Four anti-Israel activists were today cleared at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court of all charges after they locked themselves onto concrete-filled oil drums inside the Israeli-owned Ahava shop on Monmouth Street in London’s Covent Garden forcing it to close down for one day in September 2009 and another day in December 2009.
Taherali Gulamhussein, Bruce Levy, Tom Ellis and Ms Crouch, all from London, were found not guilty of failing to comply with a police officer’s orders to leave the shop (Ss.68&69 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994).
The activists insisted that they were legally justified in their actions as they claim the shop’s activities are illegal because the products on sale in the shop originate from Mitzpe Shalem, an Israeli settlement on the West Bank, and are deliberately mislabeled as “Made in Israel”.
Ms Crouch commented on the acquittal: “This is only a small victory in the wider campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. We’ll continue to challenge corporate complicity in the occupation and Israel’s impunity on the international stage.”
The website of the International Solidarity Movement states that on the first day of trial, prosecutors dropped aggravated trespass charges. This would have required the prosecution to demonstrate Ahava was engaged in lawful activity but, apparently, the CPS decided that this was not something they would attempt to prove.
And, according to the website, the Ahava store’s manager’s failure to testify contributed to the acquittals on all remaining charges.
The case also apparently hinged on a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) guidance to retailers:
“The Government considers that traders would be misleading consumers and would therefore almost be certainly committing an offence, if they were to declare produce from the OPT (including from the West Bank) as ‘Produce of Israel’. This would apply irrespective of whether the produce was from a Palestinian producer or from an Israeli settlement in the OPT. This is because the area does not fall within the internationally recognised borders of the state of Israel” (11 December 2009).
The activists were therefore found to have acted lawfully.
Another activist, Mr Matthews, said: “The message is clear. If your company is involved in apartheid and war crimes and occupying Palestinian land, people will occupy your shop.”
Sarah Colborne, of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said ‘it is the owners of Ahava who should be in court, not just for their role in helping to cement an unlawful occupation, but for violating the Fourth Geneva Convention by exploiting the natural resources of an occupied territory for profit.’
This case comes after last month’s case at Hove Crown Court when seven anti-war activists were cleared of all charges after breaking into the EDO arms equipment factory in Brighton and causing £200,000 worth of damage.
In that case the defendants claimed they were trying to prevent the factory from making arms for Israel during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. But in his directions before dismissing them to consider a verdict Judge George Bathurst-Norman told the jury: “”You may think that hell on earth would not be an understatement of what the Gazans suffered at that time” and said of group leader Christopher Osmond: “The jury may feel his efforts investigating the company merit the George Cross.” The Crown Prosecution Service may still investigate these directions.
Numbers for next Saturday’s anti-Israel protest outside Ahava on Monmouth Street in Covent Garden from midday until 2pm are certain to be swelled after yet another triumph for anti-Israel activists in the UK.
(Another recent anti-Israel protest outside Ahava).