shooting the Gaza protests in London




At the end of 2008, Israel launched a major military operation in Gaza, in response to rockets fired from the enclave by Palestinian militants. London is a long way from Palestine, but there is a large Islamic community here who are strong supporters of the Palestinian cause, and also a fair number of British anti-war campaigners like veteran  politician Tony Benn. This led to a series of protests in London in support of the beleaguered people of Gaza, culminating in a mass march on January 10th 2009, from Hyde Park to the Israeli embassy in Kensington. This presented a great opportunity for documentary photography. I followed two of the protests to record events which in the end involved tens of thousands of people. I was not really interested in the protest politically. I can't help but see a link between the London bombings in 2005, and the rocket attacks on Israel, and feel some empathy with the Israelis. My position on the conflict was and remains neutral.

two faces

I carried two cameras, a Canon 5D with 70-200 f2.8, and a Canon 20D with 17-40 f4. The kit made me look like one of the many pro shooters following the march, which turned out to be a good thing. There are really three groups of people at an event like this - the protesters, the police, and the media. The police more or less ignore the media people, they don't try to keep them within the ropes and railings that confine the protesters. The protesters of course resent the police, but not the media, who they need to publicise their cause. In fact the whole thing would be fairly pointless for the protesters without the press attention. So the photographer ( whether he is a pro or just looks like one ) is in a strong position. I spotted one photographer working with the crowd, organising a small group of nice-looking girls, getting them into the right light, making them shout and gesture to get the shot he wanted. In a few minutes he had the money shot and was off, a easy morning's work. That's the mark of a true pro I suppose.

The shot below, protesters, shows a group of people united under their banners, the central figure raising a clenched fist which is blurred by its motion. It might serve as a propaganda shot for their cause. I took it standing on a wall overlooking the march, with a clear view of thousands of faces as they passed by, and a long lens to pick out the areas of interest.



I think the flag might be especially important to the Palestinians in Gaza, a people who don't have much territory or power to take pride in. In the image below from Trafalgar Square, 'I still have a flag', a man has one draped over his back and another in his hand. He seems to be reflecting on the Palestinians' plight, and the feel of the shot contrasts with protesters. Of course he might have been shouting his head off a few seconds later but I chose to capture a moment of relative calm.

'I still have a flag'

Outside the Israeli embassy on the 10th January, things, as they say, turned ugly. I felt sympathy for the small number of police guarding the gate, who had to keep off a baying crowd throwing missiles. Also pity the photographers. We are trying to compose shots with the police running about swinging their batons, and the irresistible crowd heaving us forward and then back. Actually there were very few photographers there, perhaps because the violence at the embassy was quite unexpected, perhaps because they had more sense than I did. I only noticed a man with a hand-held TV camera who seemed calm and focused in the middle of the fighting, occasionally rebuking the police officers for over-reacting. And spare a thought for the media people working around the world in much more dangerous places than London. for photography