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Police attack on Gaza convoy: Terrorising Solidarity

Campaign Against Criminalizing Communities | 03.03.2009 20:53 | Anti-racism | Palestine | Terror War | World

On 13th February anti-terror powers were used to detain Burnley supporters of the Viva Palestina aid convoy enroute from Britain to Gaza. [1] Police also cordoned off two houses of British Asians during a search, thus portraying them as a threat. An Imam and his wife were subjected to strip searches in their own home.

Information on the arrests was fed to the mass media — for publication at the same time as delegations from many parts of Britain converged on London for the Gaza trip. By 15th February, six of the detainees had been released but without passports. Three from Burnley were still being held; plus the ambulance that they were driving.

By 17th February all detainees were finally released – without charge. But cash and mobile phones were still not returned by the police.

When police disrupted the Viva Palestina convoy enroute to Gaza, they attacked solidarity here with people resisting oppression abroad and discouraged donations. These effects were deliberate. If anyone had ever wanted to smuggle funds to Gaza to buy arms, they would hardly have chosen to travel with a group that was deliberately seeking publicity, with an embedded journalist reporting daily on its progress. Nor would they have chosen a convoy so obviously likely to be scrutinised and/or blocked by the Israeli authorities. The Viva Palestina convoy is supported by the Stop the War Coalition, the Respect Party, the Anglo-Arab Organisation, several UK trade unions and Muslim organisations.

Yet again the police have used ‘anti-terror’ laws to promote a politics of fear, aimed at isolating migrant and Muslim communities, while justifying unjust powers. Yet again they have turned cash and mobile phones into objects of suspicion. The police attack put convoy supporters on the defensive for carrying cash. According to one supporter, ‘There was cash around because none of the main banks would allow us to open an account.’ [2]

Indeed, police attacks and investigations frighten banks into refusing or closing accounts for charitable as well as political activities. Therefore those trying to transfer money must find alternatives, such as carrying cash, which police turn into a focus of suspicion. Kurdish and Turkish activists have been prosecuted for supposedly raising funds for terrorism, though they were not convicted by the jury. [3]

As in the Viva Palestina incident, the climate of suspicion generated by the ‘war on terror’ means that banks perceive a risk of being investigated for ‘terrorist’ funds if they handle certain accounts. Under such suspicion, the Muslim charity Interpal has had banking facilities suspended several times, though no incriminating evidence was ever found. Interpal was investigated by the Charity Commission in 1996 and 2003 because of accusations of funding Hamas but was cleared on both occasions. Then in 2007 its account was closed by NatWest. In January 2008 Lloyds Bank suspended international clearing facilities by Lloyds for Interpal’s account with the Islamic Bank of Britain, citing pressure from the US authorities over the fact that Interpal has been banned in the USA because of its supposed association with Hamas. [4] The Palestine Solidarity Campaign as well as HHUGS, which helps Muslim prisoners and immigration detainees, have also had banking facilities withdrawn because bank fear being investigated for indirectly supporting ‘terrorist’ organisations.

The Viva Palestina incident adds to this list of cases which illustrate how so-called ‘anti-terror’ powers are often used to harass peaceful political activities, especially those involving migrants, Muslims or refugees. They are treated as suspect communities through an implied association with terrorism. The mass media report such arrests through the official language of ‘terrorism’, thus colluding with the state.

Under the Terrorism Act 2000, ‘terrorism’ is vaguely defined to encompass any activity which may threaten damage to property in pursuit of political aims. In implementing the law, ‘terrorism’ is effectively defined as resistance to oppressive regimes, especially those allied with the UK. Hamas is officially banned here as a terrorist organisation, while Israeli terrorism is treated as self-defence.  In this country, solidarity activity is persecuted and even criminalised under anti-terror powers.  Such powers are used to protect state terrorism by terrorising opponents. 

The police attack on the Gaza convoy undermined participation in democratic politics, as George Galloway has rightly said. [5] More generally, participation in international solidarity activity here is being persecuted in the name of preventing terrorism. Similar powers have also been used against Tamil, Kurdish and Baloch activists, among others. [6]  Indeed, this is a main reason why the state has ‘anti-terror’ powers, which are not needed to protect the public from violence.

Therefore such powers and their use should be opposed by everyone who supports democratic rights of free expression and association. Solidarity is needed for political and charitable activities which may be targeted in the future.



