by Daphne Liddle
THOUSANDS of people gathered last Saturday in the wintry sunshine on London’s Embankment to join the rapidly-organised protest against the one-week-old Israeli onslaught on Gaza, which had turned from bombing raids to ground invasion on the Friday night.
The 50,000-strong protest was organised jointly by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War coalition, the Muslim Council of Britain, CND and other groups as one of dozens of similar demonstrations. Another 30 marches were held on the same day in Britain. Two thousand protesters joined a rally in Manchester. In Portsmouth, nearly 500 people took to the streets and some 300 marched in Bristol. Hundreds turned out in Cardiff.
Police said there were about 500 demonstrators in Glasgow and 600 in Edinburgh, although organisers said there were more like 2,000 protesters in each city.
Marches were held in France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Turkey and many other countries.
Israeli Arabs held a protest march, Kuwaitis also took to the streets, a day after bigger Middle East rallies, and peaceful pro- and anti-Israel protests were held in New York.
In Paris, police said more than 21,000 demonstrators, many wearing Palestinian keffiyeh headscarves, marched through the city centre chanting slogans such as “Israel murderer” and waving banners demanding an end to the air attacks.
There were many union banners on the London march and union leaders had urged their members to join it.
Many protesters paused along the route as they passed Downing Street to hurl old shoes at the security barricades there in solidarity with Iraqi journalist Muntadar al Zeidi, who had thrown his shoes at George Bush in a news conference in Baghdad in December.
Someone threw a firework, causing a lot of noise but no damage but police were unnerved by it.
The march was led by veteran campaigner Tony Benn, George Galloway MP, jazz singer Annie Lennox, activist Bianca Jagger and comedian Alexei Sayle.
At a news conference before the rally Dr Daud Abdullah of the Muslim Council of Britain said he found it “incomprehensible” that the British government, and the US, did not approve a Security Council vote calling for an immediate ceasefire.
Lennox said that TV footage of the attacks, which, at that stage, had killed more than 400 people, had left her “shaken to the core”.
Alexei Sayle said Jewish people in the public eye should stress this was “not being done in our name”. Later, addressing the rally in Trafalgar Square, he said Israel has an idea it was being noble but was using the “psychology of the murderer” to explain the attacks.
Meanwhile, Labour MP John McDonnell, who leads the Labour Representation Committee, accused the Government of “standing by” and demanded that Parliament was recalled to discuss urgent action on the crisis.
Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone called for the European Union and Britain to withdraw their ambassadors from Israel to signal disapproval with the “slaughter and systematic murder of innocent Arabs”.
Respect MP George Galloway suggested Israel’s attacks would create a new generation of radicals around the world. “We will be very, very lucky if the explosions taking place in Gaza today don’t blow up in our own face at some time in the future,” he said. disproportionate
Bianca Jagger condemned the attack by Hamas against innocent Israeli citizens, but called for the international community to guarantee the immediate halt of the “disproportionate, unlawful use of force by Israel”.
She added: “I would like to make an appeal to President-elect Obama to speak up. People throughout the world were hopeful when he was elected and we must appeal to him to ask for the immediate cessation of the bombardment of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip.”
After the rally around 5,000 demonstrators left the Square heading to the Israeli Embassy to continue the protests that had taken place there every evening since the bombing began.
As they made their way there were chaotic scenes when protesters entered an underpass. According to eyewitness reports, police in riot gear began hitting and stamping on protesters, leaving several wounded with head injuries. complaint
Organisers said they would make an official complaint to Scotland Yard after claiming that riot police charged into people during the protest. Eyewitnesses claimed that a number of people, including children, were thrown to the ground in an underpass at Hyde Park at the end of the demonstration.
Progressive political leaders around the world have condemned Israel’s brutality. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams last Monday called on the International community to focus diplomatic efforts on persuading Israel to cease hostilities in Gaza.
Adams said: “The Israeli ground offensive in Gaza, while widely anticipated, will be greeted with horror around the world. The latest development marks a further escalation of the onslaught endured by the people of Gaza for the past week.
“The United Nations has advised that there is a growing shortage of basic foodstuffs and fresh water because of damage to the infrastructure in Gaza.
“This is nothing short of a humanitarian crisis. More than 400 people have already been killed while hospitals are struggling to cope with the more than 2,000 injured. The combined efforts of the international community, including that of the Irish Government and the EU, must now be bent towards resolving the situation in Gaza. All diplomatic efforts must be focused on persuading the Israeli Government to cease its operations in Gaza and end hostilities.”
Malaysia’s former Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad has blamed the United States for backing Israeli military aggression against Palestinians in Gaza, saying it makes the US “much more guilty than even the Israelis”.
Mahathir Mohamad, long known for his anti-West views, on Monday said that no matter how clever or powerful Israel was it would not be able to carry out the offensive without US support.
“The backing by the US gives it encouragement to do all these things which I think ordinary Americans would not like to see them do,” Mahathir said in an interview with Al Jazeera.
“Israelis believe if they go to war there is this big brother that is going to come with the weapons, with the money, so they don’t care what the world thinks.”
The Indian government also condemned the Israeli aggression. “The Government of India condemns the on-going incursion into Gaza by Israeli ground and other forces. It urges an immediate end to military action by all concerned,” External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said in New Delhi.
He said the suffering of civilians in the region must end.
India has also announced an aid of US$ one million for the civilian victims of the action in Gaza.
There will be another national demonstration this Saturday, 10th January – Assemble Hyde Park: March to Israeli Embassy High St Kensington, London. There are also daily protests on 5th to 9th January, 5.30pm-7.00 pm Israeli Embassy, High St, Kensington, London.
And there will be a march through Cardiff on Friday 9th January assembling at 2pm on the green opposite City Hall and a vigil at the Nye Bevan statue from 12 noon to 1pm every Tuesday until the massacres stop.