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Pro-Palestine march organisers vow to continue with protests demanding ceasefire

Pro-Palestine marches have been a regular occurrence since the Israel-Hamas conflict started in October (Lucy North/PA)
Pro-Palestine marches have been a regular occurrence since the Israel-Hamas conflict started in October (Lucy North/PA)

Organisers of pro-Palestine marches have said they will continue to protest in support of an immediate ceasefire in the face of the Home Secretary’s criticisms of regular demonstrations.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) pushed back against James Cleverly, who said protesters had “made their point” and questioned whether holding regular marches “adds value” to the calls for an end to the fighting in Gaza.

PSC director Ben Jamal told a press conference, arranged by the coalition behind the marches, in Westminster on Wednesday that “we will be continuing to conduct regular protests”.

He confirmed the organisation would “review” the need for further national marches if a ceasefire is agreed between Israel and Hamas.

US President Joe Biden this week said he was hopeful a ceasefire deal could be in place by next week, with negotiations continuing.

Mr Jamal told reporters: “As organisations, we review the way in which we respond to the current situation, and if we feel that there is a moment where a permanent ceasefire is called, then we will look at whether or not we need to continue marching.”

PSC also defended protesters using the chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” during direct action.

Jewish Conservative MP Andrew Percy said the phrase, which was projected onto Parliament last week while a Gaza ceasefire debate was taking place in the Commons, was a “genocidal call”.

Some Zionists argue the slogan is demanding to see the eradication of the state of Israel.

Offering a defence of the chant, Mr Jamal said: “It speaks to the nature of how the rights of the Palestinian people are deprived.

“So, across all of historic Palestine, whether they are living as Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel — treated as unequal citizens under a system of apartheid — or whether they live under military occupation, they will not be free until that system of injustice is ended.

“It in no way calls for the abrogation of anybody else’s rights.”

He added: “We will continue to chant it despite the rhetoric used to demonise it.”

National Policing Board meeting
Policing minister Chris Philp said James Cleverly was ‘giving some thought’ to increasing the amount of notice protest organisers had to give the police (James Manning/PA)

With Conservative ministers and backbenchers voicing concern over the tone of some of the pro-Palestine marches, the Government has confirmed it is considering increasing the amount of notice protest organisers have to give the police.

Chris Philp, the policing minister, said the Home Secretary was giving the proposal “some thought” after the Commons Home Affairs Committee recommended the change on Tuesday.

The PSC said it was “very rare” that it would give police less than six days’ notice as it wanted time to publicise the march to potential attendees.

Labour said it would “look at” any proposals the Government brought forward on protest, saying it was important to strike a balance between the right to protest and the need to prevent intimidation.

The debate around protests comes after the Home Secretary, in an interview with The Times, questioned what future demonstrations in support of the Israel-Hamas war hoped to achieve given the UK Government was in “disagreement” with their position.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s administration supports an immediate pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas to allow hostages to be released and for aid to enter the territory.

No 10 says any ceasefire would come with conditions, including that Hamas — the Palestinian militant group that carried out the deadly raids on Israel on October 7 that sparked the war — can no longer be in charge of the Gaza Strip, to ensure it is sustainable.

Almost 30,000 Palestinians have died during the Middle East conflict, according to Hamas figures (Mahmoud Essa/AP/PA)

Mr Cleverly told the newspaper that the protests witnessed across Britain since the war broke out were putting a “huge amount of pressure” on the country’s police forces.

The senior Tory said: “The question I ask myself is: ‘What are these protests genuinely hoping to achieve?’

“They have made a point and they made it very, very loudly, and I’m not sure that these marches every couple of weeks add value to the argument.

“They’re not really saying anything new.”

Mr Jamal said the remarks were designed to “distract attention away from what is happening” in Gaza.

Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed after almost five months of Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The war began after Hamas-led Palestinian militants stormed across southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking about 250 others hostage.

On Wednesday, Mr Cleverly announced a £31 million package to bolster protection for MPs, some of whom have spoken about being intimidated and harassed by pro-Palestinian backers.

The PCS said it did not not support protests outside MPs’ homes but rallied against calls for tighter restrictions on mass demonstrations outside Parliament and other political buildings.

“Trying to stop people protesting and trying to keep them away from decision-making centres is an attempt to insulate politicians from public opinion,” Mr Jamal said.

“As such, in our view, it is an attack on democracy, not a defence of it.”

The PCS, in a document shared with reporters, said its “peaceful mass protests have seen unprecedented restrictions” placed on them by police and that the events, which are thought to have been attended by millions of people, had been subject to “politicised policing”.

The document states: “The picture that emerges is one of a police force behaving in a discriminatory and hostile manner to legal protest.”

The organisation is planning further action on the weekend in support of Gaza.

PSC is calling on supporters to take part in local protests on Saturday against Barclays Bank, which it says holds “substantial financial ties with arms companies supplying weapons and military technology to Israel”.

A national march in support of a ceasefire in central London is planned for Saturday March 9.