By Jake Johnson / Common Dreams
Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of London on Saturday to demand an immediate cease-fire in Gaza as Israeli forces ramped up their aerial and ground assault on the Palestinian enclave’s hospitals and other civilian infrastructure, intensifying the territory’s humanitarian crisis.
Described as one of the largest political demonstrations in U.K. history, the march moved ahead despite criticism from British Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Tory Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who suggestedearlier in the week that the protest should have been banned by London police given that it coincided with Armistice Day. Braverman accused the police of giving favorable treatment to “pro-Palestinian mobs.”
“I am horrified by the tone, language, and incitement our own government is using to whip up hatred against its own citizens—citizens who are standing up in solidarity with the besieged and bombed citizens of Gaza,” British Army veteran and march participant Nadia Mitchell wrote for OpenDemocracy. “Personally, I cannot think of a more appropriate day to demand a cease-fire than on the day we remember the mother of all cease-fires, to remember and honor those who sacrificed their lives in pursuit of peace and an end to war.”
Some U.K. lawmakers, including former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MP John McDonnell, joined Saturday’s march alongside hundreds of thousands of peace activists, union members, and people of all faiths.
“In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians,” demonstrators chanted.
Reuters reported that “police said far-right groups opposing the march were present in central London in ‘significant numbers,’ leading to skirmishes with officers near the Cenotaph war memorial, close to the Houses of Parliament and in Westminster.”
“Officers in riot gear sought to contain the far-right protesters, some of whom threw bottles at them, and police vehicles sped around the city to respond to reports of tensions in the streets,” the outlet added.
Participants in the mass demonstration, meanwhile, marched from London’s Hyde Park to the U.S. Embassy to protest the Biden administration’s unwavering military and political support for the Israeli government as the death toll in Gaza continues to climb.
The head of the World Health Organization told the United Nations Security Council on Friday that Israel’s bombing and siege are killing one child on average every 10 minutes in Gaza.
“Nowhere and no one is safe,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Mohammed Abu Mughaisib, deputy medical coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in Gaza, toldThe Washington Post on Saturday that hospitals in northern Gaza have become “a graveyard” due to mounting Israeli attacks.
Medical workers at al-Nasr pediatric hospital were forced to leave babies in incubators behind as they evacuated south, Abu Mughaisib said.
“The medical staff evacuated because of the shelling on the pediatric hospital, and they couldn’t save the babies to take them out, so they left five babies alone in the intensive care on the machines and the ventilators,” he told the newspaper. “That’s the situation: leaving babies now alone on the ventilators.”
Saturday’s march was organized by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), Stop the War Coalition, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and other advocacy groups.
“We march to call for an end to the indiscriminate bombing of civilians and a #CeasefireNOW,” PSC director Ben Jamal wrote on social media. “We march in respect of the rights of all to live in freedom and with dignity.”
The demonstration is part of a growing international movement supporting a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip as Western leaders, including Sunak and U.S. President Joe Biden, refuse to demand an end to Israel’s siege and relentless bombing campaign.
Earlier this week, as Israeli forces encircled northern Gaza, Biden toldreporters that there is “no possibility” of a cease-fire. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly rejected a proposed five-day cease-fire in exchange for the release of some of the hostages held by Hamas.
Video footage of Saturday’s march shows the streets of central London packed with demonstrators expressing solidarity with the people of Gaza and demanding an end to Israel’s assault, which began after a deadly Hamas-led attack in southern Israel last month.
“This footage shows the true will of the British people,” wrote Ahmed Alnaouq, a London-based Palestinian journalist and co-founder of the nonprofit We Are Not Numbers. “Hundreds of thousands are protesting peacefully despite rounds of vicious smear campaigns and intimidation. “All say in one word: CEASE-FIRE NOW!”
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Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams.