Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 9th June, 2007
Thousands of people marched through central London this afternoon, to attend a rally in Trafalgar Square, marking the 40th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It was a good-humoured throng, bringing Muslims, Jews, Christians and secular groups of all kinds together in a collective call for an end to this unjust situation and the associated violence. There was a broad political spectrum represented too, including on the platform. The LibDem peer and lawyer, Andrew Philipps, spoke powerfully of his experiences in the occupied territories and declared that the occupation had turned into colonisation, with the continuing settlement of West Bank land by Israeli Jews, in defiance of international law. Significantly, he stressed that there are far more good people than bad people on both sides of the current divide, and that the international community needs to encourage them. Also notable in the political line-up was Caroline Lucas, the Green MEP for the South East of England, who was far more trenchant in her criticisms of the Israeli government and the European Union’s failure to take effective action.
There was a video address by the Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh — which was simultaneously relayed to similar events in many cities round the globe — but Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti was in Trafalgar Square in the flesh. I found him immensely helpful when I was working on a journalistic assignment in Ramallah, before the Palestinian elections, and I was pleased that he included in his speech a plea for the release of the BBC’s Gaza correspondent, Alan Johnston. I can understand his anger and frustration at the West’s refusal to accept the legitimacy of the result of those elections, as well as at the brutality and humiliation of the occupation. But I can also understand Israelis’ outrage at suicide bombings and rocket attacks on civilian communities too. The Israelis have to talk with Hamas, just as eventually first Britain and then, incredibly, Ian Paisley talked with Sinn Fein. As orthodox Jews stood side-by-side with bandana-wearing young Muslims in the square this afternoon, united in their aspirations for peace and justice, one realised that even in this seemingly intractable situation, one must not give up hope.