BBC bias over Israel

Because of accusations of bias at the BBC from peace activists, yesterday’s huge London march began (not for the first time) with speeches in Portland Place directly outside the BBC Broadcasting House.

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There, as protesters arrived from all directions in their tens of thousands, various speakers berated the state broadcast company over their pro-Israeli bias, their poor provision of historical context, and the PR and lies coming from Israeli spokespeople that are left unchallenged and uncorrected. For a very fine analysis of how this works (still profoundly pertinent even though recorded in 2011 after Operation Cast Lead), see Greg Philo’s talk at SOAS, that unveiled the “Israel Project”, and the “National Information Directorate” which was set up a year before Cast Lead purely in order to control the international media debate.

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With such a visible protest directed at the BBC, you might think that the BBC News website might offer at least some information about it, even if downplaying the accusations, and offering the usual “we try to give a balanced view and did interview a Palestinian once” PR statement.

But, astonishingly, and in utter contempt for the huge number of people who came, the BBC news website carried the following report yesterday evening:

BBC website screen 1

An inexcusable lie by simple omission.

The aerial view of the huge crowd, shot out of a window from the state broadcasting building, also carried a devious description.

BBC website screen 2

Perfectly accurate, I guess, but “gathered near” doesn’t really tell the whole truth, when “an angry crowd gathered outside Broadcasting House” would have been more honest.

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People are fed up of the bias, the uncorrected lies, the rewriting of history, and the manipulation of the discourse.

George Galloway has publicly called for people to cancel their licences and refuse to pay the BBC fees.

Galloway licence fee

There’s plenty of information available about how to do this, explaining how limited the BBC Charter actually is in terms of legal retribution, despite their carefully constructed system of harassment and enforcement. The campaign is certainly gathering momentum on social media. It’s certainly worth looking at the information out there about how to do it with impunity. Some would regard it as a moral imperative.

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BDS Gaza Solidarity action in Whitechapel 2nd August – pics

Watched by a police Forward Intelligence Team (FIT) who prowled around trying to overhear plans, a group of a few dozen people gathered outside Whitechapel tube at noon today to take part in an action called by the London Palestine Action group.

After a short briefing, handing out leaflets for the public, letters to staff, and various banners and flags, the group marched off to their main target which turned out to be the large Sainsbury store nearby.

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Some activists were already in the store as the group turned up. They had been gathering baskets of produce that comes from Israel or the occupied territories, among them, hummous, aubergine spread, various fruits and dates.

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Some activists remained in the lobby near the main doors, while others entered the shop.

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Although management and police seemed reasonably relaxed, some of the Securitas staff acted up – one assaulting a photographer, another grabbing a camera lens, and one trying to seize a banner. When challenged, one of the SIA-accredited staff refused to show his ID badge, until eventually police intervened and forced him to comply.

Various small groups of protesters chanted, handed out leaflets, held up banners, or wandered round the store searching for Israeli produce.

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For a while the shop was closed to new customers and as others left, it became emptier.

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After around twenty minutes, almost all the activists re-grouped in the lobby, and staged a die-in there, and then they left peacefully and began a loud march heading back west along Whitechapel High Street.

Along the way, they received a good response and much solidarity from shopkeepers, shoppers, drivers tooting horns, and the general public.

They paused for a while outside Starbucks, and then arrived at a Tesco Express store opposite the park. While most waited outside the small store, a small group again entered and searched for Israeli produce. Among the finds were ‘finest Venezia potatos’, grown in Israel.

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The store closed its doors for a short while, while the crowd chanted outside.

Next target was a larger Tesco Metro at the end of Fieldgate St, where among the finds were Halawi dates that unashamedly announced they were packed in the West Bank (Israeli Settlement).

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One of the activists had an emotional conversation with the Produce Manager, filmed by the FIT video that followed the group around all afternoon.

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At the end of their talk, they shook hands, and the Manager agreed to report to Head Office that customers had complained about the Israeli produce.

