Mass march for Palestine in London as Israeli forces assault Gaza

Half a million people raged against Israeli terror—the third and biggest mobilisation in London so far

By Socialist Worker journalists

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Saturday 28 October 2023

Issue 2879

The march turned Embankment into a sea of Palestinian flags (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Half a million pro-Palestine supporters poured through the streets of London on Saturday. It was a sea of people, streaming out of the Tube exits, chanting for Palestine as they moved through the stations, determined to show their solidarity. 

They marched in great blocs of people, thundering out the slogans the Tories thought they could ban—such as, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” And later in the day hundreds of activists occupied Waterloo station in direct action for Palestine. We need more of that sort of initiative.

Everyone on the march was outraged at the Israeli offensive against Gaza on Friday night and Saturday morning. It saw a massive and murderous missile and artillery bombardment for many hours and ground troops and tanks fighting inside the territory. 

“It is mass murder, it is wiping out a whole generation of people,” London marcher Aafiya from West London told Socialist Worker. “I cannot just go on with daily life. I know people like me are being killed even as we speak, and babies too.

“The Israelis are the worst criminals, nobody can support them. This is not about a Hamas attack, it is killing our dream of justice for the Palestinians,” she said. 

Ashraf al-Qudra, the spokesperson of the health ministry in Gaza, said Israeli assaults had turned Gaza into a “ball of fire”. At least 377 more Palestinians were murdered overnight. That brought the Palestinian death toll since 8 October to over 7,700.

Al-Qudra added that Israel’s actions had caused complete paralysis of the health system, medical teams and ambulances in Gaza.

Terry Lawrence, a health worker from Watford on the march, said the trade unions need to do a lot more to stand with the people of Palestine. “My own union, Unison, was very slow to come out with a statement calling for people to be active. They seem terrified of upsetting the media and Keir Starmer,” he said.

“I support those who fight back against Israel in Gaza, and who are we to give them advice about that?” he added.

Hamas said its fighters confronted Israeli troops on Friday night and Saturday morning. Hamas official Ali Baraka said, “There were significant losses in enemy ranks, both in soldiers and equipment. The enemy fell into ambushes set up by the Palestinian resistance on several fronts.”

A crowd shot the pro Palestine demo outside the Israeli embassy, people wave the Palestinian flag

Full coverage of the struggle in Palestine

And Palestinians are taking to the streets in the West Bank and Jerusalem. There was fierce fighting in Jenin in the West Bank where Palestinians fought back against Israeli forces. 

In revenge, Israeli forces destroyed a memorial for the slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. They razed the street where she was shot dead by an Israeli soldier in May 2022.

In Nablus, a major city in the West Bank, demonstrators were dispersed by the security forces of the corrupt and treacherous Palestinian Authority. It polices Palestinians in Israel’s interest.

There was anger across the London demonstration against Keir Starmer’s refusal to back a ceasefire and to support Palestine.

Jess is a member of the Unite union and a former member of the Labour Party. “I resigned my membership of the Labour Party. In the past I had stood as a councillor and everything,” she said.

“But the things that Keir Starmer, David Lammy and Emily Thornberry have been saying have been disgusting.

“I started my activism fighting the Iraq war. I can no longer be part of a party that backs imperialism and war. Now I say to all trade unions that they should withdraw their funding from the Labour Party.”

A man holds a placard as people take direct action at Waterloo

Pro-Palestine protesters take direct action at London Waterloo station (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Jess added, “Trade unionists can facilitate conversations about Palestine. The union of the Tube driver that was suspended for chanting free Palestine over the loudspeaker needs to back him and ensure he keeps his job.” 

Naomi, who has Congolese roots, said that she thinks what’s going on in Gaza is a genocide.“I know all too well what genocide looks like and today I see that history is repeating itself,” she said. 

“We cannot let it happen this time. But we also have to talk about what causes genocide— it’s colonialism, racism and capitalism.”

