by Jamie Richards, Sharon Kam, and Lilly Khaokham
Members of the Hackney Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) joined tens of thousands of protesters marching through central London to support Palestinians on Saturday.
The march, organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, was one of several across the country. The protests were to denounce Israel’s bombing of Gaza in response to Hamas’ unprecedented surprise attack on Israel the week before.
The October 7 offensive from the Palestine-controlled Gaza Strip into Israel, left more than 1,300 Israelis dead. Another 199 were taken hostage.
While leading British politicians have pledged almost unanimous support for Israel, public protest has erupted in cities across the UK against Israel’s retaliatory bombing of Gaza that has so far claimed 2,300 lives.
Ahead of the protest, activists spoke to ELL about their reasons for demonstrating and expectations for the day ahead.
Dave Kirby, chairperson of Hackney PSC and a member of the union Doctors in Unite, said: “I’m feeling absolutely disgusted by the support of Western leaders for genocide and what’s taking place in Gaza.”
Kirby described Israel as “a joint US-UK imperialist project” and said: “It was their prize after the victory against the Nazis to set up what’s basically another racist state, exploiting the plight of European Jewry.”
He said that a visit to Abu Dis, in the West Bank, left a lasting impression on him: “I was in Abu Dis, which is what used to be a suburb of Jerusalem and we visited Bethlehem and Hebron. I think my greatest impression was of the [border] wall itself. This was an epicentre of oppression.”
Kirby told ELL that Hackney PSC meets regularly and runs stalls to raise awareness about the Palestinian situation.
The group also tries to lobby the council: “We try to pressure the council to withdraw the pension funds from Zionist settlements and from Israel generally.”
Of the day ahead, Kirby said: “I think it’s an opportunity to support people in a desperate situation and to come together as the left and as anti-imperialists. Obviously there’s an element of rage and mourning, but it’s also an opportunity to shout: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
Heather Mendick, 53, an education researcher from Hackney, told ELL she hoped for a large turnout: “I’m hoping it’ll be a really big demonstration. I know that some people are a little bit scared at the moment of coming out for Palestine. However scary it is for us, it is much scarier for Gaza.”
“I expect this one will be very welcoming, very positive. It’s usually younger than the average demonstration that I go on, which is good. I’m expecting people to be angry but also really calm.”
With regards to the response she expected from the government, Mendick continued: “I was in the demonstration last Monday. Afterwards, they smeared it and said it was full of criminals and anti-semites, and I’m expecting them to do that again. They just tell lies because it’s in their interest to tell lies. I’m Jewish and there are lots of Jewish people there, there always are.”
“Obviously it’s weird to me to be called part of an anti-semitic movement, but they’ll do that because it’s convenient for them to do that.”
Home Secretary Suella Braverman issued a letter on October 11, which reminded police forces that shows of support for Hamas, which the British government considers a terrorist organisation, are illegal.
In the letter, Braverman also proposed criminalising the ‘From the River to the Sea’ pro-Palestine chant in certain contexts. The chant, which calls for a Palestinian territory that stretches from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, is controversial as some argue this would involve dismantling or destroying the state of Israel.
Mendick added she found the letter “quite scary” and that she felt it equated supporters of Palestine with terrorists.
John, 53, a van driver from Stamford Hill, joined Hackney PSC at the protest.
He said: “I’m hoping that politicians in this country will listen to the strength of feeling of ordinary people and try to put pressure on the Israeli authorities to exercise restraint.”
The upper deck of the number 30 bus to Marble Arch was full of Hackney PSC members and supporters.
Niul Dillon Hatcher, is a 63 year-old retired lawyer from Hackney.
He told ELL: “We’ve been on marches before that [sic] things didn’t change. I think the context of this march is so completely different. Looking at the situation now, the lines of everything are much harder.”
Like Kirby, Hatcher has previously visited the West Bank: “You see how, every day, [Palestinian] lives are so deprived. The water, the availability of electricity, this happens all over Palestine. It doesn’t just happen now in Gaza.”
He added: “Broadly speaking, I think that Hackney [has], as a liberal borough, a lot of actual potential sympathy for the Palestinians. But like many of these situations, it’s all a bit complicated and people don’t have the time to understand what’s going on.”
After disembarking, the group joined others in heading for BBC New Broadcasting House at the end of Oxford Street.
Kirby unfurled a large Palestine flag. Others wore stickers and badges.
Several police vehicles were present amidst the large and vocal crowd, with Hackney PSC joining chants of “Free, free, Palestine.”
Another group, the Tower Hamlets and The City National Education Union, stood waiting for the march to begin a few feet away.
Amy Fletcher, a 31 year-old English teacher from Tower Hamlets, held up one side of a large banner.
“We come down with the banner where we can, to show solidarity with Palestinians. I think it is quite important for us to do that with the current narrative, where it’s becoming more and more difficult to do that,” she said.
The march began in earnest at 1pm and followed a strict route from Regent Street to Haymarket, on to Trafalgar Square, then finally to Whitehall.
On October 12, the Metropolitan Police issued a Section 12 order warning that protesters who deviated from the planned route could be arrested.
On the day of the protest, the Met issued a Section 60AA order for large areas of central London, giving officers the power to force people to remove items concealing their identity.
Sally Skaife, a former lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London and current member of Hackney PSC, told ELL: “This is a huge demonstration. It is amazing. It makes me think that the 99 per cent, as it were, can do a lot and what’s coming out in the media at the moment is just the voice of the imperialists.”
Skaife called Israel the “colonial base” of the leadership of the Conservative and Labour parties.
She continued: “Obviously, the killing of anybody is absolutely terrible. But it’s been really awful, the way the media have not given the context of the numbers of deaths and the suffocation of the people in Palestine.”
Hackney PSC members reached the end of the march at around 3pm and listened to speeches from a stage just outside Downing Street.
A total of 15 arrests were made, seven during the march and eight afterwards, according to the Met.
Hackney PSC experienced no issues with the police.
On Sunday, October 15, hundreds gathered for a vigil for Israeli victims of the Hamas attack at Parliament Square.