Nearly 200,000 people gathered in London Saturday for what organizers said was one of the largest demonstrations of solidarity with Palestinians in the United Kingdom’s history.
Organisers Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Friends of Al-Aqsa, Palestinian Forum in Britain, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and the Muslim Association of Britain had planned the protest before Hamas and Israel reached a ceasefire that began early Friday after an 11-day bombing campaign targeting the Gaza Strip.
At least 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, were killed during the 11 day conflict. In Israel, at least 11 people were also killed, including two children.
The groups went ahead with the demonstration despite the ceasefire—which was brokered by diplomats from Egypt, Qatar, and the United Nations—noting that “Palestinians in Gaza still face a 15-year long siege that entraps them and violates all of their human rights.”
Nearly 200,000 people out in London – by some reports the largest pro-Palestine demonstration in this country’s history.— CND (@CNDuk) May 22, 2021
Well done to everyone who showed we won’t stand by while war crimes are committed using British weapons. #UK4Palestine #FreePalestine #StopArmingIsrael pic.twitter.com/PJDqFw2yz0
“Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem continue to face a brutal military occupation, including restrictions on movement, home demolitions, and the enforcement of military law on the civilian population,” organizers said in a statement. “Palestinian citizens of Israel are still subject to over 65 laws that discriminate against them and render them second class citizens, and Palestinians in exile are still denied their right to return home.”
The protest organisers, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), decided to go ahead despite the announcement of a ceasefire on Friday after a 11-day Israeli bombing campaign that killed more than 230 people and Palestinian rocket attacks that killed 12 in Israel.
Let’s make it clear, no justice, no peace.
Former Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell addressed pro-Palestinian protesters in central London. Speaking on a stage in Hyde Park to a crowd of thousands, he said:
“Yes, a ceasefire has been negotiated and we welcome a ceasefire,” said McDonnell. “But let’s be clear, there will be no ceasefire in our campaign to boycott, disinvest, and sanction the Israeli apartheid state. The message is clear, we will not cease our campaign in solidarity until there is justice. So let’s make it clear, no justice, no peace.”
Organisers said on Facebook they wanted to demand that the UK government implement sanctions on Israel at the national demonstration.
“The UK government must take immediate action and stop allowing Israel to act with impunity. It must demand an end to current proceedings to evict these families, and start holding Israel accountable for all its actions, which contribute to the crime of apartheid,” they said. “In the face of Israel’s brutal crimes, we can’t remain silent, we must remain on the streets.”
Demonstrators could be seen wearing costumes, masks and face paint, while others were draped in the Palestinian flag, as they made their way from Victoria Embankment to Hyde Park.
Chants of “Boris Johnson, shame on you!” were also heard as the demonstrators demanded the U.K. end its complicity in Israel’s violent policies. As The Independent reported Saturday, equipment produced in the U.K. was used by the Israel Defense Forces in the most recent bombardment campaign.
Demonstrators also gathered in other cities including Paris and Dublin, according to The Guardian.
“Israel’s system of apartheid and ethnic cleansing cannot continue,” organizers of the historic London march said. “We can’t stop just because Israel has temporarily stopped bombing Gaza. We must campaign and protest until the Palestinian people enjoy what is their birth right: freedom, justice and equality in their historic homeland.”
The truce was holding on Saturday, its second day. Its terms are unclear, though Egypt, Qatar, the US and UN appear to have been involved. Israel simply said it had agreed to a “mutual and unconditional” cessation of hostilities.
The UN Security Council praised the mediators and calling for a “full adherence to the ceasefire”.
Protesters have also gathered in other cities in the UK, including Bristol, Peterborough and Nottingham.
In Manchester, thousands gathered in Piccadilly Gardens for an event being run by the Manchester Palestine Solidarity Campaign, with a number of other groups also taking part.
Protests are also taking place in Paris, Dublin and other cities around the world.