The previous weekend many Irish anarchists had been attending the Grassroots Gathering in Cork. While we were there news came through that one of the people at the previous Gathering, Caoimhe Butterly, had successfully managed to pass through Israeli army lines in Ramallah and enter the besieged offices of Yassar Arafat. Caoimhe who is from Dublin, is a member of the International Solidarity Movement and has previously visited Chiapas in Mexico. At the time the news came through it appeared that the army intended to storm the offices at any moment so her friends immediately set about planning to travel to Dublin to demonstrate at the Israeli embassy.
[A Personal report from a Workers Solidarity Movement members of an event they took part in or attended, these reports are posted to the Ainriail list when first written] Note: Pictures are ultra compressed a week or so after they are uploaded to this site to save space on the server.
This demonstration turned into a weeklong picket based around the occupation of a tree in the embassy car park by Venus Kamura. Two other friends of Caoimhe accompanied her in the tree for part of the week. The picket and occupation despite persistent Gardai harassment (detailed at end) received a lot of media coverage and played an important role in building for Saturdays demonstration. It also meant that many demonstrators wished to march on the embassy, contrary to the organiser's plans that we should march to the GPO.
Saturday's demonstration gathered at the plaza outside the Central bank in Dame Street where there were speeches from a number of organisations involved in calling the protest. Including the later speeches at the GPO speakers included the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Green Party, Sinn Fein, the Irish Writers Union , SWP, Socialist Party and a couple of 'middle eastern' speakers whose organisations I didn't catch. The crowd at this point probably numbered up to 1,000 people.
As the march set off down Dame Street more people joined in so that by the time it crossed the river to O'Connell Street I would estimate the numbers at between 1,500 and 2,500. This makes it one of the largest 'international 'solidarity' demonstrations here since the Gulf War. Also significant was the large number of people who appeared to be of Middle Eastern origin on the march, perhaps making up 30% of the overall numbers.
Nationalist flags dominated the march. Large number of Palestinian flags could be expected but I also saw the Basque flag, a number of Irish Tricolours and at least three Lebanese flags. On reaching the GPO the march stopped for a second set of speakers. The left speakers emphasised the fact that people of different religions had lived together in peace in the past in the region and what was needed was unity of the working class rather then sectarian division.
There were a number of tensions among the different groups on the march. At the start I saw a small scuffle between a group of Arab men over an attempt to raise a yellow flag with a rifle on it. This is the flag of Hezbollah (Party of God), the organisation that drove the Israeli army out of South Lebanon in a long guerrilla war and killed hundreds of US and French soldiers in suicide bombings. But in the southern areas they controlled Hezbollah sought to impose strict codes of Islamic behaviour. This is all the more authoritarian when one considers that Lebanon is a multi-religious society which has already suffered from decades of sectarian war.
Hezbollah's Feb. 1985 political platform says "Lebanon's problems is the establishment of an Islamic republic as only this type of regime can secure justice and equality for all of Lebanon's citizen's." Those who think 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' would be wise to remember that Hezbollah has been connected with attacks on the Lebanese left, including on the offices of the Lebanese Communist Party.
Hezbollah were formed and continue to be backed by Iran. According to the Iranian Revolutionary Socialists' League in Iran the "following groups have all been attacked throughout the reign of the mullahs, É
· Workers, trade unionists, left-wing and socialist activists;
· women and women's/feminist groups;
· national and religious minorities;
· political oppositionists, including various monarchist, Islamic and liberal groups;
· writers, journalists, artists, intellectuals and students;
· peasants and tribal groups;
· homosexuals and others who follow an "un-Islamic" life-style." (from http://www.kargar.org/English/Iran.htm)
From what I could see it was the group around this flag that started chants of 'God is great' (Allahu Akbar) at the GPO and later at the Israeli embassy. I suspect this was more aimed at the other Arabs on the demonstration then on the various western lefties trying to sell them papers. In any case anarchists should be aware that this lot are the Islamic equivalent of Opus Dei or Youth Defence (considerably worse actually). Supporting socialist forces in the Middle East and the immigrant communities in Ireland means opposing those who seek to impose an Islamic state and silence the voice of the left.
These were not of course the only divisions visible on the day. A member of the SWP later told me that one of the organisers had attempted to stop him chanting 'anti-American' slogans on the megaphone on the grounds that it had been agreed that no such slogans would be used. This seemed to arise from the usual crass confusion between slogans attacking the US government or military and ones attacking the people of the US. The 'anti-American' slogans I heard sounded a lot like the 'anti-American' slogans heard on demonstrations in New York, Washington and San Francisco. Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party said the suicide bombings were a bad tactic that was driving the Israeli working class into the arms of reaction while the SWP, in contrast, distributed placards with 'Victory to the Intifada!' on them.
On the Friday at the tree occupation Venus had been told that the organisers of Saturdays protest had already voted 10 to 2 to go to the GPO rather then to the Israeli embassy. As the Gardai had been informed of this they were unwilling to re-route despite the widespread requests to do so.
There was a large demand to go to the embassy so that 'compromise' that emerged on Saturday was that at the end of the GPO rally the chair suggested that people make their own way down to the embassy. She told us that she couldn't suggest we march there as the police had not agreed this.
