Australians protesting a feared genocide of Palestinians in the Middle East say they feel oppressed in their own country by the Albanese government’s response.
An estimated 15,000 Sydneysiders marched yesterday to protest the ongoing subjugation of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and the mass killing of civilians under Israeli bombardment.
Speakers called on the government to speak up on the issue and recognise both the current humanitarian crisis and the longstanding situation which violates international law and human rights law. Further rallies took place yesterday in Brisbane and Perth, with large protests planned today in Melbourne and Adelaide.
Nahil Chidiac, a Christian Palestinian-Australian from the town of Lid which Israel annexed in 1948, told the rally at Sydney’s Town Hall she was protesting “in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Palestine”.
“We feel oppressed even in our own country, Australia,” she added. “We are saddened that our own government has gone against us and tried to silence us.
“We need to speak for them [Palestinians], we need to voice our voices for them louder and louder. We’ve got family in Gaza who are currently taking refuge in a church and it’s really close to our hearts.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has publicly given Australia’s full support to Israel, but on Wednesday called for the upholding of international law.
“Every innocent life matters – whether it is Israeli or Palestinian,” he told reporters in Canberra. “Australia joins with others in calling for international law to always be upheld.”
This is not a new crisis. This is decades of occupation.
The Greens and some members of the Labor party, however, have urged both the PM and foreign minister Penny Wong to condemn the violence and imminent ground invasion threatened by Israel.
While 1,400 Israelis were killed when Hamas, a Palestinian para-military group, launched a surprise offensive on Israel on October 7, sparking the current conflict, Israel has killed 4,200 Palestinian civilians in the past fortnight, and dropped 6,000 bombs on Gaza in six days – almost as much as the US dropped on Afghanistan in one year. To compound the unfolding humanitarian crisis, Israel has cut off power and water supplies to Gaza’s 2.1 million inhabitants and blocked imports of food.
Around the world millions turned out yesterday to protest Israel’s “annihilation” of the Palestinians, with some of the biggest rallies in New York and London, led and supported by Jewish groups.
“Over 4,000 Palestinians have been murdered [over the last two weeks], and that is only the ones that have been accounted for,” Amal Naser, the protest’s co-organiser, said in her speech.
Israel, which has occupied or controlled the Palestinian territories for 56 years, has been accused of operating an apartheid system in the West Bank and Israel, while Gaza, though not currently occupied, has been the subject of a 16-year military blockade by land, sea and air, with Israel controlling even basic amenities such as water and electricity.
However, the Netanyahu government and its allies have treated the attack by Hamas as “unprovoked”, and in response launched what many around the world have criticised as a disproportionate counter-offensive. Aside from the bombing campaign it has involved the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians told to leave their homes and move to the south of the Gaza strip, the most densely populated area in the world.
“They [Israel] bombed churches, they bombed mosques, they bombed hospitals. This is not a new crisis. This is decades of occupation,” campaigner Assala Sayara told the rally.
Earlier this week international lawyer Franesca Albanese (no relation to the prime minister), the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian Territory, said: “In the name of self-defence, Israel is seeking to justify what would amount to ethnic cleansing.”
Many Australians in the crowd at yesterday’s rally said they had lost support for the government, both federally and state. Following the October 7 attack by Hamas, NSW Premier Chris Minns attempted to ban rallies protesting killings in Gaza, but was forced to row back on it after a public outcry of censorship.
Protester Sayel Elwan, 19, whose family is from Gaza, said he has been “feeling really let down by our government”.
“I feel a lot of shame for the Australian government,” he added.
Yesterday’s rally was supported by various Indigenous groups and speakers, as well as Jewish groups opposed to the occupation policies of Israel.
— UTS Journalism (@CentralNewsUTS) October 21, 2023
Lynda-June Coe, a Wiradjuri and Badu Island woman, told the rally: “I am the granddaughter of warriors. We have defended our homeland against the settler-colonial occupation of these lands for 250 years. And we ain’t going nowhere!
“We stand here today, alongside you in solidarity. We recognise your sovereignty, your humanity, your right to peace, your right to justice, your right to declare this undeclared war [by] Israel as a crime against humanity. And what we have witnessed over these last few weeks is the complicity of Australia and every single Western liberal democracy on this planet.
“We will fight with you every single step of the way. Your destiny is our destiny. From the river to the sea,” she added in reference to the area that Palestinian lands originally encompassed.
“Let us come together. Let us rise up a tidal wave of justice, of resistance, and let’s crush settler-colonialism together.
“My brothers and sisters, you are welcome here. You are welcome on the soils of the Gadigal, you are welcome on the soils of Wiradjuri.”
Even in the horrendous conditions of their lives the people of Gaza have a right to sanctuary in their own homes.
Naser said Palestinians had been threatened with “complete annihilation” and western governments were shamefully defending Israel.
“Violence is an entrenched feature of imperialism and settler-colonialism,” she added. “Like in Palestine, white Australia ruthlessly colonised and stole this land that we are engaging on today and continues to engage in a brutal genocide to annihilate the native inhabitants. From Australia to Palestine, genocide is a crime.”
Speaker Michelle Berkon, from Jews Against the Occupation, told the rally she spoke on behalf of two Jewish groups who had spent many years campaigning for Palestine.
“We defy Israel’s claims on our Jewish identity and exploitation of our history. We stand in solidarity with our Palestinian sisters and brothers demanding freedom in Gaza from Israel,” she said.
“The media is debating who dropped this bomb, who fired that rocket. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that people were killed in what they had every right to believe was a sanctuary. What matters is that people throughout Gaza are being killed in their thousands and traumatised in their tens of thousands. Even in the horrendous conditions of their lives the people of Gaza have a right to sanctuary in their own homes.
— UTS Journalism (@CentralNewsUTS) October 21, 2023
“We do know whose name is on the high tech weaponry raining from the skies and soon to be unleashed on the ground.
“I will never condone the violation of any human being’s inalienable right to a secure life and a dignified death, but we must be clear, the root cause of the conflagration of violence and misery engulfing everyone between the river and the sea is Israel’s sustained and illegal occupation of Palestinian land.”
Waving flags and placards the crowd regularly chanted “Free, free Palestine” and “Albanese you can’t hide, you’re committing genocide” as one speaker after another denounced the state and federal Labor governments.
“The current Labor government has made it clear that they are a party of colonialism, they are a party of empire, and they are a party of genocide,” Naser said.
To loud applause, she added: “From now on we will back the Greens.”
Many protestors also shared their own experiences in the occupied Palestine territories.
Hannah and Lanni, twin Palestinian-Australian sisters, said they felt “fear, worry and sadness” when they visited their family in Nablus in the West Bank.
“We felt the weight of oppression weighing down on us,” Hannah said, recounting the checkpoints, the Israeli tanks and the denied entry into Jerusalem.
However, the sisters said that what they experienced “was only a fraction of what the people in Gaza endure every single day”, and described them as “living in a modern day concentration camp”.
“Behind all the propaganda are people with real dreams, and real hopes. Children who want to go to school and play with their friends, parents who want to be able to provide for their families, grandparents who want to watch their families grow,” Lanni added.
Main image by Amelie Zreika.