Posts Tagged ‘M&S’

Armistice Day Protests 2006

Saturday, November 11th, 2023

Armistice Day Protests – Today I hope to be photographing a huge protest calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and peace in the Middle East as it makes its way from Hyde Park to the US Embassy. It’s an event some Tory politicians have tried to arouse controversy around, aided by some of the media in their lies. Armistice Day has always been an occasion for protests for peace and making it out as some huge national celebration we all share in is untrue as this post shows.

Armistice Day Protests

Both the BBC and the Tories seized on the fact that some people at a protest in London shouted ‘Jihad!’ but lie in saying it was an offshoot from the huge march taking place in London calling for peace and justice for Palestine.

It’s a lie that the BBC continues to let them promulgate without question, although their journalists must surely know that this was at an entirely separate protest organised by Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain, an Islamic fundamentalist political organisation dedicated to the establishment of an Islamic caliphate, whose lead banner at their protest read “Muslim Armies! Rescue the People of Palestine!”.

Armistice Day Protests

I’ve photographed many protests by Hizb ut-Tahrir in London since I first came across them in 2004 and they are very different and entirley separate from those organised by mainstream Muslim organisations, Stop The War, CND and the others now leading the protests by hundreds of thousands across the country calling for an end to the killing of civilians – whether Palestinian or Israelis – in Palestine and Israel. Most are particularly enraged by the killing of so many children in Gaza by air strikes which Israel claims are targeted, but are targeted on places where many people live and so die in them.

I think most of us who march – and the many more who support the marches but are unable to attend – want peace and the justice that can only come if there is a thriving country where Palestinians can live normal lives in peace and not under military rule and an apartheid regime.

Armistice Day Protests

Probably that can only come about with a two-state solution and a massive world aid programme to restore the incredible damage in Gaza as well as establishing rational borders for Palestine with the removal of many of the illegal settlements.

I grew up in a largely working class area on the outskirts of London in the 1950s, and then I think it was true that virtually the whole of the country paused to celebrate and commemorate the armistice, joining in with the minute’s silence in schools, shops, works and offices and traffic on the roads coming to a halt.

Armistice Day Protests

But even then relatively few joined in the military style parades on Remembrance Sunday, with most of my friend’s parents who had fought in WW2 having had more than enough of that kind of thing. My attendance was compulsory as a Wolf Cub and Boy Scout but I resented it and my freezing legs as cold November winds blew up my shorts – and the derision from friends who weren’t members. And by the time I was a Senior Scout we collectively refused to take part.

The idea that Armistice Day is not a suitable day for a peaceful protest calling for an end to the fighting and peace in the Middle East seems to me to be beyond absurd – yet again is taken seriously and promoted by the BBC. Armistice Day has I think always seen protests for peace – and November 11th 2006 was no exception.

On that day I began on Park Lane, where there was a brief ceremony in front of the sculpture commemorating animals who died in war in the central area there at 11 am. There were only a small group there, wearing poppies they described as purple, though to me they seemed more lilac or mauve. In 2018, the Peace Pledge Union sold 122,385 white poppies: more than any year since white poppies were first worn in 1933, and many keep their white poppies to wear in following years, as unlike the red poppies their sale is not intended to raise funds but they are simply worn as a symbol of remembrance and peace.

I moved on to Grosvenor Square and the US Embassy where School Students Against The War had scheduled a ‘die-in’. Unfortunately only around 20 had turned up for it – probably now many work on Saturdays or prefer to enjoy a lie-in at home.

Another short walk took me to Marks & Spencer on Oxford Street, where a protest was taking place as a part of the fourth International Week of Action against the Apartheid Wall in Palestine.

Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism who had organised this event also hold regular vigils outside M&S every Thursday evening, calling for a boycott of the company as part of a wider Boycott Israel campaign. M&S sell goods including those coming illegally from the occupied territories of Palestine and give financial and moral support to Israel.

School Students Against The War came from the US Embassy to join them and staged their die-in on the wide pavement in front of M&S. This certainly generated a great deal of attention and they made some short speeches to the the crowds milling past M&S before marching off down Oxford Street with their megaphones and banner. They staged a second ‘die-in’ further down the street, again attracting the attention of shoppers, although perhaps surprisingly, not the police none of whom seemed to be around.

I went on to Trafalgar Square where I hoped to photograph the fountains filled with red poppies, but I arrived a little late to find a man in waders fishing them out with a shrimp net. It was bizarre if not surreal, although not quite what I’d been hoping for.

My main event of the day was taking place on Whitehall, at the Cenotaph. Not the military parade ‘at the eleventh hour‘ which I had refused to cover, but a commemoration by some of the families of servicemen killed in Iraq.

