I had always intended to go along to the Trade Unions organised demonstration in support of the people of Gaza today but after hearing about some éirígí organised direct actions I got in touch with Belfast Gonzo and both of us went into the city centre to cover the main rally and other protests. (I have Gonzo’s camera so am using his photos and video in my blog – thanks to BG)Things kicked off with an éirígí protest in Castle Court around 11.45am. They were focusing on the Spa products stall in the mall staffed by Israelis who have the difficult job of accosting shoppers and trying to get them interested in their products. The products are sourced from the Dead Sea.
éirígí members threw lots leaflets from the gallery above over the stall and around 30 surrounded it waving Palestinian flags, throwing more leaflets and chanting boycott Israeli goods.
I was unable to get photos as a member of staff stood in front of me, pushed me with his shoulder, demanded to know what I was doing and despite being informed I was not part of the protest, didnt intend to join in and was covering events for a website continued to manhandled me, rammed his forehead against my face and gave some verbal abuse. I told him if the only photos I got were of his face Id end up only being able to put them online and describe his actions. As the protest dispersed and I met Gonzo back on the street this staff member followed me outside, demanded to know the website I was part of, who ran it (I grassed Mick up straight away) and informed me if his picture appeared online hed know who I was and how to get me. (I have his picture but Im not going to add it to the blog)
The staff of the targeted stall were visibly shaken, one woman and one man reduced to tears, the man comforted by a member of security staff.
Then Gonzo and I headed off to the main demo. It took a while to form up and around five minutes to pass once on the move.
The protest stretched from the City Hall to the end of Royal Avenue and Id estimate it had 3-5,000 participants.
As MSM was concentrating on the platform I and Gonzo focused on events at the fringes of the crowd.
At one point there was a shambolic burning of an Israeli flag.
As I tried to get a photo of the abandoned remnants a woman approached and shouted Who did this then proceeded to scream No flag of any nation should be burnt. Did anyone burn our flag during 30 years of terrorism? I later saw her on the edges of the crowd with her young children holding the flag remains aloft and one of her children holding a SF placard with Stop the rockets. No more bodies now written on the back.
Amongst the colourful flags and banners in a throng that included Unions, SDLP Youth, Amnesty, SF, Workers Party, Socialist Party, SWP, IRSP, RNU, PFLP and many more I spotted at least one Hamas flag.
At one point the PSNI approached people waving an upside down US flag and Galician flag and insisted that they remove their scarves from over their faces.
Then Gonzo had to leave for work and he kindly leant me his video camera to get some footage of a further éirígí protest planned for Marks & Spencer.
The leaflet they distributed to the rally declared their intention to go into the store, fill trolleys, have the stuff scanned, refuse to pay and disrupt trading in protest over their close relationship with Israel.
This is where things went a bit pear-shaped for me; I was filming the protest that closed down tills, involved around 50 people gathered around the checkout area chanting boycott Israeli goods (to the general bemusement of shoppers) when the PSNI arrived. At one stage a policeman pushed a trolley into me, put his hand over the camera then pushed it and me back into some shelves telling me to get the hell out of the shop.
I was recording more of the protest when a young woman grabbed me and tried to take Gonzos camera calling me scum, punching me and wrestling me. Her mother arrived on the scene, joined the fray trying to relieve me of the camera, punching at me and scrabbing before screaming This man has assaulted my daughter. Assault, assault (bloody nutter) and shouting for a cop to come over. A policeman came over as they continued to try and relieve me of the camera and had to forcibly remove them from my back and tell them to desist.
I was taken to the edge of the protest, explained I wasnt part of it and was only there to record events for a website. The whole time the woman and mother were interrupting, shouting abuse and insisting my camera was confiscated. The policeman demand to see what was on the camera and for 5 mins I couldnt get it to work as it was Gonzos and had no idea of the buttons, he then threatened to confiscate it. Eventually I managed to show the footage and he demanded I deleted, I tried to be a smart-arse and delete something else but unfortunately all that footage in M&S is now gone. The only thing that remains is a short clip of my feet and the floor taken during the struggle.
Ill have to try and source M&S footage elsewhere.
At that point I called it a day.