Thousands gathered outside Sydney’s Town Hall on Saturday amid a sea of red, black and green to condemn the colonial subjugation of Palestinians, and to advocate for their right to self-determination.
At least 145 Palestinians, including 41 children, have been killed in the Gaza Strip since Monday while at least 10 people in Israel have also been killed.
Protests were held in major cities across the continent. marking 73 years since Al Nakba, or the ‘day of catastrophe,’ which marked the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their land.
Advocates united with flags and placards to condemn Israeli violence towards Palestine. In the past week, Israeli airstrikes and attacks have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians, several of whom are children.
Israeli military attacks in the Gaza strip persist as the UN reports 10,000 Palestinians being forced out of their homes in Gaza, as well in the occupied West Bank. Forced evictions in Sheikh Jarrah are also occurring in the wake of a comprehensive report by Human Rights Watch, accusing Israel state of “systematic domination” and apartheid against Palestinians.
Chants could be heard ringing through Town Hall before the rally’s commencement, including:
“Gaza, Gaza don’t you cry — Palestine will never die”
“Free, Free Palestine”
“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”
Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts, a Bundjalung woman and Palestinian advocate, delivered an Acknowledgement of Country, speaking to the shared struggle of Palestinians and First Nations peoples against settler colonialism. Turnbull-Roberts called for protesters to “continue resisting colonial forces.”
The crowd also heard from Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, the Grand Mufti of Australia. A translator voiced his speech, expressing “The people of Palestine are people. They are not numbers or statistics. And for as long as they are deprived of their basic human rights … they will continue to resist.”
The Grand Mufti criticised the political silence on the issue: “What a shame it is … to hold our tongues and mute our voices from condemning the aggression,” he said.
NSW Greens Senator, Dr Mehreen Faruqi also expressed solidarity with Palestinians.
“First Nations people understand more than most the pain, trauma, and the loss of stolen land. They have been targets of colonialism, violent theft and dispossession, for more than 200 years. It is not okay [here] and it is not okay in Palestine.”
Fouad, a Palestinian refugee, gave his account of having to flee Palestine when an Israeli state was declared.
“I witnessed the massacre with my eyes but this determination within myself will never die,” he said.
Dr Faruqi called for a robust political response to this issue: “I want to call upon politicians to speak out against the oppressive Israeli regime. I want to express solidarity with the Palestinians.”
This comes after Faruqi spoke to the NSW Senate, stating that “politicians have a responsibility to speak out” about the issue.
Human rights activist, writer, and poet, Sara Saleh, then spoke to the crowd. Saleh asserted a sentiment of unity in her address, voicing: “We must understand that our anti-colonial anti-imperial struggles … are linked. They must be grounded in anti-racism. There is no room for islamophobia or anti-blackness or anti-Semitism or any type of xenophobia or discrimination.”
Saleh criticised the international military funding of Israel, as a number of countries, particularly the United States, are complicit in the occupation. “We must oppose state sanctioned violence,” she said.
Randa Abdel-Fattah, a writer, scholar, and activist spoke to the crowd. She acknowledged that the Nakba is an ongoing, rather than a historic event: “[This is] a 73 year catastrophe that is happening in real time. It is not a memory – it is not a history.”
“We demand Israel and its allies — stop killing us. Stop oppressing us. Stop occupying us now,” she said.
Protesters moved through George Street, as a police helicopter could be heard overhead. Chanting continued as the massive crowd marched through King Street and Castlereagh Street, circling back to Town Hall.
Yesterday saw the destruction of the Al Jazeera and Associated Press building by Israeli airstrikes. The 13 floor building was toppled after journalists were warned to escape. The attack has since been condemned by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The International Federation of Journalists has called for accountability from Israel, for “deliberate targeting of journalists and the media.”
Honi is signatory to an open letter pledging to report openly about Palestinian issues after extensive omissions in the media of these struggles.
The next rally for Palestine is happening on the 22nd of May at Hyde Park at 1pm.