Yesterday, with temperatures floating around below zero, I joined tens of thousands of protesters (officially 12,000, unofficially 100,000 – let’s say 60 – 70,000) to march through London from Hyde Park Corner to the Israeli Embassy in Kensington. I marched for about four hours until the bitter cold and fatigue got the better of my friend and me and we retreated to a pub – and we weren’t the only ones. I don’t think that chic Kensington street has ever done such good business on a Saturday afternoon before.
For some reason, the Russian Embassy on Bayswater got a lot of attention – and a few fireworks. Here are a few triumphant demonstrators at the gates.
The whole experience was uplifting – despite the weather conditions and the frightening crush that resulted from a stubborn group of 100 or so protesters firmly entrenched in front of the Israeli Embassy. They spoilt it for the rest of us, as the huge crowd was forced to squeeze through a much narrower space behind them to continue. Some gave up, turned round & pushed their way back through the demonstrators. We hung in there at the edge, watched parents lift prams over the barriers helped by policemen/women, then eventually broke through to reach a welcomingly empty stretch leading past Kensington Gardens. Then up there on a big screen was the MEP George Galloway speaking to the hordes. He’s not my favourite, so that also encouraged our retirement.
Later, watching coverage on TV news and reading today’s newspapers, I see as usual the emphasis is on the hardliners who smashed the window of a Starbucks and clashed with riot police. Why only mention the extremists? We saw nothing of this – at the most a few teenagers waving sticks, their faces swathed in keffiyehs to look hip and heavy.
Otherwise, all we witnessed were these thousands and thousands of good-humoured, completely ethnically mixed demonstrators marching through central London carrying banners, flags or boards, determined to take a stance regarding the atrocities in Gaza. Muslims, Christians, Jews were all there, young and old, prams or walking-sticks, middle class or otherwise, it was an extraordinary multi-cultural mix. Last Saturday’s march past Westminster (when we ended up throwing shoes at Downing St) in brilliant sunshine seemed like a mere warm-up – in all senses. This felt altogether more momentous and concentrated.
Here’s a pic of just a sample of last week’s highlight: old shoes destined for Gordon Brown a few yards from Downing St., following the example of the Iraqi journalist who chucked his shoes at George W.
But for anyone who wasn’t at yesterday’s demonstration, how will they know the intensity of feeling and the incredible will of thousands who came from all over the country to express themselves? Our media focuses on violence, a drop in the ocean compared with the majority attitude from peaceful yet incensed protesters. And does the Israeli government care? Of course not. But let’s not forget…