UK dispatch: thousands march in London to protest Gaza war on 76th anniversary of Palestinian Nakba Dispatches
© JURIST // Samara Baboolal
UK dispatch: thousands march in London to protest Gaza war on 76th anniversary of Palestinian Nakba

I witnessed thousands of demonstrators flood the streets of central London Saturday to commemorate 76 years since the Palestinian Nakba. Among those marching were many students, who waved Palestinian flags and held signs demanding a ceasefire, divestment from their institutions, and accountability from the UK government. Notable activists and political figures also attended the march, including Independent MP Jeremy Corbyn and photojournalist Motaz Azaiza. The director of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, Ben Jamal, said in a press release:

Today we march to commemorate the Nakba as an act of ongoing dispossession, occupation and ethnic cleansing. Today we call again for action to end the genocide in Gaza, the darkest moment in this ongoing Nakba. Today we reflect on the reality that this Nakba could not be sustained by Israel without the enduring complicity of Western powers including successive UK Governments. Today, even in this darkest moment, we also march to celebrate and affirm the refusal of the Palestinian people to succumb to erasure. We will not stop, we will not rest, until the Palestinian people finally achieve their liberation.

The demonstrators held identifying banners indicating their affiliated groups. During the course of the march, I saw queer rights activist groups, Jewish groups, Feminist groups and other activist sects. Notable was the student presence. University students from UCL, Goldsmiths, SOAS, UAL, and LSE, among others, attended the demonstration. I spoke to one student from LSE, who wished to remain anonymous, who said that they were marching in support of the students around the UK who were protesting their universities’ complicity in Israel’s genocide of Palestinians. They said that they will continue to protest until universities divest and there is a ceasefire.

Students at various universities around UK have set up encampments to protest funding to Israel and universities’ refusal to cut ties with the arms trade, and in solidarity of students at US campuses who are protesting in the same fashion. US campuses have taken action against students through arrests and legal action. In the UK, the University of Nottingham is the first university to take legal action against its student protestors.

The demonstration was peaceful, and comprised mainly of families with small children and students. Drums could be heard as participants sang traditional Palestinian songs, and chanted “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free”. Demonstrators gathered outside of Downing Street to hear from keynote speakers at the end of the march.

Photojournalist Motaz Azaiza is a Palestinian journalist who has documented and shared the realities of the war in Gaza. His viral photographs capture the impact of the war on children, who have been injured or killed in bombings. In his speech, Azaiza said that seeing the solidarity in protests has given Palestinian people hope. He spoke of the horrors and realities in Gaza that he witnesses as a journalist; including the use of weapons against people and bombing of children, and reiterated that “hope is in the people, not the governments.”

Andrew Feinstein also delivered a speech at the march. Feinstein introduced himself as a Jewish South African and plans to run for Labour leader’s Keir Starmer’s seat in Holborn and St. Pancras in the next election. Feinstein worked as advisor to Nelson Mandela, and said that Israel’s actions against the Palestinians mirror apartheid South Africa.

“In South Africa, we experienced a Nakba in 1652 when the first white European settler colonialists arrived on the southern tip of Africa. And just as South Africa freed itself from settler colonialism…from racism…from apartheid…so too, will Palestine be free.”

Feinstein praised the efforts of students, saying

“[T]oday we must pay tribute to our students across the United Kingdom…across the world…who are camping for [freeing] Palestine…who are demanding that their universities divest from the apartheid Israeli state.”

Feinstein reaffirmed South Africa’s position in support of Palestine, mentioning the ongoing International Court of Justice proceedings brought against Israel for genocide of the Palestinian people:

“If the highest court in the world does not find against Israel, then the international rule of law that was created after the horrors of the holocaust will itself no longer exist, that is what is at stake at the ICJ.”

Ben Jamal concluded the march by reflecting on the experiences of “children of the Nakba”, recounting his grandparent’s experiences in 1948.

“…Every living Palestinian is a survivor of the Nakba…today we march to celebrate 76 years of the Palestinian peoples refusal to succumb…”

Jamal reiterated the call for a ceasefire, for peace in Gaza, and for ended government complicity in the genocide of Palestinians. Saturday’s march was the 14th national march in support of Palestine and a ceasefire.

Despite one minor instance of counter protesters blockading the route of the demonstration, the march was peaceful and felt more like a gathering in solidarity for a cause rather than a protest. Although the general sentiment of the marchers was that there must be a ceasefire, from an observer’s perspective, Saturday’s event felt more solemn than its predecessors, especially when speakers shared their  powerful testimonies of the war’s impact on civilians. There was a notable focus on the role that students around the world have in response to the present crisis, and the way that their efforts have demonstrated resilience and solidarity with Palestinians impacted by the ongoing conflict.