Protesters met at the Jubilee Clocktower in Brighton on the 15th of May to show solidarity with Palestinians. The rally spontaneously turned into a march through the city centre and along the seafront. In the days leading up to the rally, thousands of Palestinians were forced to flee from their homes as the violence worsened across the occupied West Bank. It was also part of a global day of action to mark Nakba Day. The day commemorates the mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians when the state of Israel was created in 1948.
When the rally started at 12pm, there were around 100 people and the Brighton and Hove Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) estimated this number grew to 1,000 during the afternoon. Signs such as: ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ displayed protesters’ dismay with Israeli occupation. There were signs displaying Jewish support for Palestinians, with one saying, ‘British Jews stand with Palestinians facing violence and displacement.’ One protester, Jeremy, said:
“I’m Jewish, and the fact that I was born and brought up in this country but have a right to live in Israel whereas Palestinians are banned from living there… It’s just outrageous and that is part of my motivation. I’m a socialist, I support people that are oppressed, and I’ve been a committed anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian for most of my adult life. So that’s why I’m here.”
When asked what his message to those experiencing violence in the West Bank would be, he paused and then replied in a measured tone: “I share their anger and I live for their hopes.”
The Brighton and Hove PSC wrote in a Facebook post prior to the rally: “We also demonstrate our solidarity with Palestinians facing the ‘continuing Nakba’.” The notion of a ‘continuing Nakba’ was echoed by law student Sharim. She said: “I’m here today to remind people that it’s not just about today or the past month, it’s about 70 odd years of massacre – for what? For people to live in somebody else’s area?”
The rally turned into a march and the crowd swelled. Protesters wore masks and volunteers distributed hand sanitizer. Chants such as “1,2,3,4, occupation no more. 5,6,7,8, Israel is a terror state” filled the streets. Protesters chanting on megaphones included teenagers and when they had finished chanting, they were clapped and thanked by those around them. Babies were held on the shoulders of parents and children holding signs walked alongside. An elderly man observing from the side of the road lent his walking stick against a rail and clapped for the passing protesters.
As the crowd descended along the seafront, the people in passing cars honked their horns and held up peace signs. Bouts of heavy rainfall did not deter the crowd. The protest was peaceful but the expressions of anger and sadness on passing faces was evident. Caroline, who has family and friends in occupied territories, said: “It’s described almost like two equal sides but it’s not. In no way and it has never been.”
In the week leading up to the rally, a clash at the Al-Aqsa Mosque left hundreds of Palestinians and about 20 Israeli police officers injured. In response, Palestinian militant group Hamas launched rockets on Jerusalem and the Israel Defence Forces responded with airstrikes on Gaza. The violence intensified, and some Palestinians, including children, were killed in the airstrikes. On the 14th of May, Israel air forces claimed they dropped more than 450 bombs in 40 minutes. Riots escalated in towns and protesters were killed by Israeli forces.
Fred, a protester, argued: “There are definite things our government could do to improve the situation. As well as trying to demonstrate my dismay with the ethnic cleansing that’s happening, also [I’m here] to register that we’re implicated in some way.” Protester Sherim gave a message to those in the midst of the violence: “Oh my god, you haven’t lost hope, all these years, please don’t, because we’re with you, we’re trying to find out ways to legitimately help you.” She highlighted the need for those in positions of power to act.
At the end of the march, protesters gathered at Old Steine at around 3.30pm. The camaraderie and chanting that had characterised the protest continued. Following the event, Brighton and Hove PSC provided photos on their Facebook page of “some of the 1000 protesters who marched through Brighton Town Centre yesterday to show their outrage at the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza.”