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Israel: off your trolley. Newcastle 5 December 2009

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On Saturday 5th December supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! held a lively demonstration in support of Palestine to mark one year since Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza. Using the slogan, ‘Israel: off your trolley’, protesters staged a rolling picket of high street companies involved in supporting Israel economically and politically.

Around 20 protesters wore matching green t-shirts with an image of a shopping trolley and the words ‘Isolate Israel! Boycott Now!’ They used flash-mob tactics to assemble in the fruit and vegetable section of Marks and Spencer, catching security by surprise. Protesters handed out leaflets to encourage shoppers to join the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, while one comrade used the megaphone to talk about the dire situation facing Palestinians almost a year after the attacks on Gaza.

One demonstrator, Cheryl Banfield explained, ‘We targeted Marks and Spencer first because it is the biggest British corporate supporter of Israel. As well as trading with Israel it is very active in the British-Israeli Chamber of Commerce and so it gives the Zionist Israeli state ideological support.’

The security made a b-line for the camera man, who was manhandled by security guards and dragged out of the store by police. Security guards acted with disproportionate aggression, attempting to tear the megaphone out of the hands of one activist and then pinning him against a pillar. He continued speaking on the megaphone until the police came and arrested him. He was later released without charge, where supporters were waiting for him at Etal Lane police station.

The protest continued at the front entrance of M&S before heading to Fenwicks, where demonstrators sang alternative Christmas Carols about the occupation of Palestine in front of the Ever Since stall which sells Israeli bath salts from the Dead Sea. It then continued to Schuh, stockists of Caterpillar boots, a company which is contracted by Israel to produce specially armoured bulldozers to demolish Palestinian homes and olive groves. The protest finished outside Old Eldon Square, location of Waitrose and Starbucks, both companies that support Israel.

The demonstration attracted young and old. One young supporter, 15 yr old James West, heard about it online and came out to protest for the first time. He said, ‘I decided to come because I learnt about Palestine on Facebook after Gaza was attacked and felt I had to do something about it. I thought the protest was really good because it seemed like people were taking notice of us so hopefully some of them will stop buying Israeli products. I’d definitely do it again.’

Mark Pearson, who was released without charge said, ‘We have a right to speak up against the actions of our government and British companies that we don’t agree with. The police tried to stand in our way today by claiming that freedom of speech is actually a breach of the peace. But they were unsuccessful as our message was heard by a lot of people and we have not been put off from continuing solidarity actions with Palestine.’

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