UK Election 2024

First Gaza protest under new Labour government sees estimated 100,000 march through London

Pro-Palestine protesters hope to send message to Keir Starmer: ‘This movement is not going away’

A local resident waves from her window as a pro-Palestinian demonstration passes on the road below in London, Britain July 6, 2024. Photography by Yann Tessier/Reuters
A resident waves from her window as the first pro-Palestinian demonstration under the UK’s new Labour government passes below in London. Photography by Yann Tessier/Reuters

Protesters marched through central London to protest Israel’s war on Gaza this afternoon — the first of the now-regular pro-Palestine marches to take place under the new Labour government.

The crowd, estimated by organisers as 100,000 people, walked from Russell Square to Portcullis House in Westminster.

For the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), which organised the rally, today’s event was especially important in sending a message to new political leaders. “We all know where Keir Starmer has taken the Labour party,” said Ben Jamal, the group’s director. “We all know that he went on LBC and told the world that Israel had the right to cut off food and water to the people of Palestine.

“But he’s come under increasing pressure because of the movement we’ve built. So today we’re bringing that message to parliament, in the first two days of a new government. Our message is that this movement is not going away.”

Protesters echoed this sentiment. “It’s particularly important today that as many people as possible show their support for a ceasefire to pressure the government,” said Hugo, a 26-year-old from London. “I don’t think it’ll make much of a difference for this new Labour party. But it’s better than nothing — better than staying home.”

For Hugo, the mistrust is centred around Labour politicians including Starmer receiving donations from pro-Israeli groups, and others taking trips to Israel arranged by the European Leadership Network, as revealed in the press this week. Recently, Declassified reported that some 41 of Labour’s then 197 sitting MPs had accepted money from pro-Israel groups or people.

For Fatimah, 22, from east London, today’s march — the 16th organised by the PSC since 7 October — was no different from any she has attended in the last nine months. “Every day, I go onto my newsfeed and it just gets worse and worse and worse,” she told Hyphen. “Yesterday, I saw the body of a child just hanging out from a window, covered in blood — just hanging. I’m so sick of seeing my people, my brothers and sisters in Palestine, going through this over and over while we don’t see a change from the government.”

As someone from a South Asian Muslim background, Fatimah said she felt alienated from Labour, citing its stance on Palestine, the treatment of Muslim politicians such as Faiza Shaheen, and Starmer’s recent comments singling out the Bangladeshi community in a conversation about asylum claims and deportations. “Labour has to do so much work to try and re-engage us,” she said. “But the question is whether or not we even want to engage with them.” 

Sara, a 32-year-old organiser from London, also feels disheartened with the new government. “The energy that I have observed among the people is that they know that Labour is not a friend of Palestine because of the types of statements that the Labour leader has made,” she said. But she added: “I think people are even more charged. They’re even more determined to be lobbying Labour to do the right thing.”

Starmer was expected to recognise Palestinian statehood, with a loose commitment in the party’s election manifesto. But last week, it was reported that he would delay doing so over concerns it could jeopardise Britain’s relationship with the US.

Leanne Mohamad, the 24-year-old British Palestinian who sought to unseat Labour’s Wes Streeting as an independent in Ilford North but lost by a few hundred votes, told Hyphen at the protest that protesters have a duty to raise their voices under Labour’s government as the “injustice and genocide is ongoing”.

“I see Labour and the Conservatives as two sides of the same rusty coin,” she said, “and that’s why we have to mobilise beyond this two-party duopoly now.

“There is an independent movement that’s just begun. And that’s what we need to realise — the two parties do not represent us and don’t serve us. I just have no hope in this Labour government.”

One source of hope, though, is Starmer’s newly elected attorney general Richard Hermer, who has often spoken out against Israeli breaches of international law. “We do know him,” said Jamal. “He has, on the record, in the past, been very clear about Israel’s violations of international law, in terms of its actions not just in Gaza but across all of the occupied territory.”

Hermer gave a legal opinion last year on the Conservative government’s anti-boycott bill that effectively outlined why the government’s bill would violate fundamental laws. 

“I see it as a positive appointment,” said Jamal, “but we need to see what he actually does… Certainly, we know this is someone who knows what the international law says and knows what the responsibilities are of people to abide by international law.”

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