Right to protest for Palestine on trial

Max Brenner protest, Melbourne, July 1 2011. Photo: boycottisrael19.wordpress.com

Nineteen Palestine solidarity protesters face court on May 1 for their involvement in a protest on July 1 last year in support of Palestine.

At the July 1 protest outside a Max Brenner chocolate store, the police ran wild, viciously attacking peaceful protesters.

Max Brenner is owned by Israeli conglomerate the Strauss Group, a company that provides “care rations” for the Israeli military forces in occupied Palestine, including the Golani and Givati brigades.

These were two of the key Israeli military brigades involved in Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009 that killed more than 1300 Palestinians.

At first, the police targeted people who were leading the protest and holding megaphones.

After picking off protest leaders, the police charged sections of the crowd to separate those who had linked arms.

Using the dangerous “kettle” tactic, the police charged the demonstration on all four sides, causing protesters to collapse on top of each other.

As a result of the protest, 19 activists face charges of besetting and trespass. Some also face extra charges, such as resisting or hindering arrest. All 19 have bail conditions prohibiting them from going near the Max Brenner shops in the QV or Melbourne Central shopping centres.

The protest was one of several organised by the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid as part of the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel outside Israeli-owned shops that provide support or profit from the anti-Palestinian policies of the Israeli government.

The issue at the heart of the case is the right to protest and the right to engage in public solidarity with Palestine.

The charges are part of a pattern of increasingly violent attacks by police on protesters — the violent eviction of Occupy Melbourne from City Square in October last year, an unprovoked police attack on a refugee rights protest outside the Maribyrnong Detention Centre in May last year and a police attack on a Visy workers’ picket line in December 2010, which resulted in 29 workers being charged.

At the initial July 27 hearing for the Max Brenner 19, the police conceded that the QV shopping centre was, in fact, a public place. The trespass charges relate to “trespass in a public place”.

At the hearing, one police officer said the Palestine solidarity protest was “anti-semitic”. But when defence counsel Rob Stary asked for evidence of the protesters’ “anti-semitism”, the officer conceded that there was none and that the protest was not anti-semitic.

The trial, which is expected to last for two weeks, will centre on the right to political expression, as is guaranteed in the Victorian Charter of Human Rights.

The outcome of this case will influence other cases involving the right to political protest.

The campaign has received many messages of support, including from John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Jeff Sparrow and Antony Lowenstein.

[A protest to support the Max Brenner 19 will take place outside Melbourne Magistrates Court on May 1, 9am at 233 William Street, Melbourne. A public meeting is planned for May 4, 6.30pm at Victorian Trades Hall, corner Lygon and Victoria Streets, Carlton South.]

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