Report on the Edinburgh Palestinian Solidarity Rally (10/01/09)

I’m going to try and do my best to give an account of the rally as I experienced it. The BBC has an account of it on their site here, and pictures of the rally itself here. Also there is an account from the Scotsman (mostly about the London demo, but a brief report at the end of Edinburgh) here, and this account and pictures provided by Scottish Indymedia.

Getting Ready

Well, the march was supposed to kick-off at 1230hrs from the form-up point of Market Street, which is just behind Edinburgh-Waverly and connects to Princes Street, Edinburgh’s high street – basically their equivalent of our Front Street (although these days I think Reid Street has taken primacy). I stopped for a quick tea before arriving, so I was just a bit late, arriving at 1245hrs instead. Fortunately the march hadn’t kicked off – I think the stewards were having some last minute discussions with the police about the route and stopping traffic but I’m not sure. This gave me some time to walk through the assembled crowd and get a sense of the morale and essentially ‘shop’ for a placard. I hadn’t had the time to make a nice original picket like I would have liked, but fortunately the various organisations contributing to the march had a number of surplus pre-made placards. I choose a nice one from the Stop the War coalition, green background and sporting the statements ‘Troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan’ ‘Don’t Attack Iran’ and ‘End the Siege of Gaza – Freedom for Palestine.’ You can see some examples of the placard in the BBC pictures. Most importantly it had a good solid pine stick with very good support which proved invaluable as the weather got progressively worse and windy…

And We’re Off…

So after a some cheerful bantering with fellow protestors and linking up with some fellow classmates, the kickoff whistle blew, and the march began. Its kind of hard to estimate how many people where present. On my arrival I counted the assembly a few times and got an average of about 5000 people. More people had joined by the time we started, but I wasn’t in a good vantage point to do a count; also I was coordinating with fellow students by phone who were enroute in groups of various sizes. I was able to count the march a few more times, and I based on these later counts I would put the average at about 9000 people.

We marched a short distance along Market Street and then north up onto Princes Street. From there we proceeded east towards Holyrood Palace and beyond towards Regent Terrace, the street housing the US Consulate, with the Scottish Parliament nearby. I had been at the earlier planning meeting where the route for the march was discussed, and understood that the route would be along to the Consulate, then down to the Scottish Parliament and then back along Princes Street, passed an Israeli owned hotel and Marks & Spencers, both firms associated with Israel, and ending with a rally at the open-air theatre beneath the Castle Mount. As we approached the US Consulate the group I was walking with were about in the middle of the march. We were just at about Holyrood Palace when we noticed the front of the march walking backwards towards Princes Street already which indicated there had been a change to the route which led to confusion amongst us.

At The US Consulate

We soon reached the entrance to the street housing the US Consulate and discovered what had happened. The police had erected a barricade blocking off the street. It was a steel barricade, and manned by a line of police behind it. As my group got there the police were erecting a secondary barrier about ten meters in front of the first one, and trying to send the march back with the assistance of the march stewards. My group simply sidestepped this barricade as it was not yet complete, and joined the group of about 600 stuck in between the two barriers. We attempted and succeeded to partially dismantle the second barrier twice and let in a hundred or so more comrades, but the police soon thwarted this initiative and began clearing us out. Most of the pictures on the Indymedia site are of this part.

It was here that the three policemen were injured. The media is largely portraying their injuries as coming about after being mobbed by sixty demonstrators. I find that account laughable and disingenious. I cannot account for all the injuries, but I saw what I believe were two of them as they happened. We had been encouraged to bring shoes to throw at the US Consulate as a symbolic gesture, and had recieved essentially a green light from the police to do just that. As they had decided to block off the street though we couldn’t do that, so we took to throwing shoes over the barricade and onto the street. All I can say is that at least two people didn’t have very good aim or the police didn’t have very good reaction times and got caught in the crossfire. Having said that there were a group of three policemen that we pretty much all agreed were valid targets. They were standing on a bank by the barricade taking photos and video of all of us which we percieved as hostile, and were really attempting simply to stop them filming us. You can see a picture of these three getting splattered by a paint bomb in the Indymedia photos.

Personally I was disappointed that we didn’t try harder to get down that street. The barricade was easily dismantled and there were no where enough police officers to have held us all back. I’m not talking violence here, I’m just saying if we’d pushed forward we could have walked right past them. Eventually however we just seemed to give up and went back along Princes Street. It was here that I saw the mobile CCTV vans which I found quite fascinating and will have to remember to look out for in the future.

