Hundreds of people turned out for a rally next to the Israeli Embassy in Kensington, London, Sunday (27/12). They called on the international community to bring Israeli war criminals to justice over the siege on Gaza, Palestine, a year before.
Protesters yelled slogans condemning Israel like “Shame on you, Israel!”, “Down down, Israel!”, “Occupation no more. Israel is the terrorist state!” and voicing freedom for Palestine. Various concerns were written on placards waved in the air in between Palestinian flags.
The demonstration marked the one year anniversary of an Israeli offensive, code-named Cast Lead, on Gaza. Israel launched the attack on 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009 declaring it was aimed to stop rocket fire by Gaza militant groups. Similar rallies took place in Manhattan, Israel and Gaza City.
The Metropolitan Police guarded the approximately 500-strong protest a hundred metres away from the embassy. One helicopter was flying above the spot as extra personnel were deployed when the crowd grew half an hour after the rally began.
A small incident broke out when police pushed protesters who tried to move forward from one side of the street. They were prevented crossing the street to the other side.
Neither a representative of the protesters was sent to the embassy nor did any diplomatic staff come out to address the crowd.
One orator urged the United Nations to do more to resolve the longstanding conflict in the Middle East. “The United Nations has to start taking action. We will continue to protest… until the Israeli government is forced to end the occupation and end the siege on Gaza,” she said.
The United Nations’ Human Rights Council adopted a report declaring that Israel and Hamas were both guilty of war crimes. It called for the UN Security Council to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court if either side fails to investigate the crimes themselves.
“I suggest anybody who has committed war crimes must be punished. Be it Hamas, Palestinians, Israelis, or anybody else,” Monjur Ali, one of volunteers from Islamic Forum of Europe, said. “The fact is that Israeli military is the occupying force, Hamas and Palestinian people are the occupied side, the victims who are reacting and defending themselves.”
A picture of Tzipi Livni, who was the Israeli Foreign Minister when the siege took place, looked out from posters portraying her as one of the war criminals. She was once subject of an arrest warrant issued by UK’s court for alleged war crimes.
Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem’s report in September noted that 1,387 Palestinians were killed in the assault–773 civilians, 330 combatants, 248 Hamas policemen and 36 people which the group were unable to classify.
The rally was called by the British Muslim Initiative and Palestinian Forum of Britain among others. It was joined by dozens of Muslim-based organizations, Jewish anti-Zionist networks, socialists groups, and civil organizations.
Ali said they had written to local MPs and the British government hoping they will put pressure on the Israeli government to stop terrorizing the whole nation of Palestine. The former Prime Minister Tony Blair is holding a diplomatic post as the international Middle-East peace envoy, but his role has been doubted after the US President Barack Obama selected George Mitchell as the US Middle East envoy.
“I don’t think at all Tony Blair has done anything meaningful to bring about peace in Palestine. He has often spoken in favour of Israel condemning Hamas. He has taken side on Israel when it comes to negotiation,” Ali said.
The latest statement from Blair said that the peace process was still on track. Speaking to Al-Jazeera earlier this month, he pointed out that the two-state solution will be very much dependent on the status of Jerusalem.
“I think what people have at the moment is a deep sense of frustration about the process and they try to work out how we overcome it. In the end it will be determined by whether we can create the context in which we get back to a sensible serious negotiation about the two-state solution in which the Palestinian obviously will argue very strongly that East Jerusalem should be the capital.”
The situation is becoming more complex as Israel continues to construct settlements despite international calls for a freeze in East Jerusalem, where about 268,000 Palestinians live alongside 200,000 Israelis.
More photos are here