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Sheffield rallies again for peace and for Palestinian lives

A week after the first demonstration, around 1,000 people took to Barkers Pool to call for an end to the war in Gaza.

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Saturday's demonstration was attended by around a thousand people.

Now Then.

Around 1,000 people took to Barkers Pool on Saturday, in a second week of protests calling for an end to Israel's war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The demonstration was addressed by around a dozen speakers, including Green Party councillors, trade unionists, members of different faith groups and children of Palestinian heritage.

Jewish activist Leni Solinger, of the Sheffield Palestine Solidarity Campaign, told the crowd that "there will never be peace until there is justice. There will never be peace until there is no occupation."

The demonstration was watched over by nine police officers and, for a brief period, a drone. It's unknown if the drone belonged to the police or to somebody else.

The ongoing war in Gaza started on 7 October, when terrorist group Hamas launched a surprise attack against Israel, murdering around 1,400 Israeli civilians in an act widely thought to constitute a war crime.

Hamas claim, falsely, to represent the people of Gaza and Palestinians more widely – in reality the militant group have refused to allow elections to take place in the Gaza Strip since taking power in 2006.

In response to Hamas's attack, the Israeli military launched a sustained ground and air offensive in Gaza, with the stated aim of destroying Hamas targets.

But in the past few weeks thousands of non-combatant civilians in Gaza have been killed by Israeli airstrikes, in a series of actions that the United Nations think could also amount to a war crime.

"Intentional targeting of civilians and civilian objects without a military necessary reason to do so is a war crime, period," American international law expert and UN veteran David Crane told the Associated Press.

"That’s a standard that both sides are held to under international law."

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Now Then.

The roots of the conflict date back around 80 years, when the unilateral establishment of Israel forced Palestinians living on territory that formed part of the new state into exile in either the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.

Since then, the Israeli military has subjected both territories to varying degrees of occupation, even though this has been widely denounced by most other countries as a breach of international law.

Saturday's demonstration in Sheffield featured a speech from local Green Party councillor Maroof Raouf, who said that Israeli action to block food and medical supplies from reaching Gaza amounted to "collective punishment".

New restrictions on food and medicine entering Gaza are an escalation of an already-existing blockade imposed on the strip by the Israeli military when Hamas seized power in 2006.

"All of us here today know that collective punishment is prohibited by international law. It is a war crime," Cllr Raouf continued. On Wednesday, a Full Council meeting at the Town Hall will see councillors debate what Sheffield's response to the crisis should be.

On 10 October, council leadership raised the Israeli flag above the Town Hall (which was later removed by protestors), but this was before most of the Israeli military's alleged war crimes took place.

Earlier today, Sheffield's Labour councillors released a statement saying that the group "stands in solidarity with the innocent civilians of both Palestine and Israel", adding that there "can be no justification for the loss of innocent lives."

They also appeared to break with national Labour leadership by calling for an immediate ceasefire – which would involve Israel stopping its airstrikes on Gaza – and an end to the blockade.

As well as "unequivocally condemning" collective punishment of civilians, the Labour councillors also condemned Hamas's "appalling murder" of Israeli civilians, many of whom were attending a music festival.

At Wednesday's meeting, two Green councillors will put forward a motion asking the council to back an immediate ceasefire, an end to UK weapons sales to Israel, and a call for the Israeli government to resume negotiations with the Palestinians.

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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