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London stages multiple protests in solidarity with Palestine

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British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Twitter feed is quiet of news of Palestine, she has not written a heartfelt message or postponed her busy schedule to remember the dead. Instead of condemning Israeli forces for killing Palestinians or criticizing U.S. president Donald Trump for moving his country’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the conservative leader got her spokesperson to say that “we are concerned by reports of violence and loss of life in Gaza,” urging calm to “avoid actions destructive to peace efforts.” Theresa May is busy finalizing a weapons deal with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in London on a three-day visit.

May 14 was the bloodiest day in Palestine since Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in July 2014. Over 60 men, women and children were killed and 1,400 injured in Gaza while taking part in the eighth Great March of Return, a weekly march towards the Israeli imposed border fence, that began on Land Day on 30 March to mark the 70th anniversary of the Nakba.

Palestinians mark the Nakba, or Catastrophe, on May 15 every year. It refers to the mass expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians and the grabbing of 78 percent of Palestinians’ land that took place between 1947 and 1949, with the state of Israel being established on 14 May 1948. Entire villages were eradicated, leaving people internally displaced or forced to flee over borders into Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. For Palestinians, the Nakba continues today.

“The Nakba is a pain that never goes away, this feeling of injustice and sadness,” said Elisa, a third-generation Palestinian, at a solidarity demonstration for Gaza outside the Israeli embassy, on May 11.

“I feel like I have to be here because our voice needs to be heard. The more of us that are willing to raise our voice and make Palestine visible, the more likely that we will find peace and freedom for Palestine,” says the Chile-born student who is in London studying for an MA in Translation.

In the capital, Palestinians and solitary activists have been taking part in multiple protests against the countries and the institutions that enable the Nakba: since last Friday, there were demonstrations outside the Israeli embassy, the U.S. embassy, the Saudi embassy and the BBC. May 15 saw an emergency demonstration following the killings in Gaza outside the Prime Minister’s office of 10 Downing Street with 2,000 people, followed by a vigil in Parliament Square.

Around Britain, there have also been demonstrations, talks and cultural events commemorating the Palestinian experience of dispossession. In Nottingham, there have been debke performances and workshops, in Cardiff, a replica separation wall was recently displayed in the town center, and, in Manchester, a Palestinian refugee camp has been set up to listen to stories of resistance and exile.

Justice, justice, you shall seek justice

Around 800 people attended the demonstration held on Kensington High Street in London, as close to the Israeli embassy as protesters could go, which is around the corner. Squashed between heavy traffic on one side and shoppers on the other, hemmed in by fences and police, people were physically restricted but still made their voices heard. On the other side of the road, around 40 Israeli supporters waved flags and wrapped them around their bodies, taking it in turns to shout into a megaphone as they chanted slogans, mainly about Hamas.

Speakers at the event, organized by Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Friends of Al-Aqsa, Palestinian Forum in Britain and Olive, included former National Union of Students president Malia Bouattia, musician David Randall, and Rob Abrams, from left-wing Jewish group Jewdas, a group that recently soared to fame after the mainstream British press and politicians condemned opposition party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, for accepting the group’s invitation to attend a Passover dinner with them, during which people waved a beetroot in the air and shouted “f**k capitalism”.

As Rob started talking, the counter demonstrators raised their voices. “I’ve gone from being a nuisance in the community to a traitor, a kofer [denier],” he said, addressing both the Palestine campaigners and the Israel supporters across the road.

“They call me a traitor but for many of us in my position, there’s a sense of betrayal when you realize the grand ideals that you were taught as a kid were a lie and a false promise. When I was growing up, my community taught me that one of the most important principles of the Torah was in a simple line: ‘justice, justice, you shall seek justice,'” Rob said.

“Promises of self-determination, promises of democracy are an utter sham as long as innocent protesters are being killed and Palestinian homes are being bulldozed. If I have a message to the people across the road right now, it’s this. Justice is indiscriminate. Justice is inconvenient. And justice always prevails,” Rob continued.

Demonstration outside of the Israeli embassy in London. (Photo: Lydia Noon)

Resisting propaganda

Media coverage of Palestine has long been accused of denying Palestinians’ justice due to a bias towards Israel, of casting doubt on the testimony of Palestinians with words chosen to imply that killings by Israeli forces are the result of “clashes” or “violence” from Palestinian protesters, such as recent reports on Gaza’s march of return, say demonstrators outside the BBC’s London headquarters.

