Get the free Morning Headlines email for news from our reporters around the world
Sign up for our free Morning Headlines email
As hundreds of thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered from the US Embassy back across Vauxhall Bridge and up to Buckingham Palace shortly after 3pm on Saturday, there was silence.
A cacophony of chants fell silent as protesters were urged to use Ceasefire Day to remember the thousands who have died in Gaza over the past five weeks, many of them children.
Husam Zumlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Kingdom, told those gathered that the march was “a reminder that peace can only be achieved when the guns are silent.”
“Today we remember those who lost their lives in the war and we remember those who are still falling today,” he said.
Thousands of protesters walked through torch smoke during the march
And then the protesters fell into a two-minute silence.
It was intended to respond to one of the protesters’ harshest critics, someone who had done his utmost to ensure that the demonstration did not take place.
It was intended as a response to an interior minister who described the now weekly Saturday protests against violence in Gaza as “hate marches.”
But as Ben Jamal, the organizer of the demonstration, said The Independent: “We know who the hateful people are. We know who Suella Braverman is.”
The protests gathered at Hyde Park Corner and set off shortly after midday
At midday, protesters gathered outside the Hilton Hotel at the end of Park Lane and made their way through a cloud of red, white and green flare smoke – the colors of the Palestinian flag.
Small children wearing the same colors lined the streets through which the demonstrators marched. Many walked hand in hand with their parents alongside other demonstrators, while some chanted.
Four young boys sitting on a ledge were photographed holding signs reading “End Israeli Occupation.”
On the sidelines of the demonstrations near Hyde Park Corner, a little girl began singing from her stroller: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
The demonstrators were led by a ring of volunteers along Grosvenor Place, past the Irish Embassy on their right and Buckingham Palace on their left.
A group of Jewish socialists numbering in the hundreds joined the march from a side street off Grosvenor Place.
As the protesters moved toward Victoria Station, a small group of nine Orthodox Jews, including a young boy, had gathered to cheer them on.
Nine Orthodox Jews gathered near Victoria Station to support the demonstrations
They chanted “Judaism is fine, Zionism is definitely not,” before the crowd applauded.
One of the supporters, who did not want to be named, said so The Independent that he believed “the killing just has to stop.”
Concern over the emergence of far-right counter-protest mobs had intensified marches in the run-up to Armistice Day and in the hours leading up to midday.
Far-right leader Tommy Robinson led a small uprising through Chinatown at 11 a.m. on Saturday after the Armistice Day silence. There were also clashes between dozens of nationalist men and the police in Westminster.
Tommy Robinson led a group of right-wing extremist men in counter-protests
Mustafa al-Dabbagh, spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, said there was “quite a lot of fear among some Muslim communities” ahead of Saturday’s march.
“The interior minister needs to take a good look at herself and focus on running the streets rather than stoking tensions with Islamophobic tactics to embolden the far right,” he said.
As the demonstrators turned the corner to Victoria Station around 1:15 p.m., right-wing extremist nationalists began clashing with pro-Palestinian demonstrators.
A group of about a dozen men standing outside the Duke of York pub began shouting at the protesters.
A young pro-Palestinian protester is shouted at outside the Duke of York pub near Victoria station
Police quickly surrounded them and some of the protesters followed them, cheering as volunteers urged them to rejoin the march and refrain from attacking the far-right mob.
The men, many holding half-drunk pints, appeared visibly upset at what they saw as police betrayal.
“Why are you blocking us?” a man shouted at an officer. “You should block her.”
Then a second group burst out halfway along Vauxhall Bridge Road.
There was palpable panic as about 20 men confronted some people walking ahead of the march. People called for help from police, who were still controlling the front row of protesters further back.
Protesters and counter-demonstrators compete on Vauxhall Bridge Road
Several police officers ran forward and the march was suddenly stopped, just a few meters from the side street where the right-wing extremist group had appeared.
Then there was a noticeable shift as dozens more officers continued to run towards Vauxhall Bridge, where eight police cars were blocking more nationalists outside another pub.
According to the Metropolitan Police, at the time of writing, 82 far-right protesters had been arrested.
Officers arrested dozens of counter-protesters on Tachbrook Street in Pimlico “to prevent a breach of the peace”.
Further down Vauxhall Bridge Road, an elderly protester who did not want to be named was heard speaking in order to calm tensions with a third group of nationalists.
A woman holding a bloodied doll said she was “disappointed” in British politicians across all political divides
He said The Independent: “I was just trying to joke with them a little to calm things down.
“I support West Ham, they support Chelsea. We joked about it – and we talked about the meaning of Armistice Day.”
It was clear from the start that Ceasefire Day was of great importance to the many hundreds of thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators.
“Commemoration and the pro-Palestinian marches go hand in hand,” Mr. al-Dabbagh said. “It is absolutely disingenuous to suggest otherwise.
“We demand a ceasefire on Armistice Day. If people don’t understand that, it’s very disappointing.”
At 11 a.m. in Marble Arch, a lone man wearing a Palestinian scarf and a red poppy on his lapel stood silently – others seemed uninterested.
But when speakers took the stage outside the U.S. Embassy later Saturday, protesters staged a two-minute memorial rally that had everyone paying attention.
Pictures showing young children killed in Gaza over the past five weeks line the street in front of the US Embassy
What had been a march marked by passionate, often deafening chants suddenly fell into complete silence shortly after 3 p.m.
Hundreds of thousands of people stretching more than a mile and a half from nearby Battersea Park back to Vauxhall station were silent.
Images of civilians killed in Gaza over the past five weeks flashed across screens as people silently wiped away their tears. Then muted applause broke out.
Source : www.independent.co.uk