Report back from Arlington, VA

After leaving the Shirlington Busboys and Poets Gaza Report event this morning, Dina, Stephanie and I returned to Natural Body Spa & Shoppe at the Ballston Mall in Arlington, VA to do our Boycott, Divestment and Sanction solidarity action for “Land Day”, the annual day of commemoration for Palestinians.

We were joined by Andy (our videographer) and Steve (Palestine Children”s Relief Fund) who had with him his two daughters and two children from Gaza, Noor & Daoud for whom Steve had arranged medical treatment at John Hopkins. There we delivered our message about AHAVA and its violation of international law. Note that this was our 4th visit to the store and that the owner, Bart Yablonsky even replied via email last August saying, “Thank you for the information.”

After explaining why we were shocked at still finding the products there we started chanting and scooping them off their prominent display stacking them onto the counter, “Don”t you know, AHAVA has got to go!” The staff reacted in a variety of ways. Some were receptive to our message, “As a person who cares about education, I understand your passion” and “I did not know that. Good to know.” Some seemed shocked or displayed defensive body language (mouths open, arms crossed). One became overwrought screaming “I”m Jewish and I don”t even use this shit. I don”t like AHAVA!”

When told we shouldn”t do this in front of our kids, we explained that these kids were here for treatment after being shot by Israeli soldiers and that they were exactly why we were doing this and knew all about it. Diminutive Daoud took off his knit hat and showed his misshapen, severely scarred skull.

By then mall security had been called and asked us to leave. As we exited the shop to streetside we stopped on the sidewalk to take pictures of the banner and our signs in front of the store. Mall security claimed that the sidewalk was private property. Even though we were already leaving, the salesperson who did all the screaming at us followed outside with other staff to block our vehicle, “You”ve been filming me and taking my picture. You”re not leaving here until I get that tape and your camera! Do you know how I feel?? You”ve ruined my day!”

Once the police officers arrived the staff seemingly disappeared. Officers approached us to ask what was going on. We explained that we were exercising our right to free speech, demonstrating at this store because it carries a product that violates international law, profiting from the occupation of Palestine. “Oh, it”s an Israel – Palestine issue.” said Officer Bamford, “I just wanted to understand what it was about.”

After checking with his colleague about the cameras he shook his head and amicably enough informed us that Arlington police were the most liberal and as far as he knew there wasn”t any regulation preventing us from taking pictures and filming. We were free to demonstrate on the sidewalk as long as we didn”t block traffic but the store wanted us banned from the mall. “Are we being detained, officer?” we asked. He replied that yes, since the mall wanted to ban us we would need to sign the form to ensure that we not return. We told Officer Bamford that we don”t even come to the mall, did not want to sign any form, and that we were leaving as asked when the staff blocked our vehicle. At this point the police realized we didn”t need to be detained, but pointed out that if the saleswoman was being stalked by someone and her whereabouts found online due to our video we could be liable. We promised that we have remarkable editing skills and there was no need to worry. We smiled, thanked the officers, shook their hands and departed the premises.

Note: the AHAVA products had been taken to the back of the store. : )

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