Last Saturday the Palestinian resistance was brought to the shops and shoppers of Oxford Street by individuals from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, ISM, Che-Leila Youth Brigades, MPAC and other organisations. The aim of the day was to expose the reality of the Zionist state and those corporations that do trade with it.
From the beginning the police began to pester the organisers from the Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! Victory to the Intifada group, quoting various public disorder acts to try and prevent the demonstrations from going ahead. But no room was given to them and the protests went ahead. Marks and Spencer was targeted first of all because of its huge links to the Zionist state. It is the biggest British corporate sponsor of Israel, doing trade with the country to the tune of £230m on average each year, it is also a huge ideological sponsor of Israel.
As more people began to come along the picket got more lively and creative. An open loud-speaker was used by several individuals to inform those there about M&S’s links to Zionism. Theatre was employed to make the demonstration much more visual and interesting with a man dressed as a Palestinian kneeling at the feet of an Israeli soldier with a gun. The Israeli soldier was accompanied by protestors dressed as Bush and Blair holding rockets directed towards the Palestinian. Such visuals helped stop the public, encouraged them ask questions and inquire into what was going on.
The police, in a vain attempt to control the increasing crowd, decided to set up barricades to contain the demonstrators. But they refused to be contained and instead used the railings to attach placards and a huge cardboard wall with ‘Apartheid Wall – Made in Israel’ written on it. This brought in more interest from passing shoppers, many of whom where Arabic and visiting the country over Summer. It of course also brought the attention of the odd passing Zionist who couldn’t resist trying to aggravate the demonstrators. They were unsuccessful though in antagonising the well-informed and peaceful protestors.
With the demonstrators exceeding 50 it was decided to move next door to Selfridges. Selfridges last year was protested against because of its sale of goods from Israel, it reversed its decision – but only temporarily, so it was decided to demonstrate against them again. The whole front entrance of the store was covered by a line of demonstrators holding up placards with ‘Zionism is Racism’ ‘Free all Palestinian Prisoners’ ‘Israel=Apartheid’ amongst many others.
What was best to see was the effect that we were having amongst ordinary shoppers. Its true in this somewhat politically apathetic country that many couldn’t give a flying toss but a lot did stop to find out more and several who hadn’t seen the advertisements for the day joined on to boost numbers further. Chants were started too to make the demonstration as vocal and noisy as it was visual. By this time the police were getting increasingly concerned and began to threaten again arrests because of breaches of various public disorder acts. Again the demonstrators stood their ground and the police backed down. The front entrance of the store remained as good as blocked while the chants and theatre continued – including a symbolic stoning of Bush and Blair.
The demonstration then marched the length of Oxford Street down towards the M&S near Tottenham Court Road. It was led by the apartheid wall and a hooded Palestinian, gagged, blindfolded and pushed by the barrel of a Zionist gun. This in many respects was probably the most effective part of the day with the whole of Oxford Street, packed with shoppers, not failing to notice such a huge sight. The police though were onto where we were heading and had cordoned off just outside the targeted store. They had also set up some barriers on the other side of the street for us to go in and have our demonstration.
We refused their offer to be herded like sheep and decided that if we couldn’t get across the road in numbers we’d carry on marching up the road instead, cause the police a further headache and more importantly reach more people in the process. By now a group of passing young Muslim women had taken over the megaphone and had started passionate chants denouncing the brutality of Sharon, Bush and Blair. A passing McDonalds didn’t go unnoticed either with the Palestinian, two Zionist soldiers and two protestors with placards entering (not for Big Macs) to make a scene.
After this the march carried on and ended up near Tottenham Court Road tube station, nearly four hours after it had started. The demonstrators were tired from such a walk and such shouting in the sun but also even more elated and hyped up at being able to get out and let loose some of their anger at what has been going on.
It is essential to keep such events up, rather than just rely on the odd march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square that doesn’t threaten or target the financial backers of Israel. We live in Britain and we must make the links that this country has to Israel. Pickets of Marks and Spencer are continuing every week between 6 till 8pm on Thursdays outside the Oxford Street M&S (Marble Arch end). I encourage everyone to join these and help build them up. There will also be another full day protest in a month or two, keep watching this space for information.
Victory to the Intifada!