Victoria police viciously attacked a peaceful pro-Palestine demonstration in Melbourne on Friday night. In one of the most violent displays in years, around 20 people were arrested and later charged with various offences ranging from trespass and riotous behaviour to resisting arrest.
Scores more suffered bruising and one protester had his shoulder dislocated after up to 100 police officers surrounded the demonstration and repeatedly charged at and picked-off participants.
The event, called by Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, was protesting against Israeli-owned Max Brenner chocolateria in the QV shopping centre. Max Brenner is owned by the Israeli conglomerate the Strauss Group, a company that has a long and sordid history of giving explicit support to the Israeli military – including during their 2008/09 massacre in Gaza.
The non-violent demonstration was 150-200 strong. Salem Nasser, one of the organisers, described the scene:
We were peacefully gathered in the QV courtyard. People were making speeches about the daily attacks that Palestinians endure; the apartheid nature of the Israeli state; the ongoing ethnic cleansing; the hundreds and thousands who are languishing as political prisoners in Israeli jails; and score who are killed every month at the hands of the IDF.
All of a sudden some special operations type group rushed into the area and split the demonstration in two. They began by targeting the people with megaphones and pushing people to the ground. They were calculated in their approach.
My section of the demonstration was pushed by maybe 40 cops – they drove us into the ground and then surrounded us. We sat and linked arms, refusing to move any further. A number were then arrested as the cops picked off people on the outside of the group and dragged them away.
We stayed for around an hour, before deciding that we should move off as a group and meet up with the others. We were bruised and a little battered, but not cowed. Our victory was in resisting the violence and refusing to be intimidated.
Warning signs were all around QV – and also Melbourne Central shopping centre, the site of previous demonstrations that successfully shut down the Israeli-owned Jericho/Black Pearl cosmetics company – stating that “people who propose to demonstrate disapproval of the political or social interests of a retail tenant” would be prohibited from entering.
But the police attack was completely unprovoked and is an indication that Victoria Police and the Baillieu state government are intent on cracking down on the democratic right to protest.
On one hand, the viciousness of the police response is connected to the law and order campaign that both parties were running in the lead up to last November’s state election. On the other, it is testament to the strength of the campaign that the authorities are so intent to see it shut down.
Around the country, there have been numerous successful actions against Israeli companies – and the protests have grown in size this year.
But no matter how heavy handed the police get, they will not succeed in stopping the demonstrations against apartheid. The justice for Palestine campaign is global – and growing; Melbourne participants vowed to return and continue to show solidarity. The struggle will only end with the fall of apartheid.