The end result was that about half of those present spontaneously formed up and marched to the embassy via Grafton St and Baggot St. As the march progressed there was quite a bit of chanting in Arabic, mostly along the line of 'Sharon is a butcher' and 'Freedom for Palestine'. Somewhere between 500 and 800 people arrived at the embassy where they were yet more speakers and yet more 'God is great chants' before the crowd was asked to break up and return home.
Later that night friends of Venus managed to persuade her that it was a good time to leave her tree protest, especially as she was obviously weak from her five days of fasting. She later arrived at the Indymedia fundraiser to the applause of those present.
Saturday's demonstration was successful in mobilising sizeable numbers in opposition to the Israeli occupation. But it has also revealed a number of difficult issues that the Irish left has not yet faced, not least the question of how to deal with Islamic authoritarians. The role of anarchists in response to this is clear. We stand for a global revolution and understand this means that the fight for religious freedom (and more importantly freedom from religion) must be supported in Ireland as in the Middle East. Within the movement we need to build a bloc that opposes the occupation while opposing fundamentalist reaction.
For useful links see the end of the appendix
The Israeli Embassy tree protest suffered petty harassment from the Gardai whenever numbers were low. Below are details based on reports originally posted to www.indymedia.ie
I have just returned from a lunchtime visit to the tree occupation at the Israeli embassy, opposite Durys hotel in Ballsbridge. Two young women are still up the trees there although as Natashia had to go Tracey has replaced her. Venus has now been up the tree for nearly 48 hours. I had met them both in Cork at the Grassroots Gathering where they had heard that a friend of theirs, Caoimhe Butterly was in Yassar Arafat's office. They decided to protest at the embassy until she and another women Mary Kelly was safe.
Last night was quite positive with around 40 people visiting the tree sit in, at one point around 15 were present and several more joined them in the trees. This means that both women are now in the same tree and that they are well supplied with blankets.
However at Seven O'clock this morning the three Gardai at the foot of the tree (numbers E137, E97, E142) were joined by three more in a van. This group proceeded to steal all the protesters equipment on the ground, which included petitions that people passing had signed protest signs and food. When the women in the tree asked them not to remove their equipment they did not reply and just jeered them. When asked by the lone supporter on the ground not to remove the equipment they threatened him with arrest for vagrancy.
When I asked E97 who was still on duty under what law they had done this he said it was under the litter act because the material was abandoned. When I pointed out that it was clearly not abandoned and that this in any case would have been the responsibility of a litter warden he refused to reply and told me that he would answer no further questions.
This was a continuation of the petty harassment that was going on yesterday. It emerged that the Gardai had also threatened to impound Frodo, the dog belonging to Venus who had been sitting patently at the foot of the tree. They had also been stopping supporters leaving the area and demanding to know their names and addresses. A protester cycling away from the area who briefly mounted a pavement on his bike before dismounting was stopped by Gardai and told he would be summoned for cycling on the pavement.
It is noticeable that the Gardai hare not engaging in this sort of harassment when there are any number of people around, in particular if anyone has a camera. Indeed when I was taking pictures the Guard on duty scuttled to the other side of the tree to be out of camera shot. If you are in the area please stop at the protest for a while each time you pass by and say hi. If you don't live or work nearby please try and get down to the protest for a couple of hours. É
I arrived at the protest at around 915am to find five people under the tree. Venus is still in the tree (and still fasting) after five days but she told me that she intends to break her fast tonight. More material has been got to her in the tree including a large plastic sheet to protect her from the rain. She is complaining of leg pains and there is some concern of deep vein thrombosis as it's difficult to exercise properly in the tree.
Although yesterday was quiet there was further Gardai harassment of the protest this morning. One of the supporters, Finbarr G, who had spent the night at the foot of the tree, told me what happened.
At approx. 4.30am this morning (Friday) an unmarked car pulled onto the pavement alongside the Palestinian peace tree outside the Israeli embassy. This occurred during the only period overnight when five of the six people on the vigil below the tree were away. (Two to get coffee, the 3rd at the toilet).
The first action of one of the Gardai in the car (E69) was to climb on the roof (of the car) and remove the Palestinian flag from the tree where it hung. As people returned to the tree the Gardai (one was E12) began removing placards that were stored at the base of the tree and posters from the surrounding area. Whilst quoting the 1997 litter act they proceeded to remove only political materials. Attempts by protesters present to claim possession of material was met with the threat of being charged under the act. When pressed on the removal of only the protest material and flags but not the other litter present on the street Gardai E12 stated that 'they' were willing to tolerate protest but what was happening here was merely loitering and trespass.
Just before 9am Inspector Hart (for the Irishtown and Donnybrook area) arrived. When informed of the removal of the material and the low-level intimidation which accompanied it he said that the material, if it was actually removed, was likely to cause offence to people, indicating towards the embassy and this would not be tolerated. After being told that the removal was under the litter act whilst only political items were removed, and that the flag, property of the whole group, was removed from the tree, also apparently under the litter act he said he would investigate it and then left. The Irishtown and Donnybrook police stations have been contacted with preliminary complaints.
As I write this article (10.40am) I've received SMS text messages from the protest telling me that sometime after I left (at 10am) the Gardai took the names of everyone at the protest. They reason they gave was a complaint from the Embassy under the incitement to hated act because of a placard reading 'Israelis New Nazis' which had been left yesterday by someone, É They request people go down and bring posters but be careful not to bring anything that can be claimed to be a racist word or symbol.
(prepared 9th April 2002)
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