Report from day 1 of trial

At 9am on Tuesday morning, around 50 supporters of the “Max Brenner 19” – Melbourne Palestine solidarity activists being prosecuted in the wake of a protest in July last year – gathered outside the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, to show their support for the defendants at the beginning of their trial.

One of the defendants, Jerome Small, read out a statement on behalf of the accused (published below). Other accused stood beside him, several of them wearing gags and with their wrists bound by Israeli flags, symbolizing the manner in which opposition to the genocidal policies of the Israeli state is being silenced and criminalized in Australia and around the world.

As defendants walked into the court, supporters chanted “this is not a police state” and “protesting is not a crime”.

The charges relate to a protest outside the Max Brenner store (which has links to the Israeli military) on July 1 2011. Around 150 people rallied outside the store, in solidarity with the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Apartheid Israel. That protest was viciously broken up by police, who arrested 19 people. Police admit this was a pre-meditated attempt to suppress anti-Israel protests, ordered by Police Command, who were almost certainly acting at the behest of or in collaboration with the new Liberal State government and the Zionist lobby.

The defendants are facing two main charges: “besetting”, and “trespass in a public place”, along with a series of related charges. The trespass charge is of particular significance, as, if the prosecutors are victorious, it could set a precedent for the policing of political protests in Victoria.

“Trespass in a public place” sounds like a contradiction in terms – and it is. But what the police, and the government, are trying to establish is that any protest or event in a public space can be deemed illegal, just on the say so of a police officer, and people can be arrested and charged if they do not move on. This is a major assault on the right of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

It has been clear over the last year that the Victoria Police, empowered or directed – it is hard to judge which – by the new Victorian government, have a new and more vindictive approach to policing protests. A protest for refugee rights at Maribyrnong Detention Centre was attacked by police, including with horses, resulting in several unnecessary arrests and one protestor having his collar-bone broken. And of course the Occupy Melbourne camp was brutally and bloodily broken up last year, in an operation that was clearly carried out at the behest of Ted Baillieu and Robert Doyle, who manage to unite in each of their persons the power of the vindictive state and the arrogance of money-power.

The video evidence submitted by the police in this trial makes a clear case: police should be being prosecuted for their violent and unprovoked attack on what was clearly a peaceful protest. Demonstrators who did no more than speak into a megaphone were dragged away, some in headlocks, for doing nothing more than speaking their minds. And yet it is the protesters who are on trial. It is a situation that turns justice on its head and demands opposition.

Many around Australia and the world have stood up to oppose the injustice of this trial, including Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Norm Finklestein and many others.

In Australia, Anthony Loewenstein, political commentator and author of My Israel Question, voiced his “support for protesters who are being put on trial for simply expressing their democratic rights outside Max Brenner. In a true democracy we would have the right to protest those.. complicit in the occupation of Palestine, as Max Brenner clearly is. I support them, I am in solidarity with them, and I think many more would be as well if they knew the truth behind this story.”

Folk singer and social justice activist Les Thomas (brother of Jack Thomas) said “It takes courageous people who are willing to make a stand like the 19 to make the world a better place. That’s why the powerful target them for prosecution. I’ve personally worked with a lot of the accused on social justice and workers rights campaigns. Predictable smears of “anti-semitism” for wanting the same rights for Jews and Arabs are dishonest, abusive and totally out of order. I know you would be the first to speak out against genuine anti-Semitism. My message to the 19 is that you are not alone.

The Refugee Action Collective (Vic) passed a motion of support this week, saying that RAC “regards the prosecution of the Max Brenner 19 as a serious attack on the right to protest. We call for all charges to be dropped and send our solidarity to those facing trial.”

Many other activist groups and concerned individuals have done the same. For more statements of support can be read at http://boycottisrael19.wordpress.com/ . To add your voice email vashtijane@gmail.com

Statement read to protesters outside the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on May 1 by Jerome Small, one of the defendants in the Max Brenner 19 case.

Our first task is to acknowledge that where we are standing right now is stolen land, and that the Wurundjeri people and the Kulin nations have never surrendered this land, nor given up their sovereignty.

Our next task is to acknowledge the colossal, life and death struggle being waged as we speak by Palestinian prisoners inside the jails of Apartheid Israel.

This year has seen hunger strikes in Israel’s prisons. First Khader Adnan, then Hana Shalabi, then eight Palestinian prisoners, then on April 17 some 1600 prisoners and today, on May the First, there are perhaps 2000 or more men and women, Palestinian prisoners of the occupation, who are now choosing systematic starvation as the last weapon of humans against an inhuman regime.

They are protesting against a prison regime of solitary confinement, strip searches, and lack of education.

The Palestinian prisoners and their supporters are protesting against a legal regime that includes Military Order 101, still in force in the West Bank, that criminalises organising and participating in protests; waving flags and other political symbols; printing and distributing political material.

And they are protesting against the system of “Administrative Detention” under which hundreds of Palestinians – including 21 members of Palestinian Legislative Council — are held, without charge or trial, for months or years on end.

Today, at least 8 Palestinian hunger strikers lie in Israeli prison hospitals, including some in Ramleh prison hospital where, according to reports, hunger strikers lie chained to their hospital beds.

We here, now, today, of course, are not subject to Military Order 101. The obscenity of Administrative Detention, of course, can be found in Australia, in the chain of immigration detention centres that stretches from Broadmeadows through Villawood and Darwin to Christmas Island.

But the rest of us, we are told, have rights. Rights to a political voice and assembly, rights to protest injustice, rights to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in all parts of the globe, including Palestine.

Exactly what rights we have, their application and their limits, may be tested over the coming days.

In particular, in this court, what will be tested is the legality of actions taken on July 1 20011. On that evening, at one of a series of rallies against Apartheid Israel, Victoria Police arrested 19 people. We are here defending charges including trespass in a public place, and besetting, an anti picketing charge.

In a bail variation hearing last year, Inspector Beattie testified that “the protesters had their own way” for too long and there had been a “decision made to draw a line in the sand and make arrests.”

The legality of the actions that followed on July 1 last year, will be weighed and decided over the coming weeks inside this court.

What will not be tested in this court is a series of other actions, that form part of the story that leads us to be standing here today.

We will not be investigating the sickening list of atrocities of the Golani and Givati Brigades, stretching from the killing fields of Sabra and Shatilla refugee camp in southern Beirut in 1982 to the systematic murder of families during Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2008/2009.

Neither is the action of Max Brenner subject to legal examination, when they decided to boast about giving comfort and support to these war criminals of the Golani and Givati brigades with “pamper packs”, as they put it, to “sweeten their special moments”.

Nor will the actions of the rest of the Israeli state be tested.

And of course, there will be no accounting for Israel’s willing accomplice in all this, the Australian state which, across parties and across decades, has willingly supplied military and political support to this Apartheid state of Israel.

We note that today and in the days to follow, strikes and mass rallies are being called in Gaza, in the occupied West Bank, and within the borders of Apartheid Israel, in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners and against the occupation.

We quote the words of hunger striker Khader Adnan, now released:

“The mass hunger strike is a signal to all oppressed and vulnerable people everywhere, not just Palestinians. It’s a message to everyone suffering from injustice, under the boot of oppression. This method will be successful, God willing, and will achieve the rights of the prisoners.”

So today, May Day, as workers gather and march in Melbourne and Manila, in Athens and across the globe, we should remember that the struggle of the Palestinian people, and today especially of the Palestinian prisoners, is the struggle of all of us. And it is in that court, the court of struggle, that justice for Palestine is being fought and will be won.

First published at http://boycottisrael19.wordpress.com/


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