The large-scale demonstration in the U.K. occurred as paltry levels of humanitarian aide were finally allowed through the southern border of Gaza, but nowhere near enough given the scale of death and destruction.
Organizers and participants said hundreds of thousands of people were in the streets of central London on Saturday to demand an immediate cease-fire in Gaza as the Israeli military continued its bombardment of the besieged enclave a full two weeks after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.
Organized by a coalition that includes the Solidarity Campaign, Friends of Al-Aqsa, Stop the War Coalition, Muslim Association of Britain, Palestinian Forum in Britain, and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the march also called for Israel to “end its occupation of Palestinian land and apartheid rule over the Palestinian people.”
The demonstration began at Marble Arch, weaving its way through central parts of the city before ending at Downing Street, where a mass rally was held.
While many in the streets put the number of demonstrators in the hundreds of thousands, other outlets put the number closer to 100,000.
“As a Palestinian who’d like to return home one day, as a Palestinian who has brothers and sisters in Gaza, and family, I wish we can do more but protest is what we can do at the minute,” one marcher told Reuters.
Large Palestine solidarity protests all over the UK today: London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and many other cities, despite torrential rain in some areas.— Asa Winstanley (@AsaWinstanley) October 21, 2023
Organizers tell me there were more than 300,000 in London: largest ever for Palestine, they say.
Video from @FriendsofAlAqsa pic.twitter.com/o9D3Y4VzAr
At a smaller protest in Cardiff, Maggie Morgan, from the local affiliate of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, explained to the BBC that demonstrators in the UK were “taking to the streets as a show of solidarity to the people of Gaza, to show our support for them, but also to make the government listen, and say ‘not in our name,’ we’re not having this.”
On Friday, protests against the assault on Gaza—which has already claimed over 4,000 lives and thousands more injured—were seen across the Middle East, from Cairo in Egypt, with specific demands to open the Rafah Border to allow refugees out and humanitarian supplies, to Iraq, Yemen, Jordan, Indonesia, and beyond.
“We want the border to be opened immediately so aid can reach people in Gaza,” one protester in Cairo’s Tahrir Square told a correspondent with the Middle East Eye.
Beautiful scenes in #London right now – hundreds of thousands marching through the rain to show international solidarity with #Gaza and the Palestinian people. ✊— Hope Worsdale (@HWorsdale) October 21, 2023
We say NO to war, ethnic cleansing & genocide! #FreePalestine
The Rafah crossing was finally opened on Saturday, but only 20 trucks of supplies were allowed to enter Gaza, an amount described by the Associated Press as “a trickle” compared to what aid experts say is necessary.
Cindy McCain, the executive director of the World Food Programme, told Al Jazeera in an interview that 20 trucks were simply inadequate given the scale of the humanitarian disaster Palestinians and others trapped in Gaza now face.
“The situation inside Gaza is dire. Not only is there no food, there is no water, electricity, or fuel. And that combination is not only catastrophic but can lead to more starvation and disease as well,” McCain explained. “We’ve got to get more trucks in.”
Medical agencies and other relief workers on the ground have said that the absence of fuel in Saturday’s convoy means that hospitals remain on the verge of collapse.
“Without fuel entering the Gaza Strip to support generating electricity, thousands of Palestinian lives are at risk of death in hospitals, ” said the Palestine Red Crescent Society in a statement. “Ambulance will no long be able to save lives. Bakeries will no longer be able to provide bread. It shall leave the population without potable water, and risk outbreak of diseases.”
In #Gaza, “without electricity, many patients will die… It is vital to get the hospitals back up and running. To do that, regular ceasefires must be guaranteed for medicines and fuel to be brought in.”— MSF International (@MSF) October 21, 2023
Read our medical coordinator's update 👇https://t.co/GG3EK1fJcN
In a dispatch on Saturday, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini, who heads the UN agency mandated with administering humanitarian assistance and protection in Gaza, said the ongoing assault by Israel has put the lives of everyone inside the territory at great risk.
“For the past two weeks, the war has continued unabated,” said Lazzarini. “In the Gaza Strip, relentless air strikes and bombardments, coupled with evacuation orders issued by the Israeli Forces, have displaced nearly 1 million people and caused the death and injuries of far too many civilians.”
He continued: “Civilians—wherever they are—must be protected. The life of all civilians, the integrity of all UN facilities and premises, as well as civilian infrastructures, including hospitals, must be shielded from harm and protected at all times under international humanitarian law.”
With global condemnation directed at Israel for what international legal scholars have warned may be overt acts of genocide and collective punishment in response to Hamas’ attack, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on Saturday, speaking from Cairo, said, “The people of Gaza need a commitment for much, much more—a continuous delivery of aid to Gaza at the scale that is needed.”
Guterres further demanded a humanitarian cease-fire to rescue Gaza from what he called “a godawful nightmare.”
And Lazzarini added, “Let me be clear: protecting civilians in times of conflict is not an aspiration or an ideal; it is an obligation and a commitment to our shared humanity. I echo the calls from the UN Secretary-General on all parties to reach an urgent humanitarian ceasefire. This is the only way out of this mayhem; any other way will plunge Gaza—and the world—deeper into fathomless, dark depths.”
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