In a decisive victory for the entire progressive community of Melbourne, the substantive charges made against 16 Palestine solidarity activists, including one Monash University student, were recently dismissed by the Victorian Magistrates court.
The activists were arrested last July at a peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) rally in QV Square against the Israeli owned Max Brenner, a company which sends care packages to soldiers in the Israeli Defence Force to “sweeten their special moments.” The charges against the protestors were ‘beset’ (an anti-union law meaning to surround a building), and the outrageous ‘trespass in public place’.
The dismissal of these charges is an important victory for free speech and the right to voice political dissent in Melbourne, particularly in places that corporations previously believed they controlled.
Magistrate Simon Garnett concluded that, as a public place, QV Square must be accessible to members of the public at all times. The eviction and arrest of the protesters by the Victorian Police last July were therefore unlawful. In his judgement, Garnett drew on the Victorian Charter of Human Rights to conclude that the protesters had a legal right to enter QV for the purpose of political demonstration, and that to evict the protesters was a breach of their human rights to “freedom of expression” and “peaceful assembly.”
Defence lawyer Rob Starry has described the outcome as a “landmark victory” which will have “very wide ramifications.”
One of the arrestees and Students for Palestine member Vashti Kenway agrees; “We feel particularly pleased that this result has been made because it leads on to affect other questions, such as Occupy Melbourne.”
Garnett also found that the protesters were conducting a legitimate form of peaceful protest by engaging in BDS, a position that Students for Palestine has always maintained. BDS is a peaceful campaign, called for from within Palestine to encourage the international community to boycott, divest and sanction governments and companies which profit from or support the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The verdict in court is not just a victory for civil liberties, but a victory for the Australian Palestine solidarity movement. In Australia, the entire political establishment is hegemonic in its support of the Apartheid state of Israel. From the Coalition to the Greens, politicians fall over themselves to defend Israel, and denounce pro-Palestine activists as “aggressive” and “violent”. Last year, this culminated in several politicians, including ex-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, visiting Max Brenner for a nice cup of apartheid-laced hot chocolate.
The arrest and trial of the activists represented a serious attempt by this establishment to intimidate and silence an ever-growing pro-Palestine movement in Australia.
The extent of the collusion by those at the top of society in defence of Israel was revealed in court. Victoria Police, the management of Max Brenner, QV and Melbourne Central shopping centres and the pro-Zionist “Security Intelligence Group” (an intelligence agency which spies on countless other community and activist groups) had been meeting to discuss how to prevent the BDS rallies from taking place.
What’s more, Victoria Police had planned to arrest people at the protest on July 1st before it even began. Using photographs and videos from previous rallies, police had identified the so-called “leaders” of Students for Palestine, and sought to pluck these activists out of the peaceful demonstration, regardless of whether any crimes were being committed.
But in a fun twist, the court verdict not only cleared the activists from the ridiculous charges, but found it was the Victoria Police who were guilty of ‘besetting’ Max Brenner.
The most poetic part of the trial occurred when a note written by one of the Police Prosecutors fell slowly to the ground and landed face-up, allowing one of the activists on trial to read the words “we’re fucked.” And indeed they were.
The attempt to criminalise and vilify pro-Palestinian activists and the BDS campaign has been met with resilience and resistance. Despite the slander in the media and by politicians, attacks on peaceful protests by the Victorian Police and Zionist organisations, and the subsequent arrests and drawn out court case, Students for Palestine has been vindicated by the verdict in court.
Peaceful protest against Max Brenner is an entirely legitimate form of political expression, and Students for Palestine will continue BDS protests until the Apartheid-supporting chocolate store is off the streets of Melbourne for good.
The next BDS rally organised by Students for Palestine is on Friday October 31st, starting 6pm in Bourke St. Mall.