Pro-Palestinian protesters camped outside Town Hall vow to stay ‘until council divests’

Placards at the encampment. Photograph: Maya Sall

Pro-Palestinian protestors who been camping outside Hackney Town Hall for the past fortnight say they will stay put until the council meet their demands.

‘Divest Israeli Arms, Break with Haifa and Twin with Palestine’ reads a banner strung between trees in the square outside the borough’s municipal headquarters.

The first demand refers to Hackney Council’s pension fund, which has passive investments worth £1.9m in “companies conducting business activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”, pensions committee chair Cllr Kam Adams (Labour) has said previously.

According to data obtained by the protestors, the fund currently holds £25,700 in stocks Elbit Systems Ltd, a supplier of equipment to the Israeli Defence Force.

The protesters are also calling for an end to the twinning relationship between Hackney and the Israeli town of Haifa.

The focal point of the arrangement, which has been in place since 1968, is a work exchange program between Homerton Hospital and Haifa’s Rambam Health Care Campus.

“We will be here until they divest,” said one protestor who has been there every day since the camp was erected.

“If it takes six months, then that’s how long we’ll stay.”

The Citizen asked Hackney Council if they will meet the demands of the protestors.

Regarding Hackney’s twinning with Haifa, a spokesperson said: “The council is twinned with Suresnes, Haifa and St George’s.

“The relationship with Haifa is a civic one dating back to 1968.

“The council does not have an active role in managing the links; they are self-sustaining based on the community connections that have built up over many years.”

Protesters create new signs in the Town Hall square. Photograph: Maya Sall

On the calls for divestment, they added: “We know that some residents and communities have concerns about some of Hackney pension fund’s investments.

“Responsibility for the pension fund, which pays the pensions of retired key workers, sits with Hackney’s pensions committee, which has a legal duty to ensure the pension fund generates sufficient returns to keep paying these benefits.

“Its investments are in standard pooled funds, where the pension fund does not hold direct stock in any company.

“These indirect investments in companies active in Israeli settlements represent about 0.1 per cent of the pension fund’s value.

“While it is unlikely that the pensions committee could make changes without risking breaching Law Commission guidance, responsible investment remains at the forefront of the committee’s agenda.”

Hackney Council previously divested stocks invested in Russian companies following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Morale at the encampment was high.

When the Citizen visited at the start of the week, protesters were playing music and making banners, and cars tooted in support as they drove past.

Not everyone is in support of the camp, however.

Martin Sugarman, chair of Hackney Haifa Twinning, accused the council of being “laid back” and “amenable” in its response to the protests.

In a statement to the Citizen, Sugarman said the council’s reaction “sends a message that it instead supports [the protesters’] views… and encourages copy-cat events in other places”.

He is unhappy that the council has not asked “community and police officers to disperse the illegal protest… from council property”.

This accusation was put to the council, which responded: “Hackney Council recognises the right to peaceful protest.”

Sugarman continued: “If these radicals must protest, they can hire a hall somewhere and talk to themselves without disturbing and offending everyone else on our streets.”