Iranian demonstrators burn an Israeli and British flag – AP - August  17, 2012.
Iranian demonstrators burn an Israeli and British flag during a an annual pro-Palestinian rally marking Quds (Jerusalem) Day, Tehran, Iran, August 17, 2012. Photo by AP
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Five hundred people (my count, the organizers claimed five thousand) gathered in central London this Friday afternoon for the annual Al-Quds day demonstration, calling literally for the destruction of Israel. But despite the Palestinian flags and the placards bearing graphic pictures of dead Palestinian children, it was no ordinary pro-Palestinian march, of which there are many in London.

For a start, the shouting was not against the ”occupation,” as it normally is at such events, which can be interpreted as regarding just the West Bank and Gaza. Here the calls were much more explicit - ”Borders back to ’48 - No such thing as a Zionist state,” a chirpy young man with a wireless microphone lead the chanting. Another rhyming slogan ended with the refrain “enjoy your last few days.”

Neither was the demonstration affiliated with any Palestinian organization. Instead, there were dozens of yellow-and-green flags of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, placards with the slogan ”We Are All Hezbollah” and pictures of Hassan Nasrallah, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his predecessor the Ayatollah Khomeini (who founded Al-Quds Day).

It was so clear that the event was Iranian-inspired that the frantic efforts of the stewards to dissuade an elderly woman in a black Shia full-body covering, from marching with the flag or Iran were almost comical. ”No we are not ashamed or Iran,” one of the stewards tried to explain to her,” don't you see all the pictures of Khomeini?” What he couldn't explain to her was that the organizers, the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), are anxious to hold on to their status as an independent non-profit organization so they are careful to evade any appearance of official connections to Tehran.

Besides the Hezbollah flags and banners, there was no mention of Palestinian organizations such as Hamas or Fatah, or involvement of other English pro-Palestinian groups such as the Palestine Solidarity Committee. At first I was surprised at Hamas’ absence and wondered whether it had any connection with the dispute between Hamas and Iran over the Syrian situation and the closure of the Palestinian movement’s offices in Damascus. An invisible hand had stuck the words ”Hamas” on one of the Hezbollah banners but these were quickly ripped off. I tried to ask some of the organizers but the question seemed to irritate them, stewards menacingly asked me for identification and demanded I leave the march. When I stayed, an Iranian-accented man tried to push me away, ordering one of the IHRC camera-men to take pictures of me.

Later, I checked online footage from previous Quds Day marches in London and could not see any sign of Hamas or other Palestinian movements then either. It seems that this is the annual opportunity for Iran’s supporters to assert themselves and that is why Hezbollah, Tehran’s long-arm, is the only organization with flags on the march.

Another example of how IHRC reflects Iran agenda is the selectiveness of its campaigns. They don’t mention the bloody suppression of Syria’s revolution by Iran’s ally Bashar Assad, though there was an elderly woman, marching with a Hezbollah placard, while giving out leaflets of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) who wore an improvised T-shirt with the words “Syria is best friend of Palestinians.” The only Arab revolution they do champion is that of Shi'ites in Bahrain – many of the demonstrators on Friday had badges with Bahraini flags and the IHRC have hired advertising on buses in London supporting the “Bahraini Struggle,” one of the efforts by Iran to undermine the Sunni Gulf states.

The Syrian revolution along with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has to a large degree pushed Iran out of the mainstream of the Palestinian struggle. Tehran is now competing with al-Qaida for patronage of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, most Hamas leaders prefer Cairo nowadays. But Iran’s Qods Day in London and around the world proves that they are determined to continue using the cause as part of their efforts to dominate Muslim discourse.