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The protest marched back to Whitechapel Station, where they chanted slogans a while longer, and handed out any remaining leaflets.

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After a short debrief, they dispersed. Although the action might be seen as a drop in the ocean, there was a lot of engagement with local community as well as staff at the stores, and even a small dent made in the afternoon’s profits – it also mirrored a South London action that took place in Brixton – don’t forget “every little helps”.


For an intro to the BDS movement, this may be useful –

Gaza vigil at Downing Street 29th July

Several hundred people gathered opposite Downing Street this evening at short notice to solemnly mark the murders of children and civilians in Palestine during the recent onslaught by the Israel war machine.

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Organised at short notice by Stop The War Coalition and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, people were asked to bring flowers.

Each person chose a name from the list of hundreds and wrote it on a white card along with the age of the victim. Then the cards were placed with flowers against the wall along the pavement opposite Downing Street.

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Police were particularly annoying, with half a dozen Police Liaison Officers continually hassling people to get into the “protest pen”, and one, a TSG officer in a PLO blue tabard, trying to get the small group of anti-Zionist Jews to move (even though they were in the pen), as they were apparently attracting too many photographers!

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When the wall space was full, a young woman began to read the list of names of victims and their ages over a megaphone, and an eerie silence fell over the large crowd.

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The speaker broke down in tears at one point, and others in the crowd sobbed too.

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As soon as she finished, police again moved in and tried to clear the pavement and get everyone penned in.

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I had to leave early, but i believe the plan was for a delegation to take the flowers and name cards over to Downing Street and call for Cameron to condemn Israel over its war crimes and to stop selling arms to the apartheid state.

There is another protest planned outside the Israeli Embassy on Friday evening at 5pm.

Gaza national demo 26th July – short report and some pics

The event began outside the Israeli Embassy on Kensington High Street where the police had closed the roads to accommodate the tens of thousands of protesters arriving by lunchtime.

Shortly after 1pm, the huge march set off slowly east.

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Police were keen to portray a friendly image, and the Silver Chief Superintendent Morgan briefed his officers to “smile and wave”. Even austerity cuts were temporarily suspended as the Met Commissioner authorised officers to claim for ice creams, perhaps a dual purpose of cooling, as well as reinforcing the ‘fun’ image.

However, in the back streets around Kensington, there were dozens of vans of riot police, and the intelligence-gathering Police Liaison Officers were out in force, as well as undercovers on the march, spotter teams, and Forward Intelligence Teams with photographers. And the front of the march was patrolled by the normally less than friendly TSG officers.

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Downing Street was protected by layers of double fencing, although the march continued on past to Parliament Square for speeches and socialist newspaper sales.

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A small group of Palestinians continued a sit-down vigil opposite Downing Street.

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In Parliament Square, even two TSG officers were spotted in PLO tabards (surely some sort of mixed message!), and a couple of British Transport Police were tabarded up too.

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At the appointed end, around 4pm, a group of young Palestinian supporters marched a couple of times round the square and then headed north, perhaps towards the BBC or back to the Embassy – they numbered a little over 100.

Meanwhile, in the square a people’s assembly took place, facilitated by Occupy folk, who were hoping to encourage the erection of a temporary peace camp. A group of around 200 people shared ideas and speeches on an open mic, but it became clear that the #occupytheoccupation call-out had not reached enough people to establish a viable camp, and the idea was abandoned for the evening (or rather postponed).

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Once they realised the camp was not happening, the large deployment of PLOs dispersed.  

#occupytheoccupation is also a call-out for people to think creatively about occupations of relevant targets over the coming days. Already last week saw several such protests, including at the Ministry of Justice and at arms companies offices in London and Cardiff. Interestingly, there have been NO ARRESTS at any of these actions, possibly because the authorities are concerned about the “commit a small crime in order to prevent a larger crime” defence being played out in court, in the context of UK support for Israeli war crimes.

