Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gaza demo report

Just want to write a cheap and cheerful report on the demo in London today and I'll fill in the blanks later.

It seemed big to me, well over 50,000 people turning out on a very cold day (it didn't snow the whole time though) to protest against Israel's actions in Gaza. I heard the organisers claimed over 100,000 - that's too many I think, but that should not detract from the fact that there was a very strong turn out.

It was also pretty angry and one of the liveliest demonstrations I've ever been on. I early on had a conversation with someone about whether there would be anti-semitic chants or placards so I kept my eyes peeled and didn't see a one.

In fact I've been on Palestine protests before and the use of the swastika in conjunction with the Israeli flag (which in my view is stupid, offensive and lazy - although not anti-semitic in itself) has been something that always crops up. This time I only spotted this twice, which is a welcome development if it means this particular use of symbolism is dying out.

We (the Greens) had some placards and leaflets, although I still think we need to get better at organising this sort of thing so more people can lend a hand as I think a lot of the work fell on a few shoulders. Personally I gave out approximately a bazzillion leaflets, partly as a misjudgement on my part picking up so many that meant it was almost going home time when I finally got rid of my last one. But I done my duty Sarge! Not a single one binned.

There were two flash points that I remember.

Firstly there was the point where a side road could have led to the back of the Israeli embassy. The police had locked the gates and had a team of cops lined up to prevent people taking that route. A crowd quickly gathered when we reached that point and that crowd became more aggressive and angry as time went on.

There was quite a bit of shoe throwing and people (young nibble people) climbed up on the walls around the gate and led chants against the Israeli actions. There was flag burning (which produce loads of smoke) and someone told me they were also burning shoes although I didn't see this and frankly I'm really sure it makes sense - but there was a column of smoke after a bit! There was also the throwing of red paint and a number of the police were splashed by this.

It was then that some sort of flare or firework was let off towards the police with an almighty bang. It is my understanding that the police don't like to have explosives fired in their direction and reinforcements soon arrived. To be honest that moment was a turning point for this flash point as a large number of people moved on at that point as we were nowhere near the end of the march and people probably didn't fancy getting shot at (or whatever people imagined might happen).

The second flash point was at the end at the nearest point to embassy where the crowd gathered. The policing at this point seemed pretty restrained although I'm sure the size of the crowd had more than a little to do with that. I went for a coffee at one point with the infamous stroppy (it was very cold in our defence) and when we returned there was a fair deal of thrown objects, the horses were drawing up and the police were bringing in the tall shields in preparation for hemming the remaining part of the demo in.

Having seen this before I stood outside the ring of police not wanting to get boxed in for hours. It looked like a classic standoff and it seemed unlikely that the protest was going to be able to make any more kind of headway although they were making the point that we are angry very, very clearly. We stood there for a while without much movement and although I think things would have got more hairy later on it was at this point I decided to get the train back.

All in all it was rather exciting and I'm very much taken with flag burning. Let's do this more on other kinds of demos. The level of protests, particularly local protests has been extremely inspiring, I'm pessimistic about how much they are achieving, but I know for a brief time I feel like I've done something - although I accept this may well be a false feeling.

Further reports from London by Harpy, Sunny, Septicisle, Lenin, Daily Quail, Fridge Magnet, Blue Meanie, Vicky, David Rosenberg, Socialist Worker, Permanent Revolution, BBC, Cardiff CAAT, Indymedia, Stephen Glenn, Liam, Ed Rooksby, Pics from Paddy one of which I've pinched.

And the Edinburgh demo from Cat, and BBC, and Indymedia, Belfast from BBC, Sheffield from Indymedia, Athens from Indymedia,


Ed said...

I saw only two Green Party placards in the whole march. I'd have been quite happy to hand out leaflets but I couldn't see a Green Party stall or anything when I got there.

No idea how to judge numbers - but it was a very big demonstration. I was nowhere near the start of the march when it set off and I stopped about half way down Kensington High Street (?) for 15 mins to take pictures and didn't see the crowd thin out and certainly didn't see the back of the march.

I agree with you about the objectionable comparisons with Nazis. I saw one or two - something about a 'Zionazi state' or something. I also saw a one man puppet of a monster eating kids which I thought (whether deliberately or not) echoed a standard anti-semitic trope/image. Other than that, nothing. Most of the Islamic speakers were keen to point out that many Jewish people opposed the IDF action and pointed towards the letter in the Guardian. I didn't like Tamini's speech at the end - but that was the only one that rankled.

