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Britain: tens of thousands march to stop the slaughter of Gaza

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Demonstrations across the country showed the real anger that ordinary people feel about the killings in the Gaza strip.

At least 50,000 people- the organisers claim upwards of 70,000 - packed London’s streets yesterday in a massive show of opposition to Israel’s massacre of Gaza. The turn out was staggering for an demonstration called at just five days notice and all the more impressive when you consider that at the same time some 30 local demonstrations were taking place across Britain, including demonstrations in Manchester (4,000) Edinburgh and Glasgow (3,000 apiece) and Leeds (1000).

Workers Power, UK section of the League for the Fifth International and the socialist youth organisation and Revolution had a lively contingent, handing out a leaflet which declared our support for the Palestinian resistance and our call for the defeat of Israel. The march was short, going from Thames Embankment to Trafalgar Square via the Houses of Parliament and Whitehall. So great was the turn out, when the first demonstrators reached Trafalgar Square more were still pouring out of Embankment tube to join the back of the protest. At Downing Street demonstrators hurled shoes at the ornate gates protecting Prime Minister Gordon Brown official home. Trafalgar Square was packed to here speakers such as George Galloway, Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone condemn not only Israel and George Bush but also Gordon Brown and foreign secretary David Miliband for their refusal to condemn Israel. Galloway roundly condemned Hosni Mubarak and other Arab leaders who were refusing to come to the aid of the Palestinians.

A great number of the demonstrators – probably a quite substantial majority - had been organised by Britain’s Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and other Middle Eastern communities. Consequently it had a quite electric, internationalist and anti-imperialist atmosphere. While, all the main organisations of the left were present, numbers of trade unionists, notably Unite Banners, as were activists from the peace movements, it was nonetheless clear that the most successful mobilising force over the last days had been these migrant communities.

This is, of course, hugely important in and of itself. British Muslims marched in huge numbers against the Iraq war but, in consequence, suffered a vile racist counterattack from the media and from the state, particularly following the 7/7 bombings. This certainly made many of the religious and community leaders keep their heads down over the last two years. Not since the emergency demonstration against the Lebanon war – with which yesterday’s protest shared many features – have these communities protested in such huge numbers.

Like the Lebanon war demonstration – where the most popular chant was, “we are all Hezbollah” - an anti-imperialist ethos ran right the way through the march. The message was basic but powerful. Israel is a racist state, currently committing the most heinous war crimes in Gaza and we must support the people of Palestine’s struggle against it. And some of the most popular chants were, “1,2,3,4 occupation no more, 5,6,7,8 Israel is a terror state”, “Israel: terrorists” and “in our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians”.

But not only were the slogans bold, there was also a feeling of anger, militancy and determination. This was clearly illustrated by the big turn out at the Israeli Embassy on High Street Kensington for another protest after the demonstration in central London. Over 5,000 people put the embassy under siege. As we approached the demonstration it was pretty clear the police would attack it, if it reached a certain size and they felt under pressure from the crowd on the narrow high street. Sure enough, they brought out scores of riot police and several times baton charged the demonstration, leaving several protesters with nasty head and arm injuries. The Israeli flag was burned and it took the police some time and a number of snatch squad arrests to clear the area. Another picket is planned today (Jan 4) and daily ones until a national demonstration next Saturday, this time to the Israeli embassy. This is likely to be huge after the land invasion.

All in all there are many reasons to be encouraged by yesterday’s protests. Some may see this as a sign of strength of the anti-war movement, that it still has the power to mobilise, that it is still a force in British politics. While, there is a lot of truth in this argument it is perhaps better to see yesterday’s protest as the start of something new. Palestine has always mobilised significantly less support than say, the Iraq war, partly because of the hesitancy of many Labour and Liberal supporters to condemn Israel. What one feels from the general public response is that this bloody onslaught in Gaza is causing the scales to fall from the eyes of huge numbers of people who, hitherto, saw Israel as just defending itself against “fanatical suicide bombers,” etc. Thus it should be possible for us to win the argument in the unions and the colleges and schools for isolating Israel with boycotts and embargos.

But there is another major factor. As the crisis in global capitalism deepens, whilst the political fallout is, of course, hard to predict what we can be sure of is a series of revolutionary and counterrevolutionary crises, new and sharper rivalries between states and a corresponding rise in social and political discontent. Now more than ever then the feelings of outrage and injustice we saw on yesterday’s demonstration, have to be turned to a generalised offensive against the whole imperialist and capitalist system than generates horrific outrages like the onslaught on Gaza.