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London: Record numbers take part in Gaza peace march

  • Jo Siedlecka

Christian campaigners preparing to march

Christian campaigners preparing to march

Hundreds of thousands of people - of all faiths and none - took to the streets of London on Saturday to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

The 'National March for Palestine' was the latest in a series of rallies in the capital to appeal for peace since Israel launched an air and ground offensive on Gaza following Hamas's attack on southern Israel on 7 October. 1,200 people were killed that day and more than 240 people were taken hostage. Israel's revenge attacks and relentless bombardment have killed more than 11,000 people in 34 days, including over 4,500 children. Water, electricity, food and medical supplies have been stopped. A million people, including hospital patients have been forced to leave north Gaza on foot. Aid agencies warn the death toll will rise as starvation and disease set in.

The head of the World Health Organization told the United Nations Security Council on Friday that Israel's bombing and siege are already killing one child on average every 10 minutes in Gaza.

Campaigners in Saturday's march walked peacefully from Hyde Park to the US Embassy across the river Thames in Nine Elms, chanting phrases like "Ceasefire Now", "In our millions, in our millions we are all Palestinians" and "Free Free Palestine."

Marching alongside trade unionists, individuals, Buddhist monks, Muslim and Jewish campaigners - often families with children and toddlers in pushchairs - were Catholic, Anglican and Methodist clergy, representatives from Pax Christi, Romero Trust, CAFOD, United Reform Church, Quakers, Methodists, Lutherans and other churches.

One sign read: 'You can't build a Holy Land on the mass graves of children'.

Rev Rachel Summers a trainee Anglican priest said: "21 years ago I went to visit Gaza. When I came back I was saying to everyone I met - How are people managing to keep their humanity? These are intolerable conditions. How are people surviving? Peace isn't an airy fairy idea where people sit around doing nothing. Peace is something that takes strength and courage, and that seems to be what I'm hearing here."

One Pax Christi placard quoted Pope Francis: "And we ask peace for this world subjected to arms dealers, who profit from the good of men and women."

A Catholic priest told ICN: "Several of my parishioners are here. We all felt it's the least we can do. A tragedy is unfolding in the Holy Land. What is happening there is nothing less than ethnic cleansing - another Nakba. I hope and pray it can be stopped."

London authorities estimate that around 300,000 people took part in the march. Organizers said turnout was as high as one million.

The march went ahead despite criticism from Home Secretary Suella Braverman who described the demonstrations as "hate marches" and suggested earlier in the week that the protest should have been banned by London police given that it coincided with Armistice Day.

British Army veteran and march participant Nadia Mitchell wrote for OpenDemocracy: "Personally, I cannot think of a more appropriate day to demand a ceasefire than on the day we remember the mother of all ceasefires, to remember and honour those who sacrificed their lives in pursuit of peace and an end to war."

Addressing the rally, actress Maxine Peake said: " This is not a hate march. This is a cry for love, this is a cry for peace, this is a cry for ceasefire".

The police said no major incidents took place on the peace march - which had been carefully routed to take place more than a mile away from the Cenotaph where the Remembrance Day ceremony was held, and not begin until more than an hour after it had finished. Hundreds of volunteer stewards ensured people didn't stray from the designated route.

In stark contrast there were major clashes in Whitehall when a small group of rowdy men, led by the far-right figure Tommy Robinson, attacked police by the Cenotaph while the Remembrance service was taking place.

Matt Twist, assistant commissioner at the Met, says 126 people have been arrested so far. He said when they were stopped and searched, weapons including a knife, a baton and knuckleduster and class A drugs were found. "Thanks to the considerable efforts of our officers, who put themselves in harm's way, nobody was able to reach the Cenotaph, which was protected at all times," he said.

Twist added that nine police officers had been injured with two requiring hospital treatment. Clashes with the group also took place in other parts of the city, including Chinatown and near the Houses of Parliament.

The march was organised by Stop the War, Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and other peace groups.

For more information and resources visit Pax Christi's Israel and Palestine page:

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