Friday, April 20, 2012

Policing Pro-Palestinian Protest

I wouldn't normally blog about work related stuff, but since this video has achieved mini-viral status I thought I'd let people know the story behind it.

After the Israeli air attacks on Gaza in December 2008 / January 2009 the people at my workplace all agreed that we should use our window on Fawcett Road to show our outrage - and our solidarity with the Palestinian people. In the grand scheme of things it's not exactly the greatest act of resistance, but no matter how small a gesture, it felt that we were at least doing something.

The window remained unchanged from the picture above until May 2010 when Israeli commandos boarded a flotilla of ships carrying aid to Palestine, gunning down nine activists in the process. At that point we added the words "ISRAEL = TERROR STATE" at the bottom of the window display. It wasn't long before we had a visit from the local Community Wardens - old bill wannabes - demanding to know when we planned on removing the protest as they feared it might be contentious. We explained, patiently and at great length, that this was a legitimate political comment, proven by recent Israeli actions. We assured them that it was in no way a comment on a particular faith and pointed out that a number of us had spent years actively fighting racism and fascism in the city. Not surprisingly we refused to remove either the flags or the words from the window.

By September we were visited by another police officer - the one in the video - who opened his "little chat" with the fantastic "I have to acknowledge that my knowledge of this is... quite limited"! Indeed. Perhaps this explains why he didn't feel like sticking around to debate the issue. His comment that they had received two complaints, "One from a Jewish woman, and one from a member of the public" was as absurd as it was, I believe, untrue. Can you be a Jewish woman and not a member of the public?

The whole sorry saga came to a head last year when two uniformed officers came to our door, threatening us with arrest unless we took down the 'offensive' material. They claimed that we were in contravention of section 4a of the 1986 Public Order Act - intentionally causing alarm, distress and harassment (racially aggravated). We shut the door in their face, saying that we would think about it. As the two officers stood outside talking about how they would "break the door down" (because, they said, "the offence is on the inside"), we contacted the local Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and got some legal advice. Eventually the case was referred to the Crown Prosecution Service who said that there was no case! According to the sergeant in charge of the 'investigation' they had received a complaint from a local (unnamed) councillor who objected to our window! The funniest part was that the sergeant seemed thoroughly pissed off that he was being played by a politician.

Nobody has ever knocked our door to complain about the window, though plenty of people have stopped to have their picture taken next to it. On one occasion a young man asked me to come outside and talk to his family about what had motivated us to demonstrate in such a way. He was origianlly from the West Bank, though had come to the UK to study in London. For the first time he had managed to get his family across to this country and they had, on a whim, driven to Portsmouth, just to see the sea. As we talked I looked at his mother, tears rolling down her face. In her seventies she had travelled thousands of miles from home and here, in the middle of wherever, was a flag proudly proclaiming solidarity with the Palestinians. It was an immensely moving experience.

It says a lot that, despite support from successive American administrations, the wider international community and the right wing media, Zionists feel so threatened by a single protest in a single window in sleepy Portsmouth. To this day we still get the occasional visit from the police trying to throw their weight around. But the protest remains. FREE PALESTINE!