Thousands of Londoners took to Whitehall on Tuesday to protest Israeli violence along the Gaza border. The emergency demonstration was organised in response to the killing of 59 Palestinians on Monday, the youngest of whom was eight months old.
Many of the protesters in Gaza were demanding a right to return – as refugees – to what is now Israeli territory on the seventieth anniversary of Nakba (“catastrophe”).
On Monday, the Israeli newspaper Haartez reported that protesters were greeted by Israeli “open-fire protocols” along the border. One video shows clearly-marked journalists running from tear gas. These scenes attracted international attention and provoked responses from UK activists across the political spectrum.
The Board of British Jews defended Israeli military action in a statement released on Tuesday, arguing that Israel was protecting its territory from what it called violent attempts at mass invasion. “The responsibility for the violence,” they write, “lies with Hamas [which uses] its population to join known terrorists in violent attempts to break through the border and kill Israeli citizens.”
At the Downing Street demonstration, however, speakers argued that the moral responsibility for the most recent conflict lies with Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas MP condemned violence “on all sides, but when throwing stones and burning rags is met with live bullets, it is crystal clear that the moral responsibility lies with the Israeli army.”
In a long list of demands, Lucas called for an end to Israeli restrictions on Palestinians’ rights to water, medicine and freedom of movement. She speculated that this could be achieved through UK-led sanctions being imposed on Israel. The MP also called for an independent investigation into the conflict.
Lucas spoke alongside several prominent activists including Shabbir Lakha, former-NUS president Malia Bouattia, Andy Slaughter MP and Tommy Sheppard MP.
Sheppard called for the UK government to more strongly criticise the use of Israeli force against refugees in Gaza. He warned that Theresa May was in danger of taking the side of “those who do not believe in international law”. Slaughter’s attack was directed towards Donald Trump and his “inflammatory” decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem this week. Jerusalem’s capital city status is still disputed internationally.
Since the demonstration, the UK Prime Minister has joined calls for an independent inquiry to “establish the facts of what happened.” Echoing the concerns of the Board of Deputies, Theresa May has set out to establish “what role Hamas played in the event.”
Jewish group Yachad, based in King’s Cross, has gathered more than 500 signatures to an open latter criticising the Board of Deputies’ “lack of balance and nuance” in their response to the Israeli’s use of force.
Demonstrations are expected to continue on Saturday 19th May as activists call for the British government to support a two-state solution and end its support of the Netanyahu administration.
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