LONDON, UK — Thousands of protesters rallied across France and Britain on Saturday calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, while hundreds of others turned out again in cities across Europe.
Pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel protests have been held across Europe and elsewhere, some of them violent, since the unprecedented October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel unleashed the latest Gaza war. On that Saturday morning, thousands of terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing about 240 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.
The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians. Entire families were executed in their homes, and some 360 were slaughtered at an outdoor music festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists, in what US President Joe Biden has highlighted as “the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”
Protests against Israel quickly broke out worldwide as it responded to the Hamas massacres with an air and ground campaign, vowing to destroy the Palestinian terror group.
Some of the demonstrations have turned violent, with attacks on police in London and New York, amid anti-Israel chants such as “from the river to the sea,” a slogan used by supporters of Hamas and others to demand Israel’s destruction. Some protests have also featured antisemitic banners, and at one rally in Australia last month, anti-Israel protesters chanted “gas the Jews.”
The demonstrations have come alongside a marked spike in antisemitic incidents worldwide, including threats and intimidation of Jewish university students in the US, gunfire attacks at Jewish elementary schools in Montreal, attacks on synagogues in Canada, Germany, and Armenia, the stabbing of a Jewish woman in France, among many other incidents.
Earlier this week, authorities in California arrested a pro-Palestinian college professor in connection with the death of a Jewish man, Paul Kessler, during rival demonstrations over the Israel-Hamas war earlier this month.
The suspect was booked into jail for an investigation of involuntary manslaughter in the death.
Calls for ceasefire
In Paris on Saturday, several thousand people marched in torrential rain behind a banner saying “Halt the massacre in Gaza and West Bank, immediate ceasefire.”
“France must immediately call for a ceasefire so that the guns go silent,” said CGT union secretary general Sophie Binet, one of several union leaders to speak at the rally.
The CGT estimated that 60,000 people rallied in the capital and a further 40,000 gathered in dozens of other towns across the country.
The interior ministry however said 7,000 people marched in Paris and 45,000 nationwide for the third straight Saturday.
In Marseille, AFP saw several hundred people stage a minute’s silence for Palestinian victims of the war, while in Toulouse more than 1,200 people took part in a march, according to police.
According to Gaza’s Hamas-run health authorities, 12,000 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war, two-thirds of them women and minors. Those figures cannot be independently verified, and Hamas has been accused of inflating them and of designating gunmen in their late teens as children. It is not known how many among its total are combatants, and how many among the dead were victims of misfired rockets aimed at Israel.
Elsewhere in Europe, organizers said around 4,000 people marched in Geneva, lighting candles displayed as a map of Gaza in front of the United Nations’ European headquarters.
One large banner read “Stop Genocide in Gaza” and many shouted “Free, free Palestine!” in English.
Two rallies were held in Amsterdam, one urging a ceasefire for Gaza, another demanding the release of the Hamas-held hostages, though police said the protests were calm and no arrests were made.
Several thousands marched in Lisbon, many also shouting in English “Palestine will be free”.
A few hundred people marched through Warsaw, with the protest culminating in a rally in front of Israel’s embassy in Poland.
In Istanbul, which has seen massive protests called by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urging an end to Israel’s campaign, about 100 people lit flares and held up anti-war banners under heavy rain outside the Israeli consulate.
The rally was called by football supporter groups, which often play an important role in Turkish protests.
All Israeli diplomatic staff left Turkey last month as a security precaution.
In Britain, the protest numbers were smaller after more than 300,000 people staged a pro-Palestinian march in London last Saturday.
One targeted an office where the leader of the main opposition Labour party, Keir Starmer, holds meetings, with protesters waving Palestinian flags and chanting “Ceasefire now”.
Some held placards reading “Stop the war in Gaza” and “Starmer — blood on your hands” amid a heavy police presence in the Camden area of north London.
Starmer, a former human rights lawyer whose party is predicted to win an election expected next year, has refused to call for a permanent ceasefire, sparking a string of resignations from his top team.
Instead, he has called for a humanitarian pause to Israel’s operation to allow aid into Gaza.
One protester at the London event, Nicoleta, 36, held a placard reading “Bombing hospitals is a crime”.
“Because I’m a health care provider I’m here to defend the hospitals, the innocent civilians, the children in incubators,” she said.
Hamas falsely claimed on October 17 that Israel bombed Gaza’s main Shifa Hospital. Evidence produced by Israel and the US showed the blast was caused by a rocket fired from Gaza at Israel by Islamic Jihad that fell short.
The rally was one of many smaller protests organized nationwide by the Stop The War Coalition.
London police said on Saturday they had now made 386 arrests since the October 7 attacks.
Showing support for Hamas is an offence in Britain, as the organization is considered a terrorist group. Last week’s demonstration in London featured footage of masked protesters wearing Hamas headbands.
In New York on Friday night, thousands took part in a pro-Palestinian protest in Manhattan, waving Palestinian flags and calling for a ceasefire.