Its 6 am and still dark. As we approach the warehouse the car in front of us screeches to a halt. Its passengers leap out and run toward the first set of gates clutching the bicycle D-Locks they plan to use to attach themselves to the warehouse gate, preventing trucks from exiting the premises. Our own car races past them. We are clearly visible to the security office and we need to reach the second entrance and blockade it before they can stop us. We reach the second gate and disaster strikes! This set of gates has been left wide open. We all rush towards them and try to frantically pull them closed. Someone falls and gets his foot briefly trapped under the gate as an angry security guard runs towards us shining a torch in our eyes.
“What are you doing? You got to have your protest here yesterday!”
We are trying to blockade the offices of fresh produce importers Carmel-Aggrexco, based near Heathrow. It’s Valentines weekend and the flowers Carmel imports make this their busiest time of year. But this isn’t some sort of anti-Valentines Day protest by bitter single people. Rather we hope that our actions will disrupt Carmel’s business and cost them as much money as possible. Carmel is an Israeli state owned company and most of its imports are grown in the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Our blockade of their warehouse is the fifth such attempt by pro-Palestinian campaigners in under a year.
We are relying on a few people with bicycle D-Locks round their necks locking on to the gates at the two entrances to the factory. On previous blockades this tactic has apparently proved highly effective since Carmel has asked the police not to arrest people locked to their gates. We suspect this is because they fear a court case where the legality of their business could be put on trial. The UK is the largest market for Israeli settlement produce and this means Carmel’s vital role in the illegal settlement drive could make them ancillary to war crimes.
What we haven’t counted on is a security guard who seems to think he’s Action Man. As we struggle to put a D-Lock round the gates (it appears the ones we’ve bought are slightly too small) Action Man pulls it from our hands, while still shining his torch into our eyes. As we struggle to attach our remaining D-Lock to the gates, Action Man’s colleague pushes the gates apart, while Action Man grabs hold of our last D-Lock. Thus begins an epic tug of war in which four of us try to hold on to our final D-Lock and any remaining chances of closing Carmel’s operations for the day.
After several minutes, security closes the gates on the woman still valiantly holding our D-Lock. She screams as loudly as she can, but Action Man doesn’t seem at all phased. Reinforcements thankfully arrive from the other gate at this point, where people are securely locked on for the day, and with their help we get back our lock and retreat to reconsider our strategy.
After a brief consultation we return for a fresh assault on the gates. As security move the gates apart to stop us locking them together we all run through into their premises. Past the gates is a raise-able barrier, and we think locking to this will be as effective as blocking the gates. However once again we are foiled by Action Man, as with lightning reflexes he tackles the person with the D-Lock, before rushing to push the button that raises the barrier. How much are they paying this guy?
Once again we retreat to consider our strategy, as the approaching sound of police sirens warns that we are running out of time. A plan is hatched and we make our last ditch attempt at blockading the gate for the day. Security has now locked the gates shut but are waiting just on the other side of them to foil any attempts at putting our D-Lock through the mesh wire fencing of the gates. Like something out of an action movie several people drop to the ground and slide under the gate, before running towards the barrier yelling “Lock on! Lock on!”
Two people make it past security and run around the back of the warehouse to explore. Meanwhile, as Action Man and his friends are busy grabbing the others, the people who have remained outside, with the D-Lock concealed under someone’s T-shirt, finally manage to lock on to part of the gates. Action Man glares angrily at us while we beam with pride at our victory. Just then the police arrive at what must be becoming a familiar scene to them by now.
After a long wait for back up and a consultation with Carmel’s managers, the police enter through the half of the gate which we were unable to lock on to and try to track down our friends inside. Returning some time later, having ejected our friends, they then decide to try and squeeze a truck out through the open half of the gate. Several of us sit down in the road in the path of the truck, determined to obstruct Carmel for as long as possible. The seven police at our gate pick someone up and carry him out of the road. However while they are doing this someone else runs to take his place. This game continues for some time with the police carrying people out of the way one at a time while we take turns sitting in the road. Eventually it dawns on the police that we can happily keep this up all day and they retreat.
They return with vans and arrest three people for obstructing the highway. At this point an officer finds a D-Lock key on the floor which must have been dropped during the earlier struggle to lock the gate. People are unlocked and Carmel is finally free to go about its unlawful business for another day. Our blockade had lasted only two hours, the least successful blockade to date. Regardless, we leave happy. Today was probably the most fun and exciting time anyone has had blockading for some time. Our friends are soon released from the police station and have yet to be charged with anything. Despite all the problems we faced today, we showed Carmel that we are determined to shut them down, and that people will keep coming back to their warehouse again and again.