Protesters shown supermarket door

Police were called to escort a group of about 12 human rights protesters out of the Pak'N Save supermarket in Mill St, Hamilton, yesterday .

The multicultural organisation called Palestine Human Rights Campaign Waikato had entered the store and were distributing leaflets calling on customers not to buy goods made in Israel.

Protest organiser Ahmed Khaled said the protest was aimed at raising awareness of ongoing violence and the persecution of people in the Gaza Strip.

"We don't want to single out Pak'N Save."

The lengthy conflict has escalated this year. Between July 8 and August 27, more than 2100 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, and 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians in Israel. The United Nations says most of the Palestinians were civilians.

Pak'N Save store manager Stefan Hance had previously asked the group to restrict their activities to the roadside kerb outside the supermarket ? however it was not long before they walked in and quickly dispersed throughout the store, quietly handing out flyers and talking to shoppers about why they were there.

Two of the group wheeled in shopping trolleys and before long homed in on a display stand with Beigel and Biegel Pretzels, one of the Israeli-made products on sale. After packing the pretzel packets into the trolley, Ruba Niza, another member of the group, sprinkled rose petals over them ? a move she said signified the peaceful nature of their visit.

The protesters spent about 20 minutes inside the store before the police arrived, and once told to leave they complied.

Among the group were American Kate Hayward, who has lived in Hamilton for 27 years, and John Mandelberg, a Jewish American who said he and many of his ethnicity had great sympathy for the Palestinian people.

"There is no need for [the conflict]. I can't understand why so many Israelis are so afraid of Palestinians."

Committee member Bruce Clark said he hoped the protest would be the first of many.

"People are getting killed over there all the time, but our news does not cover it. All we are doing is sticking up for people with no voice."

Foodstuffs corporate public relations director Antoinette Laird said the company had no issue with people protesting peacefully, however it reserved the right to stock whatever goods it deemed appropriate.

"The customers can vote with their wallets. If there is demand for a particular item, we will continue to stock it." She would not be drawn on whether the company had an ethical responsibility not to sell products sourced from Israel or the West Bank.

"We don't get involved in political discussions. Pak'N Save is not a political brand."

Information on the group can be found on: facebook.com/pages/Palestine-Human-Rights-Campaign-Waikato/.

mike.mather@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

 -  Fairfax NZ News