July Critical Mass – 2nd anniversary of mass arrest of 182 cyclists

Last Friday, Critical Mass rode to the Olympic Park in Stratford to mark the 2nd anniversary of the mass arrest that took place on the night of the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

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On Friday 27th July 2012, 182 cyclists attending the customary Critical Mass bicycle ride were arrested in East London for breaching conditions imposed under the Public Order Act prohibiting them from riding anywhere north of the River Thames.

The conditions were imposed by the Met in order to prevent any attempt to protest near the Olympic stadium at the opening ceremony of the 2012 games. Despite a massive police operation that saw huge disruption to ordinary Londoners as riot police closed several London road bridges, a couple of hundred cyclists did eventually make it ‘en masse’ to Stratford, where two groups were kettled and the mass arrests ocurred.

Bicycles were loaded on to buses, and the arrestees were transferred to distant processing centres in Croydon and further afield in Sussex. Some were thrown out (after many hours without food or water) in the middle of the night, with little or no public transport available, and they were given chits to collect their bikes from other centres at a later time. There were many reports about the police detention that conveyed a sense that the operation was simply extra-judicial punishment for daring to challenge the corporate Olympic machine.

As I reported at the time, on the now defunct london indymedia, the legal framework for such wide-ranging conditions and subsequent police actions seemed shaky, and this was borne out by the fact that only nine cyclists were ever taken to court, with just five convicted of breaching public order conditions, and two of those overturned on appeal. At least a hundred of those detained are in the process of suing the Police over the operation.

One interesting revelation emerging from the trials was the first admission by the Met that ‘Police Liaison Officers’ (PLOs – the “friendly, smiley” ones in baby-blue tabards often seen at protests nowadays) have a defined operational intelligence-gathering role. Some of the PLOs had also been riding undercover on the previous month’s Critical Mass.

So, although Forward Intelligence (FIT) Teams and photographers are less often seen at events, the ubiquitous PLOs have taken over much of their role, and are often to be found wandering through a protest, accessing areas that would have been difficult for FITs, engaging with activists using psychological techniques to gain information, and often caught listening in on conversations.

The ride (25th July 2014):

To mark the 2nd anniversary of the unlawful mass arrest, the July London Critical Mass bicycle ride headed East, and hundreds of cyclists rode through Whitechapel, and Mile End, over the Bow flyover, and past the spot where police had formed the largest kettle, eventually riding on to the Olympic park.

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With powerful sound systems pumping beats, there was a party atmosphere under a dramatic sunset, but after some resting and partying, a several-hundred strong group set off again towards the iconic velodrome, where after carrying bikes up the stairs, they circled the building on the upper walkway.

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The velodrome itself is now surrounded by a fast open air bike road and track circuit, which snakes around a BMX and mountain biking park. Secured from public use by waist-high fencing, it wasn’t long before a hundred or more cyclists were mischievously shooting round these tracks. A couple of security folk looked on helplessly, and one of them complained loudly that the cyclists looked like a bunch of “weird squatters”, that they weren’t supposed to be there without paying, and that she was therefore calling the police. Cyclists tried to point out that Londoners HAD paid rather a lot of money for these facilities, but the velodrome is now a private commercial concern charging upwards of £30 for ‘taster sessions”!

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After about twenty minutes, the police arrived – one plod on foot, and a community support officer on a bike – without the corporate power of the IOC (International Olympics Committee) behind the operation, it seems the Met didn’t regard this year’s incursion as such a high priority :)

It was now dark and the remaining mass – still a couple of hundred in number – were ready to return to London. Near Mile End, there was an unfortunate incident when a rider came off his bike and, not wearing a helmet, landed badly, losing consciousness. Some cyclists stayed with him and sought medical attention, while the rest of the ride continued on so as not to crowd or gawk.

By the time the got back to Brick Lane it was way past 10pm – a later finish than usual for the ride – and began to disperse.

Although I can understand the Mass wanting to mark this anniversary, I couldn’t help thinking it was ironic that in a way, once again, corporate sport had distracted people from World politics – huge sporting events have become modern weapons of mass distraction. Without the Olympic mass arrest, I feel sure that last week’s ride would instead have paid a visit to the Israeli Embassy, and maybe an arms company or the BBC, in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Protest at Israeli Embassy 22nd July 2014

Several thousand protesters attended the event in Kensington High Street near the Israeli Embassy at 5.30 on Tuesday evening.

