By Fatimah Ayoubi, Rodger Liang, Amaani Siddeek and Souad-Marie Cheikho

Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters rallied around the country yesterday, labelling the Morrison government’s response to Israel ‘gutless’ and calling on Australians to recognise Israeli settlements as an ‘occupation’ and ‘colonisation’ of the Palestinian Territories.

About 2,000 people, including a mix of politicians, poets and First Nations people rallied at Sydney’s Town Hall, both in commemoration of Naqba and in response to the current eviction of Palestinians from their homes in West Jerusalem, police raids on mosques and airstrikes that have killed over 130 men, women and children in Gaza and the West Bank.

“Being here today, our main goal is to use our voice which is our biggest, most powerful and our best weapon,” said Rola Elayan, a Palestinian-Australian and 2nd Year Law student at Macquarie University.

“Here we aim to raise awareness about the atrocities happening overseas in hopes that something will be done about this.”

May 15 marks the 73rd anniversary of al-Naqba or ‘the Catastrophe’, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced to create the state of Israel, and rallies took place around the world yesterday and in a number of Australian cities, including Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra, to commemorate the day.

Protesters chanting, holding up Palestinian flag

Protesters chant, ‘free Palestine’ at the rally in Sydney. Photo: UTS

This year’s rallies saw an increase in anger and tension after Israel sanctioned airstrikes against the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip – targets including news organisations, residential homes and infrastructure.

The airstrikes, which began on Monday, have killed at least 139 Palestinians including 39 children in Gaza, with some 950 people wounded. Another 13 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli authorities and eight Israelis have died in attacks on Israel, as Hamas launched hundreds of rockets against Israeli towns.

“It’s horrible… the human injustice that’s happening to the Palestinians and especially in the month of Ramadan”, Mutaz Abu Ghazaleh, an architect at Microsoft and member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement said.

“That they have to go through this is completely unjust and it’s not the first time Israel has done this at a time like this.”

The airstrikes come after Hamas launched hundreds of rockets towards multiple locations within Israel, killing several people. Many of the rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defence system.

The US government, which earlier in the week urged Israel to treat Palestinian families compassionately, yesterday announced its support for the airstrikes, with President Joe Biden saying Israel had a “right to defend itself” against rocket attacks.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also came under fire from protesters yesterday after telling media: “Australia does not recognise a Palestinian state. We are committed to a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state co-exist, in peace and security, within internationally recognised borders.”

Girl carries sign reading 'The West is COMPLICIT in Israel's war crimes' in red and black.

Protesters condemned Western “silence” around Israeli “war crimes”. Photo: UTS

The PM while acknowledging the concerns of Palestinian-Australians, chastised protestors saying: “By all means, people can have concerns and views, and there is a tolerance for that, but at the same time we do not want to import the troubles of other parts of the world into this country.”

Protestors at the rally, however, were quick to point out the similarities between the situation in Palestine and Australia’s own colonial history.

“It is not only an Australian story – we are seeing a repeat of genocide in history,” said Ms Elayan.

“What occurred to the Indigenous people of the land here in Australia, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, is very similar to the things that are going on to the Palestinian people.”

The Naqba rally has consistently been supported by many Indigenous activists over the years. The rally began with a traditional smoking ceremony, with speeches and acknowledgment of country from Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts, a Bundjalung woman and UNSW law student.

“We must continue to speak our languages, continue to speak our truths, and we must continue resisting the colonial forces that are happening to my [Indigenous] people, that is happening to your people. And we stand with you,” she said.

Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts stands in front of crowd on Town Hall steps speaking into microphone

“[We saw] evidently right in front of you there is a division between our Palestinian sister and brothers, and the harmful Israeli forces. It is clear, it is right there,” Turnbull-Roberts said. Photo: UTS

Mehreen Faruqi, Senator for the Greens party also attended the protest and called out the Australian Government’s “silence”:

“I think the Australian Government’s silence on this issue – of this latest violence perpetrated by the Israeli authorities – is shameless and gutless and I don’t think communities, anymore, will stand by and let that slip,” she said.

Pictures and video by Rodger Liang, Souad-Marie Cheikho and Amaani Siddeek