On 1 July 2011, the Victorian police viciously attacked a peaceful pro-Palestine demonstration in Melbourne’s CBD. In one of the largest political arrests in a decade, 19 non-violent protesters were arrested during a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) action against Israeli-owned Max Brenner store. The chocolateria in the Queen Victoria Centre is owned by the Israeli conglomerate ‘Strauss group’; a company that provides “care rations” for the Israeli military, including the Golani and the Givati brigades – two of the key Israeli military brigades involved in Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza in December 2008/January 2009, which killed more than 1300 Palestinians, the majority of whom were civilian, including over 300 children.
The peaceful picket was ‘kettled’ by police before leading activists were individually targeted in an unprovoked attack by the police riot squad. The majority of those arrested have been charged with “trespass” and “besetting”, while a small number of the demonstrators were also charged with “behaving in a riotous manner”. Video taken of the demonstrations shows that the pro-Palestinian activists were completely peaceful and they were attacked in a violent and unprovoked manner by the Victorian police. (search BDS melbourne on youtube to see for yourselves).
The protest against Max Brenner occurred as part of the global Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against the apartheid Israeli state. Inspired by the South African struggle against apartheid, the BDS campaign was launched by Palestinian civil society in 2005. Endorsed by more than 171 Palestinian civil society organisations, including political parties, women’s groups, trade unions, associations, the BDS campaign is conducted in the framework of international solidarity and resistance to injustice and oppression and calls for non-violent punitive measures to be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognise the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with international law.
The attack on the peaceful BDS action in Melbourne highlights increasing attempts to criminalise BDS and pro-Palestine solidarity activism internationally. Currently in the US, France and Greece, hundreds of pro-Palestine activists are facing criminal charges for non-violently standing up for Palestinian human rights.
Since this attack the Boycott Israel 19 have received messages of solidarity from Noam Chomsky, Norman Finklestein, John Pilger, the Victorian Branch of the Maritime Union of Australia, Geelong Trades Hall Council, and more. Strengthened by this show of local and international support the BDS movement has continued on, with a lively demonstration of about 350 people on July the 29th, where the crowd maintained its unity and sat down outside Max Brenner in QV and Melbourne Central for some time. With absolutely no pretext available to attack the demonstration the police held off. It was a victory for our movement.
Yet the police and the pro-Zionist Victorian government have struck back.
First there was the news that Baillieu was requesting that the Australian Competition and Consumers’ Commission to investigate the possible illegality of the campaign against Max Brenner, on the basis that it was an illegal ‘secondary boycott’. This is a massive breach of civil liberties, which would essentially mean that no group of people could ever protest against a corporation for social justice reasons. So for example, organising boycotts of corporations because they use sweatshop labour would be considered a secondary boycott, and therefore a criminal activity.
If this wasn’t bad enough, just this morning (8am Tuesday the 9th), a number of the Boycott Israel 19 were targeted in a sophisticated operation in which police tried to raid the houses of a number of the Boycott Israel 19 for alleged breach of bail conditions. These bail conditions specified that we were not allowed to be within 50 metres of Max Brenner, essentially criminalising the targeting of this pro-Apartheid company. At this stage 4 people are in custody, and police have made it clear that they will be trying to keep them in remand until the trial date, September the 5th.
We must not be intimidated!! We know that the Palestinians are facing much worse. The next demonstration against Max Brenner will be crucial:
5:30pm at the State Library
September the 9th