West End Israel boycott protest fails to close stores

Protesters were evicted from two busy stores in central London at the weekend after attempting to demonstrate against the sale of Israeli eco-friendly goods.

Members of the Palestine Place group claimed they “shut down” the Whole Foods store in Kensington and “occupied” the John Lewis store on Oxford Street.

They were targeting the sale of Sodastream drinks machines. The firm is based in Mishor Adumim, an industrial park next to Ma’ale Adumim, the third largest West Bank settlement.

Anti-Zionist activists claim that Palestinians living in villages around the industrial area are prevented from building permanent structures by the Israeli military.

The protests had been promoted online as a major anti-Israel initiative, with details of the targeted shops kept secret until the day of the demo.

But, while the protesters claimed that the Whole Foods shop had to be evacuated after its entrance was blockaded, a Whole Foods spokeswoman said the store had not been forced to close and that it was not evacuated.

Instead, police were called and moved the campaigners outside.

“It was something that had to be dealt with, and it was — swiftly,” said the spokeswoman.

At John Lewis, demonstrators erected tents, meant to symbolise Israeli settlements.

A John Lewis spokeswoman said police were called shortly after the demonstration began and moved the activists off the premises. Normal trading resumed quickly in the ground floor area of the store that was affected.

She added: “Our general manager spoke with the protest organiser and encouraged him to contact him directly in order to have their concerns properly addressed and responded to.”

There was also a demonstration at the EcoStream store in Brighton. It has regularly been targeted since it opened last year.

EcoStream offers customers recyclable household products and SodaStream drinks sold in refillable containers.

Alex Barton, 22, was one of the protesters at the Whole Foods store. He argued that, “Palestinians are being driven from their land to make way for illegal settlements” and that these “are only viable because they are able to export goods to European retailers.

“Whole Foods and John Lewis market themselves as responsible retailers, but there’s nothing ethical about Israeli occupation and apartheid.”

Last updated: 8:45pm, May 9 2013