LONDON - Protesters attending pro-Palestine rallies are being “demonised”, according to the group organising another march through London this weekend.
Demonstrators are expected to take to the streets of central London again on Saturday after an estimated 100,000 people marched through the capital last weekend demanding an end to Israel's war on Hamas in Gaza.
Protesters will call for an "immediate ceasefire and an end to Israeli apartheid", as the IDF continues to bombard Gaza in a bid to wipe out Hamas.
The organisers of the march, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), have said it will start at Victoria Embankment in central London at 12pm.
Former shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who spoke at last week’s rally, confirmed to Yahoo News UK that he will be addressing crowds again on Saturday.
Ben Jamal, the PSC director, said ahead of the protest that there had been a previous attempts ”to demonise those who are marching”.
Speaking to Novara Media, he said: ”Before we even began, before we called the first big march, we have the home secretary [Suella Braverman] suggesting that the police should look with suspicion, anybody raising the flag of Palestine, that it wasn’t inherently support for terrorism, but it may well be, so look with suspicion.
“There were people concerned, ‘are we going to be arrested if we’re carrying the flag of Palestine?’”
There was some criticism of the chanting of ’from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’, but Jamal said this was “a legitimate slogan of liberation”.
He added: “They attempt to say no, that’s a genocidal call for the elimination of all Jewish people."
Following protests earlier this month, Suella Braverman said the slogan was "widely understood as a demand for the destruction of Israel. Attempts to pretend otherwise are disingenuous".
She added in a post on X: "The slogan was taken up by Islamists, including Hamas, and remains a staple of antisemitic discourse."
The march comes at a time of confusion between police and ministers over some demonstrators' use of the word 'jihad' during last Saturday’s march through London.
To many, it's a word associated with extremism and terrorism, but it can also mean "struggle" or "strive" and is open to interpretation, putting police officers at the scene in a difficult situation.
Braverman questioned the Metropolitan Police over its decision not to take action over the use of the word.
However, the force's chief commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, appeared to shrug this off as he said officers could only enforce the law and not “taste and decency”.
Rishi Sunak said that calls for jihad being made in the UK are not only a threat to the Jewish community but also a threat to “our democratic values”.
However, speaking to the Commons on Monday, he stopped short of saying he would toughen up laws on potentially extremist speech, instead saying the government would "clarify" guidance to "officers on the ground".
Sunak told MPs: “But we do believe at the moment the police do have the powers to arrest those who are inciting violence or racial hatred, there is no place on our streets for that type of behaviour and we will work extensively to clarify the guidance to officers on the ground so they are aware fully about the powers and tools that are available to them to make sure these people feel the force of the law.”
The controversy comes from one particular clip from a smaller protest organised by the Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamist group, which was running separately from the main rally organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Officers reviewed a video from the rally, where a man could be heard chanting "jihad, jihad". The Met said it was also aware of photos from the same protest showing signs and banners referring to "Muslim armies".
Jihad: A call to arms, or a misunderstood word?
The word jihad can have a number of meanings, which is why it has been so difficult for police to make an assessment.
Former chief crown prosecutor for north-west England, Nazir Afzal, told The Times: “As a Muslim, I can tell you that jihad has a very peaceful meaning, namely personal struggle. However, that’s my context.
"In the context of Israel, it’s difficult to find … a non-nefarious motivation [for what was said]. That’s the difficulty that police have."
The word literally means "exerted effort", according to Maher Hathout, author of Jihad vs. Terrorism, who told National Geographic: "In the Quran, it's projected as exerting effort to change oneself, and also in certain situations physically standing against oppressors if that's the only way."
He adds: "It is quite clear that if there is any other option to resolve an issue without violence it is preferred no matter what."
It is clear that the use of the word is heavily dependent on context, but given the background of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Germany, Bangladesh, Turkey and a number of other countries over fears of extremism, many believe the Met Police made the wrong call.
Hizb ut-Tahrir has long been accused of making antisemitic statements, but in a statement on its website, the group said this was a "lie" claimed by "those who wish to deny the Palestinians the right" to end their oppression.
It added: "We do not support the Hamas group, but support the people of Palestine."