Pro-Palestine supporters gather in London to urge Gaza ceasefire

Pro-Palestine supporters gather in London to urge Gaza ceasefire

Thousands of pro-Palestine supporters have marched in central London calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

The protest follows the Hamas attacks on southern Israel on October 7 in which about 1,200 people were killed and more than 240 kidnapped before Israel retaliated with months of attacks on the Gaza Strip, killing and wounding thousands.

Singer Charlotte Church joined protesters at the front of the march, and said she joined the protest to “show solidarity with the people of Palestine for all that they are suffering through”.

Speaking to the PA news agency, she said: “I am here today to call for an immediate ceasefire, to ask our Government and governments all over the world to send as strong message as we possibly can.

“But a strong, a peaceful a loving message, that’s what every single march that I’ve been on for Palestine has been about.

“There’s been singing there’s been drumming, yes, there’s been emotion, but in the majority that emotion has been love, has been compassion because that’s why we’re all here.

“We’re all here because we cannot bear what we’re witnessing.

“We cannot bear to see civilians, children, women slaughtered.

“And so we are here because our hearts are so full of love for the Palestinian people.”

Israel-Hamas conflict
Charlotte Church, right, takes part in a pro-Palestine march (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Demonstrators waved Palestine flags and carried banners which read “stop the war on Gaza” and “ceasefire now” as they marched from Hyde Park Corner to the US Embassy.

Protesters chanted “free free Palestine”, “what do we want? Ceasefire. When do we want it? Now” and the controversial slogan “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.

Female volunteers from Friends of Al-Aqsa (FOA) joined protesters on the march to “highlight the Palestinian genocide as a gendered issue”.

A spokeswoman for FOA said: “Today’s protest is especially important as it falls just after International Women’s Day. This is a day intended to promote gender equality around the world, but that cannot be achieved whilst civilians in Palestine are under continued bombardment.”

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who now sits as an independent MP, spoke to pro-Palestine protesters and posed for pictures with them after the march.

He said the demonstration “is huge and there will be as many of them as it takes”.

Speaking to PA, he said: “The demonstration today is enormous and we’re here because we’re appalled at the bombing that’s still going on in Gaza.”

He added: “We’re also demonstrating our right to demonstrate, there’s so much talk about people shouldn’t be on demonstrations, well today there’s a lot of us here, all faiths, all ethnic groups, men and women, led by women, no problem, no trouble, it’s a march of love.”

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Calls for a ceasefire were made (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Labour MP Apsana Begum took to the stage after the march to highlight it came after International Women’s Day, adding: “As we pay tribute this weekend to our recent history of women’s struggles, as we look to a future of women’s liberation, we must be clear that this means liberation for all women.”

It was revealed before the march that the cost of policing Gaza-related protests in London has reached over £32 million and has required 35,464 officer shifts and more than 5,200 officer rest days to be cancelled, the Metropolitan Police said.

It came after the Government’s counter-extremism tsar warned that London’s streets have become a “no-go zone for Jews” during pro-Palestine protests.

Robin Simcox said a “permissive environment for radicalisation” was developing as he welcomed the Government’s forthcoming new definition of extremism.

And last week Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned that democracy is being targeted by extremists and said there are “forces here at home trying to tear us apart”.

He urged those taking part in pro-Palestine protests to reject extremist messages.

Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said it was the 10th national march and it was “unprecedented” in recent British political history to see “this many people marching for this length of time”.

He said the protesters think the Government is “complicit” in what is happening to the people of Gaza and is “failing to put pressure on Israel” and “failing to call unequivocally for a ceasefire”.

People at a counter-protest to the pro-Palestine marches, in Victoria, central London.
People at a counter-protest to the pro-Palestine marches, in Victoria, central London (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Mr Jamal added: “That’s what’s motivating them to continue to march. And we know the Government’s telling us ‘it’s time for you to go away, you’ve made your point, you’re all hatemongers’.

“You’ll see, people here come from all walks of life, young and old, many people here with young children.

“They’re looking at what’s happening, they see children’s bodies being pulled out of the rubble, they look like that, they say it could be my child, that could be my brother, that could be my sister. I want it to stop and I want my Government to take action. That’s why they’re marching.”

A counter-protest to the pro-Palestine marches was held in Victoria, central London, on Saturday afternoon and organiser Itai Galmudy said they were “here to exercise our democratic right of making our voices heard” and that “Jews are not afraid and we’ve had enough of those anti-Israeli hate marches”.

The Metropolitan Police said there was no significant public order disturbance at any protest in London on Saturday, and there had been five arrests, including a woman for holding an offensive placard and two men for chanting offensive slogans.

One man was arrested for assault, and another under the Public Order Act who was seen carrying a shield and wearing a helmet.

The force said more than 2,300 officers policed 11 major events on Saturday, including eight football matches and an international rugby fixture, and 500 officers from outside the Met assisted on mutual aid.

It said: “As with all protests, our policing effort does not end as the crowd disperses. Evidence gathered during the protest will continue to be investigated and further inquiries and arrests will be conducted as appropriate.”