A Handshake and An Egg: Protesting For Palestine

A Handshake and An Egg: Protesting For Palestine
Photo: Simon Holliday

As I held a banner and chanted along in Bristol Broadmead I felt a growing tightness in my chest. No, not another bout of Covid, thank Gaia, but a familiar, sinking feeling of knowing I have something to say but being too nervous to do it. Eventually I asked the masked student behind the microphone if I could add my two pennies worth. In that old egalitarian and trusting nature of protest, he quickly obliged. For two minutes I poured out my heart to the passing shoppers. The message was clear - Barclays Bank has invested 瞿3bn in arms companies that bolster the Israeli massacre and it's time to ditch them. I asked them to open their hearts this Valentine's day to the Palestinian people and join us in resistance. A few waved and cheered, the majority walked on by.

As I passed the mike back along the picketline a bald, stocky man approached me. After seeing several others of this demographic swear and rave at us over the last hour, I steeled myself for another red faced tirade. Deep breaths - remember the nonviolence training. In fact, the man, without a word, simply stuck out his hand for a congratulatory shake of mine. Safe to say I was surprised and touched. Cmon Robin - dont judge a book by its cover.

Scarcely a minute later, as I was warming to this crowd of handshaking spectators, I felt sharp pain and a cold slime drip down my exposed fingers. Two grey tracksuit clad kids dashed past my vision, blurring out of sight like chased squirrels. They had egged us - smearing the banner and my clothes in yolky whiteness. For my two minutes on the mike I had earnt one handshake and one egg. And protesting was ever thus!

At least the muslim mum next to me remained chipper - they'd have to do worse than that to get her off the banner. In fact, my speech and the eggs had roused her. She got the mike passed down the line and told the tale, assuredly and emotionally, of the 6-year old Hind Rajab. Hind had begged rescuers to send help after being trapped by Israeli military fire, only to meet the same fate as the other 10,000 dead children in Gaza. The crowd was moved to silence. The air took on a new weight with her words. For how do we find the words for such a tragedy? From our open mike sharing, each voice gaining courage from the last, I learnt that it's only together that we can express the true depth and horror of what Palestinians face. 

Luckily a wizard with words, the Bristol musician Dizraeli, came to our aid with a punchy poem to knock Barclays into the gutter.  The clip is well worth a watch. There is a pain so deep in the movement for Palestine that from it are lifted the very best of poets. The raw rage and open grief make my heart pound like a drum to their rhythm. The union was complete, the crowd whole - if only for a minute.

Shaking off the last egg shell, I cycled straight to the Student Union with a plan - a student assembly for peace in the middle east. The University's chummy attitude to the worst beasts of war-profiteering, both banks and the arm companies themselves, has gone too far.  We students, as a community, have got to come together to challenge them. Not only for a shot at change, but also for a chance at healing our own internal pain. Palestinian and Jewish students have been through the mill of constant grief and isolation. The University paid lip service to them at the beginning of term  - meeting once with the affected Palestinian students and issuing a warning message against Hamas - but its time for more. We have to push our sleepy neoliberal institutions into hotbeds of democracy. To gather, debate and unite with a manifesto for change. With this vision in mind, I pulled the available student officers aside and put forward my dream for a mass march for peace.

The situation is desperate. As the Israeli forces prepare their assault on the 1.5 million refugees in Rafah, weve got to throw everything weve got at a chance for a ceasefire. The cracks across Western governments support for the siege are beginning to show. By building plans in popular assemblies and acting on them with nonviolent resistance, we stand a shot at pushing our Foreign Offices shaky conscience towards negotiating a ceasefire. It won't be easy. Despite the fact that 70% of the public support a ceasefire, 70% of MPs abstained or voted against it. What could be a clearer sign that our democracy has been betrayed? As Mark Curtis writes this week, "Our leaders are our biggest threat. If we don't democratise our system, we'll be killing foreigners and promoting wars forever." All the more reason to organise a democratic revolution, before all hope falls through our fingers. 

The plan is in motion. My heart is open and ready for the twists and turns ahead. Though both have been fleeced beyond recognition by the pernicious and atomising effects of neoliberalism, community and struggle are our best options. Rebuilding them is our greatest hope.


Updates

  • I'm branching out into video! Thanks to my kind donors, I've managed to invest some equipment to start a video version of this blog - a vlog some youngsters amongst you might call it. I've turned this article into a video to kick things off. Check it out, give me feedback and subscribe for more.
  • I've been busy in between bouts of illness in helping to build Roger Hallam's new website. We're working together on a new leadership project called Revolution in the 21st Century. Watch this space!

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