  • We’ll update our reports with speeches from the London rally and a round-up of local demonstrations later today 

four Muslim women in the foreground at the Palestine march

The demonstration was young and radical (Picture: Guy Smallman)

‘This is a new level of killing behaviour’

In its latest offensive, Israel has unleashed a murderous attempt to obliterate all Palestinian resistance to the Zionist regime.

To that end the Israeli state has already driven almost 1.5 million Palestinians from their homes in Gaza. The intention is to create free-fire zones where everyone who moves can be eliminated.

The Israel government fully intends that Gaza, which was the biggest open-air prison in the world, is to become the world’s largest cemetery. And those Palestinians who are not blown apart or immolated will be expelled in a chilling recreation of the expulsion of the Nakba of 1948. They have already faced resistance, and they will face more.

Delays in beginning this attack, and the hesitations that remain, are because the Israeli leaders are scared. They fear either crushing defeat or being bogged down in a war where their forces will take losses every day. 

In the end Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s political future depended on him being seen to be ruthless. And he will have to smash the Palestinians to satisfy his far right cabinet.

Netanyahu was also fearful that support for an invasion was ebbing away. On 19 October 65 percent of Israelis supported a ground invasion of Gaza. On 26 October, as Hamas began to release some of the detainees it had taken, only 29 percent did.

The path to this moment has been prepared by racist propaganda and open demands for genocide. Israeli MP Ariel Kallner from Netanyahu’s Likud party said last weekend, “Right now, one goal—Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of 48.”

An Israeli army veteran who was involved in the 1948 massacres of Palestinians called on Israelis to “erase the memory of families, mothers and children”.

Ezra Yachin, 95, is one of more than 300,000 army reservists Israel has mobilised. He will serve to “motivate” soldiers. “Be triumphant and finish them off and don’t leave anyone behind. Erase the memory of them,” Yachin said while addressing Israeli troops last week. “These animals can no longer live.” 

Israel’s killing machine can rely on powerful friends. As the Economist business magazine wrote this week, “President Joe Biden has sent two hulking aircraft-carriers to support Israel. They are a 200,000-tonne show of strength at a time when much of the world believes that American power is in decline.”

Biden is anxious that the Israeli actions could stir up the Arab masses and bring down Western friends in the region. But he won’t back off from support for Israel. As he has said repeatedly during his political career, most recently 11 months ago, “If there were not an Israel, we’d have to invent one.”

The Zionist state acts as the most trusted guarantor of the power of Western imperialist profit and power in the region.

On the London demonstration Rania, who is Palestinian, called out the hypocrisy of Western leaders who back only some countries facing invasion and occupation.  “The support that the Ukrainians were given would never have been given to Palestine,” she said. 

“Near where I live someone has hung a Ukrainian flag since the war began. Someone tried to hang a Palestinian flag, and it was taken down in days.” 

Rania said that she often feels “helpless” watching the news. But getting out onto the streets makes a difference. 

“I feel like I’ve been silenced my whole life. I think all Palestinians feel like that. But in the last two weeks, the narrative flipped. I’ve never experienced so many people speaking about Palestine,” she said.

What you can do

Every socialist, anti-imperialist, anti-racist and worker must now build the counter-offensive to Israel and the West.

Don’t stop raging. Join the marches for Palestine and make them as militant as possible. A great wave of murder by Israel is taking place. Most of the slaughter is not hidden or covered-up, it is done openly and buttressed by the media’s and politicians’ lies.

Netanyahu, Biden and Rishi Sunak think they can get away with this. We have to prove them wrong. We need a great outpouring of protests, strikes, occupations and riots.

Mass demonstrations are very important. But at this moment the question is, “When will we go further? How many deaths, how much ethnic cleansing would it take before we move into a higher plane of struggle?”

Those trade union leaders who now back the Palestinians should call for walkouts. The Palestinians can’t wait for the unions to have a consultative ballot first.

If you’re a student, try to close the campuses and blockade schools on Monday. If you’re a worker try to stop, even for a short time. Fill the streets, stop “business as usual”. Rise up for Palestine.

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