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  • Writer's pictureVirginia Moffatt

Blood On Your Hands

Chris Cole & Virginia Moffat at Downing St, by Pat Gaffney

On 29th December 2023, my husband Chris (Cole) and I went to Downing Street with two bottles of red poster paint. When we arrived, we waited for the crowds to part, approached the fence, sprayed paint, marked our hands and made handprints on the railings and the pavement. We then stood with two placards ‘Blood on your hands. Ceasefire Now’, and ‘Stop the Slaughter’, as we read the names of dead children killed by Israel and Hamas and the reading of the Holy Innocents:


“A voice is heard in Ramah,weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”  Matthew 2:18

Our action came after witnessing the first two months of relentless slaughter of innocent Palestinians that we had been witnessing on social media and TV since Hamas’ October 7th attack.  While we have protested wars for decades - the cruelty and brutality of the onslaught of Gaza has been unprecedented. The deliberate withdrawal of food, water and utilities, the bombing of hospitals, the corralling of civilians into ‘safe’ regions where they were then bombed, the murder of so many children and targeting of journalists and hospital workers, the Tik Toks from soldiers mocking civilians and boast of war crimes has been horrifying to watch.  Even more horrifying has been the failure of the Western world to stand up for Palestine, and the complicity of our government in Israel’s actions, repeatedly failing to vote for a ceasefire at the UN and continuing to sell arms.


Before Christmas I wrote several emails and tweets to Rishi Sunak and my MP. They never replied. I attended two of the national demonstrations for Palestine in London. Nothing changed. So, it was an easy decision to agree to an action at Downing Street, calling on our government to change course. And my resolve was strengthened after watching Rev Dr Munther Isaac’s powerful sermon, ‘Christ among the rubble’, in which he condemned Western hypocrisy on Gaza and asked Christians to act.


Before going to London, we had agreed we would call it off if a ceasefire was agreed. But the remorseless bombardment of Gaza continued, so we went ahead.


As expected, we were quickly arrested and taken to Charing Cross Police Station where the desk sergeant was very surprised to see two middle aged white people in the back of the van. He seemed to need reassurance from the arresting officers that they really had due cause to arrest us. They made it clear they had, so he walked us over to the ‘cage’ outside the door, the waiting area where arrestees are held until taken upstairs. There was someone already there, and he apologised that due to cuts he didn’t have enough staff to process us both at the same time. Chris had to wait, and I was taken up a long slope to custody. The desk sergeant was very apologetic about lack of staff, and we chatted about government cuts to services and how rubbish they were.  He was very friendly and helpful and got through the bureaucracy as quickly as possible (complaining about the new computer system which of course was full of glitches). Everyone we encountered was equally pleasant, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they would have been so friendly if I’d been a young brown man. Perhaps the desk sergeant might have been, as he laughed when giving my equal opportunities information, I said ‘White British, basically all the privileges,  and he did bend over backwards to emphasise the Met’s latest efforts to reassure women they’ll be safe.


While I was having my fingerprints, DNA and photo taken, Chris was brought up, so I was able to say hi to him. It took ages because the computer kept smearing and the red paint didn’t help, but eventually I was taken to my cell. It was large, clean and bright and there was a thin plastic mattress and pillow on the bench. I was able to lie down and read my book and Bible which they’d let me keep and a welfare person provided me with a blanket so I felt relatively comfortable.


The first few hours passed quite quickly – I read, had some tasteless vegetarian food and dozed a bit. My book about the intelligence of animals, particular octopi, was a fascinating read so that helped. When I took a break from it, I read some Psalms and some of the Christmas Gospels and prayed for people in Palestine. It’s probably the most praying I’ve done in a long time, and I found it very helpful. I also thought a lot about Palestinian prisoners, particularly the activist Ahed Tamimi who was imprisoned as a teenage for slapping an Israeli soldier after her cousin was injured and the soldier had slapped her. She was recently rearrested on faked up charges and released in the first hostage exchange and her strength and determination has always inspired me. I also remembered the image I’d seen of a recently released Palestinian prisoner who had been treated so badly that in 3 months his body was a gaunt skeleton and he looked about ten years older.  I remembered of all those who couldn’t escape their situation including the hostages Hamas is holding. I felt exceptionally lucky to know I was being treated well and would be out soon.


At four I made the mistake of asking what the time was, as then I began to be aware of how slow time was passing. The person on welfare check didn’t know when we’d be interviewed, and so I began to feel a little bit fretful, wandering up and down to stretch my legs, before settling back to read again.


Eventually at around five, two young women came in to say they’d be interviewing me. They too were very pleasant and not too frustrated by my mostly ‘no comment’ answers. I told them the paint was poster paint, and that it was just us who acted. And at the end, when asked if I had anything else to say, that I was there because I couldn’t sleep thinking about Palestine and I wanted my government to take action against genocide.

Then it was back into the cell where I could hear someone talking to Chris, so realised he was nearby. (I discovered afterwards he was next door and he’d already worked out where we’d be because he’d heard them saying the cell numbers in the van). I didn’t hear him come back  from his police interview so I became fretful again. Time passed, 6, 6,30 and no sign of being let out. But at last they came for me and by 8pm we were both out, which was when we discoverd that we’d got a good amount of press coverage. Our friend Pat had taken some great pictures, and by chance a press photographer had also been there. The messages ‘blood on your hands’ and ‘stop the slaughter’ had been clearly seen and understood. There were also pictures of Rishi Sunak leaving Downing Street by the back door, and although it was unlikely that was due to our action, he would have surely known it was taking place and what it said.


Of course, one tiny action by two people is unlikely to change the mind of a government. And sadly, despite our efforts and the efforts of millions marching, writing to politicians, boycotting, blockading and taking legal action round the world, Israel continues to bombard Gaza regardless. The situation remains bleak and yet, not without hope. The day of our action South Africa launched its ICJ genocide case against Israel, and since then we’ve seen more and more governments ready to condemn Israel, and more and more people out on the streets. So we hope our protest has given encouragement to others, that perhaps some Palestinians saw the images and found them comforting, and we believe it’s provided an opportunity to keep talking about our government’s complicity in the genocide.


This article was originally published in the Easter 2024 issue of the London Catholic Worker newsletter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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