Hunger strikes, demonstrations, what’s it all about?
And while I for one do not see the point of hunger striking in an effort to show solidarity with the people of Gaza, (what good will it do?) I DO see the point in attending demonstrations, if only to increase the number of people there, thereby showing the government just how many people want them to make a stand in support of Gaza. I am under no illusions. I do not think for a moment that Brown and his various Milliband cronies will look at of their respective windows and say to themselves, “gosh. They really do want us to do something about this, don’t they? Then I suppose we had. Let’s fly to Israel tomorrow and get involved in peace talks.” But by attending such a demonstration, (dependent of course, of media coverage), it shows the government that their non active is not popular, and they can no longer delude themselves that their apathy and their Neville-Chamberlain Nazi-passifier attitude is OK. For the crisis in the Gaza strip is a humanitarian one. And it’s going to get worse.
And yet, while I will continue to go to demonstrations against the Israeli strikes on Gaza, my experience at this Saturday’s demonstration has made me question the cause for which I was demonstrating.
It was a well attended demonstration on the 3rd January. And it was even better attended last Saturday. I was concerned that those who had attended the 3rd January march would not attend the demonstration the following week, believing that they had done their bit, and there was no need to go to another one. That would not work politically. That would not work when pro-Gaza strikeans saw the apparent declining numbers on the march as evidence that the cause was losing support. (I refuse to use “pro Israeli’s” as the definitive term to define support for the strikes, on principal).
Anyway, this was not the case. There was quite a substantial crowd. Naturally figures vary: 50,000, 10,000… .
We started out in Hyde Park, Speaker’s Corner, and listened to a few motivational speeches from the likes of Annie Lennox (what a woman!), Bianca Jagger, and the children’s poet, Michael Rosen. The ending speech (or should I say rap) was performed by… Loki(??), and, after the poignant readings from children who read out a few names of the children who had died, was a motivational ending to some really strong speeches. And then we started to move. Straight away, it was a lot more vocal than the march on the 3rd. Maybe it was because of the speeches first off that had got people fired up from the start (and I still maintain this was a good thing). Or maybe it wasn’t – but the mood for the first hour or so was one of absolute solidarity. And as we drew nearer to the Israel embassay (or rather, the nearest point in which we could get to it) the mood changed. The crowd surged. Fumes of smoke began appearing from sides of the road. What were they burning? Who was burning? The chants grew angrier, the atmosphere felt tense. And then we heard the bang. It was like a gun shot, but dangerously close. And then, amid the panic that followed, golden sparkles showered into the air. “They are throwing missiles” someone said. The demonstration turned from a peaceful protest, to one of anger.
And as my partner aptly said, “anything we may have achieved today will now be overshadowed by that.” How right he was. News reports in the days that followed have spoken of a violent rally of ‘mainly Palestinian men’ who smashed shop windows, burned Israeli flags and launched missiles, while chanting ‘Free, free Palestine!’. No other description of the crowd has really been issued: that it was made up of men, women and children, from a large variety of religions and beliefs. To the average Brit, the demonstration on Saturday 9th was made entirely of violent male youths.
But the irony is, even I may have been taken in by the media coverage: although I was there. The speeches at the end at Kensington High Street, appeared to have rather a different philosophy than the speeches in Hyde Park. Gone was the feeling of solidarity. And instead, a cold feeling crept over me, as the crowd cheered in response to comments of, ‘Israel has dug it’s own grave!’ and ‘We are Hamas!’ And even though one of the speakers said, “This is not a war about Muslims and Jews. This is not a war about Islam and Judaism. This is a war about the oppressor and its oppressed” the damage had been done. The cheers for the speakers who spoke of support for Hamas and revenge for the Israelis still rung in my ears, and I wondered, as did my partner, to what cause we had been marching.