Roger Whittaker

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Gaza (7)

Sunday 11th January 2009

Craig Murray comments on yesterday's demonstration, where he spoke.

Regarding the minor trouble that took place, he writes:

I had marched in the body of the massive demo, which had been fine but for the extraordinary decision by the police to close the pavements and narrow the route to a bottleneck at exactly the point where it passed the Israeli Embassy. In consequence three score hotheads who wanted to kick off there could block the whole thing. The police reacted to that by penning in many thousands into just this narrow point, and donning riot gear.

A more sensible police would have had the flow at its widest as it went past the Israeli Embassy and hurried people through at speed. Anyway, the crush that resulted from the constriction was really pretty scary, especially for the hundreds of children.

I went to Kensington High Street first, well before the march arrived and saw the police preparations. The entrance to Old Court Place is extremely narrow (I should know: I worked in that street once...).

The police had prepared on a large scale for what they would do if there was trouble. Large numbers of police horses were waiting in the park, and there were a lot of policemen behind the scenes in riot gear.

But the narrow entrance to Old Court Place was not well defended: the standard very light "crush barriers" were used, and there was a small number of policemen behind them. If the police had erected a stronger (and higher) barrier just in that particular place, and if more uniformed police had been stationed there, it would have been quite impossible for anyone to move the barriers or to taunt the police. Also, as Craig noted, if the pavements (at least on the other side) had not been closed to the demonstrators by crush barriers, the area would not have been such a bottleneck.

I was not present when the trouble took place, but I did see what happened at the demonstration against George Bush's visit last June.

On that occasion, the police deliberately provoked anger among the demonstrators by attacking people who had been jiggling the crush barriers (at the entrance to Whitehall) by hitting them over the head with truncheons (and in one or two cases causing nasty injuries). Once they had created enough anger, a group of police in riot gear appeared at one end of Parliament Square, ready to charge the crowd. That was the point at which I left.

I believe that something similar happened yesterday, and that the police strategy was not to try to ensure a safe and peaceful demonstration, but rather to ensure that the media reports of the event would be about the trouble rather than the fact that about 200,000 people took to the streets of London to express their feelings about the massacres in Gaza.

Lenin's tomb also comments:

Finally, a word about the apparent ruckus outside the Israeli embassy. I didn't see it become at all serious, but I do know the police sealed off hundreds and perhaps more people in the area, and it has to be said that the police acted as if they wanted a fight. They had tried to confine an enormous amount of people into a densely barricaded bottleneck and, as far as I could see, this made the stewards' job more difficult. A number of protesters did evidently want to get into the Israeli embassy, and I did notice that one of them got onto the entrance walls and waved a Hamas flag around. Frankly, good. The logical thing to do at this point would be to expel the Israeli ambassador and convert the building into the embassy of a future Palestinian state. But, as angry as people justifiably are, and as much as one would have every reason to expect a riot at this point, I personally saw nothing that could have even notionally justified the kind of clampdown that the police eventually imposed.