Al Quds

Al Quds Day – Jerusalem Day – was inaugurated by Ayatolla Khomeni in 1979 and is celebrated on the last Friday of Ramadan as an expression of support for the Palestinians and Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem in particular and the occupation of Palestine, the Jewish settlements on occupied land and Zionism more generally. It was seen as a response to the Israeli celebrations of Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim) since May 1968, which became a national holiday in Israel in 1998. The march in London this year was held on a Sunday.

Some Jewish organisations accuse the event and its organiser Nazim ALi of anti-semitism, but in some past years the stewards have asked people with antisemitic placards to leave the march. Clearly it is anti-Zionist, and many Jews conflate the two. This year there were complaints made to the police against Ali for hate speech, which the police investigated and declined to prosecute.

Spot the Hisbullah flags – there are a few among hundreds of other placards, flags and banners

A few on the march carried flags with the Hizbullah logo and the message ‘This flag is to show support for the political wing of Hizbullah‘, though there were few of these on show this year. Again there were complaints to the police, alleging that this was an illegal flag, but the police refuse to take action, as this flag is used by the Lebanese Shi’a Islamist political party Hizbullah which is not proscribed here as well as the military wing which is banned in the UK as a terrorist organisation. A police statement later made this clear “As the flag represents both Hezbollah’s political party and the proscribed terrorist group, displaying it in these circumstances alone does not constitute an offence under Terrorism Legislation.”

As well as making complaints to the police, a small number of Zionist activists, led by Joseph Cohen attempted to disrupt the march. Police kept a small group of them away on the opposite side of the road as the march gathered, but as it reached Oxford Circus around 25 of them ran out into the road in front of the march holding up Israel flags. The marchers made no attempt to engage with them, but asked the police to clear them from the agreed route, which eventually they did, but the Zionists simply moved on a few yards and blocked the route again.

The Al Quds marchers then sat down on the road and waited for the police to move the Zionists again, after a few minutes they decided to hold the silence they had meant to hold later in respect for those who died at Grenfell Tower. By the time this was completed the police had moved the Zionists a little further on, and the march continued down Oxford St with police between the two groups keeping the Zionists moving. I left at this point.

Among those taking part in the Al Quds day rally were as usual a number of Jewish socialists and the ultra-orthodox Neturei Karta anti-Zionist Jews, who marched with a number of imams at the head of the procession. One carried a banner with the message ‘Judaism demands freedom for Gaza and all Palestine & forbids any Jewish state’ and others had posters with similar messages.

The main banner on the march has a clear message: ‘United Against Racism, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism and Zionism – Free Palestine – Quds Day – London‘ and this seemed to me to be the spirit in which the march takes place here in London, and why it gets support from a wide range of organisations.

This year saw a coordinated campaign before the march to get it banned, accusing it of supporting extremism and terrorism. The web site of the main organising group, the Islamic Human Rights Commission web site published some of the viler comments and threats from Twitter, Facebook and blogs which led them to contact the police and write an open letter to London’s Mayor. His reply defended the right to protest and stressed that the police had carefully monitored all of the “speakers and chanting”, and that “no offences were reported from the march.” The web page also links to a wide range of press and web articles about the march, and includes brief details of the speeches.

Many connect the frenzy whipped up by right wing and Zionist movements about this march with the terrorist attack by a 47-year-old van driver from Cardiff who drove a van into people on the street outside Finsbury Park mosque early on the following day, a few hours after the march and rally ended, killing one man and injuring 11 others. He was charged with terrorism related murder and attempted murder and his trial starts on January 22nd. He is said to have told people in a Cardiff pub that he was coming to London to attack the march.


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