The people will not tolerate genocide! A response to PM’s speech on protests

Health workers join the October 28th London march for Palestine, with banners reading 'Targeting Healthcare is a War Crime', and 'Health Workers for a Free Palestine'

On Friday March 1st, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a press conference to speak on what he described as the “shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality.” According to the PM, “(t)here are forces here at home trying to tear us apart.” Sunak paints a picture of Britain as a country overrun by violent Islamist extremism, following Islamophobic claims made earlier that week by a Conservative MP of “no-go areas” patrolled by Muslim gangs. He weaves this depiction together in direct reference to the hundreds of thousands of UK residents from all walks of life who have expressed horror at the unfolding genocide in Gaza, and egregious complicity of the UK government in this violence. 

This expression of horror has manifested in some of the biggest marches in British history, not only in London but cities and towns across the UK. It has manifested in direct action, including protests outside arms manufacturers and technology companies (such as Palantir) directly complicit in genocidal violence. And it’s manifested in the UK public holding their democratically-elected representatives to account through the means we have available to us—showing up at public meetings, protesting outside events, and writing to our MPs. 

To broadly portray these actions, enshrined in UK law and democracy, as “extremist disruption and criminality” that cause “MPs (to) not feel safe in their homes”, and to go on to describe public demonstrations demanding an end to genocide and apartheid as “beam(ing) antisemitic tropes onto Big Ben in the middle of a vote on Israel/Gaza” is a harmful, irresponsible and gross misrepresentation designed to cause further division and scare people into silence. 

The conflation of anti-Zionist ideology, which seeks to end the decades-long division of Palestinians and Israelis through state violence and racist laws, with anti-Semitism is an age-old tactic weaponised by those seeking to suppress opposition to Israel’s actions—actions condoned and resourced by the British state. In the context of Palestine, this conflation contributes to a “chilling effect” on free speech—a phenomenon where people refrain from engaging in expression for fear of legal or political repercussions —which has seen a substantial increase since October 7th.

However, the mere fact of the PM’s speech on Friday tells us something important: despite attempts to silence us, we are having an impact. Our voices are louder, stronger, more consistent, and becoming harder to ignore. Our actions are making a difference, even as we continue to see hundreds of Palestinians die every day by sniper fire, heavy artillery, from wounds, disease, or from starvation. Health workers are taking a stand on the streets, in their workplaces, and in their communities to say: hospitals are not a target, ambulances are not a target, doctors are not a target, civilians are not a target and no, Palestinians are not a target.

We can’t let fear mongering and misrepresentation stop us. Growing unease in government tells us we are strong and powerful together. In his speech, Sunak described the people of Britain as “kind, decent, tolerant people”, and we are, but we will not tolerate genocide—especially not genocide backed and funded by our taxes and government aid. 

In the coming days, weeks and maybe months, we must ensure we keep each other safe in face of increasing suppression and heavier policing. We have strength and safety in numbers—and when we know our rights. Health Workers for a Free Palestine have developed a collection of resources empowering those working in health to stay safe while expressing solidarity or participating in demonstrations, and resources you can use to develop an understanding of how this current wave of action fits into a bigger narrative of resisting state violence.

Cover photo: Ibrahim Metawe