Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of central London yesterday, to protest at the government's failure to condemn the Israeli assault on Gaza.
Outrage fuels huge march in London
LONDON // Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of central London yesterday, leaving a sea of shoes outside the office of the prime minister, Gordon Brown, to protest at the government's failure to condemn the Israeli assault on Gaza. "I have been going on demonstrations since I was 14 years old, but I have never been so seething with anger as I have been for the past week," said Michele Shaw, a London housewife. "I'm not necessarily a Hamas supporter, but I cannot stand that everyone is putting the blame on Hamas. Nobody is talking about the Israeli blockade of Gaza for the past 18 months. If people have no other options, they have no food or jobs, of course they are going to fire rockets." The "nobody" she was angry about was the British government, and much of the British media. Mr Brown's government has been careful not to offend the Israelis, while the BBC has, in the view of many critics, been spineless in its coverage, which is frequently based only on interviews with Israeli officials. Organisers put the number assembled in Trafalgar Square at 50,000 but police estimated 12,000. Many who assembled got an extra spur when they woke up to hear the BBC radio broadcasting live from a cafe near the border with Gaza, with Israeli soldiers cheering in the background when bombs fell on the Palestinians. "I had to turn the radio off," said a friend of Mrs Shaw. As the demonstrators marched up Whitehall, the heart of the government quarter, a thick cordon of police blocked off the entrance to Downing Street, the residence and office of the prime minister. As they passed, they dumped old shoes, an Arab gesture of disrespect which has caught on in the West. Tony Blair, the former prime minister and now peace envoy for the Middle East, whose silence has been widely noted, was a particular focus of rage. Under a banner declaring: "Tony Blair, some peace envoy you are NOT", Annamarie Fugger said, "We just hope we'll be counted. It's the only thing we can do." The march took place against a background of quiet optimism in Israel that it was winning the propaganda war in Britain and other European countries, which are generally seen as favourable to the Palestinian cause. Israel's former UN ambassador, Danny Gillerman, has been quoted in the Israeli press as saying: "I don't know how long it will last but at this moment Israel has no small measure of understanding and support, and even approval, from many countries." Dan Judelson, marching under the banner of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, acknowledged the efforts of the Israeli government to outgun the Palestinians in the public relations battle. "They have prepared for this assault for five or six months. They have congratulated themselves, but I think it is premature." The demonstration took place hours before Israeli began its invasion of Gaza. However, expectations were high that there would be such an assault and the protesters were urged to prepare for a long campaign. Lyndsey German, of the Stop the War Coalition, said: "If there is an invasion of Gaza, as looks likely, by the Israeli army, if the blockade continues with people suffering from shortages of food and medicine, then I think this will grow." Among leaders of the march were the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who ahead of the demonstration compared Gaza to the Warsaw ghetto, where the Nazi Germans interned the Jews of Poland. "People are trapped. They are not getting the medical supplies and food they need. Under these conditions angry young men will take up arms," he said. "Israel is the superpower in the region. It has to make the concessions. They won't come from the people at the bottom of the pile." Many demonstrators directed their anger at Arab governments. An Egyptian student, Mona Elkouedi, said the issue was not so simple. "You cannot put all the blame on governments. You have to put some of the blame on the people." Ms Elkouedi said she had come on the march after being deluged with criticism on a social networking site for referring to a "massacre" in Gaza. "I am angry at the massacre, but far more annoying is the fact that so many people see what Israel is doing as legitimate self-defence. Any citizen who legitimises this will bear the responsibility for the rest of their life." The London demonstration was one of 18 being held throughout the country yesterday in cities including Glasgow and Manchester. There have been daily demonstrations outside the Israeli Embassy in London, some of them leading to scuffles where police have used truncheons on protesters. email@example.com