activist’s arm broken as police clamp down on gaza protest

by David Broder

Our readers will forgive us for another report on the daily protests at the Israeli embassy in response to the war on Gaza. Although the numbers at the 9th January protest were less than on previous days due to a simultaneous demo at the embassy of Egypt, whose government actively participates in the the blockade of Gaza, the protest was remarkable for the arrest of one activist and the aggression of the police, leading to another protestor’s arm being badly broken.

Below are several photos of the demo and a brief summary of the course of events.

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Numbers were slightly down on previous days: rather than being allocated a pen we were hemmed in on the pavement opposite the Israeli embassy on Kensington High Street.

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As “Critical Mass” cycled past, several of us ran out into the road to join the cyclists’ protest near the embassy gates.

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Critical Mass went back and forth, drawing cheers from the crowd.

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The police roughly pushed and shoved activists to get us back onto the pavement.

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They then thought that we were contained, stuck as we were behind a line of police standing close to one another.

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But it wasn’t too difficult to get round the end of the police ranks as Critical Mass returned…

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… one activist was arrested for “obstructing the highway”. He was freed four hours later.

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One of the people who had tried to help him had her arm sharply pulled behind her back by the police, causing a nasty break. This was a shockingly violent act by the police, coming as it did in cold blood after the arrest  (for a very minor infringement of the law) was already over. Shamefully, the protests’ self-appointed organisers, using a megaphone, condemned our “violence” and said we were not part of their demonstration.

Demonstrations at the embassy continue tomorrow with the mass rally starting at noon in London’s Hyde Park.

One thought on “activist’s arm broken as police clamp down on gaza protest

  1. I received this. Please circulate….
    ———————

    Yesterday, along with tens of thousands of British people, I joined a march to protest against the oppression on Palestinians and the mass murder in Gaza by Israeli forces.

    The Palestine Solidarity Committee had made it clear on its website that it was calling for a “peaceful, lawful demonstration, and we ask all demonstrators to avoid any actions that may result in their arrest.”

    Thus, despite the bitter cold, my companions and I joshed a bit as we listened to the speeches and waited for the thousands ahead of us to leave and took our place in the long wide mass of people. Along the way, there was the usual calling out of slogans, the singing of protest songs from the men, women and children on the march.

    We stopped once or twice to drink coffee from our flasks and found ourselves having to pay a visit to a public toilet just past the Russian embassy. All along the way, being towards the back of the march, we had been aware of the huge police presence, not only alongside, but behind the march.

    We are all middle-aged people, one of us walked with a stick due to infirmity. My husband and I were born in South Africa and came to the UK fleeing apartheid South Africa 22 years ago. The others in our group were all British working class people, old hands at marches and protests. Nonetheless, age, having children and ailing parents, jobs and houses have, amongst other things made us far more conservative and eager to steer clear of trouble with the police than we might have been in our youth and even then, none of us would have been brave enough to behave anything but lawfully in such circumstances, because we are all conscious that police in the UK, as then in SA, need little “provocation” to launch an assault on demonstrators.

    Imagine our horror as we emerged from the toilets to find that a line of policemen and women in riot gear had formed a line across the back of the march, cutting off stragglers like us who’d stopped off for a pee. One man, not from our group, turned back from the tail end of the march to call to friends behind the first line of police, somewhere amongst the mass of police vehicles now shutting off the road. As he turned, the police charged, several abreast and literally ran him down and trampled over him. We quickly helped him to his feet before the second line could trample him and got him to the pavement.

    Two of our companions were veterans of marches in the UK in the eighties, when the police went up against strikers and their supporters, but my woman friend had never seen British police behave like this Although she’s been on several anti-war and other marches, she was always shielded in the middle. She was in shock, so we slunk along the pavement and got ourselves in amongst the marchers again.

