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Residents of Lancaster and students from the university turned out in force on Saturday January 17 for a protest against Israeli military action in Gaza.
The protest, organised by Lancaster and District Coalition Against the War, took place in Market Square and featured speeches, chants, and an attempt by two protesters to draw awareness to Palestinian casualties by lying motionless, covered in shrouds daubed with fake blood.
“We’re here to stand against the aggression that’s happening in Gaza,” said Fayez Almari, president of the university’s Islamic society and of the university’s Friends of Palestine society. “We’re here to let the people of Lancaster know that humanity hasn’t died.
“The news has shown everyone what Israel is doing: Israel are not taking into account civilian casualties, and if there are civilian casualties, in the end that doesn’t matter [to them] because they will meet their targets.”
Although a tentative ceasefire is in effect in Gaza as SCAN goes to print, the protest came on a day when intense fighting still consumed Gaza as part of the offensive launched by Israel on December 27. Just two days before, Israel had earned the ire of many in the international community by launching an attack against the UN headquarters in Gaza, destroying large supplies of food and fuel that were to be used as aid for residents of Gaza.
“This is the third vigil for Palestine that has been held by the people of Lancaster,” said one protester, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to his employment. “We’ve been here every Saturday for the past three weeks, since the Israeli offensive on Gaza started.
“We’re here because we’re outraged by the killing and the bombing of the people of Gaza, which has killed over a thousand people. Israel has committed war crimes by bombing UN schools, compounds, and hospitals.”
“Hamas are the democratically-elected government of Palestine, and although I don’t agree with them they should be negotiated with. We ended the troubles in Northern Ireland through negotiations with the IRA: more people were killed by the IRA than by Hamas, and yet the British government didn’t go and use heavy artillery and F16 bombers on the people of Belfast or Derry.”
Although Gaza has dominated the television and print media for the last three weeks, many of the protesters felt that at least some of the reporting had been unfair.
“I think the BBC and Sky have been reporting it in a biased way,” said Almari. “Incidents reported in other media, such as Channel 4, show that the BBC have turned a blind eye to things that are obvious to anyone who watches more than one outlet.”
In the evening following the protest, Israel announced a unilateral cessation of hostilities, its continuation conditional upon rocket attacks from Gaza ceasing. The following afternoon Hamas and Islamic Jihad expressed their agreement with the proposal, agreeing to stop rocket attacks for one week provided IDF forces withdrew from Gaza in that time. It remains, however, a fragile peace, with reports already of the agreement being broken in southern Gaza.