“What’s the petition for?” I asked Jane.
“It’s for the children of Gaza. They suffer in the war with Israel …. If you want, you can give donation too.” She guided me around the corner where three English-looking women in their twenties were chatting up some young guys from behind two small tables. Posters were stapled to the front of this makeshift stall. “Support the children of Gaza,” read one. “End the Siege on Gaza,” said another.
A few hundred demonstrators packed the court. Many held banners stained with blood marks for a background: “Stop the genocide in Gaza”, “Freedom for Palestine”, “Israeli mass murderers”.
A group of youngsters, maybe only teenagers, their faces covered with black and white keffiyehs – the symbol of Palestinian resistance since the Arab Revolt against the British in the 1930s – were posing and taking shots. They were waving the flag of the militant movement of Hamas: green background inscribed with the Shahada, the Muslim declaration of belief: “la ilaha illallah, Muhammadur rasulullah," there is no deity but God, and Muhammad is his Messenger.
A middle-aged man, with a carefully groomed gray beard, was standing atop the fountain wall holding a red loudspeaker. Even though only a white Arabian thawb and a red rounded cap protected him from the well-below-freezing temperature, sweat was pouring down his face. With a distinct Oxford accent he conducted the demonstration. Ecstatically, the crowd followed his commands.
Through the loudspeaker he cried, “When you drink Coca Cola, when you buy at Marks and Spencer, when you have a coffee at Starbucks, you pay money to the Zionists to kill your friends in Gaza.”
“Forget Nestle!” he shouted.
“No more Nestle!” screamed the crowd in unison.
“Don’t drink Coca Cola!” roared the loudspeaker.
“No more Coca Cola!” responded the crowd.
“I want you to shout so loud that your brothers in the Gaza streets can hear you. … Long live Palestine,”
“Long live Gaza,” followed the crowd.
“Lovely Palestine,” he bawled.
“Lovely Gaza,” echoed the crowd.
“One two three four,” he screamed.
“Israel no more,” replied the crowd.
“Five, six, seven eight,” he cried
“Israel’s will soon be dead,” yield the crowd in ecstasy.
I scanned the scene silently. Many snapped photos with their mobile devices, but only a few looked like professional photographers. This, after all, was only a small demonstration – a prelude to the tens of thousands that in just a few days would march the English streets and clash with the police to protest against Israel's Cast Lead operation. But today, policemen wearing high-visibility yellow jackets were standing passively a short distance away, disengaged.
“I've heard that Israeli children are also suffering in the war. Can I donate for them too?” I asked Jane.