[2] ‘Galloway seeks inquiry into convoy arrests’, The Guardian, 21 February,

[3] CAMPACC, Terrorising Minority Communities with ‘Anti-Terrorism’ Powers: their Use and Abuse, Submission to the Privy Council Review of the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001, August 2003,

[4] Interpal references: The Times, 05.09.08;,

[5] According to Galloway’s statement of 19 February:
‘Anyone with any sense can see that it is in everyone's interest to encourage Britain's Muslim community to engage themselves in democratic politics…. The timing of the operation is seen locally as an attempt to smear and intimidate the Muslim community and I must say they seem to be right. The arrests were clearly deliberately timed for the eve of the departure of the convoy. Photographs of the high-profile snatch on the M65 were immediately fed to the press to maximise the newsworthiness of the smear that was being perpetrated on the convoy.’ See

[6] Les Levidow, Opposing the UK ‘Terrorist’ List: Persistence as Resistance, February 2009,

Campaign Against Criminalizing Communities
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The Mark Steel article The Independent didn't publish

03.03.2009 20:59

No column in The Independent again this morning, as they weren't overly keen on the issue I was writing about, which is connected to the Viva Palestina convoy of trucks, that left London on February 14th to deliver food and medicine to Gaza.

The convoy was financed by collections throughout the country, which were enough to fund 110 vehicles on a journey to across the channel, through France, Spain, across North Africa and hopefully through Egypt into Gaza. This, you might imagine, is the sort of charitable venture that would be publicised across the media as a chirpy feelgood tale, perhaps involving a regular feature on Blue Peter and at some point resulting in Cat Deeley squealing 'The response has been AMAZING, you've been ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC'.

But in the tradition that anyone's permitted to carry out crazy wacky acts as long as it involves charity, the police decided to contribute to the event with a spectacular lark. Early in the morning, on the day the convoy left, they arrested nine people on the M65 under the Terrorism Act, who were on their way to Hyde Park, where the journey was due to begin. They blocked off an entire section of motorway, and grabbed their suspects with what was described in the local newspaper as "Dozens of police cars, vans, 4x4 vehicles and a helicopter."

The first I knew of this episode was from that afternoon's BBC news, on which it was the main item. Which is as you might expect, with nine suspected terrorists being pounced on by an operation that included a helicopter. To be fair, the BBC journalists didn't have to work too hard to find the story, as the police informed them in advance, and in addition, by a splendid coincidence, a press photographer happened to be on hand to record this successful swoop.

Maybe this is how the police plan to fund themselves from now on. They'll follow the practice of celebrities and stage their events so they can be sold to OK and Hello. Major criminals will find themselves lying on the floor in handcuffs, while a photographer claps his hands and calls out "That's lovely, now can we do the arrest one more time while the Inspector stands just behind kissing his wife, and then have a profile of the murderer's assistant on a sheepskin rug in front of a coal fire."

The news reported that the terrorists were on the way to join the Viva Palestina convoy, which straight away seemed a little peculiar. Why would terrorists be on the way to join such an event? What would they be planning to attack? The convoy of trucks heading for Gaza? And what sort of Jihadist terrorist would say "I know how we'll move around without being noticed - we'll drive down the motorway in three vans with Palestinian flags flapping from the windows and a f**king great 'Viva Palestina' logo painted on the side."

The story was reported in almost every Sunday paper, with headlines such as “Galloway’s Aid Convoy linked to three terror suspects”, in the Mail on Sunday. And they had the effect of reducing contributions to the charity by eighty per cent, as the astute might have been able to predict. But the nine men, six from Blackburn and three from Burnley, were questioned, and the lorries, which were full of children's toys, were searched. And presumably the head of the anti-terrorist squad stood there throughout saying "Check that Bratz for semtex." By the next morning six were released without any charges, and a few days later the other three were released as well, the police appearing to be duly embarrassed to the extent they've paid the fares so the wrongly arrested men could catch up with the convoy, which by now was moving into Algeria.

The local councillor for the arrested men in Burnley is Wajid Khan, described how they were “Well respected men in the community, seen in a positive light.”

Presumably then, all the broadcasters and newspapers who considered it a major story that the police had successfully pulled off this anti-terrorist operation will now make it an equally prominent story that the arrests had no validity whatsoever. Apart from anything else there must be many people who saw that story, and are wondering why they've heard nothing about it since, assuming a bunch of terrorists have escaped and are running round on the loose. They may even indulge in some investigative work, which will show that three of the arrested men are defence witnesses in a separate trial, which may, or may not be a coincidence.

 So you can't help be suspicious that the arrest of people volunteering for charity may be connected to them being Muslims, and being associated with Palestine. If not it's going to mean Comic Relief this year will be chaos, with Richard Hammond and Lenny Henry spending the whole evening making announcements such as "Now we're going to meet the wonderful children of St. Josephs junior school in Kidderminster, who've raised two hundred and sixty-four pounds with a sponsored cartwheel race. So here's Alan Titchmarsh to speak to them from their high security cell in Belmarsh." 

Mark Steel
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Hide the following comment

I don't know why

05.03.2009 04:35

the case of Interpal needs to be brought in here. What is described concerning Viva Palestina is appalling and the intelligence services shoot themselves in the foot if they think this is going to help them get tip-offs about real terrorists.

As regards Interpal on the other hand, the Charity Commission hasn't yet responded to the BBC Panorama evidence, or has it?

only me