I thought Michael Rosen's poem was brilliant.

studentmedic said...

The police were brutal and all the violence I saw was really stoked and encouraged by police actions.

The demo was great and the crowd were peaceful. I was impressed with turn out.

Shame Green Party didn't have a bigger presence and hope it will be better in the future! Those who did help did a grand job in the difficult circumstances.

Infantile and Disorderly said...

I think you're being a bit conservative with numbers- I've been on demos with a hundred thousand and this felt bigger. Having said that, it's the first time in history that I've ever been inclined to agree with the SWP over numbers.

Jim Jay said...

Ed - yes the placards were a bit few in number and a bit fall-a-party unfortunately we need to to get that sorted in future (for this and other issues).

I didn't hear Michael Rosen unfortunately - that would have been good.

Numbers - when Bush visitted it was 100,000 and was definately bigger than today - but let's not get obsessed with the maths - it was definately a big, rowdy and excellent demo.

Payam - I actually think the police were pretty restrained (out of necessity). They didn't even make a reaction to having fireworks (or whatever it was) fired at them. Which was very interesting.

The first flash point at the gate leading to a side street in particular was a case of the crowd throwing stuff, firing stuff, setting things alight and trying to bust down the gates whilst the police stood back and watched - so I don't think it's right to characterise the crowd as peaceful.

The crowd was angry and some of them expressed that anger pretty physically. I've got no problem with that and it certainly was not simply in response to the police in this instance. It was in response to Israel's actions.

The police this week have been outrageous (and broke a woman's arm yesterday) but tactically they had no option but to hold back today (at least up until the point I left) due to the numbers and anger of the crowd.

bigbluemeanie said...

Hi JimJay,

I spotted three anti-Semitic posters :-( and two Green ones. Other than that I saw pretty much the same as you.

Anonymous said...

"young nibble people"?! An interesting tactic, perhaps . . .

Jim Jay said...

Ooops that would be nimble... although... no, no, better not go there...

stroppybird said...

David Rosenberg also did a good guest post for Stroppyblog on the wider issue of the demos and the left:

Anonymous said...

Well, spotting three racist placards in a demo of tens of thousands of people isn't too bad.

Enough for certain people to smear the entire demo as some sort of pro-Hamas rally though...

Jim Jay said...

NoD better than some otehrs I've been to - and the chanting was better too... although I'm not convinced the use of swastika with israeli flag is racist per se - I just think its sloppy, stupid and provocative for all the wrong reasons.

That's my view - I'd be interested in exploring that more though

Raphael said...

A pro-Hamas rally?

Who would suggest that given that one of the three organizations calling for the demo was a Hamas front (BMI), that one of the speaker was the Hamas spokesperson in the UK (Tamimi), and that the latter in his speech started and finished with "Allah Akbar" and "We are all Hamas".

I have just watched his speech here:

That people who think of themselves as peace activists could be associated with such amazing discourse beggars beliefs.

Jim Jay said...

I don't think it was a pro-Hamas rally. I did hear one chant, once that went "Hamas, Hamas, Hamas" then continued "Hamas, Hamas, Hamas" so there were probably a few supporters there with a larger layer of people sympathetic on the basis of the current situation. I think you'll have to accept that the current crisis is strengthening support for Hamas, the democratically elected government.

I never listen to the speeches (or rarely anyway) and I'm not alone in that - but all kinds of people say all kinds of things at demonstrations - but they don't get to define the protests for everyone else just because they've done so. Protests are a coming together of people with different views.

Plus, a small pedantic point. I'm not a peace activist. I oppose this war. I opposed the Iraq, Afghan, Balkans war and Gulf War 1 - but I judge each one on its merits. I'm prepared to support military force, but don't on this occasion.

Peace is a lovely thing and we should aim towards it but I think I'd be misrepresenting myself if I defined myself as a peace campaigner because the implications would be that I'm always opposed to the use of force, which I'm not.

Raphael said...

Did you listen (now) to the speech?
Do you have any comments about it?

Jim Jay said...

I've just listened to it. He's clearly bonkers.

Although, having said that, the last minute is bloody marvellous. (3.10 onwards)