People started gathering at Trafalgar Square at 12 noon. Most of the printed banners were familiar with a few new additions. Palestine Solidarity were represented by their popular "Free Palestine" flag and the newer "End the siege of Gaza" placard, the Stop the War coalition sported their themed "Out of Iraq and Afghanistan" and "Don't attack Iran" placards, with CND having similar messages on theirs. The Green Party had the powerful message "No more blood for oil" on their placards. It was the banners of British Muslim Initiative that perhaps best reflected the dire situation in Gaza with the message "Stop the holocaust in Gaza". This is no idle exaggeration, just two weeks ago the israeli deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai promised the Palestinians a "holocaust" in Gaza, and with the strikes on Gaza it is clear he is keen to keep his promise.
The speeches began 45 minutes later with hosts Andrew Murray, chair of the Stop the War Coalition; Kate Hudson, chair of CND; and Ismael Patel representing the British Muslim Initiative. It commenced with a message by London's popular mayor Ken Livingstone. He talked about the demonisation of the Muslim community, which given than one in three Muslims in the UK lives in London and 1 in 10 Londoners is a Muslim, is an important issue for the mayor of London to address.
Many of the speakers, including Green MEP Caroline Lucas, pointed to the connection between the cut in public services over here and the cost of the on going occupation over there. She also talked of the human rights clause in the EU-Israel Agreement which Israel has breached time and time again without any penalty, this she had repeated on several demos - perhaps the lack of action on this merits its reminder.
Dr Daud Abdullah, a researcher at the Palestine Return Centre as well as of the MCB, spoke passionately about the suffering of the Palestinians in the "holocaust" in Gaza. One month before the israeli promise of a holocaust in Gaza the MCB for the first time participated in the commemoration of Holocaust Day which exclusively focuses on Jewish suffering, denying a mention to non-Jewish victims of genocide for example in Vietnam, Rwanda, Bosnia, Chechnya, the American Indians, and those murdered in the slave trade.
Sami Ramadani, an exile of Saddam's Iraq and opponent of the occupation, spoke of the risks of escalation if Iran is attacked, 10 years down the road it could lead to a world war.
Jenny Tonge spoke of how the world turns a blind eye to any crime Israel chooses to commit.
School Students Against the War were represented by Ryan Ahmed who spoke of the reality of war - an Afghan boy orphaned by the American attack on Kabul had just joined his school. His speech gave us hope in the next generation.
Human right lawyer Louise Christian spoke of Guantanamo Bay reminding us that 300 people are still caged and tortured there and that none of us are innocent bystanders - we all have a responsibility.
Sarah Colborne of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign described Gaza as a war crime and shared harrowing statistics on the situation of the people of Gaza.
Sister Sharif Al-Sharifa was a voice we had not heard before. She is from Hebron in Palestine. She spoke passionately for her people, and described the conflict in terms any one could understand - she wants to live a normal life, be allowed to live in her home, wake up in the morning with her family alive to enjoy the sunshine the day brings, but Israel is stopping her with its occupation of her home and its killing of her people.
Nick Broomfield, director of 'Battle for Haditha', was another face we had not seen before. His suggestion that Bush and Blair should be in the dock for war crimes was welcomed but it was unclear whether he was suggesting that they should be in the dock instead of or with the soldiers already charged with war crimes. The Geneva Convention is clear on the individual responsibility of each soldier not to commit war crimes regardless of his orders - "Bush told me to do it" doesn't wash.
Students at University College London are the first to throw the military out of their campus by banning all military recruitment. Its an example which need to be followed by all campuses in the country, it would effectively put an end to the recruitment of new officers. Sam Godwin, the Student Union General Secretary at University College London, spoke at the rally. She explained that in desperation the university had unconstitutionally suspended her and tried to annul the democratic vote of the students banning military recruitment from campus.
George Galloway talked of the "slew of useful idiots that are now being dragged out to prepare the way for the war against the Islamic Republic of Iran" and "the khaki war machine now has its pink contingent" referring to groups like Outrage! who have been previously been caught lying about Iran in order to further their own political aims. During last years Quds Day demo ( http://www.inminds.co.uk/article.php?id=10214) their on-line leaflets opposing Quds Day initially featured a photo of a stoning which the they claimed occurred in Iran. The photo was a fake - they were taken straight of out a fictional dutch movie (De Steen 1994) with the israeli actress Smadar Monsinos playing the role of the stoned woman. When the fake was exposed they came up with new leaflets this time they featured the case of Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni whom they described as kids who were executed in Iran for being gay. When Amnesty, Human Right Watch and the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission investigated their claims they discovered that the pair were not kids (at least one was 19) and that they were guilty of kidnapping a young 13 year old boy and raping him at knife point. After speaking with the boys father, Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission conceded "it was not a gay case" and further condemned Tatchell (leader of Outrage!) for his "racially charged language" against Muslims. It was later revealed that the story was planted by the MKO/NCRI - the Iranian dissident group/cult sponsored by Saddam and accused by Human Rights Watch for having tortured its own members and committed atrocities on others including massacring the Kurds on behalf of Saddam. The group, which has been designated a terrorist organisation by both the EU and USA, has been defended by Tatchell who has compared it to the ANC saying it "is no more a terrorist organisation than the African National Congress in South Africa or the anti-Nazi resistance in occupied Europe during World War Two".
