Thousands defy scare campaign to protest for Palestine

17 October 2023
Josh Lees

Ten thousand people took to the streets of Melbourne last weekend to protest Israel’s attack on Gaza, which has already killed more than 2,400 people—including 800 children.

The protest heard from Samah Sabawi, a playwright born in Gaza who has written about the Israeli bombardment her family is currently enduring.

Jerome Small from the Victorian Socialists also spoke, telling the crowd: “The Gaza Strip is smaller than the local government area of Hume (from Broadmeadows and Tullamarine out to Craigieburn, Mickleham and Sunbury). Imagine putting two million people in that area, cutting off water, electricity, food and fuel—and then dropping 6,000 bombs in a week. This is the obscenity unfolding right now, courtesy of the Israeli state”.

In Sydney, politicians and the media spent a week trying to threaten and deter people from protesting in solidarity with Palestine. NSW Premier Chris Minns declared earlier in the week: “The idea they’re going to commandeer Sydney streets is not going to happen and I’m sure the NSW police will make that clear”.

Police called the rally “unauthorised” and threatened to search and demand ID from any attendees. Opposition leader Peter Dutton was even calling for protesters to be deported.

These attempts to scare people failed—thousands packed into Hyde Park and the police did not invoke their special search powers. Two Jewish speakers addressed the crowd: Michelle Berkon from Jews Against the Occupation and Tzedek, and Peter Slezak, both of whom had relatives who escaped the Holocaust. They argued that the state of Israel does not speak for them, that the movement for Palestine has always opposed anti-Semitism, and that there is nothing anti-Semitic about opposing Zionism and the apartheid state of Israel.

“Politicians ... argue that Israel has the right to defend itself”, said Berkon. “Since when is genocide self-defence? Since when does an occupier have the right to crush into oblivion people whom it has brutalised and dehumanised and persecuted and oppressed for decades?”

Co-organiser of the rally Fahad Ali told the crowd: “I am on the brink of tears because I’m looking at the children sitting right here before me”. He called for an “end to the massacre” in Gaza. Ramia Abdo Sultan, from the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network, also spoke. Her 25-year-old cousin, Youssef Abu Abdoh, who was soon to be married, was killed in a missile strike in Gaza city last week.

Protests will again take place around the country this weekend:

Canberra: 5.30pm Friday, Garema Place

Sydney: 1pm Saturday, Sydney Town Hall

Brisbane: 2pm Saturday, King George Square

Wollongong: 1pm Saturday, Crown St Amphitheatre

Perth: 12pm Saturday, Stirling Gardens

Melbourne: 12pm Sunday, State Library

Adelaide: 2pm Sunday, Parliament House

Hobart: 11am Saturday, Hobart Town Hall


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