Monday saw the biggest single massacre of Palestinian people since 2014. 58 Palestinians have been reported killed and at least 2,700 were wounded in Gaza, as Israeli military shot into crowds of unarmed protesters.
People within Gaza were protesting the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem. They were also protesting in the lead up to Nakba day – named by Palestinians to remember the day May 15, 1948, when over 700,000 Palestinians were forcibly removed from their homes, displaced and without promise of return, to make way for the creation of Israel.
Since March 30, Palestinians in Gaza have been taking part in a number of demonstrations known as the Great Return March to protest their dispossession and their right to return as refugees. Since this date, at least 109 Palestinians have been killed and around 12,000 injured.
Yesterday in Downing Street, a demonstration was called to show solidarity with the Great Return March in Gaza, protest the unlawful killing of civilians in Gaza, and to call on the UK government to stand up for Palestinian rights in accordance with its obligation under international law.
“Since this date, at least 109 Palestinians have been killed and around 12,000 injured”
Maisam, an attendee of the protest, left her family and friends behind in Gaza three years ago to do a masters degree in the UK. She hasn’t made it back to see them since. “Yesterday was one of those days that I feared since I left Gaza”, she says. “It’s so hard to be so far away. Sometimes, because of the internet issues, I have to wait overnight until I can hear from them just to know if they are ok. When something like this happens I don’t know what I can do to protect my family. I had to take the day off work today, because with everything that’s happening, how can I maintain a normal life?”
When I ask Maisam what this protest meant to her, she tells me that demonstrations like these are powerful acts of solidarity with those in Gaza: “I know that if people in Gaza are watching this now, they’re going to feel like the world is finally taking notice.”
Bashar, another Palestinian protester from Gaza tells me what he demands from Theresa May “We’re here to tell Theresa May to get her act together. The British government portrays itself to be a protector of human rights and humanity, yet humanity is being killed every day in Gaza.”
The crowds chant “Free free Palestine” and “1234, occupation no more, 5678, Israel is a terror state” and banners demanding a “stop [to] the massacre in Gaza” and “stop arming Israel” float above our heads.
Another protester speaks to me about her relation to Palestine through her Israeli roots: “My family is Israeli and some of them try to fight for Palestinian justice from within Israel. I’m here today in solidarity with the incredible power and resistance and resilience of the people in Gaza who are doing these protests every week. They’re walking out every week and they know they’re going to get shot. Can you even imagine the bravery that takes?”
The protester also comments on the politics that uphold a system of occupation in Palestine: “I don’t think people talk enough about the extreme rise of fascism within the Israeli state as a way that the Israeli state maintains its occupation. I think some serious political analysis of the politics of the Israeli state is necessary if we are to help dismantle the steps on which the occupation stands.”
“ ‘They’re walking out every week and they know they’re going to get shot. Can you even imagine the bravery that takes?’”
As I speak to people whose lives and families have been destroyed by the Israeli occupation, I think back to the last protest I’d been on. It was protesting Donald Trump’s inauguration, and tens of thousands gathered in the very spot I stand today to show their anger at the appointment of a racist, misogynistic bigot as the world’s most powerful leader. Yet as I look around at the protest today I am shocked at how few of my peers attended.
Some cited their busy schedules – which on a London weekday for an emergency protest is perhaps fair enough. But others cited something I have heard over and over again from my peer group in the past years. It’s the idea that they “just don’t know enough” to attend a protest, sign a petition, or share a post about Palestine and Israel. Wanting to not come across as overly political, or worse still, anti-semitic, they shy away from all interaction with the topic.
I am the first to say that there are deep gaps in my knowledge around certain areas of history, politics, and religion. But, attending this protest has shown me that understanding is consolidated and built on through these events, and through hearing other people’s stories and experiences.
I know that I believe in fighting for the dignity, human rights and freedom of a people who have been immorally subjugated for 70 years. And after attending this protest, I feel like I can say that with more confidence than before.
As one protester says, “Gaza is essentially an open-air prison, with people not having access to the most basic human dignity. And, in the most recent attack, we’re seeing their right to life is also being denied.”
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