    Periodically, several policemen would force their way through the crowd, unheeding of children, some in prams, of old people and others who, despite any infirmities, could not stand by and not protest the murder in Gaza. Behind us the wailing of sirens served to further heighten the sense of anxiety in the crowd. Marshals called for calm. As we approached the Israeli embassy, the crowd was halted because we could not proceed further. We could not see what the cause of the hold up was, but marshals went through the crowd, asking people to proceed peacefully past the actual street that the embassy was in, because police had blocked it off totally and directing people with kids down the side streets and off the march. It was getting dark and bitterly cold, so many people, mainly people with children tried to obey the marshals

    However, the side streets were by now blocked by police and crash barriers and the pavements lined with them. People then started to leave the march the only way they could, by going back through the crowd, the way we’d come, unaware of the police lining up behind us, cutting them off. Once they saw this, they turned again facing back in our original direction, heading past the embassy. By now police were periodically charging the back of the march and running through it, shoving people aside, regardless of whether they were old or young or infirm. This caused panic amongst the crowd. We could not see what was happening at the front, the police were preventing us from obeying the marshals or from leaving the march, having achieved our objective of protesting as close to the embassy as we could get.

    When we got to the corner of the street the embassy is in, a sea of police was blocking our way, so we did as we were told, simply moved forward to get past the street and disperse.

    This, however, proved impossible, because the police had cut up the march with crash barriers across the street we were marching down. They then cleared space between the two sections of the march and erected crash barriers and formed lines of police between the two sections. In the dark, cold and confusion, I had lost my husband and two of our companions, but clung to my friend, who was getting really worried, especially since my husband had been struck in the face as the crowd tried to get back the way we’d come. The two of us managed to get to the far side of the march, thinking that we would find the others there. However, once on the other side, forbidden by police to go back, we found that police were periodically rushing at the crowd on our side, forcing people to run down side streets and then systematically blocking off those streets.

    One woman who lives one of those streets had, on her way home, got run down by police and was walking around, dazed and confused, looking for home. A teenager from Bristol had lost his companions and didn’t know how to get to Victoria station and home. We helped these people to where they needed to be, all the time trying to reach my husband by phone so we could all go home.

    My husband had, by now, been corralled with hundreds of others, in a section of the march totally isolated from the rest, surrounded by police and barriers. The police were not allowing them to move anywhere, apparently on the grounds that they were the hard core stirrers – two men in their fifties, one walking with stick and another man in his forties? And others like them? All unarmed, just trying to get home? After waiting for some time, constantly phoning him, he told us to go home out of the cold and call from there.

    Here is his account of what happened while he and our two male friends were held for hours in the bitter cold with hundreds of other lawful peaceful protestors, like cattle in a pen and then treated like criminals:

    “The oldest member of the group was cut off from the rest of us completely and could not be reached or found, despite frantic searching by the other two. This member, who did not have a phone, could not be contacted and had to make his way home to Brighton. We did not know whether he managed to get out of the crowd safely and whether he eventually made it home to Brighton.

    That left two of us together in the crowd. At this point it became clear that the police had corralled us into the space outside the embassy, blocking us off in all directions. At the front they had a phalanx of riot police on foot and behind these they assembled an extremely menacing row of police on horseback. The mounted police got into formation and readied their horse as if to attack the crowd.

    We were also hemmed in by police on either side of us, so we could not move to the side, and a row of police formed behind us, preventing us from retreating from the mounted police who were facing us. Then the police told the marshals to move the crowd forward. We were in the thick of the crowd and thought that the mounted police would give way. However they stood their ground. At the same time, from behind us, the police on foot were advancing towards us. It felt like they were going to force us into the path of the mounted police.

    This spread panic in the crowd, some of whom were moving forward and some back. We tried to remain to the side, thinking that that was the best position to avoid the inevitable crush. All the time it felt that we were being squeezed into a smaller space. It seems that we were saved from an attack by the mounted police because a group of marshalls and others who were wearing garments proclaiming peace sat down in front of the police. By this time I saw some barriers ahead of them and the police on foot were between them and the mounted police. However, chaos and confusion continued in the crowd. We were being asked to move forward all the time. But of course we were moving into a dead end created by the police.

