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London marches for Palestine

The UK has both a history of showing solidarity with the Palestinian people and a duty to do so, says PSC director Ben Jamal – despite a "repressive environment" and counter-actions by pro-Israel groups.

Jerusalem24 – “Today we commemorate the Nakba, today we are here in protest. Tomorrow we continue with our campaigning.”

These were the words Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) director Ben Jamal told the crowd of 10,000 assembled on the streets of London on Saturday 13 May to commemorate 75 years of Al-Nakba.

“Our key message this year is that we commemorate the Nakba not simply as a moment of collective trauma rooted in the past, but as an ongoing process of colonization and dispossession and oppression of the Palestinian people,” Jamal tells Jerusalem24.

A history (and a duty) of solidarity

Saturday’s event was hardly PSC’s first. In addition to commemorating the Nakba each year, Israel’s various bombing campaigns on Gaza have yielded crowds of up to 200,000 marching the streets of London.

For this type of smaller march which comes as part of a commemoration rather than as “a response to a media event”, Jamal says that to see 10,000 people responding “is very good” – particularly considering a nationwide train strike that day.

“This is 10,000 people managing to make sure that they’re in attendance in spite all of these difficulties,” he says.

Jamal attributes this measure of success in part to the work PSC has done over the years raising awareness among the British public, in addition to “a fundamental shift […] in the past 10 to 15 years in terms of public opinion”. He says there has been a “real shift, particularly among the younger generation.”

This shift in public opinion has not been matched by a shift at the policy level, however.

“[Changing] the decision-making and policy-making of our political leaders […] is the fundamental task we have,” says Jamal, who believes that because of historical obligations – namely, the Balfour declaration – Britain must play a special role in standing for Palestine. “One of our messages is that Britain has to address a history of more than 100 year of complicity.”

Jamal is inexorable in his belief of the centrality of the Palestinian cause.

“The struggle for justice for the Palestinian people is an integral part of broader struggles for justice: the struggle against unjust forms of power, the climate justice struggle, the struggle against all forms of racism. And so people care about Palestine who have progressive views.”

Ending government complicity

Although this year’s Nakba event wasn’t marred by any counter-protests, Jamal explains they aren’t always as lucky.

“There are very organized pro-Israel groups in the UK that will always try to undermine what we do.”

One of the challenges PSC faces is these groups attempting “to reframe what we’re doing”, explains Jamal. “So where we are saying ‘This is a movement of people who care about justice, who care about freedom, who are anti-racist, who stand against the racism of Israel’s system of apartheid’, there are people who try to say, ‘No no, these are people who are anti-Semitic.”

In addition, the existence of a government in the UK that is extremely bro-Israel builds “a repressive environment […] making it harder for organizations to protest and [that is] threatening the right to protest for people in the UK.”

But PSC take their duty very seriously, and fully intend to implement the message they, as Palestine solidarity activists and Palestinians in the diaspora, receive from Palestinian society under occupation: “Take action to end the complicity of your government, your public bodies, and your leaders,” says Jamal. “That is the key message we always receive from our Palestinian partners.”

Listen to the full interview on Vibes.

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