One Man and One Placard
Citizens of the upper-class suburb of Hampstead have become accustomed to Andrew. Come rain or shine, this Orthodox Jew protests every week against CCP atrocities.
One man and one placard. Every Tuesday evening, from 6 to 7 pm, without fail, Andrew, an Orthodox Jew, stands in the road outside the Cultural office of the Chinese Embassy in London and protests the incarceration of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. His message is simple and clear: 3 million Muslims in Chinese concentration camps!
In full glare of the cultural attachés’ surveillance cameras, the middle-aged man, come rain or shine, arrives with his posters after work and stands in a leafy Hampstead suburb with one aim, to protest the extra-judicial incarceration of his fellow human beings in Xinjiang’s vast network of transformation through education camps and prisons.
The luxuriant upper-class suburb is a far cry from the burning desert sun of Xinjiang where estimates of between 1.5-3 million untried Uyghurs lie languishing in high security barracks with no end in sight. Walking up and down on the edge of the road to maximise exposure to passing cars, his rudimentary placard is clear and stark.
Andrew, who prefers not to reveal his full name, has been coming here since March when he was first alerted to the Uyghur crisis. “I couldn’t not do something,” he said, twisting his sign one way and the other to show to cars passing in both directions as we spoke. “I am simply doing this because I am Jewish,” he said. “China has silenced the world by paying off Muslim countries. The world kept silent when Jews were being persecuted. It is not right that Jews now should stay mute when this is happening right under our noses,” he added.
His wife’s grandparents were in concentration camps and one in an extermination camp. “My wife’s mother was a hidden child so avoided being rounded up,” he said. “She lived because other people were prepared to pay a price. This small protest is the least I can do.”
“Governments Might Take Notice”
Whilst acknowledging that he is just one person and his efforts seem trivial, he hoped that others would take heart and publicize the atrocity in their own way. “People need to be alerted and the more who spread the news, a tipping point will be reached whereby governments might take notice.”
When asked why an Orthodox Jew would stand up for Muslims in this way, Andrew admitted that although there are some dietary similarities, he felt he had very little in common with Uyghurs. “None of us eat pork and we share many of the same prophets,” he said. “But we are quite different. We say Shalom aleykum, which is the same as their Asalamu aleykum but whilst we are free to give our greeting, they get locked up for giving theirs,” he said. “We said ‘never again’ after the war, but it is still happening. I couldn’t just sit still and do nothing,” he said defiantly.
“The Chinese cannot hide the satellite images,” he went on. “Satellite images do not lie. They are there for the world to see.” He was afraid that the Uyghur situation might escalate if the world did not do something. “We know where this could lead,” he said.
As we spoke, three others joined the throng, making this the largest turnout that Andrew has had on one evening. An elderly Jewish woman Judith Shipton, and her granddaughter grabbed two spare placards, and Baruch Solomon, a keen human rights defender and non-religious Jew manned both sides of the road. This was the first time for Mrs. Shipton, who felt powerless in the face of what was happening but felt she must protest. There had been tragedy in her first husband’s family when one member was killed in the camps and her family was forced to flee Germany. “I wanted to lend my voice to the horrors going on in China,” she said. “No one seems to care.” She admitted that she had never heard of the Uyghur people until she attended a meeting which addressed the issue. “It made me very sad,” she said.
Baruch Solomon felt it was time that the tragedy unfolding in secret in China should be brought out into the open. “We have to make a start. It’s always worth doing something however small. Once we have started, we can ask if we should be doing it better,” he said, addressing concerns that their protest was too small to be of any effect. He proposes to make a video documenting the Uyghur situation and draw it to the attention of the public. Being Jewish was an important part of the protest for him. “I’m not doing this because I am Jewish, but I am doing it Jewishly,” he said, explaining that the history of the holocaust and persecution had caused Jews to see oppression and tyranny in a certain way, because they had experienced it first-hand. “What we have been through as a people has given us a collective consciousness and we can empathize with others enduring similar trials,” he said. “This situation is horrific, we simply have to get those people out,” he said.
As the placards were waved, some cars stopped, intrigued to see Andrew wearing his skullcap and Jews standing up for Muslims. There were toots of approval, waving and thumbs up, but also honkings of fury and fists wagging. “What about the grooming gangs?” Shouted one driver. A motorcyclist slowed down and raged “who cares?” while others stopped for more information. In the weeks following the Sri Lankan bombings, Andrew experienced abuse from people worried about terrorism. But Muslim drivers have always been united in their approval and touched by the protest.
Watched by the CCP
Andrew knows that he is being watched by embassy staff, but none has directly confronted him. He said comings and goings through the front gates are deliberately curtailed during his protest when the gates are firmly locked, and he feels studiously avoided. “They know I am here, but don’t say anything,” he said. A delegation of Chinese businessmen arrived one evening and one of them stopped to talk to Andrew. “He told me the Chinese had a lot to learn from the Jewish people,” added Andrew. “He said I was a hero.”
Andrew has no plans to stop his weekly vigil. He is happy for people to join him or not and if there is a surge of interest, he plans to take the protest into central London. “I will continue until the camps are closed,” he said firmly. “One person can’t save the whole world, but what is happening in China is dreadful. People are too afraid to confront China and Muslim countries nearby are afraid to touch her. How can one human being do this to another? It is our moral obligation to do something. I must come here until it is over,” he said defiantly.