For various reasons my group ended up as stragglers for the rest of the march, mainly curious to observe the police movements. We also engaged in some discussions with pedestarians. Most were supportive of the rally and said they would like to come for the next one. Others were simply apathetic to the whole thing. The closest thing we got to a hostile incident was when we got stopped by an Irish couple who argued that why are we opposing an occupation so far away when Northern Ireland was still occupied and much closer. During this discussion the Irish observed a number of Irish flags being carried by the marchers (a Scottish contingent of Sinn Fein had appeared and joined), and that pretty much put an end to the whole discussion.

We caught up with the bulk of the march again at the Israeli owned hotel, the Caledonian, at the junction of Lothian Road and Princes Street where some speeches about the boycott Israel campaign were jsut concluding. The march then snaked its way to the base of the Castle Mount and over to the open air theatre. This was the terminal point of the march, and a number of speakers came onto the stage.

The Speakers

I cannot remember all of the speakers and who they represented, so I’ll just have to give a gist of what was said here. There were a couple of Members of Scottish Parliament that spoke (not sure which Parties). What I gathered from them was that the Scottish Parliament had met for an emergency meeting on Thursday and in it had declared Scotlands opposition to the Israeli assault on Gaza and support for a boycott of Israeli goods. A labour union speaker then spoke saying that all Scottish hospitals should be opened to treat the injured of Gaza – some time later word was passed to the stage to the effect that this was to be so, but I reckon that was more a symbolic statement than anything else. A Liberal Democrat Westminster MP representing an Edinburgh constituency also spoke and called for the UK to place embargoes on Israel, and to break with the US position.

We had two phone calls from people inside Gaza, but the connection wasn’t that good, but they were talking about what was happening right then, and that they were grateful for our support. A Palestinian refugee also spoke about conditions in Palestine. All three called for UN Troops to enter Palestine to protect them from Israel and likened Israels actions to ethnic cleansing.

An activist gave a very good and impassioned speech savaging the UK’s failure to do anything more than give empty pious rhetoric and to ape the US position. He called on Israel to be suspended from the UN, and for the UK to send hospital ships to the coast of Gaza to treat the wounded there. He elaborated on the need to boycott Israeli goods in the spirit of the boycott of apartheid South African goods before. He also commended Venezuala’s expulsion of Israeli diplomats and called for the UK to do likewise.

A representative of the Scottish Jewish association also spoke and called for peace and civil disobedience as long as the Israeli aggression continued. He also spoke about a sit-down at the Toronto Israeli Consulate done by Candian Jews opposed to Israels aggression.

A representative of the Scottish Afghan Association also spoke, I believe as a representative of British Muslims. He spoke about how British Muslims were being harrassed to condemn terrorism world-wide but of the hypocrisy of the West concerning what is seen as State terrorism in Gaza now. He talked of Tony Blair’s warning about the conflcit radicalising British Muslims and said that we are all radicals in that we were out protesting against the Israeli aggression, and that the truly radical action would be for an immediate ceasefire and resolving of the Palestine question, that the UK had the moral, economic and political ability to do just that. He concluded by saying that British Muslims will without doubt condemn any future terrorist acts, but will be consistent and call terrorism when they see it, be it by Jihadists, the USA or Israel, and that they will point out the hypocrisy displayed by the West.

I think there were more speakers, but I cannot really recall much more. Its important to note that the weather really got horrible once we got to the castle mount. Not that it was exactly great the whole time, but it started off quite warm, I think about 6 degrees celsius, and damp, kind of what you might expect of Scotland in November. It got progressively colder and windy as the march went on. But it was right when we stopped marching and stood to hear the speakers, thats when it really got cold. And it started to half snow and half rain and very strong, even gale force winds. So the crowds gradually melted away, with only maybe a thousand or less sticking it out for the whole thing, myself included.

To The Pub

And then it was done. We broke off into our various groups and made a run to the nearest pubs we could find, got some hot food and liquid bread, and talked about the march and the latest news from Palestine (the ominous sounding escalation to a ‘third stage’).

And we planned future actions. As long as Israel plans to escalate things over there, and as long as the UK, US and Israeli governments ignore our symbolic protests, we will escalate our protests and do what we can to end this madness. So be it.

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