By Carl Bruce
On Saturday 12 February, boycott campaigners staged a Valentine’s Day picket outside Ahava. Shop staff quickly called the police and displayed a closed sign thus even further discouraging custom during the time we were there.
Many people were attracted to our brightly coloured broken heart-shaped signs that read “Ahava: Stop Breaking Palestinian Hearts”, “Settlements are Heartless”, “Apartheid is Heartless” and “Occupation is Heartless”.
The picket not just attracted attention to the boycott of plundered goods that Ahava sells and the crimes that are being perpetrated continuously upon Palestinians by the Israeli government, but also our presence recalled the murder of Jawaher Abu Rahmah of the Palestinian village of Bil’in by the Israeli army of occupation who died on 31 December after succumbing to fatal injuries after inhaling tear gas, fired by the Israeli military during one of the village’s weekly protests against the apartheid wall and Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.
Jawaher was the sister of Bassem Abu Rahmah, also killed in Bil’in in 2009 when an American-made, high velocity tear gas projectile was fired directly at his chest by an Israeli soldier.
The Israeli army is notorious for attacking non-violent protestors with weapons such as different types of tear gas, sound grenades and skunk water, as well as using rubber bullets and live ammunition. Many of these deadly weapons of oppression are manufactured by American companies such as Combined Systems Incorporated (CSI), who made the tear gas that killed Jawaher and Defense Technology, which is owned by BAE Systems here in the UK. Both are major providers of tear gas to the Israeli government.
CODEPINK, an American peace organisation has created a petition with so far around 4,500 signatures that will be forwarded to CSI and our colleagues at Adalah-NY in America have generated over 1,000 e-mail messages to CSI senior executives and the US State Department. You can become part of this campaign by taking a few minutes of your time by adding your name to the petition. You can find the petition here.
As someone who has been to Bil’in on several occasions, I can myself testify to the criminally wanton use of tear gas by the Israeli military. Once after a weekly demonstration as we were peacefully walking back to the village, Israeli soldiers, who could clearly see us, fired volleys of tear gas both in front and behind our small group, forcing us to either stay where we were or run through the toxic cloud. Either way, we were exposed to the compound that causes excessive tearing, disorientation, breathing difficulties and pain.
A makeshift memorial was created directly in front of the Ahava shop that included Palestinian flags, signs, hearts and information about what happened to Jawaher. This attracted interest and many people stopped to read what was written and expressed sympathy. The public were overwhelmingly supportive, said that would tell others about the boycott campaign and expressed disgust at Israel’s actions.
The police presence on Monmouth Street consisted of one constable who arrived on a pedal bike. Another turned up, but left only after a few minutes.
The only negative feedback came from a driver of one of London’s black cabs who was carrying passengers. The cabbie stopped his vehicle, rolled down the window and asked one campaigner where exactly Palestine is. When the campaigner replied “Palestine was where the state of Israel is now”, the cabbie called the campaigner a “f***ing anti-Semite”. However, when the campaigner said that he himself was Jewish, the cabbie said that he was “f***ing doing Hitler’s work” and sped off just as the police constable approached to see what was going on. What Zionists would call those who question the illegality of Israel’s actions if either Hitler or the Nazis didn’t exist is beyond me.
It was a day not only where we raised awareness of the international boycott campaign against Ahava, but brought attention to the criminal acts carried out by the Israeli government by honouring one of its many victims.
After the picket was over we headed to the Egypt solidarity rally in nearby Trafalgar Square to celebrate the recent ouster of the Egyptian dictator Mubarak brought upon by a mass uprising. More coverage here.