Image Credit: Cameron Samuel Keys

Activists protest Barclays “banking on Israel’s apartheid”

A protest taking place in front of the Barclays branch on Cornmarket Street this morning led to the arrest of a counter-protester, following an altercation with a demonstrator.

The demonstration was organised by the Oxford Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), which calls for an end of “banking on Israel’s apartheid”. The organisation has arranged previous protests in solidarity of Palestine in Cowley and London, and already blocked the entrance of the same Barclays branch in Oxford last week.

The protest started at roughly 10:30am with around a dozen supporters, and lasted until 12:30pm, when the number of people on site was more than 35. This is significantly less than last week’s demonstration, which gathered close to one hundred participants.

Protesters were chanting phrases such as “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “occupation no more, Israel is a terror state”. This was alongside specific criticisms of the bank, including “Barclays Barclays you can’t hide, you’re committing genocide”, “Barclays blood on your hands”, and “Barclays Barclays, shame shame, all the crimes in your name.”

Chants that have previously attracted criticism could also be heard, including “Gaza broke the prison door” in relation to the October 7th attacks and “there is only one solution, intifada revolution”.

Around 11:30, a pro-Israel passerby called out the demonstrators, which quickly evolved into a heated argument. The woman initially complained to police officers present on the scenes that demonstrators were trying to intimidate her, before going back to argue with them. 

The woman then physically attacked a protester, who hit her in return. Both were escorted to police cars soon after. 

Another protester commented “I’ve been protesting 15 years and I’ve never seen anyone assault one of ours before”.

While two police officers were initially present at the scene of the protest, this incident brought their numbers to over ten. Police officers had earlier confronted a 15 year old protester who was putting pro-Palestine stickers on the windows of the Barclays branch.

Protesters were holding signs in English and Arabic, reading the names, occupation, and age (ranging from <1 to 91) of civilians killed in Gaza. Other signs stated “Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu] Bombs Babies, Boycott Israel” as well as “Ceasefire as in dismantling the settler colonial project, not Ceasefire as in returning to the same old violence”.

The protest was carried out with the sounds of drums and chants in Arabic. One of the leaders of the protest justified this decision by saying that they were “proudly manifesting the culture that Israel was trying to destroy”.

The speaker also stated that Israel was “attacking healthcare, education, and journalism”, and that the “British military are openly involved in surveillance and targeting”.

A protester commented that they were here to “keep [Barclays] on their toes”, and that this was “part of a national day of action.” They believed that after the International Court of Justice ruling, “Britain should stop all arms trade with Israel” and they “count on Barclays to cease all investment”.

Another demonstrator said that “Barclays [has] long been an accessory to apartheid [and] ethnic cleansing”, but that it was now “genocide”, drawing parallels with Barclay’s previous support of Apartheid in South Africa in the 1960s-1980s.

While the Barclays branch was open last week, with customers coming in and out for the first half of the protest, it was closed this week. A notice on the glass door of the agency stated that the branch was “unable to open” due to “circumstances beyond [their] control”. A demonstrator said they “suspect[ed] they [Barclays] were afraid of us”, while the PSC social media page congratulated on “successfully shutting Barclays down”.

Information leaflets handed out at the protest stated “Barclays Bank is investing in Israel’s violent repression of the Palestinian people”, citing Israeli arms companies such as Elbit Systems and Raytheon. It also encouraged customers and witnesses to email the bank, demanding it end business relationships with companies helping Israel “use violence against Palestinians.”

The PSC’s protest at Barclays was part of a broader campaign of solidarity for Palestine pushing to boycott Barclays, which has been ongoing since January 2024.

The Thames Valley Police have been contacted for comment.

Image Credit: Cameron Samuel Keys

Image Description: Protesters in front of the Barclays Branch on Cornmarket Street