September 2022 – A Wedding in Granada
“I didn’t want dead animals at my wedding; family and friends yes, but no dead animals. Mike respected that so he spent the day before cooking the best vegan chilli and preparing delicious salsas. It was a great wedding – although we didn’t get legally married.”
Spain is made up of seventeen regions or ‘Comunidades Autónomas,’ with Andalusia being the most southerly, bordering the Mediterranean. It is home to Spain’s highest mountain range, the Sierra Nevada, and tucked just below these towering features is the historic city of Granada with its 230,000 residents. The city was once the site of the Iberian settlement Elibyrge, the Roman settlement Illiberis, and the seat of the Moorish kingdom in Spain, and it carries all this significance with an understated modesty. On September 10th, 2022, Granada is where Mike Lynch-White and Pilar* held their wedding ceremony.
Pilar had found the perfect location for their celebration: a spacious two-storey house, complete with secluded pool and garden, which they rented for the weekend. Guests, thirty in total, started arriving on Friday. Friends and close family mingled during the evening and a buzz of celebration filled the house.
Saturday got off to an unusual start for a wedding day, as bride, groom and guests played Escape Room, a game requiring players to solve a series of puzzles, each providing a clue to escape a virtual room. The game is highly interactive, and the wedding party threw themselves into it noisily and enthusiastically.
The ceremony began in the afternoon. An archway, created from local flora by some of the guests, welcomed the bride and groom. Two close friends administered a personalised service, although it was not legally binding. Afterwards everyone feasted on Mike’s chilli.
“We didn’t hire waiting staff. We did everything ourselves. Cook, serve, wash-up,” Mike said when recalling the day.
The whole event was an intimate experience, an occasion of kindness and inclusion devoid of materialism and gimmick. It was life affirming and big hearted.
Within six months Mike would be in prison in the south of England.
The unpretentious unconventional wedding ceremony – which spoke of universal values – is characteristic of Mike. With a strong moral compass and an unwavering belief in truth, Mike is a small vessel cast upon treacherous waters. He is complex but not complicated, sensitive but not vulnerable. His words, on occasion difficult to hear, are softly spoken but linger long after they are shared.
Mike was born in the county of Essex, moving to West Sussex with his mother after his parents separated. In dealing with the separation, Mike developed an unwavering moral code and a steadfast commitment to fairness and justice. He had an average school experience but showed signs of academic brilliance at university. Mike completed an undergraduate degree in physics, where he received a first, and a post graduate degree in theoretical physics. He began his PhD but it remains unfinished.
While at university Mike became involved in climate activism, on occasion being arrested. In-between studies and activism Mike travelled extensively – first to south-east Asia, then to central Asia and finally in 2014 to the Middle East, including occupied Palestine.
2014 – Dehumanisation in Occupied Palestine
To celebrate completing their undergraduate studies, Mike and a friend organised a multi destination trip including Israel, Jordan, Nepal, India, Hong Kong and mainland China.
“Initially, I didn’t plan on going to occupied Palestine,” Mike told me, but on arrival in Tel Aviv he met a fellow traveller who had just returned from the occupied West Bank. As the two got to know each other, the traveller shared her experiences and described an environment of repression unlike anything she had seen before. She also showed Mike injuries she had suffered at the hands of the occupying Israeli army. The conversations impacted Mike, and over the coming days he decided to visit Jerusalem, or Al-Quds as it’s called in Arabic, and Ramallah and Hebron in the occupied West Bank.
“We went from a semi-opulent Israel to a rickety old bus with ripped seats. That was our transition to the occupied West Bank,” recalls Mike.
Mike and his friend stepped off the bus and surveyed crumbling architecture and the apparatus of occupation: watch towers, imposing concrete walls, uniformed soldiers, and weaponry everywhere. There was no doubt this was a taken-by-force, kept-by-force occupation and one that has been in place since 1967. Palestine is in fact the second longest occupation after Tibet.
“Thank you for visiting us and not thinking we’re terrorists” shouted a Palestinian. Mike looked round and made eye contact. Hearing that comment was “haunting and depressing,” remembers Mike.
