I was removed from the State Library of NSW for wearing a keffiyeh

8 June 2024
Eva Sutherland
Eva Sutherland addressing a Palestine solidarity rally PHOTO: Ewan Polios

While studying at the State Library of NSW, I was removed by security for wearing a keffiyeh—a scarf that has long been worn as a symbol of solidarity with Palestine.

I’m a year 12 high school student and activist with “Highschoolers for Palestine Sydney”. On 2 June, after returning from a study break, I was stopped at the door by the manager and security of the State Library, who informed me I had either to remove the scarf or leave the building.

After I refused to remove it, the manager called more security and told me I wasn’t allowed to re-enter the library. I asked her if I would be removed for wearing other political symbols, and she said that other symbols were allowed but the library did not accept the scarf. Security escorted me to collect my belongings, and I was forced out of the library.

I was wearing the keffiyeh to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, who are currently suffering from a genocide at the hands of Israel. The Australian government is complicit in this genocide; wearing the keffiyeh is a way to demonstrate that we oppose our government’s complicity and will continue fighting for the liberation of Palestine.

After I posted a reel about my removal on Instagram, pressure grew on the library to respond. Many people tagged the library’s Instagram account, wrote bad reviews and messaged it.

The next day, the library management issued a public apology for the “incident” on Instagram and their website, claiming, “The Library does not condone discrimination on the grounds of cultural dress”, and that they have “taken immediate action and have spoken to the security guard about this incident”.

This is not the case of a single security guard going against library policy. I have been spoken to on multiple occasions by three different managers, twice for wearing a pro-Palestine shirt, and now for wearing the keffiyeh. This goes beyond discrimination on the basis of cultural dress; the State Library’s actions fit into a broader pattern of Australian institutions attempting to silence support for Palestine.

As part of the Highschool Students for Palestine campaign, many students have been told they are not allowed to talk about Palestine in school, wear badges or keffiyehs—even when not instructed to wear school uniforms. Students were told the same thing during the Vietnam War, when discussing the war or wearing anti-war badges was banned in many schools.

It’s so important that students continue to oppose the genocide and the Australian government’s complicity. Just like during the Vietnam War, students aren’t going to be silenced by attempts to repress support for Palestine.

Despite this experience, I will continue to proudly wear my keffiyeh, and am not going to stop campaigning and fighting until our government ends its support for Israel and Palestine is free.

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