and the Observer with “Calls grow for Israel to hold fire as marchers throng London”, there was predictable obfuscation from the tabloids. The Sunday Telegraph’s front page equated far right football hooligans with peace protesters leading with “Far right thugs and Hamas sympathisers disrespect our heroes”. The Express had “Dignity and Dishonour” with a sub-heading of “As the nation remembers our war dead extremists from the left and the right march for hate”. The Mail on Sunday, looking for a different angle with which to stoke more hatred against peace campaigners, concentrated on the contrived appearance of Michael Gove at Victoria Station during a peaceful sit-in by pro-ceasefire campaigners. It’s headline: “Gove jostled and abused by pro-Palestinian hate mob”.
Unable to cope with the idea that the British public supports a ceasefire, in a recent YouGov poll 76% supported one, the media are doing all they can to discredit those who favour peace. Politicians are fuelling a hatred of peace whilst desperately trying to label those who favour peace as hate marchers.
In YouGov’s poll those opposing an immediate ceasefire amounted to only 3%. On Saturday we saw that 3% on the streets of London peddling their foul mouthed hatred. Almost all the violence was provoked by people who, despite loathing the very idea of a brown-skinned woman in a position of authority, repeated the hate-filled invective of the Home Secretary.
This was the fourth march since the Israeli bombardment of Gaza began and coincided with the death toll in Gaza passing 11,000. There were also marches in Cardiff and Glasgow, both of which attracted significantly large numbers of pro-peace protesters. On the same day a smaller demonstration, ignored entirely by the mainstream media, took place in Tel Aviv with Israelis calling for a ceasefire and an end to the illegal occupation of the West Bank. The media has also ignored the thousands of Jews who marched as a bloc in London on Saturday, calling for a ceasefire with many carrying placards saying ‘Not in My Name.’
The London march was mired in controversy, stoked by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who had criticised the police, accusing them of left-wing bias for allowing a march to go ahead which they had no legal basis for banning.
Concerns were raised, mainly by the right-wing press, about the march coinciding with Armistice Day, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak accusing the marchers of “being disrespectful”.
In the event the march was, in the words of the Metropolitan Police, entirely peaceful. Unlike the so-called ‘counter-demonstration’. Speaking about the right-wing drunken thugs Assistant commissioner Matt Twist told the BBC “They came intent on confrontation, intent on violence, and intent on causing trouble. We’ve made a number of arrests within the counter protest including for possession of a knife, possession of a baton, possession of class A drugs and assault on an emergency worker.“
As the day wore on these drunken thugs had sporadic fights with the police. The police confirmed that many of those involved were known football hooligans. It is noticeable that the thugs were nearly all white males and did not seem to care who they fought provided they got to fight somebody.
Whilst Prime Minister Rishi Sunak condemned the violence, he conflated the thuggery with one million peaceful protesters, saying he condemned “violent, wholly unacceptable scenes we have seen today from the EDL and associated groups and Hamas sympathisers attending the National March for Palestine”.
The police are searching for two women who were on the march who were displaying banners that they consider to be offensive, now a crime under the Public Order Act. Strangely, the police are not conducting a hunt for the racist thugs who were caught on social media harassing anybody who was not white who they were telling to “get out of my country”. The message is clear. Do not turn up on a march with a banner and march peacefully, but do harass people for their skin colour, use foul language and fight with the police. Who are the hate marchers? And why do the Metropolitan Police feel the need to harass marchers who have done nothing but exercise their right to have a contrary opinion to the right-wing politicians who have this country in their grip whilst being totally out of touch with public opinion?
Critical Mass’s Jo Buchanan was on the London march which she described as “massive”, a word also used by the Metropolitan Police. Not the 300,000 reported by most of the media which is, frankly, laughable.
Jo said she went on the march as “it is important for the world to show solidarity with Gaza”. Jo, like most of us, has no great expectation that the situation will change just because we march and protest but she says, “Palestinians will hear about these marches and, although we are not able to change what is happening which makes a lot of us feel desperate, at least they know that the opposition to the Zionist attacks is massive and that they are not forgotten.” On a personal level Jo says that marching evokes “a strong sense of camaraderie, unity and fellow feeling which is empowering. It can be a lonely existence trying to be a socialist on some days.” She continued, “I still hold onto a faint hope that we might one day change policy. But we might just influence a few politicians.” It is not just politicians, even though they have the biggest say, Jo says “I also think we influence public opinion when they see how seriously we are taking the situation in Gaza.” Jo believes that it is important that the marches are representative of all groups and, although the media tend to focus on the presence of Muslims, the marches are representative of all sectors of society.
So long as the Israeli bombardment of Gaza continues, the marches will continue. The media will continue to underestimate the numbers involved, and politicians will continue to be apologists for Israel, despite the fact that public opinion favours an immediate ceasefire. It is certainly time for us to take note of those politicians who are refusing to support a ceasefire and ensure that come election time those individuals are made to pay at the ballot box.
Images from Jo Buchanan in London and Dave Middleton in Cardiff
Socialist of many years. Former Labour member. Currently presenter of The Socialist Hour.