Around 30 people braved the rain on May 12 to demonstrate outside the BBC’s London headquarters, demanding the inclusion of more Palestinian voices and honest reporting from the media corporation.

“The BBC’s reporting on everything to do with Palestine and Israel takes this amazing biased perception, even for them,” said Nikki, from London.

She thinks that any slightly more even-handed coverage is attacked. “If they want to be a fair broadcasting corporation and not just a hand of the British Foreign Office, then they need to withstand that pressure and tell the truth”, she said.

When asked if public perception depends on how issues are portrayed by mainstream media, Nikki says it depends. “While it still has a huge impact, there’s so much alternative media these days that it doesn’t have the monolithic effect that it used to.”

After a series of open-mic speeches, demonstrators left the BBC studios and marched down Oxford Circus on the road, one of the busiest in the country, towards the Saudi embassy where police swiftly arrived, telling everyone to step off the gravel near the embassy gates.

Saudi Arabia has recently improved its economic and trade relations with Israel, and the countries are in talks about Iran, leading many Palestinians to accuse Saudi Prince Salman of normalization, with an Arabic hashtag on Twitter doing the rounds: #normalisationisbetrayal.

Attaching Palestinian flags to traffic lights outside the U.S. embassy. (Photo: Lydia Noon)

Pro-Israel counter demonstration outside of the Israeli embassy in London. (Photo: Lydia Noon)

A bloody day

As Palestinians were dying on stretchers in Gaza on 14 May, one of the most blatant normalization attempts was taking place just 49 miles away, with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner opening the US embassy in West Jerusalem with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

A few hours later, a hundred protesters gathered outside the American embassy, also newly opened, in London that same evening, calling for the reversal of the embassy decision and for increased political pressure on Israel, the U.S. and the UK by Palestine supporters.

Najla. (Photo: Lydia Noon)

Najla, an elderly Palestinian woman, is still and silent for most of the energetic demonstration, holding a placard with a quote from Palestinian writer and leader Ghassan Kanafani: “You have something in this world… stand up for it!”

Najla is from Saffuriyya, a village near Nazareth from where residents were forcibly displaced during the Nakba. Her parents fled to Lebanon and she was born in Ein al-Hilweh, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, located in Beirut.

“As a Palestinian, your life is as a refugee, you are always thinking to go back to Palestine,” says Najla, who, after I ask her age, tells me she doesn’t reveal that secret to anyone.

“The Nakba is a tragedy created by the British government, a government that doesn’t want to admit the atrocities they have been involved in – shame on them.” She has lived in the UK for 30 years and, although she has never been to Palestine, she speaks of returning.

“One day, we will come back to Palestine and stay in our country. They tell me that the village doesn’t exist anymore, but I am from there, I am from Saffuriyya, Nazra.”

There are Palestinian songs and chants in Arabic, the mood is upbeat and determined, despite the tragedies of the day which are close to home for the many Palestinian demonstrators. Speakers call for people to commit to BDS – the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement – and to target specific companies, because it is a tactic that works. Several police vans arrive, and people start to walk in the road, towards the front of the embassy building.

Chants continue as police form a line in front of the embassy, with officers surrounding the group.

As I watch the police doing their job, I think back to Elisa’s words from the demonstration I went to on Friday outside the Israeli embassy, when she called for the end to the British government’s weapons trade with Israel, for politicians to “stand on the right side of history,” and to abide by international law and courts. I remember her keffiyeh and Palestine sweater, and how she said she feels as a Palestinian living in the diaspora.

“It’s terrible to think that in the world we live in, people are unable to see a truth as clear as this, as what’s happening in Palestine and why we deserve to be free.”

About Lydia Noon

Lydia Noon is a freelance journalist currently based in Bethlehem.

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16 Responses

  1. Kay24
    May 15, 2018, 1:47 pm

    This should be the picture all over the world. It is time the world sent Israel a strong message.

    Hit them where it hurts – their economy,.

    BDS is the only way now.

    • inbound39
      May 16, 2018, 7:19 pm

      The Protests need to increase globally to the size the Anti Vietnam marches did. Israeli Embassies and Zionist Organisations need to be targetted and Political Leaders confronted.

