What’s actually going on with the Cenotaph and pro-Palestine protest this weekend?

What’s actually going on with the Cenotaph and pro-Palestine protest this weekend?
'NO RESPECT for our national act of COMMEMORATION!': Nigel Farage SLAMS Palestine …
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As the Israel-Hamas war continues in the Palestinian territory of Gaza, a protest is scheduled to take place in London on Saturday calling for an immediate ceasefire to stop more lives being lost.

The Gaza health ministry has said 10,000 Palestinians have been killed, while 1,400 Israelis were killed in the attack by the militant group Hamas on 7 October which sparked the current violence in the Middle East.

Experts from the United Nations have said Palestinians are “at grave risk of genocide” without a ceasefire, with its General Assembly adopting a resolution calling for a “humanitarian truce” last month.

Israel and the United States were among those who voted against the motion, while the United Kingdom abstained.

Now campaigners have renewed their calls for a ceasefire and will protest the ongoing war on Armistice Day, which marks the day in 1918 in which an agreement was made to end the fighting in the First World War.

Although the timing has been met with consternation by some…

Political criticism

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has led the criticism of the planned protests from the Conservatives, claiming to hold demonstrations on Armistice Day is “provocative and disrespectful”.

He said: “There is a clear and present risk that the Cenotaph and other war memorials could be desecrated, something that would be an affront to the British public and the values we stand for.

“The right to remember, in peace and dignity, those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for those freedoms must be protected.”

His deputy, former culture secretary Oliver Dowden, told Sky News on Sunday that he has “grave concerns” about the planned march.

“Both in terms of how it sits with acts of solemn remembrance and the kind of intimidation that is being sent out by the chants and everything else that goes on at those marches,” he said.

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said: “It is entirely unacceptable to desecrate Armistice Day with a hate march through London.

“If it goes ahead there is an obvious risk of serious public disorder, violence and damage as well as giving offence to millions of decent British people.”

Ms Braverman’s intervention was criticised by her Labour counterpart, Yvette Cooper, who said the home secretary “should be bringing communities together for Remembrance weekend” and supporting the police “to ensure Remembrance events are respected”.

“Instead Suella Braverman just makes [the] police’s job harder with inflammatory language and promoting division,” she wrote on Twitter/X.

However, Sir Keir Starmer’s party has also voiced apprehension around the planned demonstrations this weekend, with shadow defence secretary John Healey telling Sky News: “In a democracy like ours the right to free speech and protest is fundamental, but there has to be a respect for the Remembrance Service, for all cenotaphs and memorials, for the two minutes’ silence on Saturday, not just the Remembrance Parade on Sunday.

“I believe it should be possible to manage both the proper respect and the conduct of the Remembrance Parade around the Cenotaph and allow the protesters concerned about what’s going on in Gaza and the loss of Palestinian lives to undertake their protest at a different time in a different part of London.”

The Metropolitan Police’s response

The force confirmed it had met with organisers from a range of protest groups on Monday to discuss their concerns – including over “criminal acts by breakaway groups intent on fuelling disorder” who are drawn to such demonstrations – but that the organisers declined to postpone their protests this weekend.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ade Adelekan said the risk of “violence and disorder” from aforementioned “breakaway groups” is growing.

He continued: “This is of concern ahead of a busy weekend in the capital.

“Our message to organisers is clear: please, we ask you to urgently reconsider. It is not appropriate to hold any protests in London this weekend.”

What the organisers have said

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has stressed it has “no intention” of marching “on or near Whitehall, in order not to disrupt events at the Cenotaph”.

The demonstration – which is expected to start at around 12:45pm (the minute’s silence is at 11am) – will begin at Hyde Park and finish at the US Embassy, which is on the other side of the Thames and a 45-minute walk from the Cenotaph, according to Google Maps.

A Google Maps screenshot showing the distance between the Cenotaph and US Embassy.Google Maps

In a joint statement issued on Friday, campaign groups the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Friends of Al-Aqsa, the Stop the War Coalition, the Muslim Association of Britain, the Palestinian Forum in Britain and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament said they were “alarmed” by the comments from government ministers.

“Such statements are encouraging the calls from far-right activists and commentators who appear to be inciting action on the streets to stop the protests taking place and are deeply irresponsible.

“Given the wider context of the previous statements by the home secretary seeking to demonise all those marching in support of the rights of the Palestinian people, it is clear that these further statements are motivated by a desire to suppress widespread public support for an end to Israel’s bombardment of the people of Gaza,” they said.

On Monday, the groups issued a second statement referring to their meeting with the Metropolitan Police, which they said saw officers note “the marches we had organised had been overwhelmingly peaceful with low levels of arrest”.

It continues: “They asked us to consider not marching this Saturday and postponing for a week because of the sensitivity of this weekend.

“It is categorically not true that the police told us that it was not appropriate to protest this weekend. They raised a concern about the possibility of breakaway groups leaving the march but were not able to provide any evidence as to why this risk would be increased on Saturday 11 November.

“As we made clear in the meeting, we recognise the political pressure being placed on the police by the government and right-wing political groups. However, we emphasise that they had and have a responsibility to withstand that pressure and act to uphold democratic freedoms including the right to protest.

“Those mounting pressure are the same voices actively resisting the call for a ceasefire despite overwhelming public support for that call.”

In a survey carried out by polling company YouGov last month, 73 per cent of respondents said they believed “there definitely should” or “there probably should” be an immediate ceasefire in Israel and Palestine.

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