“Palestinians don’t want to dance in the darkness,” Mahmoud Zwahre from the Palestinian village of al-Masara shouts in our ear over the deafening chants of the crowd. “Advocacy is the most important thing that people outside Palestine can do,” adds the Palestinian Popular Resistance Coordinating Committee member. “Because in Palestine is the struggle, here is the advocacy and then there is the change.”
Around 2,500 men, women and children attended a demonstration outside London’s Israeli embassy on Saturday, as part of an International Wave of Solidarity for Palestine, called for by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Since 1 October, 41 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers and over 1,600 injured. Palestinians across the occupied West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and Israel are participating in mass demonstrations to stand against 67 years of occupation, oppression and ethnic cleansing. The ‘Oslo generation’ of young male and female protesters is inspiring solidarity efforts around the world.
To follow Palestinians’ lead, Sarah Colborne, director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), strongly urged demonstrators at Saturday’s London protest to wave only the Palestinian flag. “We are here united for Palestine and it is this flag that connects us. It is a symbol of Palestinian struggle, justice, peace and freedom.”
Addressing the crowd, Glyn Secker from Jews for Justice for Palestinians spoke of the hypocrisy of the Israeli state and international community. “Push a people you have impoverished to the extremities of endurance, push and push again and they will respond with the only repertoire available to them – stones and implements against the overwhelming force of the fourth most powerful army in the world. Then, with all the hypocrisy you can muster, blame them for the violence.”
Metres away from a lone figure brandishing an Israeli flag, he added, “As one of many Jewish voices, we proclaim our anger and sorrow – Israel you do not speak for us. Not in our name.”
Yaman Birawi from the Palestinian Forum in Britain took to the stage to speak of the growing unity of Palestine between the young and the old and the different political parties. “This has given hope to a third Intifada, an uprising, because enough is enough!” he said, before beginning the familiar chant of “Free, Free Palestine!”
Mahmoud Zwahre agreed with the previous speakers. “The situation is different to other waves of uprising, inside Palestine and outside; there is a massive participation of people from all over historical and occupied Palestine. I know that the political atmosphere outside has not changed and mainstream media remains biased, but the way to change it is by organizing these actions.”
A leader in his community’s struggle in Palestine, Zwahre has a unique perspective on solidarity efforts, and is optimistic. “This is not the atmosphere of the first intifada internationally, but it can come step by step. Palestinians are not the people who are going to have cycles of intifada forever. So now is the time for people outside Palestine to increase the pressure and resistance.”
After the confines of the organized demonstration where police and stewards squashed protesters into a small area, direct action group London Palestine Action coordinated acts of creative dissidence in central London. Around 150 people stopped traffic in Oxford Street – London’s busiest shopping street – before forming a human chain in Oxford Circus and marching to the BBC headquarters to protest against biased media coverage of Palestine.
In front of London’s double-decker buses, Palestinian performance poet and activist, Rafeef Ziadah, warned companies such as G4S and Elbit systems, an Israeli weapons company and a previous target of London Palestine Action, to stop arming the Israeli government. “The games are over and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is going to shut you down!” roared Ziadah, to loud applause.
For some, it was the first direct action in which they had participated. One London student explained that as she cannot be in Palestine, she thinks that it is important to build solidarity and pressure in Britain using many different forms of protest, so that “people you are supporting know they are not alone.”
Creative dissidence is one of the most “in your face forms of action,” says Sara, media spokesperson for London Palestine Action. The group believes that the publicity puts companies supporting the Israeli occupation under the limelight. As actions often result in a loss of profit, this also provides an incentive for the companies to divest or end their contracts with the Israeli government.
“We chose Oxford Circus because it would be the most visible place: we wanted to show that there was solidarity for the Palestinian resistance.” And it isn’t just about Israel, Britain is complicit, Sara adds. “The colonial violence, the killing and the occupation has to stop, and the right of return for Palestinians and full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel guaranteed.”