By Isca Stieglitz
October 25, 2010
Not quite, but an interesting day nevertheless.
I was visiting a friend in London and took in Monmouth Street during my stay. I stupidly got off at Covent Garden, instead of Leicester Square, and had to run the crowded gauntlet of the spiral staircase. I didn’t have the patience to wait for the lift and had forgotten how long that spiral ascent was!
I reached daylight with a bit of a sweat on, sorry ‘glow’, and meandered my way across Long Acre and Neal St. and, just before cornering the Seven Dials, I could hear chanting and shouting. I hadn’t been to the Ahava demonstration before and, by later reports, this was quite a ‘tame’ day.
I wanted to see for myself the extent of protest, counter protest and disruption, if any. I approached the Ahava shop, flanked by officers, and asked if it was ok to go in, “Of course madam, you’re safe”. I went into the shop and met two ladies. Very quiet, unassuming and one slumped in an armchair. She looked fed up, down hearted, bored; I couldn’t tell. I introduced myself and said I’d come to support them. We had a little chat; I tried some of my Hebrew and bought some hand cream.
I got the feeling, and expressed, that they must be tired and worn down with the whole affair. They had been frightened on many occasions. There was agreement that a lot of people simply don’t understand the complexity of the situation and those that do often simply disagree. In any event, they are workers in a shop, like you, like me. It can't be right to keep 'punishing' them.
I went outside and received unexpected applause mixed with a cacophony of jeers. I recognised Jonathan Hoffman and introduced myself and met with a young man from Oxford, Ian and later Richard Millet and others from the different groups. I decided to stay and observe from behind the barrier.
Pen #1 - a large contingent of anti-Ahava protesters from the pro-Palestinian Campaign;
Pen #2 - a handful of pro-Ahava protesters and
Pen #3 - the English Defence League (EDL)-Jewish and gay divisions pro-Ahava group. The EDL group kept blurring their boundary by walking across the middle pen and putting their possessions inside it, this served to cause tension. I couldn’t help but think that the EDL pen should be placed the other side of the anti-Ahava pen and at least this would put to bed the accusations of the majority of Jews being in league with EDL. If these Jewish and Gay divisions of EDL think they'd be afforded any protection if the EDL had any power, then they are mistaken.
Pen #2 tended to give out leaflets and was relatively quiet, the odd conversation taking place with the public and with members of Pens #1 and 3. "Support Israel...buy Israeli goods here...read the truth not the lies...make up your own mind...". If there was abuse, I didn't hear any.
Pen #1 and #2 tended towards loud chanting and the language was not pleasant. “Where’s your Burkah gone...Hamas hates homos...Israel terrorists...Israeli mud, Palestinian blood...shame on you” and things I won’t repeat, when tempers frayed.
I had cause to ask an EDL person not to put her stuff in Pen #2 and received a torrent of vitriol. To which I replied, ‘that’s why people don’t like you, you’re rude and abusive and you stand for bigots’; I then ignored her. I then asked one EDL’er not to associate with me, when she tried to speak to me. I couldn't even bear to engage because of the sheer nastiness of their attitude. There were people trying to angle pictures so that it looked like Pen #2 were in league and 'friends' with Pen #3. The only interaction I witnessed was efforts to be educative, or to ward off abuse and once to give a leaflet.
Above all I found the anger spilling into venom, unabashed hatred, contorted faces, spittle flying and there were pictures displayed of maimed dead children like some sick trophy. Every conflict could display such pictures from all sides, maimed twisted bodies, hacked corpses, beheaded corpses and so on. A dead person from one side cannot be worth more than a dead person from another side. Surely this is to further disrespect the dead and make trophies of personal and individual tragedies. I do wonder about the workings of the mind of the type of person who thinks that this is a fitting tribute to dead children.
I am reminded of my time as a member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM). I can’t speak for all sub-groups, but I found myself falling into vitriolic anti-white activism. I later found out that a lot of our donated money was siphoned off into terrorist groups from the townships who were metering out internal punishments, including ‘necklacing’ and ‘macheteing’. People were punished for collaboration of any kind and a blind eye was turned by our AAM coordinators from this information. People were killed/'punished' for simply working in a 'white' shop.
I later found out, from some horses’ mouths (black/white/Asian and indigenous people), that AAM weren’t as so responsible for the fall of apartheid as we thought. There was already lots of manoeuvrings going on behind the scenes well before. It wasn’t a black and white issue; I was shown and made to understand the many grey areas and I vowed I would never be so swayed into extremism again.
I couldn't help but think how the situation in Monmouth Street maybe echoes the situation in Israel-Palestine; a microcosm being played out by proxy. Only we all, hopefully, got to go home, to a warm safe bed. I did think about my friends again that night, friends from all sides; huddled in my duvet.
Anger and passion can be great motivators and if people disagree over an issue – in this case Mitzpe Shalem produce; fair enough. However, if there’s one of many things I’ve learned, it is not our place to add fuel to an already incendiary and tragic situation. Corner a dog and it will snarl and bite; no matter who the dog, no matter what the corner.
We should be doing more to lessen flames; and barking abuse; making trophies of the dead; parodying songs with inflammatory lyrics and spewing hatred isn’t going to work.