report by Taimour Lay
Demonstrations outside the Israeli embassy in Kensington on Wednesday night ended in baton charges on pro-Palestinian protesters and at least ten arrests. A counter-demonstration organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jewish Leadership Council and UK Zionist Federation attracted 300-400 people, but the arrests were ultimately sparked by police tactics at the end of the evening rather than the conduct of the opposing sides during the protest.
The police chose not to force pro-Palestinian demonstrators – who had been gathering since 5pm for the daily demonstration – away from their pen as the Zionists arrived shortly after 7pm, instead setting up a second pen opposite the embassy nearer Gloucester Road, with three police vans and 40-50 officers to keep the two sides apart in contained areas.
But as the night wore on riot police were used to end the anti-war demonstration by force. One policeman said a strategic decision had been made to ”clear the area”, including Kensington High Street and surrounding roads, to prevent ”Israeli and Palestinians from kicking each other”. In reality, it meant that the peaceful pro-Palestinian demonstrators, who still numbered around 200 by 9pm, and who remained determined not to depart before the close of the opposition demonstration, were pushed, harried and chased out of the pen.
From 8.30pm police at the back of the pro-Palestinian demonstration blocked off access to the pen claiming that the protest was over. New arrivals were told to head back towards High Street Kensington station. Half-an-hour later, the first arrests were made in a side street at the western end of the pen in which protestors had been contained most of the evening, as police began to force people west down the high street and away from the embassy.
At 9pm we saw two young men arbitrarily plucked from the departing crowd and arrested. One was restrained on the ground by up to six policemen, despite not resisting arrest and having been complying with their demands to leave. Protesters seeking to help the men were slammed up against shop windows and threatened with batons. The police response sparked renewed actions by the crowd who blocked both sides of Kensington High Street, and around 50 people then attempted a sit-down occupation (see photo below).
The protest was eventually moved down the street at a slow pace. At around 9:30pm 50 police suddenly began baton charges down the middle of the road. The move led to chaos as protesters, including women and children, attempted to dodge the batons. The charge was also used as an opportunity to target a prominent AWL activist, Robin S., who as of 2:30am on Thursday was still being held by police after being arrested. He was walking away from the demonstration at the time of his detention by riot police. It was also confirmed that six other protesters were being booked at the police charge centre on Edgware Road by 10pm.
Numbers on the anti-war side had been slightly up on the previous daily protests, approaching several hundred by 7pm. The protest attracted considerably more than usual news media and television cameras in anticipation of potential clashes with the counter-demonstration, but the protest remained calm and controlled throughout, if louder and livelier than previous nights.
There were no arrests made until the police decision to end the demonstration. The front section, facing east towards the police and Zionists further up the road, was dominated by Islamist activists and young Muslims but the crowd was evenly mixed with other activists and most chants focused on the occupation and Israeli state terrorism. A distance of 50-100 ft was maintained between the two protests at all times but there were sporadically successful attempts made by anti-war activists to leave the police pen and protest further east down the embassy side of the road and directly opposite the Zionists.
Anti-war demonstrations outside the embassy continue evenings all week from 5pm.