In a post on Facebook aimed at the British press, Stop the War Coalition officer John Rees argued that the figures reported by the media – most gave the police estimate of 100,000, some even lower – were incorrect.
“I can tell you with certainty that yesterday’s Palestine demo, which I also helped organise, was half a million strong, not a figure one fifth of that,” he wrote.
It was certainly one of the biggest demonstrations in London for some time. Anyone who has been on and helped organise such events will have developed an instinctive feel for the numbers.
But arguments over the figures aside, this feels like another moment that is set to be squandered by the timidity of those placed at the head of the movement, most of whom one way or another are in hock to the Labour party.
Labour stalwarts going through the motions
Not for the first time, the demands of the protesters were in advance of the demands that came from the platform. While some of those on the streets called for victory to the resistance, speaker after speaker told us how bad things are and the necessity for a ceasefire.
But those on the demonstration are acutely aware of this. Many have lost friends and family in the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, others wait anxiously for news as Tel Aviv’s killing spree continues with the internet blocked and electricity cut off.
What was noticeably missing from the top table were any calls to action and how such demands can be realised. Unison’s president proudly declared support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
But she said nothing about how the union might harness the power of its 1.3 million members to force the British government to change its position and stop the Israeli war machine in its tracks.
Similarly, Mick Lynch of the RMT gave a rousing speech, but after the platitudes he made no concrete proposals about how the ceasefire he and others were rightly demanding could be achieved.
Labour MP Richard Burgon took to the stage and announced that he had laid down an early day motion in Parliament demanding a ceasefire, which had cross party support from more than 90 lawmakers.
That might sound impressive, but in reality an EDM is the parliamentary equivalent of asking people to sign a petition. And let’s not forget Burgon was one of the cowardly so-called ‘left’ MPs who backed down without even a whimper when party leader Keir Starmer threatened to remove the whip from those that had signed an open letter from Stop the War criticising Nato soon after Russia launched its intervention in Ukraine.
Similarly, Labour MP Diane Abbott spoke of the need for a ceasefire, but she will remain a Labour MP and will undoubtedly call on the British public to vote for the party at the next election.
What would real solidarity look like?
Organisers of the demonstration urged people to go home, join the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Stop the War – and to come back again next week and every week until a ceasefire is called. But by then, many thousands more Palestinians will have been killed, Gaza will be in ruins, and the British government will have been left free to continue its ‘business as usual’ approach.
It is clear that a walk in London on a weekend is simply not enough. It doesn’t pose any serious threat to those in power and will have a minimal impact on whether the government, or indeed the Labour party, backs a ceasefire.
It’s like none of the lessons of the mass march against the Iraq war have been learned. Repeating the same formula, with the same platform of speakers seen at every single demonstration, is symbolic of the paucity of the official left and progressive movement in Britain.
But it doesn’t need to be this way. We, and more importantly the people of Gaza, simply cannot afford to squander the situation again. Our demands must be radical.
The movement must be prepared for mass action at the armaments companies that are responsible for arms sales to Israel, including blockades of their sites to prevent weapons and parts from leaving, following the lead of such groups as Palestine Action.
We can take inspiration from history. From the stevedores and dockers who refused to load the Jolly George with munitions bound for Poland to wage war against revolutionary Russia to the heroic workers at Rolls Royce who said “Nae Pasaran” to stop engine parts being used against Allende’s Chile.
In 2006, activists shut down the Derry offices of Raytheon, the fifth-biggest arms manufacturer in the world, and destroyed its computer systems to prevent the Israeli army from continuing to carry out war crimes in Lebanon.
The action was taken in the wake of the second Israeli massacre at Qana, in which 28 civilians, 16 of whom were children, were killed in an airstrike on a three-story apartment block. The Raytheon Nine, as they were known, won their court case, acquitted of charges of criminal damage in a unanimous decision.
And moving beyond calls for a ceasefire, we must call for a victory for the Palestinian resistance, and ensure it has the moral and material ability to do so – as is its right even under international law.
In Britain, we must resist efforts to criminalise solidarity with the Palestinian people, as our government seeks to impose bans on waving a flag and tries to ban support for BDS as “antisemitic” – or even as support for ‘terrorism’.
There are only two sides: the oppressor and the oppressed.
Resistance is not only essential, it is our duty.