Saturday Noon: Commercial Way, Woking

Source: West Surrey PSC

There are three estate agents in a row: Gascoigne Pees, Chancellors and Bourne. I look in the windows. The cheapest house is £450,000 and there aren’t many, most are around £1 million. Chancellors doesn’t show prices. Instead, each house listed has a QR code. This is Woking – affluent, connected, and busy.

This allows us to really connect with people. We can engage with people and really make them think,” says Alison from West Surrey Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).

Alison is camped out opposite the three estate agents in a bustling thoroughfare in Woking town centre. Along with a couple of dozen fellow campaigners, including Patrick and Iqra and Skina.  They are sounding the alarm about genocide in Ghazzah, and urging the residents of Woking to boycott companies who are directly or indirectly complicit. It’s a serious message with life-or-death consequences for Palestinians. Mingling with weekend shoppers the group hand out leaflets and information sheets. They are well received, with many residents stopping to talk.

Source: Sul Nowroz 2024

Free Palestine – until I die. You are doing good work,” says one thirty-something year old male.  Some say they are already boycotting and almost all say they agree with the campaigners. I don’t see anyone throwing leaflets away. Instead, they are read and placed into coat pockets and bags.

The more I watch the PSC campaigners the more I realise how much we need them. Days earlier I heard the Head of the Palestine Mission to the UK, Husam Said Zomlot, speak of a haunting prediction: “We [the Palestinians] know how to survive. It’s in our DNA. I promise we will recover, and we will rise, but we are not sure if the world will recover from this.”

Ambassador Zomlot is right,  the State of Israel’s current butchery isn’t breaking Ghazzah – it is breaking humanity. Don’t be fooled, we will collectively carry the burden of this genocide, and it will shame us all the way to our graves.

Source: Sul Nowroz 2024

Saturday 2pm: Victoria Place, Woking

He is on his knees, his mop of black hair perfectly matching his black track suit, his feet are puddles of bright red. He looks ten, perhaps eleven. He silently picks up the leaflets, twenty or thirty of them, and shuffles them into a neat bundle. He stands up, lifts his top and slides the leaflets underneath. He looks upwards, towards the balcony from where the leaflets are floating down and stares. I wonder what he is thinking, and what he will do with the leaflets.

The balcony has been repurposed. It is draped in a Palestinian flag – black, white, green and red, which have come to signal genocide-in-progress. Below – three storeys below and where the track-suited boy is – are fifty tables, the functional kind: bright white and easy to wipe down Formica. The tables are surrounded by pine-coloured chairs, and everything is enclosed by brightly coloured counters perfuming the air with wafts of KFC, McDonalds, and Subway. It is kitsch and, for those lucky enough to make it here, an overindulgent calorie fest. There are more than 30,000 Palestinians, murdered by the State of Israel, who will never make it anywhere like this.

The leaflets drop quietly – some take twelve seconds to land. They land on the shiny tiled floor and white tabletops, a few settle on empty chairs. The leaflets are low tech and lack the sophistication and almost limitless funding of Israeli propaganda. Seated at one table is a couple, the mother is holding a baby less than a year old. She is looking into its face, the look of unconditional love. On the table are two empty Big Mac boxes, two empty packets of fries, two drinks, and one cup of coffee – and a leaflet which reads “Stop the Genocide. 30,000 Palestinians have been killed. That’s 1 out of every 75 people in Ghazaah.

Source: West Surrey PSC

As leaflets drop, a voice echoes around the big space. It appears to be coming from everywhere, from walls and ceilings, from around corners. It’s calm and controlled and clear. “There is a genocide. Right now. Where you spend your money matters. Companies such as McDonalds, KFC and Starbucks are profiting from the genocide of the Palestinian people. They are contributing to the ethnic cleansing of an entire people. We are asking you to make conscious decisions. You do not want your hands to be covered in Palestinian blood. This is about unity.”

I look around. The boy with the mop of black hair is gone. He handled the leaflets he gathered with such care. He diligently collected and organised his prized find, and I am left wondering why? 

Saturday 3:20pm Woking / 5:20 Rafah in Ghazzah, Palestine

Since 2003, the southern town of Rafah in Ghazzah aches every March 16th. There is a small spot of dirt in the Hai as-Salam neighbourhood that clings to fragments of love and pain. It is the location where twenty-three-year-old Rachel Corrie, an American peace activist, was murdered by an Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) D9 bulldozer. Rachel was attempting to stop an illegal house demolition when she was deliberately run down by a mine-resistant, seven-foot-tall, 14-foot-wide bulldozer blade. It was a violent death. Rachel died at 5:20pm Ghazzah time.

Soon after her killing a memorial service was organised for Rachel by a coalition of Palestinian political parties. The service was cut short – halfway through, the IOF arrived and sprayed the congregation with tear gas. Chaos ensued and the IOF responded by using percussion bombs. The IOF then dispatched a convoy of armoured personnel carriers, and the congregation was forcibly broken up.

A month before her death Rachel had written a poem about Rafah. It opens:

oh rafah. aching rafah. aching of refugees aching of tumbled houses bicycles severed from tank-warped tires and aching of bullet riddled homes all homes worm-eaten by bullets.

As I drive out of Woking, I remember Rachel and think about Rafah, and 30,000 dead civilians, 12,000 of them children, and two million Palestinians being deliberately starved. I remember the leaflets and the flag drop and the empty McDonalds boxes.

Today, it was Woking that was feeling the aching Rachel wrote about 21 years ago. For a few moments Woking felt the tumbled houses, severed bicycles, and bullet-riddled homes. Speaking about such things to strangers isn’t easy – it requires a strength of mind and conviction which the PSC campaigners displayed.

I am haunted by the shadow of the boy in the tracksuit. I wonder when he will appear in my future, a grown man armed with the leaflets, ‘Exhibit A’ as it were. He will tell me we all knew about the cruel and violent snuffing out of 30,000 souls in Ghazzah, and he will ask what we did to stop it.

When he asks Iqra and Alison and Patrick and Skina and the other campaigners, they will say they raised their voices on a Saturday in March. What will the rest of us say?

In memory of Rachel Corrie (10 April 1979 – 16 March 2003).

  ©2024 Sul Nowroz – staff writer