  2. John O
    May 15, 2018, 2:22 pm

    Good to see that Ireland is moving in the right direction – the government summoning the Israeli ambassador to expalin his country’s actions; calls for a boycott of next year’s Eurovision Song Contest (Israel won this year’s contest last week, so will be the host nation in 2019); and Omar Barghouti in today’s Irish Times:

    https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/boycott-is-best-response-to-illegal-israeli-killings-1.3494853

    • catalan
      May 15, 2018, 2:47 pm

      “BDS is the only way now.”
      Agreed. The key thing is that we have to boycott all complicit corporations – Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Starbucks,YouTube and especially Nestle with their coffee and candy. Also the Free Press of Las Vegas needs to be sued. That will make Israel withdraw to the Partition borders and accept all Palestinian refugees. These are good days for the Palestinians as victory is finally near. The March of Return has been a huge success as Trump would say.

      • Mooser
        May 15, 2018, 3:17 pm

        “catalan”, what really hurts Israel is the increasing refusal of Jews to support the Zionist project. You can be proud of your part in ending Zionism.

      • catalan
        May 15, 2018, 3:25 pm

        “You can be proud of your part in ending Zionism.” Mooser
        I am. Also, when Bernie wins in 2020 I won’t have to pay for healthcare or education; jobs will be guaranteed and Gaza will be free again. Also, I hope he solves global warming which is a biggie in the desert – I could use lower electric bills. We live truly in the best time to be alive and in 3 years the world will be finally fair and free. I look forward to these days. I believe that Bernie in 2020 combined with BDS of Youtube and the Free Press of Las Vegas is the answer to all the prayers of mankind through the ages. Hang on Mooser we are almost there!

      • John O
        May 15, 2018, 3:43 pm

        @catalan

        Dear boy. You don’t know how BDS works, do you? Boycotting is something we can do individually, e.g. I see “Produce of Israel” on something when I’m out shopping; so I don’t buy it. Divesting requires some political action, e.g. persuading a pension fund to sell its shares in a company doing business with Israel; so I can press for it. Finally, sanctioning requires government action, e.g. forbidding companies from doing business with Israel; so I can vote for political parties that will do this.

        The first I can do any time I like and no one can stop me. The second requires more effort, but is starting to have an effect (e.g. Sodastream). The third has been almost impossible to date, but it will come. Yesterday’s massacre has brought that day forward.

      • Kay24
        May 15, 2018, 4:04 pm

        There are many ways people at grass roots level, can boycott Israel. No system of boycotting is perfect, but the more regular people reject Israeli products, in a mass scale, it will hurt the occupier. The occupier is afraid, or else it would not have invested millions of dollars to fight the movement. So it must be working.

        Your sarcasm is lame and out of place.

      • catalan
        May 15, 2018, 6:13 pm

        “The occupier is afraid, or else it would not have invested millions of dollars to fight the movement. So it must be working.” Kay
        Of course it is working; you won’t get any argument from me. I have accepted that Israel is finished. That’s why I live in New Mexico. Who could be against peace? These are good times to be Jewish and also good times to be a Palestinian.
        One question – I thought I was supposed to boycott not just Israeli companies but also Nestle, Starbucks, YouTube and Ben and Jerry. Has something changed? I just want to do my bit for peace.

      • Mooser
        May 15, 2018, 9:08 pm

        ” I thought I was supposed to boycott not just Israeli companies”

        Refusing to contribute a penny to Israel or Zionist causes is a big contribution to the Palestinian cause, just as big as boycotting.
        Bigger, in some ways.

      • zaid
        May 16, 2018, 1:56 am

        If BDS and the pro Palestine movement is failing you would it be in mondoweiss commenting and obsessing about it.

      • zaid
        May 16, 2018, 2:08 am

        If BDS and the pro Palestine movement is failing you would not be in mondoweiss commenting and obsessing about it.

  3. Maghlawatan
    May 15, 2018, 3:34 pm

    Mooser

    What really gets Israel in the gonads is not younger US Jews asking questions. It’s not polarisation in the Pew numbers. Its not BDS . Its not the UK Labour party. Its not Danish hockey teams. Its not Glasgow Celtic fans. Its not that hasbara is dead. It’s everything added up.

    • Annie Robbins
      May 15, 2018, 10:34 pm

      maghlawatan, when i read the poll numbers of 18-34 bay area jews, only 40% are even “comfortable with the idea” with a jewish state, i thought about that other 60% and knew the tide had turned. sure, the mocking troll squawks, so what.

  4. lonely rico
    May 17, 2018, 1:47 pm

    Students of the University of Geneva commemorated the 70th anniversary of Al-Nakba through an event portraying the acts of expulsion, massacres, dispossession and deprivation of fundamental rights of the Palestinian population by the Israeli’s in 1948.

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