He spent the next few days making friends with the hostel owners where he was staying. He met NGO staff and learned more about the occupation, and travelled to Ramallah and Hebron where he witnessed the daily oppressions Palestinians are subjected to.
When I speak with Mike in 2023, he tells me there are two moments that took root in him from that trip.
“There were the check points. So many of them. Even after experiencing prison in the UK, the most dehumanising experience I have ever had was going through what resembles a cattle grate, being squeezed by fencing either side, into a single file, up to a check point manned by Israeli soldiers watching from behind Perspex.”
What Mike experienced in 2014 continues unabated.
In 2022 Amnesty International reported: “In the West Bank, 175 permanent checkpoints and other roadblocks, as well as scores of temporary irregular barriers and a draconian permit regime, supported by a repressive biometric surveillance system, continue to control and fragment Palestinian communities.”
Israeli human rights group Machsom Watch counted 645 checkpoints (permanent and others) in the West Bank in 2023, with only 23 serving as ‘border crossings’ into Israel. Machsom commented: “Today, every Palestinian person who leaves his home – for any need or interest – knows that there will be a barrier on his way.”
“And once through the checkpoints there are streets where if you are Israeli, you can go down them, if you are Palestinian, you can’t,” continued Mike.
In Hebron, Mike was introduced to Al-Shuhada Street, which has been nicknamed Apartheid Street by Palestinians, who are restricted from using it. The same street is called King David Street by Israeli settlers, who can travel and use the street freely.
What Mike was witnessing was institutionalised apartheid – one ethnic group advantaged at the cost of another.
Like the checkpoints, Israel’s apartheid laws and practices have gone unchallenged.
In October 2022, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, B’Tselem, released a report titled “This Is Apartheid” which determined: “the bar for defining the Israeli regime as an apartheid regime has been met after considering the accumulation of policies and laws that Israel devised to entrench its control over Palestinians.”
In the same year the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Michael Lynk, commented “apartheid is being practiced by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory.” He was not alone: former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor, and former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair have also described Israel’s occupation as apartheid.
Before leaving the occupied West Bank, Mike met with an NGO friend. A lawyer by profession, they told him ‘without something happening, the end result is clear: the end of Palestine.’
As Mike prepared to leave, he realised he needed to do something.
“I remember thinking to myself I must get involved when I get back [home]. I can’t see all of this, and just tell myself this is a bad place and move on.”
On his return to England Mike joined several Palestinian forums and regularly participated in Palestinian rallies and marches.
May 2021 – War Crimes in Gaza
Gaza is a strip of land, twenty-five miles long and six miles wide, positioned at the southern tip of Palestine bordering Egypt. The Mediterranean Sea runs down its western edge, while to the east military fencing and watch towers define its border with Israel. Gaza has been under an illegal air, land, and sea blockade by Israel since June 2007.
On May 10th 2021, Israel began a brutal seven-day assault on Gaza, and according to the Palestinian Health Authority unleashed 1,450 air strikes over the period. Many were indiscriminate. During one assault Israeli warplanes fired 11 missiles along a 150-metre stretch of Wehda Street, killing 44 civilians.
On May 15th 2021, even before the full extent of the assault had become clear, B’Tselem, the leading Israeli human rights organisation, issued a damning statement: “Killing blockaded civilians and destroying infrastructure on a massive scale: Israel is committing war crimes in the Gaza Strip.”
By the time the Israeli assault stopped on May 17th 260 Palestinian civilians had been killed, including almost 70 children, and 70,000 Gazans had been displaced.
On May 18th 2021, the United Nations’ High Commissioner on Human Rights determined that “The firing by Israel of missiles and shells into heavily populated areas of Gaza constitute indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians and civilian property. These attacks likely violate the laws of war and constitute a war crime.”
Arms manufacturers don’t generally like to talk about their profitability in too much detail, but we can assume when bombs drop, profits rise. In this sadistic industry profit is a function of death.
