Pro-Palestinian 'river to the sea' protest on Big Ben condemned but ministers won’t intervene

A “deeply offensive” message was projected onto Parliament during a pro-Palestinian rally but ministers will not “impinge on operational decisions” by the police to stop such protests, the Home Secretary insisted on Friday.

Activists beamed the phrase “from the river to the sea” onto the Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben on Wednesday night as a vote on calling for a Gaza ceasefire in the Commons descended into chaos.

Tory MP Andrew Percy said the slogan was a “genocidal call” and a “message that says no Jew is welcome in the state of Israel or in that land”.

Scotland Yard said officers could not act because it was “not a criminal offence”, which sparked anger from Jewish leaders.

Home Secretary James Cleverly told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s very difficult for me to second-guess the operational nature of this.

“I don’t know where those images were projected from. I don’t know how easy it would have been for the police officers to get there.

“But the fact is they are deeply, deeply offensive words... The implication is the eradication of the state of Israel.

“And both personally and as a Government, we completely reject that.”

The editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Jake Wallis Simons posted on X: “‘From the river to the sea’ has only one meaning. We all know what it is.

“If you're comfortable with the October 7 atrocities, you'll find that you're comfortable with the slogan. If you're not, then stand up and say so.”

The phrase is often heard at Pro-Palestine marches and spotted written across signs at protests demanding an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

The Met Police said the display did not break any law.

In a statement, the force said: ‘"This is a chant that has been frequently heard at pro-Palestinian demonstrations for many years and we are very aware of the strength of feeling in relation to it.

Messages were projected onto Big Ben during a protest on Wednesday (AFP via Getty Images)
Messages were projected onto Big Ben during a protest on Wednesday (AFP via Getty Images)

“While there are scenarios where chanting or using these words could be unlawful depending on the specific location or context, its use in a wider public protest setting, such as last night, is not a criminal offence."

Other messages projected on the side of the building included “stop bombs” and “stop bombing Gaza - ceasefire now”.