“If you don’t move, we’ll move you!”
The line of fluorescent yellow police officers pushed. A sea of bodies wavered, toppled, then crashed on the Kensington street.
“Angela!!!” I was holding on to the tripod. The camera and cameraman had long since vanished to another part of the steadily advancing police line. I grabbed Angela’s red-coated arm…she was slipping away into the maw of the Metropolitan Police. The police kept pushing. The protesters behind me were standing firm. Resisting. Sky News reporter Angela Corpe was folding in half as the police line forced forward. She was being trampled. I was being crushed. Anchoring myself to the tripod, I lifted her up with the aid of a man sporting a keffiyeh. We became entangled in a microphone cable as the pushing resumed. Somehow I managed to grab her handbag and the kit bag in the melee. Dragged her, the tripod, and the bags. More pushing. More forcing. More resisting. The protesters were screaming “shame on you” at the police.
“Move! Move!” screamed back the bellicose plods.
“I bloody well would if I had somewhere to move to,” was our response.
A pain to my head. Another to my leg. Coshed by our own tripod and kicked by who knows. Angela limps.
“You ok? Let’s get you out of here.”
We wind our way to the pavement near a hotel entrance. Gordon, our cameraman, finds us. He had his own story to tell. Squeezed between protesters and police. We start folding the tripod down. Tidying cables. Angela has lost her comms kit, the device that lets her communicate with the main control room in the newsroom for her live reports.
The phone rings. “Can we have you live at five minutes past five?” In twenty minutes.
“Er…yeah. It’s kicked off a bit here. Let us sort ourselves out ok?”
“Why don’t you fuck off and move?” yells a police officer. We make note of his ID number. He greets us with the politeness his colleagues gave us moments before.
Nearly 2,000 protesters calling for Israel to stop the aerial attacks on the Gaza Strip gathered at the gates of London’s Israeli Embassy on Kensington High Street. The day started off serenely, with around 150 people bearing banners, placards and a megaphone behind flimsy crash barriers. Sometime in the afternoon, the numbers swelled. The “big names” turned up…a Palestinian ambassador here, a fiery Member of Parliament there. The Neturei Karta, Orthodox Jews against Zionism, rocked up to show their support to a round of applause and the flash of cameras.
Then two men approached the gates of the road leading up to the Israeli Embassy and threw their shoes. A protest inspired, we think, by an Iraqi journalist and George W Bush. The first man was bundled off by the police. The second man made more a fuss and was floored by half a dozen officers. The swelling crowd over the road who were struggling to keep behind the barriers streamed forward…aghast…agape…angry. They quickly overwhelmed the meager police presence and occupied one of London’s busiest shopping roads on a weekend afternoon.
Muslims laid out prayer mats, families chanted slogans in English and Arabic. The demonstration, called a mere 24 hours before by groups from Stop the War to the Friends of Al Aqsa, was in full flow. Community leaders, MPs, former MPs, activists…all took turns on a megaphone stood atop street furniture near the embassy gates. Nobody could hear them but they served to keep the energy going.
They were calling for a cessation of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza – the ones that have killed nearly 300 people, injured more than double that. The ones that have sent Gaza’s hospitals into meltdown as they are running out of room to treat the hurt, store the dead. The ones that have sent a population where half rely on humanitarian aid to the unknown wastes of homelessness. They were joining voices from Iran to Lebanon to Turkey in proclaiming their anger at what’s often called “the situation”.
As I write, Hamas have just reported that Israeli aeroplanes have bombed the Islamic University in Gaza City. The airstrikes continue and through the miracle of modern technology, you can watch it live. I remember my one and only trip to the IUG. It was an oasis of a campus where you could amble along the promenade surrounded by students buzzing with the learning and the gossip of university life. The buildings were either whitewashed or a pinky stone that shone well in the Mediterranean sun. It was nice. And you could forget you were in the middle of Gaza City for a while.
“As long as Hamas controls Gaza, there is no hope for peace or the creation of a Palestinian state,” Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said. “We are determined, this is not a one day operation.” She agreed that the idea behind the initial attacks were a form of “shock and awe”. She maintains that they were pushed into these attacks due to the “constant bombardment” of Israeli targets by Gazan militants firing rockets into Israel’s heartland. And that they have allowed aid to enter…will allow aid to enter. Slowly. Hurt then heal. Bomb then balm.
Israel has called up some 6500 reservists. They are massing ground troops along the Gazan border. Its government says that they are not ruling out a ground incursion.
In an article by the Guardian’s Peter Beaumont he says that Israel has “supplied a rallying point”. That Gaza is something that can now be ranked with Deir Yassin. With Sabra and Shatila. A tangible massacre as opposed to the slow strangling of the world’s largest open air prison.
Angela Corpe’s comms kit, it transpires, is currently held at Kensington police station. At least ten people were arrested at the London demonstration. Countless others are massaging their injuries as the police camp out outside the Israeli Embassy for the night in readiness for another demonstration called for the next day. Israel holds all the cards. We are again watching which one they play.
This article was first published on The Comment Factory on 29 December 2008. All rights reserved.