Tuna was still very much on my mind when a middle aged man shyly approached with a perplexed look on his face. I assumed him to be just one more person who had mistaken me for the tourist information office; however, his questions had nothing to do with the location of the Covent Garden tube. The stranger asked me what was going on, and why those demonstrators were shouting so hysterically. “Why are they shouting at those ordinary people who want to go into that shop?”
So I gave him my pitch, and explained that the Ahava shop is Israeli owned and that they want to get it shut down. A long pause followed while he took in the scene up ahead. Clearly, he was trying to ascertain whether my explanation had remedied his confusion.
Nope, not good enough. His bewilderment deepens, moving up to level two out of a possible ten. “But I still don’t understand, why are they shouting like that at a shop?”
I replied that I had, in fact, spoken to them. They may look angry and unwashed but no group of picketers be they guys or be they gals is too big or too menacing for me to approach. After all, when you’re proud, and when you’re sure of your message, nothing and no one intimidates you. I had spoken to them, and their claim is that the Ahava factory is situated on land, stolen from the Palestinian nation. In actuality before Israel occupied the area, it had been illegally annexed by Jordan. Before that it had been part of the British mandate established to create a national homeland for the Jewish people. Before that it had been part of the Turkish Empire. The Ahava factory is on land where there has been no Palestinian state since the beginning of time. But once they’d made up their minds, why should the picketers let geography or history confuse them.
Had my elucidation been too long-winded? My friend seemed to have reached level three of confusion and after a long paused asked:
“Do they do this at other shops or just here? I mean, how long have they been coming here? I just do not understand not why they are doing this?”
Time has taught me caution, and I was far too shrewd than to fall into the trap of badmouthing the other guy, nor did I need to. All their filth and evil were there for to be seen. “The righteous,” Our rabbis teach us, “have their work done by others.” and I was feeling pretty damn righteous as I saw that pleasant English chap contemplating those lunatics braying and bleating before his eyes.
I asked my still confused acquaintance whether he knew anything about the Arab-Israeli conflict and he replied that he only knew what he sees on the news – hardly an auspicious beginning. He then continued apologetically, “But I’m not Jewish, I’m a Christian and I still don’t get it”. I did not think for a second that he was implying that Christians are smarter than Jews so all you competitive ones can calm down now!
I believe that he was identifying the other side as mainly non-Jews too. I believe he was saying, “Even though I’m a Christian, even though I watch the largely biased anti-Israel news, I still don’t identify with them. I still don’t understand why they would target this small shop and what that could possibly achieve?”
I then told him that there are many joint ventures between Israelis and Palestinians which is, of course, progress towards peace and that those on the other side are advocating abolishing such progressive initiatives. He looked fairly distressed at that. I also told him that we as humans should oppose all forms of bullying. He heartily agreed.
In the name of fairness and because I’m always happy to have my work done by others, I usually tell people to go and talk to them on the other side so they can perhaps explain themselves better. He looked quite horrified that I might dare suggest he go and speak to braying donkeys and bleating sheep and politely said “no thank you”. Well you can’t say I didn’t try. The confused face look went down a couple of notches back to level one and we were out of the red zone. He then told me he was going to see some classic 1931 film in the cinema nearby. I wished him well, and waved him on his way.
I also had a wonderful chat with an Italian gay man. His English was limited, but his handsome looks were fair compensation, and my “informal” sign language stood me in good stead explaining the angry mob. “Oh itsa notso gooda” was an appropriate response. He said he wanted to visit Israel with his boyfriend. I told about Israel’s excellent gay rights record in stark contrast to the Palestinian Territories and Gaza Strip zero gay tolerance which often involves torturing, lynching or worse. It is not uncommon for gay Palestinians to smuggle themselves over the border into Israel controlled territory for refuge from torture. He looked pained.
Another guy with a thick Scottish accent and shaved head stood closely behind a co-demonstrator watching him, a little too intensely for my liking. I went up to him to ask if I could help. He said to me whilst standing very closely to me with burningly intense eye contact. “What’s going on here”? I explained simply about the bullying. He then said roughly to me “Do you really think this is bullying?” “Yes, I do.” I braced myself for a virulent anti-Israel attack, and already preparing my response, however, my answer seemed to have pleased him. “Good,” he said, “I see this as bullying too.” I was further surprised as he revealed himself to have been a soldier in an elite British Force that had had some undercover connection with the IDF. He was very well educated on the I/P situation. A stark reminder that one should never judge a book by its cover. The Scotsman was also a proud Catholic, the type of fascinating person I wished I could have spent longer talking to. I implored him to go to the other side and talk to them. He refused and said with a knowing twinkle in his eye. “I know what they are. I have nothing to say to them”.
Oh and I almost forgot. There was also a six foot tattooed skin head, the type that if you trod on him you’d scrape your shoe on the grass, who walked passed and articulated, “F******** Jewish C****” So if any of my opponents are reading, don’t give up hope. You have your allies too. We each get the friends we deserve.
You can’t win ’em all and I’m not sure I’d want to, but it’s good to be out there and it’s good to be reminded that we have more friends and more support than the media care to report.