Police closed off the High Street outside the Palace Gate private road leading to the Israeli Embassy which is on Crown Estate land where protest is banned. Behind the gates and the double fortified barriers could be seen several police vans guarding the building, while on this side was a small stage and a crowd of several thousand peaceful protesters.

22nd july 2014 gaza protest at israeli embassy

22nd july 2014 gaza protest at israeli embassy

The protest, supported by a wide range of organisations including anti-war activists, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Palestinians. The crowd was notable for its wide mix of ages and ethnicities, and one of the speakers commented on how the crowd was a shining example of love and unity, in contrast to the heavily defended Zionist outpost of hatred beyond the gates.

22nd july 2014 gaza protest at israeli embassy

Despite the searing heat, protesters shouted energetic slogans and the atmosphere was a mix of righteous anger and buoyant solidarity mixed with a little dark humour among the placards.

22nd july 2014 gaza protest at israeli embassy

22nd july 2014 gaza protest at israeli embassy

22nd july 2014 gaza protest at israeli embassy

The police deployed several “Police Liaison Officers” who showed their true colours by lurking at the edges, concentrating on their true role of intelligence gathering rather than actually doing much liaising.

22nd july 2014 gaza protest at israeli embassy

As I left early, I came across an interesting sight. An Israeli Jew was handing out leaflets, claiming that the protest was anti-Israel because fewer than 1000 Palestinians dead were attracting bigger protest numbers than many more Egyptians, Syrian or Iraqi deaths. Though based on obviously false logic, he was eloquently trying to persuade a group of young Palestinian supporters who had gathered around him.

22nd july 2014 gaza protest at israeli embassy

What I witnessed over the next few minutes, was a remarkable display of street debate with no sign of menace, despite their diametrically opposed positions. Maps were flourished and argued over, the history of Israel and Palestine was discussed, documents were referenced, and connected and logical argument took place, with each side listening and trying to persuade the other. A little gem of human interaction providing some hope in such an indescribably hate-filled era.

With more than 500 Palestinians killed in this latest Israeli onslaught (around 80% civilians and more than 100 children murdered), another national protest has been called for Saturday 26th July. It will start at 12 noon at the Israeli Embassy in Kensington, and then will march to a rally in Parliament Square due to take place at 2.30.

29th June 2014 DPAC occupation at Westminster Abbey

Please note: This event was Saturday 28th June, not 29th. I won’t correct the title because there are now a load of links to it.

DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) staged a dramatic protest on Saturday at Westminster Abbey. They were highlighting the planned abolition of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) and the terrible consequences such cuts would have on the lives of disabled people who gain some little freedom from being able to afford personal carers and who would otherwise end up in institutions.

The occupation was aided by UK Uncut and the Occupy movement, and was very nearly successful in its aim to establish a camp.

However, despite pleas from the protesters, the Dean of Westminster instructed police to confiscate tents and other equipment vital to the safety and well-being of the disabled activists, and he refused to communicate or negotiate directly with any organisers.

After a few hours, a meeting was held on site and a consensus reached, that although many of the supporters were ready to continue the occupation, the safety and comfort of more vulnerable colleagues was not guaranteed without the planned shelter, cooking, and toilet facilities, and so everyone agreed to leave together in solidarity.

The protest was attended by almost 200 police, who outnumbered the activists by at least 3 to 1. Given that the protest was completely peaceful other than two minor scuffles when police used force to prevent additional supporters from coming into the area, this certainly seemed to be more a political show of force than any proportionate response.

When the police threatened people with arrest for ‘criminal trespass’ they said the protesters were stopping the Abbey from going about its ‘normal business’. I received a tweet from @lightacandleOTM that summed it up perfectly – isn’t the normal business of the church to stand up for the persecuted?