Leading Israeli arms producer Elbit Systems’ president and CEO Bezhalel Machlis would later confirm 2021 was a “solid year” for the company, with Elbit’s revenues increasing 13% year over year.
June 2021 – The Action
By June 2021 Mike was living in Liverpool. He had been involved in several campaigns of civil disobedience and was a knowledgeable activist. He had become aware of Palestine Action, a group focused on ending British complicity in the oppression of the Palestinian people through direct action. Since their inception the previous year, they had undertaken several actions targeting Elbit and its UK-based supply chain. Mike sensed Palestine Action “had the potential to change things.”
At 4am on Thursday June 10th Mike and two others climbed onto the roof of APPH’s factory in Runcorn, which supplies landing gear for Elbit’s attack drones.
“We had a long ladder, but it only just about made it to the roof. We put it up and as we were climbing it started bowing, flexing in the middle. I have a real fear of heights. It was terrifying going up there,” remembers Mike.
Once on the roof they poured red paint down exterior walls, set off flares, unfolded a Palestine Action banner and hoisted the Palestinian flag. They also dropped fire extinguishers through skylights, damaging landing gear components and temporarily closing the factory. They brought one part of Elbit’s supply chain to a halt.
“Being up there was a feeling like no other, relief that we were up there and exhilaration that we had made it. We knew why we were there. It was liberating,” said Mike.
Police arrived in large numbers suspecting it was a criminal breach of a weapons factory. Instead, they were met by Mike and his two-fellow activists in bright red jump suits, who calmly explained why they were there and the necessity of their actions. A cordon was erected around the building and police negotiators attempted to talk the trio down. It didn’t work. Next, police drones were launched to provide a bird’s eye view of the occupied roof space to a makeshift command centre. The irony of drone surveillance wasn’t lost on Mike.
By Friday noon a cherry picker arrived allowing police to access the roof and arrest Mike along with the two other activists. The rooftop occupation had lasted for two days. Mike was released from custody six days later.
Granada, Court, then Jail
The experience was mentally and emotionally draining. After a short break Mike found work in a restaurant kitchen and slowly re-engaged with the climate change movement. He attended workshops and meetings across Europe, and forged friendships, including one with Pilar. They met at various gatherings and spent Christmas 2021 together.
In early 2022 Mike and Pilar travelled around Europe before arriving in Granada in the spring. With hindsight their time on the road would prove to be their honeymoon – an untroubled period spent together and absent of distractions. In September they sealed their commitment to each other with their intimate celebration, home cooked food, and that game of Escape Room with close friends and family.
Mike remained in Spain until February 2023 when he returned to the UK. His trial for the APPH rooftop occupation was in May 2023; he was found guilty of criminal damage and given a twenty-seven-month custodial sentence, which was subsequently reduced to twenty-three months.
There is a black and white mural inside the prison where Mike is currently serving his sentence. It’s on a wall that stands next to a common area which Mike passes daily. The mural is of social change makers, including Gandhi, Obama and Martin Luther King amongst others.
“It blew my mind. The first time I saw it my jaw hit the floor,” remembers Mike.
The mural carries a quote: In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
I speak with Mike. He is in prison and it’s the first anniversary of his Granada ceremony. I ask him if this was the anniversary he imagined?
“Well, it sort of was, and sort of wasn’t. We both broadly knew what we were getting into, so it wasn’t a total surprise. It just wasn’t what we’d hoped for.”
I ask Mike if the action and going to prison was worth it?
“It was what needed to be done.”
“Getting legally married to Pilar, finding somewhere quiet to live. The world can be a bad place, but I kept my promise, and I didn’t just move on because I could. I showed up but now it’s time to focus on other aspects of my life.”
Mike’s uncompromising sense of justice means he behaves in a binary fashion. He once mentioned to me he sees things “as black or white, just or unjust,” and once his view is formed, he is compelled to act accordingly. To not be silent.
On July 7th, 2022, a mural appeared in Gaza. It read: Thanks Palestine Action.
*Pilar is a pseudonym
©2023 Sul Nowroz
Real Media is delighted to welcome Sul Nowroz on board as a regular staff writer.