200 march across Bedford calling for Gaza ceasefire

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Protesters calling for a Gaza ceasefire marched from Bedford Park to Castle Mound on 2 March 2024. Image: Tony Burke
Protesters calling for a Gaza ceasefire marched from Bedford Park to Castle Mound on 2 March 2024. Image: Tony Burke

Around 200 Bedfordians marched across Bedford this weekend (2 March) from Bedford Park to Castle Mound calling for an urgent ceasefire in Gaza.

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Various roads were closed while the march took place with protestors congregating at the foot of the Castle Mound on Bedford’s Embankment to hear from organisers and invited speakers.

Read: Drivers told to anticipate road closures ahead of Palestine peace march and rally

With International Women’s Day and Mothers’ Day this coming week organisers wanted the focus to reflect the impact of war on women and children, so all speakers were women.

Opening the speeches, Bedford Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) Chair, Rosie Newbigging said: “We must keep marching. We march in peace. This rally, our 7th in the last few months shows our humanity and peace.

“We are appalled at the rise in antisemitism. We are appalled at the rise in islamophobia. We are appalled at the hate speech of certain politicians.

“And we continued to be horrified and outraged by the UK government’s complicity in the genocide of the Palestinian people. Not in our name. It’s not those of us who call for peace who are extreme or a mob.

“We need to keep marching, don’t stop talking about Palestine. Keep making your voice heard”.

She also read a message from the National Education Union.

“We condemn the Israeli state’s campaign of collective punishment of the people of Gaza and call for an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of the Israeli army from the Gaza Strip and the urgent delivery of aid to the people of Gaza,” said the message.

Two mothers killed every hour

Bedford Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) Gaza ceasefire march 2 March 2024 Lara Philips (ne Weerasirie) speaking at Castle Mound. Image Tony Burke
Lara Philips (ne Weerasirie) speaking at Castle Mound. Image: Tony Burke

Speakers at the event came from various organisations and all walks of life.

Cathrine Ward, representing Upenyu Nerwamagwana, has just returned from South Africa and spoke of how important the anti-apartheid movement was in challenging injustice and how it related to challenging what is happening in Gaza.

Linda Jack, chair of Unite’s Health and Local Government Branch focused on the experience of women in Gaza. She spoke of how statistics show that two mothers in Gaza are killed every hour and many mothers refuse food, giving it to their children instead.

Cllr Lucy Bywater (Green/Castle) reminded us of how women bear a huge burden in times of violence, war and displacement and are more likely to bear the emotional and physical cost of caring for others – children, the sick, elderly relatives.

She also called for an end to the sale of weapons to Israel by our government, condemned IDF action against civilians and called for moral leadership at home.

Cllr Bywater ended by reminding us that this is about basic human rights and basic humanity which should have no borders. Quoting Virginia Woolf, Cllr Bywater said, “As a woman, my country is the whole world…”

Lara Philips (ne Weerasirie), a local businesswoman who led her school, Mark Rutherford, out in protest at the war in Iraq over 20 years ago, spoke emotionally of how she felt every time she looked at her children.

Lara said, “The last time I stood and spoke publicly was at the Stop the War protest for Iraq over 20 years ago.

“I really find it so difficult that in all the time that has passed, it is somehow still acceptable that one group of people in the world can be slaughtered in the most inhumane, barbaric, cruel, evil evil way, whilst other groups of people around the world can sit and turn their chair the other way.”

Calls for ceasefire

Dr Helen Connolly, Chair of Remembering Srebrenica, an expert in children, youth and forced migration highlighted the devastating circumstances for Palestinian children in Gaza where one child is killed every 15 mins and 10 children a day lose one or more limbs.

She highlighted the grave human rights violations children are being forced to endure as the main casualties of the atrocities.

In so doing she said, “In situations of mass atrocities, the vulnerability of children makes them an easy target. The killing and harms committed against them deliberately inflict mental harm on communities and families as they grieve and try to apprehend the cruelty of what their children are being forced to endure.”

Finally, Dalia El-Saleh, a Palestinian living in Bedford, spoke powerfully. “We will channel the power, resilience and love for our Palestinian brothers and sisters in Gaza because we want to see peace born of justice and we will keep filling the streets until that happens.

“We will not allow them to divide us. We will keep coming together, regardless of our ethnicity, our colour, our faith – we will keep calling for a ceasefire and we will keep calling ‘free Palestine” until Palestine is free.”

Bedford Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) Gaza ceasefire march 2 March 2024 Dalia El-Saleh speaking at Castle Mound. Image Tony Burke
Dalia El-Saleh speaking at Castle Mound. Image: Tony Burke