Led by a piper they marched solemnly to stand in front of it, while they came up to read out the names of the 121 dead British servicemen killed in the Iraq war. A small selection of names of Iraqi civilians killed was also read out. It’s difficult to estimate the exact number who have died, and more deaths have occured since 2006. The US Brown University Watson Institute now states “we know that between 280,771-315,190 have died from direct war related violence caused by the U.S., its allies, the Iraqi military and police, and opposition forces from the time of the invasion through March 2023.”

A deputation then took a letter in to Downing Street for Prime Minister Tony Blair who had misled parliament and ignored the largest protest ever seen in the UK to take the country into a misguided invasion together with the USA.

Among those taking part in what was an extremely moving ceremony were Rose Gentle of Military Families Against The War, and others who have lost sons or partners in Iraq, including Ann Lawrence, Roger Bacon, Natasha Mclellan, Maureen Bacon as well as Lance Corporal George Solomou, from the London Regiment of the Territorial Army who refused to go to fight in Iraq. Families of some serving soldiers also took part.

Also there and supporting the event among others were Kate Hudson of CND, Yvonne Ridley and Lindsey German of Respect and Stop The War, fashion designer Katherine Hamnett, and Jeremy Corbyn MP.

This was an event that attracted considerable media attention; there is a delicate balance between intruding on private grief, but those there had chosen to make their grief public, and we had to record it for them.

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Support of Palestinians – not Anti-Semitism

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Fortunately I am not a member of the Labour Party, so can speak freely about Israel and Palestine without fear of being expelled from the party. I’ve never actually been a member, though in my teenage years used to occasionally attend the meetings for young socialists at the local Cooperative hall, mainly I think because they would offer cigarettes around very freely. As a fresher I joined the Labour Students and attended meetings until they were closed down by the national party for being socialist. But by then I was involved with various other groups campaigning on various political issues but outside the party system. That remains the case and I’m still a member of groups including Friends of the Earth, CND and Global Justice Now.

The only political party I’ve ever actually joined was the Green Party, though I think back then it may still have been called the Ecology Party. After a year I didn’t renew my membership, partly because it seemed to be spending most of its time on internal feuding, but also because of the strange cranks it seemed to attract. Of course it also includes some of the most honest and sensible politicians around but our crazy electoral system means few of them getting elected. But most years Caroline Lucas would get my vote as politician of the year, and a few have made it as local politicians and also MEPs. Though sadly the latter opportunity is about to end.

Back in my student years and later, virtually everyone on the left including myself admired and supported Israel. It wasn’t just the Holocaust, but also their fight to free themselves from the British mandate and their determination to build a future. I think we remained largely ignorant about the 1948 ‘Nakba’ when around half of the Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes. Several of my friends went to volunteer in kibbutz and we envied them and thought seriously about doing the same to help build a socialist future.

Over the years we’ve learnt more about what actually happens in Israel and Palestine, and the government of Israel has become very much more right wing. While almost none deny the right of Israel to exist (and to that extent are Zionists), we all want a fair solution in the area which recognises the civil and human rights of Palestinians. The Balfour declaration as well as favouring the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people also insisted “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” and in 2017 the British government recognised the declaration should also have called for protection of the Palestinian Arabs’ political rights.

I’ve been labelled by a few militant ultra-right anti-Palestinians as an “anti-Semitic photographer” because I have photographed protests against human rights abuses by Israeli government forces – like these I photographed on 23rd December 2017 – and against laws that make people – including notably Nelson Mandela – describe Israel as an “apartheid state”. And also for photographing protests calling for support for the BDS movement, which calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions “to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.” None of these things are anti-Semitic, though they are opposed to policies of the current government of Israel.

I’m fairly certain however that were I a member of the Labour Party I would now be suspended and expelled for my views – along with many of the leading Jewish (and non-Jewish) Labour activists who express any support for human and civil rights for Palestinians. But fortunately you can’t be expelled if you are not a member.

The protests on this date were prompted by two events. The Palestinian Forum in Britain protested outside the US Embassy after US President Trump’s announcement that the US Embassy in Israel will move to Jerusalem, there was a regular protest calling for a boycott of goods from Israel outside Marks and Spencers on Oxford St and a protest in Trafalgar Square condemned the kidnap, beating up and arrest of 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi by Israeli soldiers – which was also condemned at the two earlier protests.

A few militant supporters of the Israeli oppression of Palestinians came to insult and shout down the event in Trafalgar Square, with one man making clearly racist comments about one of the protesters. A police officer eventually arrived and suggested firmly they go away, but took no action over the complaints of racist abuse made against one of them. The man in a hat in my picture above was found guilty of disorderly behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress for similar behaviour at a BDS protest the following year.

More at:
Free Ahed Tamimi
Free Palestine, Free Ahad Tamimi
Jerusalem, Capital of Palestine


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