Last Sunday’s Al Quds Day March was meant as a show of force rather than to initiate even a semblance of a conversation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
From placards describing Zionism as “racist” to chants labelling Israel as a “terrorist state”, I realised that not many, if any, of the protesters I encountered along the way were pushing for a peaceful, two-state solution.
As I weaved in and out of the crowd, armed with a smartphone and navigating gory placards and slogans, it quickly became apparent that hostility and suspicion reigned among the hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Home Office.
“Which side are you on?” a cagey organiser asked almost immediately before escorting me out. What a devastating question to put to a member of the press, I remember thinking – and a surprising one too. From past experience, protesters are usually only too happy to talk to the media. Why march through the streets of central London, if you don’t wish to attract coverage?
But as the goading voice of Nazim Ali, head of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, blasted from loudspeakers warned the crowd against “fascist infiltrators”, I realised: this wasn’t just a typical protest seeking to shine a light on a particular issue – it was meant to intimidate.
Indeed hours later, I was stood amongst the crowd filming an Al Quds Day speaker accuse the Israeli embassy of running antisemitism smear workshops when an organiser asked me to leave, suspecting me of being a counter-demonstrator seeking to breach the peace. Pointing a handheld camera device at me, which she has presumably brought in to capture incriminating footage of counter-demonstrators, I felt sad and a little angry.
But thankfully, the Islamic Human Rights Commission are not part of a broader, large movement sweeping the country. Indeed, moments away from the protest, tourists and ordinary Londoners went about their day paying no heed to the belligerent slogans and loud speeches.