By Rupert Birkett-Eyles and Kate Balding
Four hundred Tower Hamlets’ school students walked out of class in a one-day strike, marking one of the first ‘School Strikes for Palestine’ in the country.
The procession of young school students, from both primary and secondary schools moved from Tower Hamlets Town Hall to the local Labour Party Office in Bethnal Green between midday and 3pm. The strikers called for the UK Government to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
The school strike was followed later by a demonstration of mainly adults outside the Labour office directed at Rushanara Ali, the local MP for Bethnal Green and Bow.
Ali abstained from the vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday night. The protestors chanted the controversial slogan ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’, which many have condemned as antisemetic.
Earlier, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman had addressed students outside the Town Hall: “It is heart-breaking, it is devastating, it is terrifying what is happening in Gaza.”
“I don’t believe anyone who has an ounce of humanity in them will not condemn what is happening in Gaza.” The conflict began after Hamas terrorists killed more than 1200 Israelis and took more than 200 hostage.
Many students were children around 10 years old, accompanied by adults, predominantly women, carrying speakers on their shoulders to deliver speeches. Chants heard during the procession included: “Free Palestine”, “Rishi Sunak shame on you, Kier Starmer shame on you”, and “Israel is a terrorist State”.
At the evening protest, ELL spoke to campaigners.
Wojciech Trzebiatowski, a teacher at New City College, said: “I would say to Ali that she should have been braver and it was really cowardly” “The school protests were amazing, the younger generations need to be involved.”
One mother said: “As a constituency, we are really disappointed in [Councillor Ali], she’s an absolute disgrace. She should do the honourable thing and resign.”
Another woman at the evening’s protest said: “The school march was very important because the young people are aware of what’s happening in the world and will not be taken in by the lies and smooth talking of people like Starmer.”
The Commons vote, put before the Government by the SNP, proposed an amendment to the King’s Speech and called for “all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire in Gaza”.
The motion was rejected with a 168 majority. 56 Labour MPs went against Kier Starmer’s mandate to abstain from the vote. Ali was amongst the 82 that followed the party line, which is to call for humanitarian pauses.
Ali, the Shadow Minister for investment and small businesses, released a statement on her decision to abstain after the vote:
“I have long supported a ceasefire. Tonight, I have abstained from Voting for the SNP’s motion.”
She continued: “This SNP motion does not stand a chance of securing a ceasefire; and I will not relent in my obligation to be a loud voice within the Shadow Government, simply in exchange for a symbolic measure, important as it is, when my consciousness dictates I do much more right now.”
In Bristol, 500 children and university students congregated outside the city hall with the strike being organised by a collective of local campaigners and parents, supported by Bristol Stop the War coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign Bristol and the Green Party.