Saturday, January 3, 2009

Our Neighbours, The Israeli Embassy

The Israeli embassy, only a five-minute walk from our flat on the way to Kensington Gardens, has always made its presence known. Concrete barriers block any access to its entrance, and it's surrounded on all sides by ominous looking policemen complete with automatic rifles (a rarity, since police in London amazingly aren't armed). Any picture taking is strictly forbidden. Jogging by it almost every day on my way to the park, I had become somewhat accustomed to the heavily guarded fortress.

But never have we been more aware of its presence than in the past week. Ever since Israel's incursion into Gaza began, there have been daily protests in and around the embassy. One night, trying to drive down High Street Kensington towards central London, we came face to face with the protesters as they marched past the embassy gates, waving signs and chanting slogans. For the most part, they seemed a calm, orderly group and while somewhat intimidating in their numbers, we didn't feel threatened.

Tonight, though, as helicopters circled overhead and sirens whined on and off for over three hours, it almost felt like our neighbourhood was under siege. Until I switched on BBC News, and the situation became somewhat laughable. A reporter from High Street Kensington, where the protest was taking place, did her best to make the demonstration seem dramatic. While there were plenty of people about, most were simply ambling about on the street -- some even sitting and resting on the curb. Small children cantered down the centre of the road. The scene seemed more in keeping with a street party than the violent protest I'd been imagining based on the sirens and helicopters.

I'm not saying the police presence wasn't necessary. I wasn't there, and I'm sure there were a few threatening moments. But for every protester, it looked like there were at least two to three policemen. And really, a police helicopter? For hours on end?

If good fences make good neighbours, the Israeli embassy need to pile up some more of those concrete barriers. I'd be happy to help.


Sarah said...

The American embassy in Grosvenor Square gives off a very similar impression. I'm glad to hear it was a peaceful protest - for some slightly scarier anti-Israelis, try the Marble Arch M&S. It used to be like clockwork once a week - I don't know how often they're out there now, but it's grim. Hope quiet's restored to your neighbourhood, anyway!

John Belo said...

We're all getting tired of the situation in the middle east...

I hope there's room for real improvement in the next few years!

Marsha said...

Quiet seems to have been restored now, thank goodness. Except my regular running route is still blocked off!

Marble Arch M&S? Really? Is that so they can go shopping after protesting?

Let's hope it does improve. Soon.

Sarah said...

M&S had a Jewish founder and the Sieff family, descendents of Michael Marks who currently run the stores, are pro-peace British Zionists who stock Israeli goods (as does Selfridges, which sometimes gets protesters too). Usually it's just a table with leaflets and a few people yelling at you if you walk into the store, but occasionally it gets nastier than that. My husband and I were staying at the (now demolished) UCL residence across the road one summer - a loud place to lay your head!