24th June 2009
by D Murphy and Greg Wilkinson
On Wednesday June 17th Judge John Diehl dismissed a charge of theft against Swansea campaigner D Murphy arising from removal of Israeli ‘West Bank’ goods from Tesco’s Marina store.
The protest action took place last January, in response to the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Ms Murphy was charged with theft after she and another protester, Greg Wilkinson, removed two trolley-loads of ‘West Bank’ goods from the shelves and wheeled them to the main entrance, there to be marked and dumped as unfit for sale.
Outside the store, Free-Palestine protesters handed out leaflets explaining that goods labelled as ‘West Bank’, came from illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory under military occupation. They argued that the British government recognises the illegality of both occupation and settlements, and that the import and sale of settlement goods is therefor unlawful: removal of the goods was comparable to a citizen’s arrest – serving to uphold the law, not break it.
In a letter to Swansea MP Alan Williams (May 14), the Foreign Office Minister, Bert Rammell, said ‘Mr Wilkinson…rightly notes that the UK considers the building of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories is illegal under international law. However the import and sale of products from Israeli settlements is not prohibited by the law in the UK and we consider that this is consistent…’
Consistent? One purpose of the Tesco action was to challenge this curious consistency in court, to argue that the sale of fruit and vegetables from illegal settlements amounted to the sale of stolen goods – grown on stolen land for the profit of the thieves who stole it. The protesters welcome the judge’s dismissal of the case last week as a technical victory, but it also forecloses a more important argument about the import and sale of settlement goods.
In preparing for the trial-that-never-was, the defence team, led by a young Palestinian barrister, also received information from Israeli sources that settlement goods were routinely mixed in by wholesalers with Israeli goods, to be exported and sold under Israeli labels (strengthening the case for a more general boycott!).
Tesco is now pursuing Ms Murphy for repayment of what the store claims was the cost of the action. Like Mr Wilkinson in an earlier written exchange with Tesco bosses, Ms Murphy might consider repayment if Tesco could show that the goods she took were NOT the produce of illegal settlements.
This YouTube video of the Tesco arrests has attracted nearly 43,000 hits and more than 1000 more or less rational comments – some anti-Jewish, some anti-Arab, some anti-Women, and we’re sorry about that sort of silliness!)