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  • So, I found myself in a hostel in East Jerusalem. It was cold. I had only a rainbow coloured keffiyeh to keep me warm, my job at the British Council had turned out to be a mirage and I knew very little about the political situation.

    I got a job in café washing-up and waiting tables. The Israeli soldier kids would come in, pile their automatic weapons at one end of the table and order beer. Back at the hostel the owner would stand with us on the roof ranting about his dead relatives and the evil inflicted upon his people. We watched the pigeons swooping in the sky. Everyone there was down on their luck.

    There were several aspiring journalists living there. One had a broken arm where he had fallen from a wall trying to take a photograph. It was withering away but he couldn't afford going to a doctor and wouldn't listen to anyone telling him to return home. I got into a heated argument with him one day about the police.

    We saw them at every gateway to the old city and on the borders between East and West. They skulked in the allies with their machine guns, they intimidated small children (or was that the army). In any case I expressed my gratitude that policing in Britian was so nice by comparison. "How can you say that?" Replied the ambulance-chasing, front-line photographer with the shrivelled arm. "Have you tried being a black teenager in south London?" He had a point of course. But our police aren't armed, they don't usually stand around with automatic weapons, they don't fire live ammunition at political protestors. "They don't need to." He had a point of course. The British police disperse crowds with cavalry charges and clubs. They are extremely well trained at this after years of practice at football matches. The rest of the job is done with a mixture of surveillance, infiltration and consent.

    "See what happens when the stakes are raised...look at northern Ireland, Bloody Sunday." He had a point of course. It always a blurred line. I had been protesting a few months before, trying to save a forest from road builders. There were some very suspicious, and unusually aggressive policemen with no numbers who appeared at odd times. Everyone had heard similar stories from the miners strike.

    But most of the ordinary police were fairly reasonable to us well educated, articulate, middle class protesters. Especially when they lived locally and sympathised with our concerns. They seemed alright, even if they were tools of the state slavishly enacting their orders without taking individual moral responsibility. In other countries they have guns, and strong ideology. They don't see protest as an affirmation of the democratic rights they like to imagine they uphold. They see it as insurrection. "You're generalizing now. And anyway that's such an arrogant standpoint, the British have done some of the worst atrocities all over the world, what makes you think they are so special? In the end they are all the same, if they want to they will use force." He had a point of course.

    Since that conversation they have gased people in Seattle, beat them to a pulp in Genoa and shot them in Guangdong, what will they do in Skouries?

    Will the Greek Police see a protest to protect the land there as an expression of democracy to be respected? Will they sympathise with the idea of defending the very fabric of the nation? Who wants to find out?

    The battle to protect the earth is a noble one it depends on democracy. The people with the big guns tend to be the ones who will stand to gain from the seizure or exploitation of natural resources. Unless we fight for what we believe and push against the boundaries of what is acceptable the boundaries will close. We must defend our rights to protect ourselves without the guns coming out. The state will always hold the power and the weapons, but can they use them?

    I went with the photographer to see a protest against land seizure just outside the city. It was a dusty path, there were bulldozers behind razor wire in one direction and scrubby olive trees in the other. About thirty farmers with a Palestinian flag and a couple of placards traipsed up the hill. We stood on an embankment to one side - he took photos. I glanced at the soldiers gathered at the top of the hill. They shouted and waved their guns. The farmers hesitated and then marched on. We cowered behind the sand bank. No one was shot that day. In the evening there was music.
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