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Gaza: Personal commitment for political stories

Many Palestinian supporters are unified by shared experiences of oppression, writes Astha Rajvanshi.

Last Sunday afternoon, hundreds of people took to the streets of Sydney’s CBD, waving Palestinian flags and holding up signs to demand an end to Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.

Black and white Palestinian keffiyehs were draped across the necks of many, a public ritual that has long symbolised the collective cause of Palestinian resistance against the settler colonial state of Israel. Men, women and children huddled on the steps of Town Hall, gazing intently at a small girl who took to the microphone at the front. Chanting loudly, they repeated after her: “Palestine is Palestinian! 1, 2, 3, 4, we don’t want your bloody war!”

Organised by the Palestine Action Group, a Sydney-based activist organisation committed to supporting Palestine and the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, the chanters echo the anguish of Gazans. Over a one thousand civilians have died in Gaza since the most recent instalment in Israeli-Palestinian tensions began to unfold.

Nufid, who is Palestinian, sees the fight for the long disputed land as a struggle to restore historic, cultural and familial roots. He refers to how, at the age of nine, his father walked 400 kilometres to Jordan after being exiled from Palestine. Despite having never been to Palestine, he stands in solidarity with those currently there.

“Palestine is my land … our land – my father’s, my grandfather’s – in Palestine has been taken, and this is why I’m here today. There’s something called justice, if we look at the map before 1946, there’s nothing that exists called Israel.”

Fifteen-year-old Meem, whose grandparents live in Palestine, attended the rally to raise awareness about “what’s truly happened, and the truth behind it all”. When asked if she has ever been to Palestine, she replied, “Yes, but it’s always occupied by Israel… you have to go past the Israeli guards”. She sees it as a “genocide”.

But these protests are not just the stories of Palestinians. For many, they represent a desperate desire for the coexistence, peace and sanctity of human lives in the face of international power plays. Gaza is a stark reminder of atrocities perpetrated against other oppressed groups throughout history.

Pamela Windsor, who came to Sydney from Chile twenty years ago, believes that the Palestinian struggle is a massacre, similar to that her own country faced during the military coup of Pinochet. “Palestinians are not alone,” she said. “This is not a war, this is a massacre. That’s what we’re trying to show the world. There’s no Hamas in little kids’ faces.”

Windsor believes that the UN needs to take responsibility for much of the violence that has erupted in Gaza. “The view is very clear, United Nations is part of this massacre, they give the partition of the land to Israel many years ago, they were part of this, the same as USA.”

Martin, an Irish man from the James Connolly Association, is drawn to support Palestine out of a “shared history and shared present” that vies for independence. He believes that what is happening in Palestine today happened in Ireland almost a hundred years ago.

“Obviously the injustices endured by our people in the modern era are minimal compared to what’s being suffered by the Palestinians today, but in saying that, what they’re going through today, we’ve gone through in the past. We had a genocide in 1840s, where about one million died, they were starved to death, not bombed, but the fundamentals are the same,” he says.

The death of innocents has trigged a response against government brutality, which unites many different communities from across the world. These people feel frustrated that many powerful players, the media or politicians around the world, remain apathetic to dehumanisation of Gazans.