Thousands Demonstrate in London for a Free Palestine and Boycott of Apartheid Israel

From the www.monabaker.com archive (legacy material)

Stop The Wall Organization | May 30, 2005

On Saturday 21st of May, the annual Nakba Day rally of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign once again drew thousands of supporters into the streets. In pouring rain, protestors marched to Trafalgar Square and denounced Apartheid Israel and its Occupation of Palestine. They demanded an end to international complicity in the Occupation's crimes and called for boycott, divestment and sanctions to be put in place against Apartheid Israel. This call was echoed by the event's many speakers, who gathered from Palestine and from within British civil society. Sharif Omar, from the Popular Committees of the Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, described resistance and boycotts as the best ways to achieve freedom for Palestine. Addressing the crowd, he spoke of the plight and struggle of Palestinian farmers against the dispossession and ghettoization brought upon them by the Apartheid Wall. He told the crowd, "We know well that the international community imposed boycotts against South Africa, with sanctions until the people there won their freedom and rights. We the Palestinians have the right to expect the same commitment and effort, and to dream of having the same results." Urging the British government to adhere to its international obligations and pressurize Israel to end the Occupation and the construction of the Apartheid Wall, as laid out by the International Court of Justice ruling and subsequent UN resolutions, he reminded those gathered at the rally of Britain's historic responsibility to Palestine stretching back to the Mandate period and the Balfour declaration. The recent efforts of the Academic Union of Teachers (AUT) and its motion to boycott Occupation academic institutions was also high on the agenda of many speakers, who expressed support for the AUT and urged wider British civil society to strengthen its support for Palestine. Sue Blackwell, one of the main campaigners behind the AUT motion, spoke to renew her call for the academic boycott, highlighting the way in which boycotts and divestments helped to end apartheid in South Africa. The General Secretary of the British Communication Workers Union, which represents a quarter of a million workers in the Postal, Telecommunication and Financial Services industries, delivered greetings and messages of support and solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, saying, "The Israeli government is reinforcing the discrimination against the Palestinians by stealing more land and building a mountain of a wall. This is segregation in concrete apartheid in another continent." He spoke of his experiences dealing with the Apartheid regime in South Africa: "My Union has a proud history of support of the South African struggle against apartheid. In 1976 we were taken to court for refusing to handle mail to South Africa. That was a long struggle, but the people of South Africa won. The struggle of the Palestinians has also been long but it will be won. We can make it shorter and victory easier. We must all renew our efforts. Get your union branch or local community organization to support the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. For each step you take you will be helping to ensure justice for the Palestinian people." Betty Hunter, the General Secretary of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Britain, gave the rally's closing speech, stating that, "The International Court of Justice ruled a year ago that Israel's building of its Apartheid Wall was illegal and that other states should not assist it in this latest Israeli land grab. The suffering of the Palestinian people, living under Israeli occupation, must not be allowed to continue. The British government should place sanctions on Israel until it abides by international law and human rights legislation." She continued: 'At least 241 Palestinians have been injured and 30 killed since the Sharm al-Sheikh meeting, including two Palestinian boys killed whilst protesting the construction of Israel's wall in their village of Beit Liqya. The ongoing catastrophe, or Nakba, continues for the Palestinians'. The rally is an annual event held around the time of Nakba Day when Palestinians remember the Catastrophe of 1948 that heralded the beginning of the Occupation, the destruction of more than 450 Palestinian villages and the expulsion of around 800,000 Palestinians, beginning a process of expulsion which continues today through the Wall and the Occupation's system of Apartheid. Trafalgar Square, where the rally is held, is the very same place where anti-apartheid activists once protested against the South African racist and colonial regime. Other speakers at the event who demanded an end to the Occupation and urged further support for the Palestinian people included Stuart Hemsley, chairman of Pax Christi; Muamar Orabi from the Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign; Paul Mackney, President of NATFHE, one of Britain's largest education trade unions; and Andrew Burgin of the Stop the War Coalition. This year's event comes at a critical time for the Palestinian solidarity movement within the UK. The AUT is currently continuing its efforts to boycott Israeli universities, and two major British churches are debating whether to divest from Israel. This event, and the calls from Palestine and Britain that were heard here, show that the demand for the isolation and boycott of Apartheid Israel is now so deeply rooted in the Palestinian struggle that it can no longer be silenced.