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Protest for Gaza brings 1,000 to Cambridge city centre demanding ceasefire

The third weekend of the ‘Protest for Gaza’ campaign brought an estimated 1,000 people to the centre of Cambridge on Saturday afternoon.

The protests are organised by the Cambridge Palestine Solidarity Campaign in conjunction with Cambridge Stop the War. The national Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which has 60 branches in the UK, is “a community of people working together for peace, equality, and justice and against racism, occupation, and colonisation”. Established in 1982, it is the largest UK civil society organisation dedicated to securing Palestinian human rights.

A Palestinian speaker at the Cambridge Stop The War protest outside Gt St Mary's Church
A Palestinian speaker at the Cambridge Stop The War protest outside Gt St Mary's Church

This is the third week of protests: demonstrations highlighting the plight of civilians in Gaza have taken place in Cambridge on October 14, 18, 21 and 22.

As the protesters gathered outside Great St Mary’s Church on King’s Parade, around a dozen speakers referred to the humanitarian crisis engulfing the Gaza Strip three weeks after the terrorist atrocities committed by Hamas in southern Israel, with 1,400 killed. Hamas is designated a terrorist group including by Israel, the US, the UK and the EU.

Since the October 7 attacks, 7,703 Palestinians have been killed, including thousands of children, according to figures released on Saturday by the Gaza-based Ministry of Health, the only official source for Gaza casualties. Israel has sealed Gaza’s borders, barring foreign journalists and humanitarian workers.

Crowds listening to speakers at the Cambridge Stop The War protest outside Gt St Mary's Church, October 28, 2023
Crowds listening to speakers at the Cambridge Stop The War protest outside Gt St Mary's Church, October 28, 2023

UN Secretary General António Guterres warned on Friday (October 27) that the humanitarian system in Gaza was “facing a total collapse with unimaginable consequences for more than two million civilians.”

Amid growing pressure on Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to call for a ceasefire, Cambridge’s Labour MP Daniel Zeichner has stated: “It is devastating to see so many civilian casualties, and the scenes of hundreds killed at the Al-Ahli Arabi Baptist hospital in Gaza are heartbreaking. Above all, civilian lives must be protected. Humanitarian access to Gaza is of the utmost importance, as are continued supplies of food, water, medicines and electricity.”

Addressing the crowd outside Great St Mary’s Church on King’s Parade, one speaker, Burra, said: “I have never seen a people so courageous as the Palestinians but 7,000 Palestinians are dead, and 3,000 of them are children. Where is our humanity? Are human rights not permissible in 2023? Our people will not rest, our hearts will not rest, until we see a free Palestine.”

He added that “in every inch of Gaza, there is someone who has died or will die - we must stop this.”

Stop the War Coalition sets off for a march round Cambridge City centre, October 28, 2023
Stop the War Coalition sets off for a march round Cambridge City centre, October 28, 2023

The next speaker said: “I see people of outstanding bravery and indomitable spirit but they deserve better. The people deserve better. The children writing their names on their arms in case they get dismembered deserve better from this country, this government and this university.”

The University of Cambridge’s most recent statement said: “Following recent appalling events in Israel and Gaza, we are deeply saddened by the loss of innocent lives in Israel, the impact of the escalating violence in Gaza, and the fate of hostages. We share the concerns of our students and staff over the fear and uncertainty faced by their loved ones in Israel and Palestine.”

However an open letter authored by the university’s Palestine Solidarity Society demanding that the university acknowledges “the slaughter of innocent Palestinians” has almost 1,500 signatures, including academics and students.

Today’s situation “feels like a betrayal”, said another speaker, adding: “Tony Blair took the UK to war against Iraq despite popular opposition, and the sitting Labour MP was voted out at the next election.

Pro-Palestine marchers on Market Street
Pro-Palestine marchers on Market Street

“I wrote to [Cambridge MP] Daniel Zeichner and he wrote back a standard letter saying ‘I am very concerned about the situation on the ground regarding a humanitarian crisis in Gaza’ but he doesn’t say ‘attacks’, and he doesn’t mention Palestinian deaths.”

The Labour Party supports a US- and UN-backed idea for humanitarian “pauses” which would stop the Israeli bombardments and rockets from inside Gaza, get aid in, and allow hostages seized by Hamas to be released. Forty-nine of party’s 199 MPs have subsequently said they want a ceasefire or signed a motion calling for one.

A Palestinian called Rima took the microphone.

“I have lived all my life in Gaza,” she said. “We are now 75 years under occupation, we are being killed, we don’t have any life, we are being killed - what are you waiting for?”

Saying it with Lego
Saying it with Lego

While the state of Israel was established in 1948 and admitted to the United Nations, a Palestinian state was not established. The remaining territories of pre-1948 Palestine, the West Bank - including East Jerusalem - and Gaza Strip, were administered from 1948 till 1967 by Jordan and Egypt, respectively.

A fence along the border was first constructed by Israel in 1994 as a security barrier, and has been rebuilt and upgraded since. A blockade has been imposed by Israel and Egypt on the movement of goods and people in and out of the Gaza Strip since 2007.

Rima paid an emotional tribute to the Al Jazeera journalist, Wael Al-Dahdouh, whose wife, teenage son and young daughter were all killed in an air strike at a refugee camp in central Gaza on Wednesday (October 25).

“I will never forget the face of this journalist and his face when he received the news that his family was killed. Where is the humanity for everyone? What are you waiting for? Free free Palestine.”

The crowd on King’s Parade chanted: “Ceasefire now.”

Palestinian flags outside Great St Mary's church
Palestinian flags outside Great St Mary's church

Before setting off through Cambridge market and round the city centre, a spokesperson for the Cambridge Stop The War coalition told the throng: “We are British, I am British, we have the vote, it’s up to us, but the most important voices right now are the people who are grieving, those are the people we want to take heart.”

“In our hundreds/In our millions/ We are all Palestinians,” chanted the crowd.

The spokesperson called out: “What everyone around the world is asking for now is a ceasefire. The only way to solve this is to sit down and talk. War does not bring peace.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s administration has stopped short of demanding an outright ceasefire.

Cabinet minister Michelle Donelan said on Sunday that it was not for her to say whether global rules were being broken in Gaza during the Israeli strikes.

The science, innovation and technology secretary said the UK continues to “call for a pause” in the violence to allow aid into the region and permit people to leave.

Meanwhile, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has called for greater clarity from the government on policing extremism as he faces criticism over the handling of pro-Palestinian protests in London.

The head of the country’s biggest police force said about 100 people had been arrested at demonstrations held in the capital since the Hamas attack on Israel three weeks ago, with “many more” arrests expected in the near future.

But he said his officers are limited by legal definitions of extremism and arresting people without cause could risk “inflaming” the situation with the protesters.

Sir Mark said he would support a review into the legal definition of extremism and how it should be policed.

He told Trevor Phillips On Sunday on Sky News his force had seen a 14-fold increase in antisemitic incidents since the crisis started three weeks ago, and a three-fold increase in crimes against the Muslim community.

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