At the invitation of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, I attended the Stop the Occupation Al Quds day march in London. When I arrived at the assembly point outside of BBC Radio, I noticed the heavy police presence, and prayed under my breath that I was not attending a march that was expected to turn violent. Then, I looked to my right to find that a group of 40 Muslim men and women were bowed with their foreheads and noses to the pavement, praying Dhuhr. There was no need for me to worry that I would miss the prayer time and have to pray late when I returned home - I forgot that I would be joining a group of people who are all concerned with the prayer times, and who were also all fasting. I will post my photos in about a week's time, and the speeches from a number of exceptional individuals at the forefront of advocacy for the freedom of Palestine. For now, I would simply like to capture the emotion of the event for me.
I prayed with the group, right there on the street. I felt that I could approach any person there with a need or question and be treated hospitably. This is probably the phenomenon of the sense of belonging when one joins the Muslim community, or any religious community, perhaps. We all took hold of placards and flags in preparation for the march - I began the march with a BOYCOTT ISRAEL placard and my pro-Palestine scarf draped over my shoulders. I ended the march also waving a Palestinian flag that some sisters sold to me en route to our final destination at Trafalgar Square.
When I decided at the spur of the moment this morning to travel into the heart of London for the event, I told myself that this is one small effort that I can make for the suffering innocents of Palestine. To my surprise, I felt inspired calling out "Allahu Akbar - God is great!" with the group. This phrase is misunderstood by the masses, and I know how negatively I've perceived it in the past. What a negative connotation it has, in the media, and with people unfamiliar with Islam. But this phrase was the uniting force, at least for the Muslims there. We had Orthodox Jews and Christians and non-religious people all together. I joined in "La illaha ilallah - There is no other God but Allah!" just feeling that this was an expression of our unity regarding the matter at hand.
Quickly, I learned the calls and responses for the march. What do we want? JUSTICE! When do we want it? NOW! One - two - three - four - OCCUPATION NO MORE! Five - six - seven - eight ISRAEL IS A TERRORIST STATE! What does Zionism stand for? TERRORISM. Zionism! TERRORISM! From the river to the sea PALESTINE WILL BE FREE! In our hundred in our millions WE ARE ALL PALESTINIANS! In our hundreds in our millions WE ARE ALL PALESTINIANS! Free free PALESTINE! Free free PALESTINE!
As I marched with hundreds of people from numerous languages, creeds, backgrounds, and cultures, our protest became increasingly meaningful to me. I cried the slogans at the top of my voice - I wanted the bystanders to hear our message, and to become aware of the illegal occupation of Palestine. I felt in my heart that we were giving a voice to the voiceless. We were crying out for every innocent Palestinian who is a victim of the illegal regime of Israel, and its backers.
I'll admit this was not my best moment to be captured on camera, but nonetheless!
We stopped at McDonalds and Starbucks and Boots (regarding the sale of Loreal products) shouting Mcdonalds SHAME ON YOU! McDonalds SHAME ON YOU! Starbucks SHAME ON YOU! Loreal SHAME ON YOU! Coca Cola SHAME ON YOU! Marks and Spencers SHAME ON YOU! All companies which we must boycott in protest of their funding of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Tears came to my eyes as we chanted, WE ARE ALL PALESTINIANS!
I wanted to show my solidarity for innocent men, women and children in Palestine who are being massacred with the support of my own government. I write letters to my senators, and they reply saying that they make every effort to support our loyal ally Israel. How can they be so blind to the injustice that they are committing?
I learned the police were there to protect us, rather than vice versa. We were advised by the police and march organisers to travel to our respective stations in groups - just as last year, the English Defense League was prepared to violently attack the people who attended the peaceful, nonviolent march. How privileged we are to have the protection of the police as we march for Palestine, while Palestinians have no defense, not even in their own homes. I was very grateful for the presence and help of the Metropolitan Police who contained the march.