pay for my lunch on Monday at the cash register of a diner here
in Istanbul where I live, the customer in front turned to me and
said: "You're that Englishman, aren't you? I saw you on the TV
last night. You work at Yeditepe university." "That's right,"
A few minutes
later an old man stopped me in the street and asked if he could
shake my hand. I gave it to him and he congratulated me. When
I dropped into a grocer's for a bottle of milk the guy behind
the counter said: "You're in the newspaper! Amazing story."
that morning I woke up to find that the previous night my amazing
story had featured widely on Turkish TV news channels, and practically
every Istanbul daily paper was running it, many with pictures
on the front page of me being dragged through the streets by a
gang of policemen, with captions such as: "ENGLISHMAN SAVED FROM
LYNCH MOB," "THE MISUNDERSTOOD ENGLISH WAR PROTESTOR," and "SORRY,
WE THOUGHT YOU WERE ISRAELI!"
It is quite
an interesting story - a classic case of mistaken judgment and
its consequences, so I'll tell you about it as concisely as I
I noticed some wall posters and a banner strung between street
lamps in the area where I live, announcing a demonstration in
support of the Palestinian people and against Israel's increasingly
alarming savage aggression. The meeting was called by the Emek
party, and was advertised to begin on Sunday at 11 pm at the large
square on the seafront between the two ferryboat landings. I decided
that I would go along to show support.
I made a kind of sandwich board with a couple of my collages blown
up to poster size, one showing a gigantic spider with the Zionist
symbol on its back, making its web over the United Nations, the
dollar symbol in the center. The other picture showed a marching
army of Nazi storm troopers bearing aloft the flags of America
and Israel, trampling relentlessly over a weeping mother and her
murdered child. I rolled them up and made my way to the place
where the meeting was to be held.
a massive police presence when I got there, all lined up in their
dark blue uniforms, helmets and truncheons, and the square was
fenced off by their protective barriers. A stage was being prepared,
microphones tested, but as yet no protestors. I put on my sandwich
board and started walking around in front of the pier.
you think you're doing?" barked a particularly loathsome-looking
walk," he shouted, and started making threatening remarks, so
I thought I'd better get out of his vicinity. Hearing the sound
of raised chanting voices in the distance, I made my way towards
the approaching marchers. They were soon in sight, waving banners
and placards as they marched abreast in the road. All traffic
had been diverted. I stood on the pavement awaiting their arrival,
planning to join in at the end of the procession.
I found myself grabbed by two policemen who started pulling me
away from the roadside, shouting something I didn't understand,
dragging me towards a police van. I asked what they were doing.
They told me to shut up and come with them. I said no, and called
out to the marchers, who were now there in front of us, shouting
for them to help, to allow me to take part in the demonstration.
A crowd of photographers and cameramen who had been filming the
march, hearing the commotion, flocked over to see what was happening.
By this time more police had laid hold of me as I struggled and
shouted (thinking to myself that the police were Israeli sympathizers
who wanted to prevent the demonstration).
turned out that the police who had
seen my collage with the US and Israeli
flags had misinterpreted the image as
pro-Israel, and also decided the
black skull cap, which I always wear,
was a Jewish kippe.
my arms and force-marched me across the road. One of my collages
was ripped and destroyed; my flip-flop sandals came off and were
left behind, and I nearly lost my glasses. I continued to shout
that I had done nothing wrong but want to join the protest, but
they didn't listen. Eventually they got me to a waiting police
car, dumped me in the back, and whizzed me to the local police
station, only a matter of yards away.
the policeman in charge demanded to know what my intention had
been, appearing at the rally. When I told him I'd come to demonstrate
against Israel's bombing of Lebanon, he was more than a little
you aren't a supporter of Israel?" he asked.
not," I replied. "Quite the opposite."
he. (Or words to that effect.)
out that the police who had seen my collage with the US and Israeli
flags had misinterpreted the image as pro-Israel, and also decided
the black skull cap, which I always wear, was a Jewish kippe.
That, in fact, I was an Israeli provocateur, come to cause trouble
and disrupt the rally. They said they had actually been saving
me from furious demonstrators who wanted to attack me for my shameless
effrontery. It turned out that the police were sympathetic to
the cause of the marchers also, not the Zionist boot boys I had
imagined. They gave me a glass of tea and we actually managed
to laugh at the misunderstanding. They said they'd take me home
after I'd given a statement, advising me not to go back to the
meeting for my own safety's sake.
two gentlemen arrived - organizers of the march - expressing their
apologies for what had happened and the misunderstanding. It turned
out that several of the demonstrators had indeed imagined me to
be a Jew staging a counter protest. We all signed the statement
and I was free, but instead of being taken home by the police,
I accepted the invitation of the Emek party members to go with
them to the meeting, where they presented me on stage, explaining
the story of who I really was and the reason that I had come that
So I made a brief barefoot appearance with a raised fist of solidarity
in front of the cheering surprised crowd. When I came down I was
surrounded by reporters, flashing cameras, filming and asking
questions. I was presented with a new pair of sandals by the Emek
party to replace my old flip-flops, which the police said had
been taken from the roadside by a poor beggar.
stay long after the media had had their fill of me, but enough
to speak to several members of the crowd who came to offer sympathy
and thanks for coming. Some of them were wearing black headbands
with Arabic writing on it. One showed me a picture of Ayatollah
"Do you like
him?" he asked.
"No," I replied,
but he wasn't offended. The main reason we were there, a public
support of the Palestinians and a condemnation of Israeli war
crimes united us. He gave me a set of wooden beads as a gift.
slipped away home to ponder the extraordinary series of events
I had just lived through, and hopefully to learn from the experience.
that the police officer had said was an encouragement. He said
that the media would probably have ignored or given little room
to this small meeting called by an insignificant political party,
but that the extraordinary incident of my arrest would bring them
a lot of publicity, and such has proved to be the case, as today
again I have been called to give interviews to two leading newspapers
and Turkish ATV. If this helps to focus the spotlight on the sheer
hell that Israel is inflicting on its neighbours, then the few
bruises I received were worth it.
But I miss
my old black flip-flops!
Michael Dickinson is an English teacher working in Istanbul, Turkey.
Dickinson did the cover art for two of CounterPunch's books, Dime's
Worth of Difference and Serpents in the Garden, as well as Jeffrey
St. Clair's Grand Theft Pentagon. He can be contacted at http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/yourgallery/artist/details.php?id=499
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