    We were kept in this pen for more than four hours. During that time we had no clear guidance from the police about why we were being held. Nobody was allowed to leave toward the sides or towards the back. The police steadfastly refused any exit in these directions. One policeman explained that we were being held for our own safety – until the crowd ahead of us had dispersed. But all we could see was the impregnable barriers of police on every side while the area ahead of us, to the extent that we could see beyond the mounted police, had already been clear for a long time.

    We waited, becoming more tired, hungry, confused and cold, shouting slogans to keep our spirits up. But it was a great worry that we were effectively trapped outside in the cold without access to food, drink, rest, warmth or even the toilet. Someone I met in the crowd was forced to urinate almost next to police. Still, he wasn’t allowed to move or leave.

    During the time we were being held, we tried to ascertain why the police were detaining us. We were given no information about the cause for this massive, dangerous and frustrating hold-up. All that we could hear was a very indistinct automated message, broadcast intermittently from a police vehicle. Despite our best efforts, the only words we could discern were ‘public order’, ‘detention’ and ‘patience’. We were forced to conclude that this was a tactic on the part of the police to frighten, provoke and intimidate a crowd of some hundreds who were actually protesting peacefully.

    At some stage during our four hour wait, we realized that the crowd was becoming smaller. The police were still squeezing up from behind, but the crush was not becoming worse, so it was logical to deduce that people were being released very slowly. However, when caught in a crowd of that kind, in which it isn’t possible to easily make one’s way to the front to investigate, we could only assume that the police were allowing people to leave very slowly.

    As the crowd continued to become smaller, we reached the front and could then see that the police were allowing the protesters out one by one. A demonstrator next to me then saw that as people were being released, some were being led away by police as if being arrested. Now it seemed to us that this could happen to us as well. One by one the police allowed us through a narrow gap in the barrier. Then it became clear what they were doing.

    I was asked to step aside, was body searched and had to open my bag for inspection. Then I was led away to face a very bright, almost blinding light, asked by the policeman there to state my name, address and date of birth while I was photographed in this light. I asked the reason and none was forthcoming. I simply had to do what I was told.

    Then I was frogmarched off to the side by two policemen who again body-searched me, this time very thoroughly. They did have some words with me – simply to tell me that because there had been some damage to shop windows on the demonstration, they were checking to see that I was not one of the responsible parties. My scarf and gloves had to be removed. All my pockets were inspected and my jacket and jumper had to be opened again to show I was concealing nothing. My purse was examined, my digital camera bag was opened and examined and then my bag was reopened and searched yet again.

    All this was done in semi-darkness outside what I think was a shop or restaurant. At one stage I kept my arms in the air to show that I was allowing them to search me thoroughly, once and for all. But this they found unacceptable, telling me that I could only keep my arms up when they told me to do this. Because I was led off to the side in this way, and I think the two other people I knew had been led off in a similar way, each of us was totally isolated. The police spirited me and each one they searched, I think it was everybody, into the semi-darkness, away from anyone else.

    By the time they had finished with me, I had no idea what had happened to my remaining friend who had been with me throughout. The police released me so that I could continue along the very dark and isolated road, only filled by stationery and speeding police vehicles, away from the embassy. I had no idea where I was or where I was headed to. I did not see my friend and had no idea what had happened to him. I continued along, cold, tired hungry, frustrated and very angry.

    The police tactics were now clear. It was a campaign to isolate the group, to collectively punish and harass them with deprivation of rest, food and access to toilet facilities, and then finally to isolate, search and harass each individual as that individual was supposedly released.

    On the pretext of looking for people who could be suspects for public order offences, they could treat a whole crowd who had been corralled and harassed as if they were all criminals subject to arbitrary and temporary arrest. They had violated the personal privacy of each individual they had allowed through the barrier.

