Nakba 76 – Stop arming Israel - march & rally, central London 18th May 2024. Nakba 76 – Stop arming Israel - march & rally, central London 18th May 2024. Photo: Steve Eason / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED

The pressure of defending the indefensible is leading pro Israel demonstrators to ever more attacks on those building solidarity for Gaza. Pete Webster reports on how the movement can defeat them

In an alarming development, Zionists called on pro-Israeli supporters to assemble on Saturday outside the students’ encampment for Palestine at UCL’s Gower Street campus in central London. The aim was to physically attack and smash up the peaceful protest.

This followed from ugly scenes last Thursday, 23 May, outside the Phoenix Cinema in Finchley that had been privately booked by the Serat International Israeli Film Festival, supported by the Israeli culture ministry and embassy here in the UK, for a screening of a pro-Israeli documentary giving the apartheid state’s take on the Nova music festival events last October.

This ‘cultural’ soiree was no more than a thinly disguised attempt to justify Israel’s ongoing military assault and genocide on the Palestinian people of Gaza, the Occupied Territories and East Jerusalem.

The screening was scheduled just days after the last national demonstration that marked the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, when over 750,000 unarmed Palestinians were forced to flee from their homes and land by a coalition of Israeli terror groups. They employed tactics including massacring entire villages and the torching of farms and crops.

The film showing was a blatant attempt to present the narrative that portrays Israel as the victim – a classic case of ‘Artwashing’.

Pro-Palestinian activists called for a demonstration outside the venue after requests to the trustees and Director from the cinema’s staff to cancel the screening were ignored. To their credit  renowned filmmakers Mike Leigh and Ken Loach resigned as Patrons in disgust.

The small protest of about 50 was met by a Zionist opposition of about 750-1000 and included a significant number of British fascists. The levels of violence, vile abuse, racism and hatred shown against the protesters was unprecedented and it was necessary to make an orderly and successful tactical retreat to safety to avoid any injuries.

At the same event Zionists made a call to to assemble in Gower Street on Saturday with the intention of breaking up the encampment there before moving on to attack the SOAS encampment, trying to emulate similar actions at Columbia University in the States. They were aware the local PSC branch had organised a march from Camden, via a protest outside a Barclays Bank, to UCL in a show of solidarity with the students and aimed to disrupt this too.

Our strength is in our numbers!

In the light of this threat it was decided to alter arrangements and the march from Camden would go direct to UCL. An urgent call round was organised to ensure neighbouring PSC branches, trade unions and social media networks asking for support. The response was magnificent and an overwhelming display of solidarity from across the city and beyond. 

Several hundred supporters, including a sizeable contingent from SOAS, rallied at the gates of UCL to defend any incursion and the Zionists and fascist allies – around 100 – found themselves substantially outnumbered by about 6:1. And our numbers swelled during a 3 hour standoff as supporters arrived from earlier actions elsewhere.

Again we witnessed terrible levels of abuse including death threats issued with impunity that would have resulted in immediate arrest by the police if it had occurred on one of our demonstrations. 

It’s ironic that those of us who call for an immediate ceasefire and the delivery of meaningful levels of aid are castigated as the ‘hate marchers’ and ‘terrorist supporters’ when the exact opposite is the case. And the environment that emboldens the Zionists and allies has been fostered to a large degree by the ongoing support of both Tory and Labour who continue to support the apartheid state’s ongoing slaughter politically, economically and logistically with the continued supply of military hardware and intelligence.

As the numbers of pro-Israeli supporters dwindled to a hard core – and while our numbers held – the police ordered everyone to disperse. It was made clear to the police we were not going anywhere until those opposite had vacated the area.

Realising that that would be a good idea the scum were escorted away without achieving any of their objectives. And to ensure everyone’s safety an impromptu lively march then set off from UCL to the SOAS encampment where a short rally was held before we decided to disperse.

So a victory for us on the day. But we need to be aware that there will be further attempts to intimidate and threaten our movement as long as this goes on. Not just from the Zionists but also from our own state that has sided with Israel.

Our strength, as ever, will be in our numbers and we have to ensure that we do everything we can to build and broaden our local connections and networks.

The next national demonstration for Palestine will be on Saturday 8th June. We urgently need to start building for that right now.

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