British police came under mounting government pressure on Wednesday to ban a pro-Palestinian rally scheduled to take place in London on the day the country commemorates its war dead.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called the protest against the Israel-Hamas war scheduled for Saturday “provocative and disrespectful.”
War has raged since Hamas’s October 7 massacre that saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land and sea, as well as a cell that used paragliders to cross into Israel. The terrorists slaughtered 1,400 people, most of them civilians, massacred amid brutal atrocities in their homes and at a music festival. Hamas and allied terrorist factions also dragged over 240 hostages — including some 30 children — into the Gaza Strip where they remain captive.
March organizers have resisted pleas from Sunak and London’s Metropolitan Police to postpone the demonstration when tens of thousands of people are expected to demand a ceasefire in the month-old conflict.
The force’s chief, Mark Rowley, has said the rally does not meet the threshold for requesting a government order to stop it going ahead.
Rowley said such a ban was “incredibly rare” and a “last resort” where there is a serious threat of disorder.
“The events taking place this weekend are of great significance and importance to our nation,” he said in a statement. “We will do everything in our power to ensure they pass without disruption.”
Sunak is to meet Rowley on Wednesday but ministers in the Conservative government suggested that the commissioner should think again.
“There is a legal threshold and the commissioner is of the view that that legal threshold has not been met,” Health Secretary Steve Barclay told Sky News.
“Obviously, the Home Office and colleagues will discuss that over the course of the day.”
Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said in a radio interview that police should keep the protest “under review.”
Earlier this month, Sunak’s outspoken interior minister Suella Braverman said it was “entirely unacceptable to desecrate Armistice Day with a hate march through London.”
November 11 commemorates the end of fighting in World War I, and the sacrifice of armed forces in all conflicts since 1914.
Protest groups have not indicated they plan to march on Remembrance Sunday when solemn ceremonies and two minutes’ silence are held at war memorials up and down the country.
But some fear their Saturday protest will disrupt Sunday’s commemorations.
Organizers have vowed to avoid the Whitehall area of central London where the Cenotaph — the focal point of Remembrance Sunday — is located.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators have been marching each week in British cities to demand an immediate ceasefire, waving Palestinian flags and chanting slogans including “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” The slogan is used by Hamas and others to advocate for the destruction of Israel, since Israel along with the West Bank and Gaza sits between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Police have made dozens of arrests at the London protests, including for hate crimes. But they have also faced growing criticism for their policing of the rallies in central London, with some saying they are failing to crack down on hate speech.
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas after the terror group’s October 7 onslaught and has carried out intensive strikes on Gaza while saying it is seeking to minimize harm to civilians. It has also launched a land incursion into the northern Gaza Strip. Aid agencies say the fighting and heavy damage from Israeli strikes are causing a humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian enclave that is home to over two million people. According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, more than 10,000 people inside the coastal enclave have been killed since October 7. However, this number cannot be independently verified and is believed to include members of the terror organization as well as civilians killed by misfired rockets that fell within the Strip.
The situation is swelling international calls for a ceasefire, which Israel has rejected saying it will enable Hamas to remain in power and rearm, a position Washington shares.