    Into the bargain they had collected a vast database of names, addresses, and photographs, all of which could be stored and treated as if they belonged to criminals. None of the police offered any information about what they would do with the information after we had been eliminated from whatever enquiries they were conducting. And I was left with the uncomfortable feeling that they could come to knock on my door at any time, including in the middle of the night, on the pretext that they could match the information they had taken from me with some other information they had collected about misdemeanours on the march. If this had happened, or if it is likely to happen, I will have to prove, as others have done, that this is a case of mistaken identity. I was on the march to engage in peaceful protest, and this is what I did and what everyone else with me did as well.”

    My friend and I watched from doorways as the police chased youngsters down side-streets, trying to corner them and drive them further and further from the main body of the march. Not only was this provocative, in that the youngsters would have dispersed once away from the embassy and main march, but it was totally irresponsible policing because people who had nothing to do with the march, including residents, were also harassed and intimidated, and in at least one case injured, by the police.

    I got home at 9pm and called my husband repeatedly as did my daughter and friend. Finally, my husband said they were being released, one at a time, after being searched, bags and body, photographed and warned.

    As black South Africans, we had seen appalling police behaviour both in SA and on the picket line outside the embassy in London. Yesterday we once again encountered police presence and behaviour which was unnecessarily massive and threatening, calculated to provoke some of the more hotheaded youngsters amongst the demonstrators, to rebel. These youngsters would, however, have remained calm and simply walked past the embassy with the rest of us, cat-calling at the Israelis, if left to the marshals to control, but were stirred up by the police constantly charging at the crowd and harassing people.

    ————————

    As a postscript to this experience: The events on the march were disturbing enough for most of the people on the march, who were British citizens, as were our friends – not immigrants or exiles or their children, as we are.

    However, the treatment of my husband and those caught up with him in the police blockade has far-reaching implications, especially if they are Muslims, or of Muslim ancestry, or have Muslim sounding names, or “look Muslim” (whatever that means).

    With the USA freely kidnapping people from around the world and imprisoning them unlawfully and torturing them, with the connivance of the UK, with the suspicious attitude of airport security to people with Muslim names, appearance and background and all sorts of monitoring of the lives of Muslims, the fact that we are British citizens these days, offer no protection from suspicion, abuse and worse.

    Already in the early days of the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, we felt this. My husband took me on a romantic birthday weekend in Bruges a few years ago. We travelled my Eurostar. Being “old hippies” as our daughter calls us, we were carrying backpacks as our weekend luggage. We got separated at immigration at Waterloo and my husband (a beard and a backpack!) was pulled out of the queue. When I caught up with him (clearly not “one of them” i.e. Muslims, in my jeans and skimpy top), he was let go in a very light-hearted way. I then demanded why he’d been pulled aside at all and was told they were checking for drugs. Then the official searched through the bag as if just going through the motions. It seems that when they saw that he wasn’t that most dangerous of men, a single bearded man with a Muslim name carrying a backpack, they lost interest.

    Soon after, our daughter went on a school trip to New York. They flight was kept in the air for several hours due to a heavy snowfall. When they landed, the group, including teachers, cleared customs and immigration. A head count before they boarded the bus to their hotel revealed that three boys, all with Muslim names, had vanished. One of the teachers demanded to be allowed back into the airport, to find her three frightened charges being held for questioning by American police. They were just sixteen year olds, clearly out on a school trip, yet the Americans didn’t have the decency to even advise the teachers caring for them that they were questioning them. They could just have been left at the airport to find their way around a strange city on their own if released, or vanished into Guatanamo Bay, and nobody would have known where they were.

    So, in future, every time we travel, which we do at least twice a year, my husband will no doubt face stringent checks at airports – not just a bearded man with a Muslim name carrying a backpack, but one who has been photographed, questioned and searched on a demonstration in London against the oppression and murder of Palestinians.

    Shereen Pandit

    London

    11th January, 2009

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