Birmingham’s largest Palestine demo held as thousands march through city for Gaza ceasefire
Thousands of people marched through Birmingham today for one of the city’s largest ever pro-Palestine demonstrations.
Billed as the biggest Gaza ceasefire protest in the West Midlands, the peace rally lived up to its intentions as masses of people from all across the region and beyond converged on Birmingham city centre following an hour-long march from Sparkhill Park.
With key contingents joining the march in Alum Rock and Sparkhill, an estimated 7,000 people (organisers claim 10,000) are believed to have taken part in the protest condemning Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, as crowds called for an immediate ceasefire and end to hostilities in the troubled Middle Eastern region.
Braving the harsh wind and rain at times, marchers with Palestinian flags filled the route along with posters, placards and banners in support of Gazans currently being bombed by the Israeli military machine.
Chants calling for a ceasefire bellowed through the air along with messages condemning Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer, whom many on the march believe haven’t done enough to encourage an end to the bloodshed. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” was heard repeatedly from all quarters, a rallying cry that has fast become the international call for the resistance of the Palestinian people.
Among the throngs of activists and concerned residents, some protesters had travelled from Gloucester while others from Manchester and London. Birmingham’s protest is the largest of a host of local pro-Palestine actions taking place across the UK today.
The previous largest protest held in Birmingham was for Black Lives Matter in 2020, when about 4,000 people turned out in Centenary Square. With both Victoria Square and Centenary Square reportedly unavailable today, organisers set up a stage in Edgbaston Street near the Bull Ring Indoor Market, which had only been confirmed as the final meeting point for the rally earlier this week.
With thousands of attendees hoping to listen to politicians speaking in support of Palestine, it soon became apparent most would not fit in the narrow city centre street, so in the absence of large screens to relay speeches, many attempted to listen in via the loudspeakers booming from the stage; while others drifted off to huddle out of the cold.
Politicians, community leaders and public figures lined up to speak on the temporary stage erected for the event as gathering crowds cheered and chanted. Former Birmingham councillor Salma Yaqoob described the event as “Birmingham’s biggest protest”.
“Such is the scale of Israel’s merciless bombing, starvation and displacement of Palestinians from their homes that South Africa has made a submission to the International Court of Justice arguing a genocide is taking place,” she said.
“British citizens, including hundreds of thousands of Brummies, have been dismayed and outraged that the UK government is continuing to give Israel a green light and are demanding an immediate ceasefire and release of all prisoners and hostages.
“Yet in a peace loving city like Birmingham we have MPs who refused to vote for ceasefire. Shame on them. We will not forgive and we will not forget the people that refused to support a ceasefire when could do so. No ceasefire, no vote.”
Billed as the main speaker was independent Member of Parliament and former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
“There are 30,000 lives already lost and when the rubble is cleared goodness knows how many more will be found. Goodness knows whether the Palestinian people will even be able to remain in Gaza,” he said.
“The Palestinian people must never be left alone and that’s why we’re here today. That is why there are demonstrations all over the world.
“I will continue calling for a ceasefire for as long as it takes. The majority of people are appalled at what’s going on and support the Palestinians. We’ve come together because we want to live in a country that speaks up for justice and peace and human rights.
“We want to live in a country that funds its health service properly, its housing properly and gives its young people not a lot of debt but a life of opportunity.
“Let us send this message out. We come together as people wanting to live in a decent society, a free society where our human rights are not trampled on.”
Other speakers included former Birmingham MP Clare Short, deputy leader of the Green Party Zack Polanski, UK Palestine Solidarity Campaign chair Prof Kamel Hawwash (University of Birmingham), Ismail Patel from Friends of Al Aqsa, author and activist John Rees (Counterfire), and British rapper Lowkey – real name Kareem Dennis – who has been a longtime proponent for the Palestinian cause.
Several Palestinians also took to the stage including young Brummie Hamza Stitan, who having lost family members in Palestine, told the crowd: “We must never lose hope.”
“Every retweet, every post and protest helps. It’s the least we can do living a life in privilege. We must amplify their bravery in Palestine and end the genocide in Palestine.”
Salman Mirza is a long term pro-Palestine activist and has set up his own Never Forget Gaza party to stand in Birmingham Ladywood following the recent escalations in Gaza. He attended the protest with a bus full of residents from Smethwick.
He said: “We are protesting for not only a ceasefire but justice for the Palestinians where over 23,000 have been killed, including 10,000 children.
“How can that be right, and to add to this our government is bombing the Yemen escalating war and death, many of us are outraged at shipping lanes being more important than human life.”
West Midlands Police had forewarned prior to the demonstration that “anyone wearing, carrying or otherwise displaying symbols that are supportive of a proscribed organisation can be arrested,” but no arrests were reported during or after the entire event.
Selected photographs courtesy of SafBMalik Photography. For more, click here.