From London: How to Demonstrate Against Apartheid

By Matthew

On Saturday April 10th, around forty members of various pro-Palestinian organizations, including I.S.M and Palestine Solidarity Campaign, assembled with flags and banners outside the Israeli-owned cosmetics store, Ahava, in Covent Garden, in the third of a planned series of fortnightly demonstrations aimed at highlighting the shop’s selling of ‘beauty products’ made in the illegally occupied West Bank settlement, Mitzpe Shalem.

In light of the cloudless, blue sky that greeted us at the commencement (and for the duration) of our protest, it was clear that the weather-gods were with us (though the half-dozen Zionist Federation members protesting opposite us might well say it was for themselves that the sun was shining).

Over the course of the two hours we were there, pro-Palestinian activists sang songs, both condemning Israel’s illegal occupation on Gaza and the West Bank and highlighting Ahava’s profiteering from the situation (chanting “stolen goods from stolen land, Ahava products should be banned”). Though some passers-by seemed uninterested in the message we were trying to get across, others hooted their car horns in solidarity with us or stopped to say they supported the boycotting of Israeli goods.

At one point, about half way through the demonstration, a french guy, about my age, appeared at my side.

“Can I hand out some flyers with you?”.

“Yeah, definitely”, I replied, halving my batch with him.

As the demo went on, he told me he was a student in Paris, here on an exchange for the summer, that there was a great deal of support amongst the various pro-Palestinian groups there, and that up till now he had wanted to, but hadn’t yet gotten, involved. I told him that I, too, had for some time wanted to help and had only recently become active with I.S.M and P.S.C. (He stayed for both the Ahava protest and the demonstration that followed it and afterward said he would like to get more involved with both I.S.M and P.S.C).

Though there was a small police presence on the day there was no trouble between the Pro-Palestinian groups and the (vastly) outnumbered Zionist Federation (though one of their members occasionally stood beside us trying to disrupt our interaction with the public, at one point calling one pro-Palestinian activist ‘anti-semitic’, to which the man in question laughed, replying: “I’m Jewish”).

Towards the end of the protest, a member of one pro-Palestinian organization made a speech highlighting the disproportianately long sentences recently handed out (as a ‘deterrent’) to several of the (almost exclusively) young, muslim protesters arrested over last years demonstrations against the bombing of Gaza, and said that he had spoken personally with the judge who was ‘moved’ by the current demonstrations taking place outside Isleworth Crown Court and was taking them into serious consideration while judging current cases. With this the speaker encouraged both fellow activists and passing members of the public to show their support for the Gaza demonstrators by continuing to protest outside the court, at which point the large majority of us continued on to The Natural History Museum to support the ‘Jews for Justice for Palestine’-organized demonstration taking place there against the Veolia-sponsored ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year’ Exhibition (Veolia being a company that provides tramways and bus services in the occupied territories).

The next Ahava demonstration will take place on Saturday 24th April between 12pm and 2pm and the address is Ahava, 39 Monmouth Street, Covent Garden, WC2H 9DD. Hope to see you there.