Galloway also alluded that having failed to stop the invasion of Iraq perhaps it was time for the anti-war movement to change tactics with the run up to a possible attack on Iran "our anti-war movement has been peaceful and lawful, maybe a little too peaceful, maybe a little too lawful.. We need to step up our opposition so that we bring politics as usual in Britain to an end." This clearly struck a cord with the crowds.
Dr Azzam Tamimi also spoke of the need to take action for change. He referred to the political system which doesn't bring any change despite elections as 'liberal hypocrisies'. He also mentioned the book fairs in France and Italy which on the 60th anniversary of the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of a whole nation, they are honouring the criminals who carried out the crime rather than show solidarity with its victims. Many authors who were to be featured in the book fair are furious and have boycotted the book fair.
Member of parliament John McDonnell gave an insightful speech on the government. He recalled the run up to war and how his fellow MP's chose ambition over principle and voted with Blair for war. He spoke of our duty to oppose attacks on civil liberties with the vote on detention orders of 42 days coming up - "will not stand to one side when they come to lock us up, and seek to silence us by threats of arrest". He also concluded that the "bizarre" discussions on britishness initiated by the government and echoed by the media were designed to divide us - "we tell them very clearly, we are members of one race - the human race. We are human beings, we have human rights - the same human rights, the same civil liberties what ever area of the planet we occupy. And we tell them we will not be divided". In our opinion it was one of the best speeches of the rally.
Lindsey German, the convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, revealed that this year we in Britain spent, through our taxes, 3 billion pounds on the war, this at a time when we are seeing hospitals close due to lack of money. She also mentioned the resignation of the head of US Central Command, Admiral William Fallon, who was a lone voice against attacking Iran, as a ominous sign of impending war.
Billy Hayes, the general secretary of the communication workers union, reiterated the link between cuts here and the cost of war - he advised trade unionists that "when you campaign for more investment in public services you also need to campaign against the waste of lives, and waste of money that's taken place in our name in places like Iraq".
Tony Benn gave perhaps the best speech of the rally, a real gem which no doubt people will ponder over. He said "there is no railway station called peace, your children, and your grandchildren, and their grandchildren are going to have to fight the same battle again and again and again. But at least our campaign will inspire them, just as so many in the past have inspired us."
It was a hard act to follow, and the last speaker of the day Bruce Kent from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament started by graciously describing himself as "the poor mans Tony Benn". He talked about nuclear disarmament, how 185 countries were ready to see the end of all nuclear weapons but one of the obstacle countries was the UK with its Trident system.
It was a good rally with some great speeches, but unfortunately it was slightly marred by 4 or 5 people near the front who spent the whole time heckling the speakers, even throwing bottles and cans at them. We are not sure why the stewards tolerated such abuse directed at the speakers. It seemed that at least some of the same elements that tried to disrupt last years Quds Day demo were involved in this latest incident. Galloway referred to them as 'idiots' we cannot disagree.
After the rally we marched down Whitehall past Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament and on to Westminster Bridge. After crossing the Thames we continued along the river to Lambeth Bridge and crossed that to head towards Parliament Square. The loop across the two bridges is a distance of around 2 miles. Whilst the tail end of the demo was still joining Westminster Bridge the front of the march had already completed the loop and was seen returning from Lambeth Bridge. The protesters had literally surrounded parliament. At Parliament Square people gathered to hear a few more speeches from the Stop the War podium and other independent makeshift podiums.
Concluding impressions were that is was a good turnout but people are beginning to question the effectiveness of demonstrations on their own when the government and corporate media just ignores them and the war continues unabated. There was a feeling that the momentum is there for more direct forms of action and civil disobedience in order to stop the war machine, indeed many of the speakers reflected these views. The war wont be stopped by demonstrations alone - more is needed.
Full photo report including videos and audio are provided of all the speeches, both streaming and for download with text summaries. The mp3 audio is sorted in to tracks with album art included.