150 people gathered outside the Greenwich Islamic Centre (GIC) at mid-day with banners and kefirs 150 people gathered outside the Greenwich Islamic Centre (GIC) at mid-day with banners and kefirs. Source: Tim Donnelly - Counterfire

Tim Donnelly reports on a lively and broad based demonstration in one London borough which came onto the streets for Palestine 

What a great way to start the weekend last Saturday ahead of the final round of the Guinness Six Nations rugby tournament that, unusually, saw three teams still in the running for the winners’ title a day before St Patrick’s Day. Approximately 150 people gathered outside the Greenwich Islamic Centre (GIC) at mid-day with banners aloft and kefirs wrapping out the cold on a bright, clear, London Saturday. As usual, the group was diverse in age, gender, ethnic origin, abilities, creed and, most importantly, height, allowing for some fascinating photo opportunities and dispersal of information sheets, leaflets and newspapers. 

Again, as so typical of these protests for peace and freedom, a brightly marked police van with a cohort of officers observed this gathering from a safe distance. We were not honoured with a ‘bear in the air’ or two as so commonly happens on the major demonstrations in Central London. Interestingly the police officers then set about wandering through the crowd in pairs, mostly pairing one male with one female officer, with an obvious intent of presenting themselves as being there to help us all have a peaceful march while they gathered information on the march and marchers and sought to root out any mischievous lawbreakers that dared threaten democracy and the rule of Rishi. 

One can be simply polite to these officers without providing any information that could then be used against marchers and their communities and without being rude but one is always wary of conversations that could be manipulated to subvert our good intentions. Plenty of placards were available for the unencumbered yet quite a few marchers chose to hold up the March issue of the Counterfire paper as their banners.

150 people gathered outside the Greenwich Islamic Centre (GIC) at mid-day with banners and kefirs.
150 people gathered outside the Greenwich Islamic Centre (GIC) at mid-day with banners and kefirs. Source: Time Donnelly – Counterfire

The protest march was organised by a coalition of groups, including Lewisham and Greenwich associated CND, Palestine Action, TUC, Stop The War Coalition and the GIC. In accordance with so many previous marches  for Palestinians, its aim was to sing aloud the people’s demand for an end to the killing of thousands of Palestinian civilians and an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza. The march set-off with a series of banners of various organisations leading the crowd and joining in with loud chants of ‘From the river to the sea…’, ‘Rishi Sunak what do you say…..’, ‘Free, free Palestine’ and more. 


Being corralled by the police, mostly on the pavements along the Plumstead Road, a wide dual carriageway with lots of passing cars honking their horns in solidarity, the march passed through a mixture of housing, retail and commercial properties. Whilst most onlookers and local residents observed the marchers with approval or indifference, there was a spectacle of an older man standing in front of his residential block aggressively wearing a Union flag tee-shirt in apparent defiance of this invasion that threatened his freedoms and democracy. With a grim-faced stare, he was staunchly unmoved by our cheery waving, smiling and singing, determined to present a bastion of righteousness against this river of hate marchers. After about three-quarters of a mile of chanting and venting our collective spleen, we veered sharply to the left through the shopping centre that forms Woolwich town centre and headed to the grassy knolls for the speakers to address the crowd, which by now had grown considerably. A great opportunity to handout more Counterfire papers.

The speaker line-up was impressive and had a good deal of variety from different corners of the protest movements. They were very professionally presented by the compères Shelley Sudell and Sumreem Salim who also co-ordinated as cheerleaders for much of the chanting before, between and after speakers. Shelley stated what we all knew and yet is so often ignored by the UK government and Israel’s lackeys, that we were there protesting for one reason and that was that we want peace not war. To achieve this aim we need to continue the protesting, marching, boycotting and parliamentary lobbying. The violence perpetrated on the Palestinians since 7 October 2023 has killed more than 30,000 civilians, seriously wounded 70,000 and destroyed over 70% of the buildings and infrastructure of Gaza. In addition to this, if the bombs don’t kill thousands more of the approximately 2 million surviving civilians in Gaza then starvation and disease, deliberately orchestrated by the Netanyahu regime, will kill many more. 

Speakers included Lubna Speitan, a local artist and Greenwich Palestine Action member who reminded us of the Nakba of 1948;  Dr Birsen Gaskell, a medical doctor who has recently returned from Gaza; and Ben Woodward, the RMT Assistant Branch Secretary of Docklands Light Railway.


Andrew Murray, Vice President, Stop the War Coalition, was on his usual very good and very loud form. He needs no sound system to project his intense feelings of disgust about what Netanyahu is doing and the complicity of the UK and other Western governments in aiding and abetting these war crimes. He was quick to note that it is not the Israelis or the Jewish people who are our enemies but Sunak, Biden and Starmer and that the sooner we can rid ourselves of these corrupt politicians the better.

150 people gathered outside the Greenwich Islamic Centre (GIC) at mid-day with banners and kefirs.
150 people gathered outside the Greenwich Islamic Centre (GIC) at mid-day with banners and kefirs. Source: Time Donnelly – Counterfire

Zahid Rahman, an activist from Tower Hamlets, related his experience of solidarity with the Palestinians amongst his friends, colleagues and others in his community despite the fear-mongering and misinformation put out by mainstream media. There were further speeches from Farrah Saber, a representative of the Palestine Forum in Britain; Amina Mangera, an academic and anti-Apartheid activist from South Africa. 

One of the most powerful was from Tamar – a local  Jewish teacher and NEU member  who had recently been visited by  police  asking her to remove the Palestinian flag she had displayed in one of her windows. Of course she was adamant that she would leave the flag exactly where it was despite their insidious request.

The youngest Greenwich Palestine Action member, a nine-year-old local girl, shared her belief that all children deserve a childhood and that Israeli bombs had deprived thousands of Palestinian children of that basic right. Her contribution was brave and valuable from one so young. Ahmed Hussain, a local man and representative for the Lewisham Muslim Voice, finished the speeches with a call to further organisation and unity to fight against our corrupt institutions and get a humane result for the Palestinian people. 

The crowd then began slowly to disperse. The march and rally had been uneventful from the perspective of the police and I saw no altercations or any actions that could be used to denigrate  the marchers. Their only complaint might be that they were bored silly when they could have been at home watching the rugby. Mind you, I’m sure the overtime wages come in handy in the current cost-of-living crisis.  The shoppers of Woolwich were allowed to continue on their way which left many of the rest of us dashing to the local pub to catch the Italians inflicting a devastating blow to Welsh pride and present them with the wooden spoon whilst Ireland would go on to the greater glory of back-to-back Six Nations victories.

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