Nearly 2,000 police were deployed in London on Saturday, including officers guarding Britain’s national war memorial, as hundreds of thousands gathered in the UK capital for a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel rally.
Many of the previous demonstrations featured people glorifying Hamas, calls to destroy Israel and antisemitic incidents.
There have also been a number of incidents of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel chants by crowds using public transportation as they travel to and from the demonstrations.
Police said 1,850 officers were deployed in London for the protest.
“We know the cumulative impact continued protest, increasing tensions and rising hate crimes are having across London and the fear and anxiety our Jewish communities in particular are feeling,” police said in a statement on Friday.
“They have a right to feel safe in their city, knowing they can travel across London without feeling afraid of intimidation or harassment,” police said.
Organizers have predicted that over half a million protesters will attend the event, Sky News reported.
Demonstrators were to gather in Hyde Park before marching to the US Embassy.
Police warned pro-Palestinian protesters that they could be arrested if they try to assemble at the Cenotaph war memorial. The planned route of Saturday’s demonstration does not pass close to the monument, which is steps from Parliament.
The government has criticized organizers for holding a march on November 11, Armistice Day — the anniversary of the end of World War I.
The march is a day before the main Remembrance Sunday commemorations, when King Charles III, senior politicians, diplomats, military leaders and veterans attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Cenotaph war memorial in central London to honor Britain’s war dead in all conflicts.
The Metropolitan Police also said that they were working with forces outside London to ensure that any convoys of vehicles arriving in the capital while waving flags and/or shouting antisemitic abuse will be kept away from Jewish communities, noting that if anyone in a convoy commits an offense, that too will be “dealt with.”
In a statement reported by the BBC, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urged on Friday that protesters be “mindful of the fear and distress in Jewish and Muslim communities.”
“Remembrance weekend is sacred for us all and should be a moment of unity, of our shared British values and of solemn reflection,” Sunak said.
London’s The Times reported Saturday that extremist groups would be in attendance at the march, including members of a group seen in a video chanting for an intifada.
The report said the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG) had held events where speakers declared that Israel has no right to exist, and one said: “All they’ve been doing is yapping about hostages, hostages, hostages… In our lifetime, the flag of Palestine will fly over Jerusalem.”
The newspaper also reported that Ziad El Aloul, a spokesman for Palestinian Forum in Britain which helped organize the protests, shared videos on October 7 “in celebration of the attack ‘by land, air and sea’.”
The report said he has been photographed at the rallies alongside former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
In addition to concerns about the pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel protesters, police are also said to be bracing for action from far-right groups on Saturday.
According to Sky News, English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson has said people connected to his far-right group are “mobilizing” to be in the capital.
The Democratic Football Lads Alliance, another far-right group, wrote on Facebook on Friday that its members will “safeguard those who wish to pay their respects to Our Fallen Heroes” at the Cenotaph war memorial.
The Metropolitan Police said that it would be a “busy weekend” for the force.
“Officers’ priority is to keep everyone safe, whether they are paying their respects for remembrance or protesting,” the force wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Our policing plan extends across London, but there will be a particular focus on Whitehall and the Cenotaph.”
Pro-Palestinian protests have been held in London and other British cities every weekend since the war began on October 7, when 3,000 Hamas terrorists stormed into Israel, killing some 1,200 people — most of them civilians brutally massacred — and taking at least 240 hostages.
The protests have been held under the banner of calling for a ceasefire.
Several Western governments have called for a “humanitarian pause” in Israel’s offensive, but not for an immediate ceasefire. For its part, Israel has maintained the stance that Hamas would use a ceasefire to regroup, and that one cannot be implemented without the release of the hostages held by Hamas.
Earlier this week, Britain’s interior minister accused the police of being more lenient toward pro-Palestinian demonstrators than other groups, deepening a political feud sparked by the Israel-Hamas war.
In a highly unusual attack on the police, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said London’s Metropolitan Police force was ignoring lawbreaking by “pro-Palestinian mobs.” She described demonstrators calling for a ceasefire in Gaza as “hate marchers.”
Sunak has criticized planned protests on Remembrance weekend as “provocative and disrespectful.” But after summoning police chief Mark Rowley for talks on Wednesday, Sunak said the government backed “the right to peacefully protest. And the test of that freedom is whether our commitment to it can survive the discomfort and frustration of those who seek to use it, even if we disagree with them.”
That appeared to end the dispute, but Braverman escalated it dramatically with an article in Thursday’s edition of The Times of London newspaper. She accused the police of acting more leniently toward pro-Palestinian demonstrators and Black Lives Matter supporters than to right-wing protesters or soccer hooligans.
Braverman said, “There is a perception that senior police officers play favorites when it comes to protesters,” and called demonstrations calling for a ceasefire in Gaza “an assertion of primacy by certain groups,” particularly Islamic extremists.
“Terrorists have been valorized, Israel has been demonized as Nazis and Jews have been threatened with further massacres,” she said.
Sunak faced some calls to sack Braverman over the comments.
Downing Street insisted it had full confidence in Braverman but said it was investigating how her comments in an opinion piece in The Times were published without its consent, as required by the ministerial code.
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken part in demonstrations every Saturday since the war began organized by left-wing groups and Muslim organizations. There also have been rallies supporting Israel and demanding Hamas free the hostages it seized in its October 7 onslaught, although those have mainly been attended by members of the Jewish community.
Police say there have been almost 200 arrests across London related to the Israel-Hamas war since October 7, including 98 for suspected antisemitic offenses and 21 for alleged anti-Muslim offenses. Others have been arrested for supporting proscribed terror organizations.
Protests can be banned in Britain only if there is a risk of serious disorder. Police said that threshold has not been met.
Since the start of the war, UK Jewish organizations have reported a massive spike in antisemitic incidents and members of the community have raised concerns over the rising threat.
The Times reported Saturday that Jewish students at British universities were facing rising threats.
The report cited multiple cases, including a WhatsApp group for Jewish students which was infiltrated by members posting hateful messages.
Messages appeared about Palestine, followed by the phrases “F*** Israel” and “dirty Jewish cu**s,” the report said.