Last Friday, 27th October, at around 6:30 BST, Gaza went quiet. It was reported that key communications infrastructure covering the strip of land sandwiched between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea had been destroyed. The strip, which has been under blockade from Israeli forces since 2007, has been under intense siege and bombardment in the aftermath of Hamas’ brutal attack on Israel on October 7th. Israel’s siege of Gaza has, at the time of writing, claimed the lives of over 8,000 people, many of whom are children. Hamas’ incursion to Israel, and the subsequent rocket volleys have claimed the lives of 1,400 Israelis.
The destruction of Gaza’s communications infrastructure came as Israel intensified its bombardment of the north end of the strip. The telephone and internet blackout meant there was little to no news from inside the strip, which is home to 2.3 million people, around half of whom are children. The main dispatches came from journalists stationed in Israeli towns bordering the territory who reported the night sky glowing orange with the lights from the bombs and fires ripping through Gaza.
In the weeks running up to this moment, UN schools, bakeries and refugee camps had all been targeted by Israeli bombs. Half of the strip’s population had been given evacuation orders to leave their homes. Those evacuation orders extended to 22 hospitals. It is within this context that people gathered along London’s Victoria Embankment on Saturday morning.
The demonstration, called by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), was the third such march in London in as many weeks. Protests in support of a ceasefire and a free Palestine have been held the world over.
As I stood on the embankment on Saturday morning I took a photo of a Palestine flag blowing in the wind above the heads of the crowds and posted it to the Huck Instagram. I asked our readers to let us know where they were protesting. The replies came flooding back. Helsinki, Barcelona, and Rome. Detroit, Copenhagen, and Glasgow. Mexico City. Vancouver. Edinburgh, Chattanooga and Lagos. Across the planet, people were out in their millions, showing solidarity with the people of Palestine.
Indeed even in places that have seen brutal crackdowns and bans saw demonstrations. Our readers in Berlin were still out on the streets despite the outlawing of pro-Palestine group Samidoun and the banning of many demonstrations. In France, despite all pro-Palestine marches being banned Huck readers joined thousands in Paris and Nice.
On Friday evening, some of you were even there in New York’s Grand Central Station along with hundreds of activists from Jewish Voice for Peace who staged a sit-in at rush hour. The activists were calling for an immediate ceasefire and managed to gain access to a ledge near the departures board. Over 200 activists were arrested during the action.
Jewish Voice for Peace spokesperson told CBS news, “Right now, you are hearing thousands of Jewish New Yorkers who are raising our voices so clear that our safety can never come at the expense of another community's safety.”
"So many people are grieving, and we believe that life is precious. And right now, the way that we can take action to save lives, is to have a ceasefire to stop the bombing of Palestinians," one Israeli American also told CBS news.
On Saturday, a similar action at London’s Waterloo station took place as the PSC march took place outside. The sit-in, called by activist group Sisters Uncut saw hundreds of activists, including those from groups like Na’amod and Black Jewish Alliance, take part. Those gathered listened to speeches, with organisers tweeting that they faced intimidation from the police. The sit-in ended with no arrests.
Outside the station on the streets, an historic half a million people according to PSC were marching. The circuitous route took them past Parliament, across the river Thames, past Waterloo station and back over on Waterloo bridge before heading down the Strand, by Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall (past Downing Street) to finish in Parliament Square.
Each major demonstration held in London in October had grown in size, with Saturday’s claiming to be the biggest ever march for Palestine in British history. The protests, which have been largely peaceful, have been the centre of intense debate. In a letter to chief constables in England and Wales Home Secretary Suella Braverman urged police officers to consider intervening where protestors were waving Palestine flags or chanting ‘from the river, to the sea, Palestine will be free’.
The chant, which has been associated with the movement for decades, refers to the desire for the end to what human rights organisations have recognised as apartheid for Palestinian people living in both Israel and Palestine. The Home Secretary claimed that waving a flag or chanting may constitute a hate crime or support of Hamas, a proscribed institution in the UK. Human Rights lawyers and activists have condemned Braverman’s interventions. Elsewhere, there have been unsubstantiated claims about the presence of rampant anti-semitism within the crowds of demonstrators.
From within the protests, it’s clear these accusations were and continue to be totally untrue. The crowds were made up of families, of friends, colleagues and loved ones. Jews, Muslims, Christians walked side by side, arm-in-arm in support of a free Palestine and an end to the devastating violence being wrought down upon Gaza. Diverse in its make-up but unified in its condemnation of political leaders from across the spectrum for what they see as a dereliction of duty.
At the time of writing, neither Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, nor the Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer had come out in favour of a ceasefire.
This moment is one of unique darkness. One of unthinkable suffering and pain. Of division and trauma playing out over screens and newsfeeds for the majority of us. It’s hard not to feel swept up by the bleakness and yet on the streets of London this weekend, for the briefest of moments, it felt like there might be some hope. In the face of such unknowable pain, and seemingly insurmountable odds, half a million people came together in one of the biggest demonstrations in British history on the side of peace.
There is power in collective action. Strength in unity. Hope in the growing global movement demanding action from our political leaders. Huck photographer Aiyush Pachnanda was out on the streets of London to capture the moment.