Al Quds march

An umbrella adds to the colour

The annual Al Quds (Jerusalem) Day march in London has often aroused controversy, and at times this has made it difficult to cover, with those taking part being very suspicious of photographers. As someone who likes to work close to people with a wide-angle lens, it often meant a considerable amount of argument with stewards to be allowed inside the march. But things have seemed different in the last couple of years, and I had no problems at all this year, with everyone being very open and friendly.

Women shout up at the windows from which vegetables had been thrown at the marchers

The only incident of opposition to the march I was aware of came after the march had gone a few hundred yards south from its starting point at the side of the BBC’s Broadcasting House when a few root vegetables where thrown down at marchers from an upper floor window. I didn’t see them come down, though I was only a few yards away, but I was photographing marchers and not looking up, but I heard the angry response from the crowd, who stopped and shouted up – but whoever had thrown them was no longer visible.

Later I heard that there had also been a small group of far-right protesters who turned up during the rally at the end of the march, outside the US Embassy, but I had left the march well before it reached the embassy.

Much of the opposition in past years has concentrated on the backing for the Islamic Human Rights Commission, whose Al Quds Day Committee organises the event, by the Iranian regime, and Al Quds day was introduced by Ayatollah Khomeini. And although the march is supported by a wide range of groups it is still seen by some as being dominated by Iran. Clearly this year the march was almost entirely about Palestine, with the then ongoing attack by Israeli forces on Gaza at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

It’s always difficult to know how to approach things. There were two large banners of the Iranian leaders, and just a few stalwart supporters of Khomeini you can see in my pictures and who I’ve photographed in previous years. They were there, and in their way photogenic, but unrepresentative. I photographed to a handful of Hezbollah flags, but there were very few on show, whereas some years ago there were large groups of them.

This is also an event that has inevitably been accused of anti-Semitism, and I was looking for anything that would substantiate that. Being against Zionism, or against the use of disproportionate force by the Israeli forces and their killing of children and other civilians is clearly not anti-Semitism. Even the support for groups such as Hezbollah isn’t necessarily anti-Semitic – as the Jews who marched as usual at the front of the Al Quds procession and were greeted as old friends by many of the Muslim leaders make clear, you can be Jewish and opposed to the state of Israel. And as the sheet of slogans held in the hand of the man leading the chanting says ‘Judaism is OK, Judaism Yes, Zionism No‘.

Perhaps the closest I came to any evidence of it was the use by just one of the several thousand protesters on the march of a quotation attributed to former Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon, one of several disputed quotations by him. There seems to be no evidence that he ever made this particular statement about burning Palestinian children which appears to be entirely fabricated. It first appeared on the web around 2002 and in 2003 IHRC published it, while stating they ‘could not independently verify its authenticity‘, which seems irresponsible given its inflammatory nature.

Photographically things were pretty straightforward, with just a little light rain meaning I had to keep vigilant for raindrops on the lens filters, and work with a cloth in my hands to give the occasional wipe. But it wasn’t raining that hard, but the light did go down a little, and most of the pictures on the D700 were taken at ISO 1600. I didn’t get around the changing the ISO on the D800E from my normal ISO 800, but it didn’t seem to cause me any problems. Perhaps for once I had image stabilisation turned on – it often seems to mysteriously get turned off.

As usual I using the D700 with the 16-35mm, switching to the 70-300mm for some more distant views of the march from a higher viewpoint. The 70-300mm is another full-frame lens and I generally prefer to use it on the D700 rather than get the larger file sizes from the D800E.  The 18-105mm was on the D800E all the time, with its DX format giving sensible file sizes (15.4Mp) and an equivalent focal length of 27-158mm.

So there was quite an overlap in the focal lengths covered between the this and the 70-300mm, which I think is useful, as it saves needing to switch between them so much. There is also an overlap between the ranges of the 16-35mm and the 18-105DX that is equally useful, especially when I raise the wrong camera to my eye. I still find it confusing at times that the smaller lens has the greater focal length.

Al Quds Day march for Jerusalem


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

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