In photos: 150,000 march in #freepalestine demonstration in London

This article was published with The Humanity Journal. You can find the article here!

After a week of conflict between Israel and Hamas, protests have erupted around the world in solidarity for those in Gaza and the West Bank. In London, on Saturday 15th May, it’s estimated that 150,000 descended to the streets in one of the largest anti-war protests since the Iraq war.

Protesters began to gather at midday around Marble Arch before marching towards the Israeli Embassy, chanting ‘free, free Palestine’ and ‘Allahu Akbar’.

Many protesting that day believe peace is possible if Palestinians are given the same rights as Israelis. Currently, Palestinians are reportedly oppressed in the land, a situation that’s been seemingly deteriorating over the past few years.

Lindsey German, an activist with Stop the War Coalition pointed out that ‘for centuries’, Muslims, Christians and Jews have lived together in ‘relative peace’ but now, with Israel pushing more Palestinians out of their homes, that peace is compromised.

‘Everybody should be able to live in Palestine as a democratic secular state which isn’t tied to any one religion and where everyone can be seen as equal,’ German stated. ‘That is very far from the situation we have now.’

Currently, Palestinians are subjected to more road checkpoints than their Israeli neighbours and getting around the West Bank is much harder. Those living in Hamas-controlled Gaza also are not free to leave the area after Egypt and Israel locked the borders in 2007, making it difficult to import and export goods.

Since the conflict began last week, nearly 300 people have been killed in total, 68 being children. The numbers, some protesters pointed out, seem disproportionate, however.

Of the 256 dead, 220 of these were in Hamas-held Gaza. In addition to that, those injured in the conflict are largely Palestinian as well; 796 people have been injured in Israel, compared to 1,500 in Gaza and 4,824 in occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The UN Human Rights Office have called for the conflict to cease and for Israeli occupation to end. The latter is easier said than done, however, as over 400,000 Israeli settlers currently live in the West Bank, with numbers increasing each month.

Peace by Tom Charlesworth

What is the conflict about?

Simply put, this is a war between two groups of people who believe the same area of land is theirs. But this is far from simple.

In the early 20th century, the Zionist movement was growing across Europe. Many Jews believed that they should have a state themselves, and decided to head back to their Holy Land.

At the time, this land was British Palestine where mainly Muslims and Christians had lived side by side. This is one of the holiest lands on Earth and is home to Jerusalem.

As more Jews moved into the country, many felt as though they were losing their Palestinian identity. The UN got involved and split the country in two, giving some to the Zionist movement (Israel) and leaving the rest for Palestinians.

You can't beat a country protected by Allah by Tom Charlesworth

However, over the years, borders within this land have grown and reduced numerous times. Most famously in 1967, soon after the land was split in two, Palestinians decided to fight back, triggering the Six Day War.

Israel won the war and subsequently took land, including the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and even East Jerusalem (Jerusalem is the only area of land that belongs to all religions).

In the years that followed, many changes occurred, although most notably in 1995, where a two state-system was re-introduced. This split the country into three different zones.

  • Zone 1: Full Palestinian control (Palestinian government and security forces)

  • Zone 2: Partial Palestinian control (Palestine government but Israel security forces)

  • Zone 3: Full Israel control

However, Palestinian movement was, and still is, severely restricted and Israeli settlers continued moving into Palestinian land, despite this being condemned by human rights groups. The Human Rights Watch believe Israel are ‘integrating Jews’ but ‘displacing Palestinians.’

Jewish settlers have recently continued taking homes of Palestinians as they believe they’re legally entitled to their land. Israel allegedly criticises this, if the land taken is in a zone 1 area, but seemingly do very little to stop it.

In addition to this, it’s reported that Israel, on average, spends over double the amount on each Israeli resident in the West Bank than they do on those living in Israel. Many believe this is a large incentive to move.

Palestinians fought against the settlers by protesting in Jerusalem and other Israeli cities. Tensions continued to rise over the previous few weeks and, as Ramadan came to an end earlier this month, Israeli forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at worshippers. This triggered Hamas, an extremist militant group who control the Gaza Strip, to fire missiles at Tel Aviv.

Israel retaliated by firing their own missiles back to Gaza. Sadly, both of these actions have resulted in countless civilian deaths and injury.

‘My White Rose’

A protester holding a white rose - a symbol of peace - by Tom Charlesworth

"I want peace and nothing else," one protester told me as she held her white rose high in the air. Many protesters carried a white rose on Saturday, some sellotaping them to their picket signs.

"Some say it’s a sign of purity and love. That’s true, but it also means peace, to us." she explained as she began cradling it in her arms, "I’m here for the Palestinians, but needlessly, civilian causalities are rising day by day on either side. It’s too much."

To her, and many others, this simple gesture means a lot. Being able to funnel grief, anger and pain into a single rose allows for calm and hope.

The civilian casualties she talked about are rising each day, and sadly, are set to continue as the conflict worsens. Protests like this one will repeat until peace is found.