Europe Takes to the Streets Tens of Thousands Demonstrate For and Against Israel

It was a weekend of protests across Europe. Thousands of people gathered to voice their condemnation of the ongoing Israeli offensive in Gaza. However, many other Europeans, particularly in Germany, turned out to declare their support for Israel.

It was a weekend of protest in Europe, with people across the continent hitting the streets to give voice to their feelings about the ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip. But in addition to tens of thousands speaking out against Israel's offensive, there were also thousands who threw their support behind Israel.

Most of the demonstrations were peaceful and only a few of the marches ended in clashes with the police.

Over 3,000 people joined the protests in support of Israel in Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin. In Munich around 1,100 people gathered on Sunday for a demonstration against Hamas. The President of the Central Council of Jews Charlotte Knobloch addressed the crowd at Marienplatz in the city center. "Our enemies hate us more than they love their children," she said, adding: "We will not remain silent and cannot remain silent as we see how the Hamas terrorists fire missiles at Israeli children, women and old people."

The day before Munich had witnessed clashes between Palestinian protestors and a counter-demonstration of people carrying Israeli flags. The police had to keep the two groups apart.

Around 1,500 people attended a rally in Frankfurt to express solidarity with Israel on Sunday and Michel Friedman, former deputy chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told the crowd that if every country has the right to defend itself from attack then that right must also apply to Israel. "It will never again happen, that the Jewish people do not defend themselves." Friedman told the 100 counter-demonstrators who also turned out: "The flags of Hamas and Hezbollah stand for hate, murder and violence. Shame on you!"

Around 700 people attended the pro-Israel rally in Berlin, which was addressed by the head of the Jewish community in Berlin, Lala Süsskind.

On Saturday around 8,500 people turned out in the German capital for a protest against Israel's two-week military offensive. They gathered at Alexanderplatz in the heart of the city and marched to the city's central station. Hundreds of police officers were deployed along the route and several illegal Hamas flags were confiscated but there were no serious incidents of violence.

The biggest march was in Duisberg, where 10,000 people protested peacefully against the Israeli offensive in Gaza. The Islamic group Milli Görüs, which is under observation by Germany's domestic intelligence agency, had called for the march. In Mainz 5,000 people took to the streets to protest the war, while in Hanover around 3,000 marched through the city center.

In Spain hundreds of thousands turned out on Sunday to urge Israel to halt its campaign in Gaza, which was launched on Dec. 27 in a bid to stop Hamas from firing rockets into Israel. Madrid saw one of the biggest demonstrations in Europe with protestors filling downtown boulevards carrying banners saying "Peace" and "SOS Gaza." There were also large protests in Seville and Barcelona. Organizers claimed that 250,000 attended the various rallies in Spain; police declined to give a figure.

Effigies of Dead Babies

In Rome more than 1,000 people formed a human chain to march through the city while Italy's Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa, a member of the right-wing National Alliance, warned Muslims against holding provocative prayers in public squares. On Saturday thousands of Muslims knelt in prayer before Milan's central train station a week after Muslims had held prayers outside the city's cathedral, angering many right-wing politicians.

The death of children has become an enduring theme in the protests. In Brussels children carrying effigies of dead babies headed a march which later turned violent. In Athens dozens of children and their parents also carried effigies and photos of bloodied children.

In London on Saturday a crowd of 12,000 gathered in Hyde Park to protest Israel's actions and 15 people were arrested following clashes with the police guarding the Israeli Embassy.

On Sunday thousands of people gathered in central Trafalgar Square to support the Israeli operations, while protestors held a counter-demonstration nearby. "The basic, simple goal of the people of Israel is to be allowed to live in peace, without violence, without fear, and without terror," Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor told the crowds in the British capital. Meanwhile on Sunday, 11 leading British Jews published a letter in the Observer newspaper calling on the Israeli government to end its military operation in the Gaza Strip.

In Paris, where there had already been protests last weekend, demonstrators took the streets, many wearing Palestinian keffiyah scarves and chanting "We are all Palestinians. There were some clashes with police resulting in 12 injured officers and 180 arrests. According to the organizers, 100,000 demonstrators attended the rally against Israel's operation, although the police put the figure at 30,000. The French Interior Ministry said that 123,000 in total turned out for the marches in cities across the country, which has the largest Muslim population in the European Union.

smd -- with wire reports

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