Early Wednesday morning on August 30 Palestine solidarity activists blockaded the Occupation company Carmel Agrexcoâs UK headquarters. This was part of an ongoing campaign against recurrent breaches of human rights and international law in Palestine.
Carmel is complicit in war crimes under the International Criminal Court Act 2001 (ICC Act). They import fresh produce originating from illegal Zionist settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The action follows a legal warning letter to Carmel stating clearly why they are in breach of the law.
The action took place at Agrexco UK, Swallowfield Way, Hayes, Middlesex, Israelâs largest importer of agricultural produce into the European Union. It is 50% Israeli state owned.
Protestors used wire fencing and bicycle D-Locks in a well planned blockade at the two entrances to the building.
Before taking part in the blockade, many of the protesters had witnessed first hand the suffering of Palestinians under Israeli military occupation.
This follows on from an action of 11th November 2004, when seven Palestine-Solidarity protesters from London and Brighton were arrested after taking part in a blockade outside the same company.
Last September a Judge ruled that Agrexco (UK) must prove that their business is lawful. The acquittal of the seven activists before they were able to present their defence meant that the court did not have to rule on the legality of Agrexco-Carmelâs involvement in the supply of produce from illegal settlements in the occupied territories.
Todayâs blockade aims to draw attention to this companyâs complicity in murder, theft and damage of occupied land, collective punishment, apartheid and ethnic cleansing, and other breaches of International Law.
The blockade totally closed down Agrexcoâs distribution centre with Agrexco shutting their warehouse gates. Despite the protesters being locked on inside Agrexcoâs property they have instructed the police not to make any arrests. Agrexco hope to avoid any embarrassing court cases where their complicity in the above crimes would be exposed.
UK Headquarters of Israeli Company Blockaded to Gain Ruling on Legality of Trading with Settlements.
By Mary Nazzal-Batayneh
Activists arrived at the UK headquarters of Carmel-Agrexco before sunrise on Wednesday morning for a day of uncompromising protest.
The purpose underlying the protest was clear: to expose an Israeli company that is engaging in continuous unlawful and brutal activity by importing fresh produce originating from illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The method of protest chosen by the activists was to construct two large metal triangular cages at each entrance. Protestors secured their necks to the cages by using bicycle D-Locks for over 11 hours with several supporters close at hand. One cage served to totally shut down the exit, and the other caused major disruption at the entrance.
The strategy was ultimately to have arrests take place in order to expose the companyâs illegal activity in English courts. However, in a clear display of cowardice a decision was apparently taken by Carmel-Agrexco to withstand the disruption caused by the protestors. Therefore, at the end of the day only one activist was arrested and subsequently de-arrested.
By behaving in such a manner Carmel-Agrexco has incriminated itself and implicitly acknowledged its guilt. The company effectively allowed a âlegal blockadeâ to take place, rather than face a challenge in court.
Those committed to exposing a company that thrives on Palestinian suffering are asked to join in such efforts until the occupier ceases to profit from the occupation.
Below is an account of the dayâs events:
In the early hours of the morning, Palestine solidarity activists swiftly erected two metal cages in the middle of both entrances of the company despite a âheroicâ attempt/assault by one of Carmel-Agrexcoâs security guards to fight off the protestors.
The police arrived shortly after the protestors were secured and were in a particularly aggressive mood. In a complete state of paranoia, the police quickly cordoned off both areas outside the gates. By doing so they had inadvertently contributed to the blockade by refusing entry to people and vehicles. When questioned, the police said the area was a âcrime scene,â the crime being âaggravated trespass.â For the next 5-6 hours, the police inspected every person, car and truck attempting to pass through the area.
In the bitter cold, the four caged-in protestors accustomed themselves to the bicycle locks around their necks and their concrete seats. They would remain locked up and defiant for 11 hours. The headquarters is a monstrous structure featuring a prominently displayed blue and white Carmel logo. In front of the building, a British flag, a Carmel flag, and an Israeli flag are erected side by side.
During the first hour, supporters gave a letter to the police outlining the reasons for the protest. One supporter said, âwe are asking the police to investigate the crimes and stop them happening.â At first, the police were reluctant to pay any attention, but took the letter after being told that it would be an important part of the court case. The letter had been previously sent by recorded mail to Carmel-Agrexco.
Over the next two hours, the fire brigade arrived with several pieces of bulky equipment apparently to remove the chained protestors. After some discussion around the cages, the firemen decided they would not cut the protestors out and soon left the so-called âcrime scene.â
After somehow loosening part of one of the cages, a policewoman squeezed through in order to search the protestors, and then proceeded to remove all their bags and personal belongings. She then informed them that they were arrested. Unfortunately this did not turn out to be the case as a few minutes later another policeman came along and quietly told the pair that they were âde-arrested.â
The other cage was not tampered with, but in a blatant breach of their duty, the police ignored calls to provide the protestors with food, water, and a bucket (mini-toilet). Supporters therefore had to hurl fruit bars, drinks and other items of sustenance to their fellow activists throughout the day.
One supporter was then arrested and driven to the local station for no apparent reason as she was merely a bystander. The police informed her that she was âaiding and abetting an aggravated trespass.â However, the absurdity of such a charge was clear and she was released a few hours later.
At 10:30 am, approximately 5 hours after the protest started, those caged in were given an official warning by the police and by Eric Solomon of Carmel-Agrexco. Activists were told that their activity was unlawful, which prompted a thumbs up signal from one of the protestors. However, they were then told by Solomon that the company would âfacilitate their departureâ when they were ready to leave. It soon became clear that a decision had been taken to refrain from arresting the group.
Carmel-Agrexco had declined to have the blockaders charged with aggravated trespass. Instead, they closed the gates thus barricading themselves in their own property. The cordon was taken down and only a few police were left to âsecureâ the area.
Such a decision prompted pleas from many of the activists. The police were told in no uncertain terms, âplease arrest us!â An activist asked one of the constables, âwhat more do you want?…we are locked up on their property!â Protester Tom Hayes said âAgrexco do not want to prosecute us because when a nearly identical protest was carried out two years ago Agrexco-Carmelâs’ dealings with illegal settlements in the West Bank were forced to be disclosed in court. The experience was very embarrassing and damaging for them.â
Despite being somewhat disappointed at the lack of arrests, the blockade continued for several more hours. Arabic music was played and food was thrown into the cages. Messages of support for the action flooded in from Occupied Palestine, including a special solidarity message from the Stop the Wall campaign which kept everyoneâs spirits soaring.
Later on in the day a huge Carmel truck displaying the message âproduce of Israelâ made its way through one of the gates. It is these lies that will continue to motivate similar future protests.
Having spent over 11 hours on site, the group made a collective decision to leave. Significant disruption had been caused and it seemed as if arrests would not be made. A noticeably nervous and agitated Eric Solomon re-appeared on site to witness the protestors accompanied by police dismantle the cages and depart.
All in all, the action revealed that Carmel-Agrexco does not readily want to prosecute activists for fear that their unlawful activity will be exposed and confirmed. More protests against the company are therefore anticipated and encouraged to stop breaches of human rights and international law in Occupied Palestine.
Text of letter sent to Carmel Agrexco:
Report on Carmelâs involvement in the Jordan Valley:
Press release from previous trial (with links):
War on Wantâs Report ââProfiting from the Occupationâ: