Visitor from Australia witnesses passion for Palestinian liberation in London march and rally

Health Workers For a Free Palestine rally in London. Photo by Ellis Reed.
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It is bitterly cold January day in London. But the chill doesn’t seem to dissuade the modest crowd gathering at Altab Ali Park, a small green space in the East London district of Whitechapel. The neighbourhood, home to Cable Street and Freedom Press, has long been a hotbed of radicalism.

That legacy is alive and well as banners slowly unfurl in the haze. Contingents from the National Education Union, Tower Hamlets Unison, and Health Workers for a Free Palestine proudly display their support for the greater Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). The passion amongst the unionists is pronounced. This is no surprise: a wave of militant unionism has swept through Britain post-Covid. Strikes have hit the nation’s transport, health, education and postal services, winning not just better deals for workers, but also strengthening the union movement across the board.

In Melbourne, the weekly solidarity rallies are city-wide actions. In London, where city-wide rallies have drawn some half a million protestors, borough-based initiatives take place on weekends when a full mobilisation has not be called. The Tower Hamlets march is one of 16 similar actions in London this weekend. Across England, there are more than 50 Palestine solidarity rallies — most of them happening concurrently.

These actions, organised by PSC local branches, foster a strong sense of community amongst activists. The crowd soon swells to about 250 attendees, who hear a rousing speech from a veteran unionist. Next up is an inspiring message from an elderly Jewish activist, whose personal story of hardship and defiance is met with warm appreciation. A ten-strong contingent of Orthodox Jews, each carrying individual posters that decry Israel’s actions, are also warmly welcomed. I’m told they’ve yet to miss a march.

Rally in Tower Hamlets, London. Jewish opposition to Zionism, both secular and religious, is getting louder. Photo by Ellis Reed.

The enthusiasm grows as the march sets off down Whitechapel Road. Motorists wait patiently as the crowds flow past. Car horns toot in solidarity. Palestinian flags wave from third storey windows, drawing enthusiasm from the marchers below. There’s a rapturous reception as another local rally intersects with Tower Hamlets’ trek — the two protests merge and continue their march. Spectators look on. Some film, while others call out their support or join the moving mass.

The route is long and the energy unflagging. Lines of drummers lend rhythm to the protest. Megaphones lead the chant which has become truly global — From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!

A series of benches in a marshy London park becomes the stage at the march’s conclusion. A spectacular cloth banner highlights the Tower Hamlets and Jenin Twinning Campaign. There is a direct relationship between the London borough and the West Bank refugee camp, which formed following the Battle of Jenin in 2002. At the time, that solidarity was criticised by Jewish leaders as “[risking] bringing Middle East tensions to inner city London.” Now, some two decades later, it’s but one link bridging the experiences of the Palestinian people and the British working class.

Ellis Reed is an Australian Palestine solidarity activist and photographer visiting London.

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