This is a guest post by Kolya
I don’t sleep all that well and as a result I suffer from what doctors call excessive daytime sleepiness. So it was unremarkable that on my way to document the London Al Quds Day march, I nodded off on the Central Line train. Fortunately, a startlingly realistic dream about a train being violently diverted on to a parallel track, shook me awake just as we pulled in at Oxford Circus.
Still feeling a bit stupefied, I stumbled my way out of the station and up Portland Place, past the BBC Broadcasting House, to the assembly point for the Big March. I was a little puzzled at first because I could see many policemen and policewomen but no marchers. But eventually I found a smallish group of animated activists, seemingly outnumbered by the placards they were sporting, corralled by the police in a narrow side street. The time was 2:40 pm.
I took up station on a traffic island in the middle of Portland Place, and watched with interest as the seekers after truth and justice marshalled their small army.
For the next half-hour nothing much happened except for a senior police officer coming over to my photographic hide and asking in a warmly engaging tone whether I was with Hezbollah. I told him I was with the “other side” (the nearest I’ve come to knowing what Darth Vader must have felt like), and to eliminate any possible ambiguity I told him I was Jewish. To his great credit he didn’t visibly wince and merely suggested that in that case I might want to give the demonstrators plenty of room. That was my one and only experience of police brutality.
Actually, I tell a lie. A little while latter I was joined by a cappuccino-coloured young man looking like a tourist, possible North-American. When he asked what the fuss was about I told him that Hezbollah were about to demonstrate their solidarity with the Palestinian people. His off-hand comment was that it was a pity someone didn’t drive a truck down the side-street. I think he meant, without slowing down. I was momentarily too startled to say anything and before I’d collected my wits, he started gesticulating and shouting at the crowdlet across the road: “Why the hell don’t you just fuck off!”
And right then I witnessed my second incident of police brutality that afternoon, when three officers materialised out thin air, whipped out their little black notebooks, and took down the perp’s name and address before sending him packing.
Then the reserve battalions started arriving. Several coach loads of them, with mass produced placards in-hand. Last but not least was the token delegation of the Elders of Anti-Zion from Neturei Karta (more of whom later).
Now two stewards (possibly civilian police workers) started to demarcate a corridor along the south-bound carriageway of Portland Place, using rolls of white tape strung between traffic cones lining the road in the direction of Oxford Circus. And we were off!
A phalanx of police leading the way, an orange line of tape marking the leading edge of the march, white tapes and lines of police for the flanks of this body politic, another orange tape at the back-end of the march, and a closing police phalanx sealing this portable kettle.
In case readers have formed a disproportionally negative impression of the proceedings so far, I urge you to reconsider. Here is evidence of earnest peace negotiations taking place between an Elder of Anti-Zion and some terrestrial representatives of Ayatollah Khomeini. (I must admit that, just for a moment – before I understood what I was witnessing – I wondered whether there was a production of Fiddler on the Roof playing in London).
Continuing in the optimistic vein, the next photo demonstrates the little known fact that Hezbollah – who are renowned for their charitable work in Lebanon – want to extend their reach to heal the sick of Israel as well.
Next we get to see the rich tapestry of human concerns that preoccupy some of the keenest friends of the Palestinian people.
And here is some terrific breaking news: Kilburn has decided to call off its war against Israel. What a pity this came too late to coincide with the historic epoch when Islington was a nuclear-free zone.
As we snailed our way along, with frequent stops for photo-opportunities, there was incessant amplified chanting — an apparent experiment in mass hypnosis. Because of my impaired hearing, all I could make out was “Zionism”, “Starbucks” and what sounded like “Tennessee”. So it’s entirely possible the demonstrators were calling on Jewish Starbucks franchisees from Tennessee to bring their magical black brew to the Palestinian lands. But perhaps what sounded to me like Tennessee, was actually an obscure geographical reference along the lines of “from the river to the sea”. I prefer to think it was the former.
With that happy thought of Jewish-Arab friendships coalescing in the midst of coffee klatches throughout the land, we come to the splendid sight of Orthodox Jews and Palestinians forming a broad front in support of a singular solution to the Israel/Palestine problem.
Though without wishing to rain on their parade, I must admit to a slight concern that when it gets right down to the details, these Orthodox Jews will discover that while they object to there being any Jewish state in the Holy Land, the more enthusiastic Palestinians object to the state of there being any Jews in the Holy Land.
It was now 4:40 pm and the broad front had just reached Oxford Circus. The procession was due to advance to Grosvenor Square, presumably to recruit more support for the cause of expanding the Starbucks franchise in the Middle East. But I never found out for sure, because I’d had enough excitement for one day. Besides, the soothing tranquility of Oxford Street tube station was beckoning longingly.
Anyway, I’ve been there; done it. Close to 45 years ago Tariq Ali and I (with a few thousand helpers) sat down and blocked the traffic right across Oxford Street, en route to the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square.
Later that day I was arrested for trying to shrug-off a policeman’s hand from my shoulder. When we were being processed at Bow Street police station, the sergeant taking down my details asked me who arrested me and why, and what was my place of birth. I told him, I didn’t know, and Czechoslovakia. He started writing “C” … and then, for no apparent reason, scrunched up his form and sent me back to the black hole of Bow Street, aka the holding cell. The next day, the papers reported that of the 23 people arrested at the previous day’s anti-Vietnam War protest, 22 were charged at Bow Street Magistrates Court.
As nothing remotely as exciting was likely to happen to me on the way to Grosvenor Square, this time round — I came home.