MORE than 1,000 people gathered in Whitehall, opposite Downing Street, last Saturday to demand that the British government condemn the killings 31 of unarmed Palestinian protesters by Israeli army sniper fire along the border between Israel and Gaza.
Yaser Murtaja, 30, a photojournalist for Palestinian Ain Media, was among the dead. He was wearing a top very clearly marked “PRESS”. The Israeli army boasted they had prepared well for this event and knew precisely where every bullet had landed.
In Gaza last week daily protests under the slogan "The Great March of Return", began on 30th March along the Israel-Gaza frontier, reviving the longstanding demand for the right of return of Palestinian refugees to towns and villages from which their families fled, or were driven out, when the state of Israel was created 70 years ago.
The London rally was a colourful and noisy protest organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Friends of Al-Aqsa, Palestinian Forum and Stop the War and supported by several progressive Jewish groups, including Jewish Voices for Labour, Jews for Justice for Palestine and a group of orthodox anti-Zionist Jews who were demanding that the British government hold the Israeli government to account for its war crimes.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sent a message to the rally saying: “The killing and wounding of yet more unarmed Palestinian protesters yesterday by Israeli forces in Gaza is an outrage.
"The majority of the people of the Gaza Strip are stateless refugees, subject to a decade-long blockade and the denial of basic human and political rights.”
He went on: "They have a right to protest against their appalling conditions and the continuing blockade and occupation of Palestinian land, and in support of their right to return to their homes and their right to self-determination.
"Firing live ammunition into crowds of unarmed civilians is illegal and inhumane and cannot be tolerated.”
He said he stood in “solidarity” with Israelis who took to the streets to protest their government's actions and added: "The silence from international powers with the responsibility of bringing a just settlement of the Israel.
"The UK Government must support the United Nations secretary-general's call for an independent international inquiry into the killing of protesters in Gaza and review the sale of arms that could be used in violation of international law.
"The events in Gaza and the threat of renewed conflict underlines the urgent necessity of genuine negotiations to achieve a viable two-state settlement that delivers peace, justice and security to both Palestinians and Israelis."
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas also sent a strong message of solidarity to the rally.
Baroness Jenny Tonge spoke of her sense of shame for British support for Israel and for the lack of members of the House of Commons present at the rally.
But there was one man there who had been elected to the Westminster Parliament, Francie Molloy, although like all Sinn Féin MPs he refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen and so had not taken up his seat there. He pointed out that Sinn Féin has supported the struggle of the people of Palestine from the very beginning.
Anti-racist campaigner and activist Selma Yacoob from Birmingham made a strong speech and also mentioned the controversy over anti-Semitism. She said she had experienced Islamophobia all her life and sympathised. Selma commended the many Jews present at the rally and said they should not feel responsible or be pressured to be “explainers” for their co-religionists’ crimes. She too had endured people asking her to explain or justify the deeds of Muslim criminals.
Glyn Secker, secretary for Jewish Voice for Labour, said Israel's actions against the Palestinians are putting it at odds with the founding values of Judaism.
"Core Jewish values are derived from core human values, there is no difference. And therefore, you can say you are not being true to Jewish values if you are committing 70 years of gross violation of Palestinian rights."
Four counter-protesters carrying Israeli flags also turned up in Whitehall but were totally ignored by those attending the rally for Gaza. Police surrounded them at first for their own protection but found it unnecessary to continue to the end of the rally.
On the same day there were similar rallies for Gaza around Britain and the world, in Manchester, Bristol, Sheffield, Vancouver, Melbourne, New York, Paris and many other places.