Hundreds of demonstrators stopped traffic for more than an hour as they staged a sit-in at the corner of Oxford Circus and Regent Street during the shopping district’s busiest hours.
It came ahead of a huge protest in another part of central London which police believe attracted around 30,000 people. A total of 29 arrests were made in the capital, including two people on suspicion of breaching the Terrorism Act over the wording of banners at the event.
A man suspected of making anti-Semitic comments in a speech was also arrested suspicion of inciting racial hatred, while three others were arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer.
Later in the evening, police said some demonstrators launched fireworks into crowds and toward officers, resulting in a dispersal order being issued to clear the area.
Commander Karen Findlay said: “It is disappointing that various splinter groups were again responsible for behaviour which has no place in London and we are determined to deal with this robustly. Fireworks were directed towards officers and four officers were injured.”
Similar protests took place in other towns and cities, including Sheffield, Manchester and Glasgow, with Palestinian flags held aloft as others – some in tears – let off flares, played bongos and led chants of “Ceasefire now”, “From the river to the sea” and “Israel is a terror state”. In London, police filmed speeches from the steps of the National Gallery.
It comes as tensions mount ahead of pro-Palestinian marches planned for Armistice Day next weekend. Rishi Sunak has called for a crackdown on the protests, condemning them as “provocative and disrespectful”, while home secretary Suella Braverman has denounced them as “hate marches”.
The Oxford Circus event was organised by the Free Palestine Coalition which includes Black Lives Matter UK, Sisters Uncut and Black Jewish Alliance, who said there would be “no business as usual while Britain is supporting a genocide that has killed 9,000 people”. Organisers encouraged bystanders to join: “Don’t just stand there, sit down with us!”
The Free Palestine Coalition has taken over Oxford Street in support of the Palestinian people! In our hundreds in our millions, we are all Palestinians! #CeasefireForGazaNOW pic.twitter.com/KXd8ARqIhU
— #BlackLivesMatterUK (@ukblm) November 4, 2023
The Met Police hit out at the sit-in, saying it “clearly impacts London’s ability to function normally”.
The protesters began this morning outside the BBC in Portland Place with a view to merging with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign rally which took place later in the day.
Zami Jackson, a spokesperson for the Free Palestine Coalition, said: “This demonstration represents the huge numbers of people across the country who are devastated by the genocide in Gaza and are demanding the UK government calls for a ceasefire now.
Officers are responding to a group of protestors who have sat down and blocked Oxford Circus.
This behaviour clearly impacts on London's ability to function normally and we are working quickly to reopen the road. pic.twitter.com/pQAO8yKCmi
— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) November 4, 2023
“We can and must come together to demand justice for the Palestinian people. We will escalate our protests until the government, the media and the people in power reflect the will of the people.”
Demonstrators continued their sit-in action at Trafalgar Square and Charing Cross station later in the day.
One mother who brought her two children in a pram to Trafalgar Square said: “It is amazing how many people are here.”
Nadia Dunne, Jordan Allison, 29, and their sons Aran, 10, and younger brother Rian travelled from Buckingham to show their support with homemade signs.
Their mother Nadia told The Independent: “It is so nice to see support, you can feel very isolated at home, looking at the horrific images coming out of Gaza. I want my boys not to be afraid to be counted on the right side of humanity.”
Tamara Okuonghae, 8, was holding a Palestinian flag in front of Neturei Karta, a group of anti-Zionist Jews, on the steps of Trafalgar Square. Her mother Huda Okuonghae, 35, told The Independent: “This is a great example. It’s not about race or religion it’s about humanity. It’s important to have members of the Jewish community all here.
“It’s not a hate march as some would have you believe. This is the opposite, we’re here to save children dying – that’s a great example.”
And at another separate protest outside the Home Office, demonstrators called on Ms Braverman to stop “stirring up hatred and fear”.
Weyman Bennett, co-convenor of Stand Up To Racism, said the home secretary should “put some handcuffs on herself and hand herself in to the nearest police station”.
The day of action comes after a week of similar disruptive actions at major UK transport hubs – Birmingham New Street and three London stations including Waterloo, Liverpool Street and Kings Cross.
Scotland Yard said officers have been “briefed to be vigilant and will proactively engage and enforce any allegations of crime” at such protests.
Tens of thousands of pro-Palestine protesters have attended marches across the UK since the war began on 7 October.
Previous protests, and counterdemonstrations, have come under scrutiny, with a small number of campaigners arrested for alleged hate crimes.
Before the rallies on Saturday, the chief rabbi, Sir Ephraim Mirvis, said the lines between pro-Palestinian protesters and “those who support the brutal terrorism of Hamas” had become “badly blurred”.
Writing in The Times, Sir Ephraim highlighted a Manchester protest with a banner showing support for “Palestinian resistance” and said there was no ambiguity in the words used.
He wrote: “Did every person who attended that march truly wish to associate themselves with acts of such barbarity? I sincerely hope that they did not.
“Nevertheless, it could not be clearer that, at the very least, the lines between those who wish only to advocate for the welfare of innocent Palestinians and those who support the brutal terrorism of Hamas have become badly blurred.
“Those lines have remained blurred in the subsequent demonstrations, in which a minority have proudly displayed their extremism on their banners and in their chants, while the majority stand alongside them.”
On Friday, a row erupted when the prime minister backed a crackdown on what he condemned as “provocative and disrespectful” pro-Palestine marches due to be held on Armistice Day.
The prime minister said the “right to remember, in peace and dignity, those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice” had to be protected and home secretary Suella Braverman went a step further, claiming it was unacceptable to “desecrate” the day with a “hate march” through London.
The Labour mayor of London Sadiq Khan accused the government of playing politics over the “terrible tragedy” unfolding in Gaza, after organisers said they had no plans to disrupt Remembrance weekend events.
Organisers said previous marches had attracted 100,000 people and that claims they were disrespectful were “dangerous and disingenuous”.
They insisted they had no plans to disrupt the two-minute silence at 11am on Remembrance Sunday and that their route would avoid the Cenotaph altogether.
Five people were arrested during a pro-Palestinian sit-in at London’s King’s Cross station on Friday night.
Transport secretary Mark Harper said he had given the order to allow police to stop the demonstration on Friday evening under Section 14a of the Public Order Act 1986.
One video posted on X/Twitter appears to show a man draped in a Palestinian flag shouting “Free, free Palestine” while being carried away from the station by three officers.