Gaza Stop the War

Israel began its 2014 military attack against Gaza, ‘Operation Resolute Cliff ‘ (though they gave it the different, more defensive-sounding title ‘Protective Edge‘ for the English speaking international audience) on 8 July, although the ground invasion only began on the 17th, so ‘Stop the War‘ had some time to prepare its first major national protest in London on the 19th July.  And it was a large protest, with thousands filling Whitehall at the start and more at Kensington High St for the final rally, if not on quite the same scale as the truly huge protests before the invasion of Iraq.

Like most people in this country, I was appalled by the hundreds of innocent civilians who had been killed in Gaza, and the huge imbalance of power and destruction between the two sides. Of course I’m against attacks on Israel, but looking at the coverage by world news channels – and even some reports from BBC reporters, even if the BBC at times seemed to be an Israeli propaganda channel – the attacks seemed entirely disproportionate. If I’d not been at the protest as a photographer and journalist I would have been there as a protester.

I’ve had a long and slightly fraught relationship with Stop the War. Back in 2002, as well as photographing marches and rallies in London, I was also out in my local area most Friday evenings holding a placard or handing out leaflets to workers on their way home. A dozen or so of my images were included in the the book ‘Stop The War: A Graphic History‘ published to mark 10 years of its protests, and some of these are among those I published here in a post when this came out.

But there are some issues over which I’ve disagreed with Stop the War – in particular over Syria, where I felt our government should have given much more support to the Free Syrian Army while their opposition supported the Assad regime with its long and bloody record of oppression of the Syrian people. I’d also felt, back in 2003, that they had lost their nerve – or had been so dominated by outdated political thinking – that having won the arguments and gained such widespread support across the British people, they had failed to take advantage of this. So while I support – and admire much of what they have done, I’m not uncritical.

And, as a photographer and journalist, it’s my job to be critical. I’d heard many accusations that those protesting against the Israeli army attacks were anti-Semitic. Was there any evidence of this on this march at at the rally. Plenty of Jewish marchers, some of them, along with many others on the march calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. A few Israeli flags on a painting, on placards. So far as I tell none were being used in an anti-Semitic manner, but were calling for an end to the bombing of children and other war crimes by Israeli forces. Placards and speaker after speaker making clear they were not opposed to the Jewish people or the existence of Israel but against Zionism and the criminal attacks on civilians in Gaza, calls for Israel to respect international law and UN resolutions.

Of course there was considerable support for Hamas, who were elected as the majority party in Gaza in the 2006 elections, taking complete power there later in the year after a misguided US-backed attempt to unseat them. Israel’s response was to impose a blockade on Gaza, a form of collective punishment on the whole population of Gaza which is almost universally considered illegal. And many if not all of those taking part in the protest were calling for the lifting of the blockade.

I also saw – and made sure I photographed – four people carrying Hezbollah flags (and one with them a Lebanese flag.) This is a group widely regarded around the world as a terrorist organisation and who consider Israel to be an illegitimate state. Although officially they distinguish between Judaism and Zionism, many leading members are recorded as having made anti-Semitic statements.

I managed to sneak in and take a picture of Jocelyn Hurndall, Kamel Hawwash, Garth Hewitt, Ismail Patel, Andy Slaughter MP, Rushanara Ali MP , Diane Abbot MP & Lindsey German holding the main banner

As a photographer I’ve often had problems with the stewarding of ‘Stop the War’ organised protests, with some over-officious stewarding.  I’ve on occasion been assaulted by one of their stewards and narrowly avoided possibly serous injury by their disregard for my safety.  At this event the stewards made it very difficult to photograph the people holding the main banner – mainly the speakers – at any stage during the march, and failed to provide any working space for the press at the pre-march rally.

Back at one Stop the War march in 2002, photographers sat down on Park Lane in front of the march bringing it to a halt because we were not allowed access – and negotiated five minutes to take photos before the march continued. Perhaps we should take direct action more often! Though it’s perhaps better to work through the NUJ (see later.)

George Galloway MP

Things were a little better at the rally following the march, in the main road close to the Israeli embassy, but failed to give any real space in front of the speakers for photography. A narrow two foot gap between the front of the stage and the crowd barriers was not really enough, and those photographers who managed to get access (myself included) were crowded  at one side, hoping that the speakers would occasionally glance in our direction.

Although there were all sorts of people in this small area – including many taking pictures on their phones – many of the press were refused access. The stewards controlling the entrance asked who people were working for and refused entry to photographers with UK Press Cards who told them they were freelances  – as the great majority of photographers now are, while allowing others without proper press cards in to the area. I  was admitted because I gave the name of the agency I send work to rather than saying ‘freelance’.

Following this protest, representatives from the NUJ London Photographers Branch met with Stop the War, and at the next Gaza protest we got some extra space and the stewards controlling entry recognised the UK Press Card.  Good relations between protesters and press are in everyone’s interest.

See a rather large selection of images from the event at End Gaza Killing Now.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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