The Israeli embassy was always going to be the flashpoint and as the 100,000 or so Pro-Gazan demonstrators passed it on Saturday, it was inevitable and right, that a determined and militant group of mainly Muslim youth would gather outside to protest against the wanton slaughter of Israel’s brutal war machine.
By late afternoon, Kensington High Street outside the Israeli embassy was packed with protestors, too narrow for the size of crowd it was further narrowed by a set of crash barriers on either side, patrolled by police and their helpers from the Stop the War stewards.
Some of the youth had managed to climb on the Embassy gates and were waving their flags from the top. Clearly any standoff is unacceptable from the point of view of the cops and undesirable from the point of view of the Stop the War stewards. It was a case of soft cop, hard cop.
The stewards were determined to isolate the militant protestors who wanted to confront the embassy, but unable to do so as a determined crowd of several thousands had parked outside the embassy entrance.
The cops wanted to physically destroy them.
The police attack was timed to coincide with the point at which the bulk of the demonstration had passed. The cops had already retreated behind the barriers to gather their forces, while repeatedly tear-gassing the protestors at the front by the gates.
But even before their attack the crowd was already uncomfortably hemmed in. A young man just in front of me fainted under the pressure of the crush. Fortunately for him, the crowd were able to separate around him, a doctor appeared and he was able to recover and get back on his feet. Ten minutes later and he would have been crushed to death.
According to Indymedia it was ten to five when hundreds of riot cops rampaged out of the embassy, as the police moved into the crowd, smashing people in the face with their shields, beating them with their truncheons, kicking them and screaming in their face, the crowd surged back against the barriers.
So as far as possible those not directly under police assault did not panic, people remained remarkably calm in the circumstances, as we all knew that if anyone fell that they would be crushed. They crowd did not try to save themselves at the expense of everyone else, instead they turned to the stewards for help, calling on them to urgently open the crash barriers to ease the now intolerable pressure building.
The stewards refused. And with the police helping instead pushed against the crash barriers to hold them up, preventing the crowd from escaping the assault.
But the small number of stewards and cops holding up the fence, could not counter the now intense pressure of the crowd, so great was the crush that the barriers collapsed behind us.
Bodies entangled in the mess of metal lay everywhere as scores were injured. Where I was an old woman fell with another younger woman on top of her, the old woman’s hand trapped. Another man behind me his body stretched out unable to move, his foot trapped by the weight of the crowd.
I desperately struggled to hold back the weight of the mass piling on top of us. Some protestors who had managed to jump the fence pulled the people away from the fence. After several minutes, with my leg now bleeding, crushed against the steel of the collapsed barriers, with the pain becoming intolerable, the pressure eased and I was able to move and step over the fence, but cautiously still not wanting to fall, with only enough time to free the man’s foot next to me so he too could be pulled clear.
This was repeated along the length of fence, probably around 50 to 75 metres in all. Dozens were injured – an old man near me was carried away by three cops, his leg crushed, shouting for medical aid.
Meanwhile the police carried out the second part of their plan, after clearing the street they formed a line to trap a section of the crowd for photographing and arrest.
I moved down a narrow side street with my friend, her face drained, her back had been injured bent over another woman lying below her.
More police told us to move away, we turned the corner and found the the cops knelt over the Asian man they had crushed. The protestors took him from his assaulters, carrying him some distance down the street for medical assistance.
Now with our part of the protest broken up – the cops once again assisted by the Stop the War stewards cleared the crowd from the streets behind the Embassy and we retreated towards Kensington Gardens, into another war zone.
For now it was the time for part three of their plan. Next to the park running battles broke out as the cops continued to assault the disoriented protestors. Cops scream in the faces of the crowd, while using their batons and shields as weapons of assault.
Following one charge, they attacked a Muslim cleric standing by the side of the road, up some stairs by a door to shelter from their attack. An Asian officer, pulled him down from steps, before hitting an Italian woman in the belly, while his mate smashed another woman over the head with his shield.
The ferocity of the police riot against the pro-Palestinian demonstrators, including repeated tear gassing of the protestors nearest the embassy, revealed much about the authoritarian militarization of the state apparatus, the support of the British state for their Israeli ally, and what we need to do to build a movement that can counter their assaults.
So what are the lessons?
Last year the British police launched a sustained attack on the climate camp protesting against the construction of a new coal fuelled power station at Kingsnorth. They surrounded the camp. Arrested dozens. Undertook the most invasive searches of protestors and established a reign of terror so pervasive that this year it is likely the camp will not take place.
Militant protest is not wrong, but our side need to get organised. We outnumbered the cops massively, yet a few hundred cops with training and equipment dispersed a crowd thousands strong. When they charge we must learn to stand firm. They rely on us panicking turning from them and fleeing, so small numbers of police can disperse demonstrators who grossly outnumber them.And the left instead of attacking brave youth as soft cop stewards must plan and lead the protest against the Israelis and their British allies.