Page last updated at 17:17 GMT, Saturday, 10 January 2009

Belfast hears of Gaza suffering

Politicians, trades unionists and churchmen took part in the rally
Politicians, trades unionists and churchmen took part in the rally

By Arthur Strain
BBC News

Belfast is pretty far away from Gaza, but a rally in the city on Saturday saw thousands calling for an end to the bloodshed in the strife-torn region of the Middle East.

A march through the city centre, organised by the Irish Congress of Trades Unions saw a variety of groups call for a ceasefire.

Those who addressed the crowd from a platform said they were not anti-Jewish.

One of them Sue Pentel, from the Jews for Justice for Palestine and the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said they wanted to change the policy of the Israeli government.

She said that it was not anti-Jewish to oppose what was happening in Gaza.

"I was brought up to stand up for the oppressed and to distinguish right from wrong," she said.

Some of those marching under a Socialist Worker placard used a megaphone to yell 'Victory to the intifada'.

At the city hall a group of four youths burnt an Israeli flag after a plea by a marshal that this would "only hurt the Palestinian cause" fell on deaf ears.

As the rally ended, some protesters held a short protest in Marks and Spencer's food hall when they loaded shopping trolleys with Israeli products and then walked out.

rally

Eyad Abu-Khiran, a Palestinian who has lived in Northern Ireland for 12 years, attended the rally.

He told BBC Newsi that it was heartbreaking to see what was happening in his homeland, but that as a citizen of the UK he wanted to see his government act.

"We hope to put pressure on all the western governments to put some pressure on the Israelis to stop this," he said.

Dr Mamoud Mobayed spoke on behalf of Northern Ireland's muslim community at the event.

He said that most of the inhabitants of Gaza had been displaced from "Palestine proper" and added that the short cease-fires to allow aid through were window-dressing.

"It is not right to feed for three hours and kill for 21 hours," he said.

"Sooner or later the governments, the United Nations Security Council will realise that people are saying enough is enough."

Mairead Corrigan Maguire
Mairead Corrigan Maguire addressed the crowd

Jamal Iweida who used to live in northern Palestine, but has been resident in Northern Ireland for 15 years, was also among the marchers.

He blamed the Israelis for the crisis and hoped that international pressure would force a ceasefire.

"If there is no justice I can't see how peace can be achieved," he said.

The rally heard calls for a boycott of Israeli goods from Patricia McKeown, ICTU president, who said the Israeli actions had "started to look like genocide".

"Hamas are the legitimately elected representatives of the Palestinian people and denials of that are are not going to change it," she said.

She said that thousands of pounds and euros had been contributed by Irish trades unions to buy an emergency surgical kit for Gaza, capable of treating 100 people.

Peace People Nobel laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire also addressed the crowd. She talked of the "heartbreaking scenes" from the region flickering across local television screens.

Opposition

She said that that ground assault was the "collective punishment" of 1.5m people by the Israeli government.

She said Israel should be brought before an international war crimes tribunal and expelled from the United Nations.

"Dialogue can work," she told the crowd, "It worked here and it can work there as well."

Peter Bunting, ICTU Assistant General Secretary said that the conflict should not be viewed "through the prism of our sectarianised politics".

"The Palestinian people of Gaza deserve your support as does everybody who lives in fear of violence," he said.

"If it is one message that has to come from Northern Ireland today it is that violence is the greatest impediment to a just solution for the people of Israel and Palestine."

The DUP's Nelson McCausland condemned the march as "anti-Israel and pro-Hamas".

"Some of the marchers were calling for the eradication of the state of Israel. These marchers were chanting 'From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.' This is simply a way of calling for the total annihilation of Israel," he said.



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