Record numbers of pro-Palestinian marchers demand a ceasefire as police are accused of using intimidation tactics
The pro-Palestine ‘Ceasefire’ march, which took place on Saturday 25th November and which garnered support from an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 people from diverse ethnic, religious backgrounds, was the latest in a string of record breaking marches which have dominated the landscape of central London on almost every weekend since the Israeli assault on Gaza began following the Hamas incursion into Southern Israel on 7th October.
Hundreds of thousands joined millions of other protesters who marched simultaneously in almost every capital city in the world, calling for a cessation to the brutal assault of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The marches took place as the temporary 4 day pause in the bombardment of the Gaza Strip, entered its second day and hostages on both sides of the conflict – Israeli and Palestinian were exchanged, in a deal brokered by Qatari mediators.
Police accused by organisers of using intimidation tactics
What was particularly unique about Saturday’s march in London, was the level of scrutiny applied by the Metropolitan Police Force, whose leadership has been subject to the most harsh criticism by the government in the last few weeks for being too lenient with what the former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman referred to as ‘Hate Marchers’. The former Home Secretary went as far as to accuse the Met of favoritism, when the Commissioner refused to ban a march on Armistice Day. In a controversial article in the Times newspaper, she said that the Met had been quite deliberately tougher on right wing protestors than:
"Politically-connected minority groups who are favoured by the left"
"Right-wing and nationalist protesters who engage in aggression are rightly met with a stern response yet pro-Palestinian mobs displaying almost identical behaviour are largely ignored, even when clearly breaking the law’
Her sentiments were largely echoed by the predominantly right wing press, who joined her clarion call to have the marches banned and those calling out popular chants in support of Palestine to be criminalised on the basis of anti-Semitic behavior.
Despite the fact that the only disturbances and large scale arrests on previous marches, were of so-called counter demonstrators from far-right groups, the Met rattled by the constant barrage of anti-Palestinian rhetoric from both the government and the press, had clearly felt it necessary to respond and to be seen to be taking action against the pro-Palestinian demonstrations.
This weekend the Met took the unusual step of distributing thousands of leaflets to those on the march headed ‘KEEP ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE LAW’.
‘The law protects the right to lawful protest, and the Met Police supports your right to legally make your voices heard. However, the law also protects people from racist and religious abuse and from terrorism being promoted. Whilst the majority of people are complying with these rules, a minority has crossed the line.’
The flyers then went on to list a series of potential violations which could result in arrest using language which may be:
‘racist or incite hatred against any faith’ ‘that supports Hamas or any other banned organisation’, ‘that celebrate or promote acts of terrorism – such as the killing or kidnapping of innocent people’.
Many have argued that the leaflet itself, is an infringement of free speech.
Whilst the march passed off without incident and was clearly a well managed event with no real skirmishes, there were on this weekend about a dozen arrests, mostly connected to people carrying banners deemed to have ‘crossed the line’, such as a banner with a swastika inside the Star of David or in two occasions, participants wearing green head bands, which although were not identical to Hamas head bands and the Arabic writing on them clearly not carrying the same message, they were deemed to be ‘wearing signs and symbols that could indicate support for a proscribed organisation’.
Dubious justifications for arrests
Others arrested included four members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), who have been regular peaceful attendees at the pro-Palestine marches and whose bookstall at the event, it was said, has been on the Met police’s radar for some time as it apparently included a pamphlet on Zionism, the contents of which, although not illegal, had been flagged up by pro-Israeli groups as potentially ant-Semitic. Speaking to the media after being held for 24 hours without charge, Dr. Ranjeet Brar – a prominent figure in the CPGB and a practicing surgeon, explained how the police on the ground seemed initially to be confused on what action they were expected to take. He said they were initially very friendly and then they received a message on their headphones, instructing them to make an arrest on the grounds of ‘inciting racial hatred’. He and his colleagues were eventually released after what they clearly believed to be a politically motivated instructions from a higher authority.
'It's simply intimidation'
John Rees, one of the founders of Stop the War and also one of the organisers of the march, said;
‘It’s not the police’s business to tell marchers what they can and cannot say. They’ve already admitted that no illegal chanting has ever taken place on these demonstrations. So its simply intimidation.’
Our chants are not illegal
Ben Jamal, Chair of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign also one of the organisers of Saturday’s march said:
‘We also reject any attempt and there are many attempts being made to conflate anti-Semitism with legitimate advocacy for Palestinian rights – including attempts to try to demonise the legitimate chant ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free’. So we expect the police to act within the law. We know that the people coming here today are peaceful and they are clear on the foundations upon which they are marching, which are clear anti-racist foundations’
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