An estimated 15,000 people gathered in Town Hall Square for the third weekly pro-Palestine rally held in response to escalating attacks on occupied Gaza by the Israeli government — including the bombing of the al-Ahli Arab Hospital on Tuesday that killed hundreds and left hundreds more injured.
The organisers, Palestine Action Group, won the right to march in court on Friday ahead of the protest, signalling a victory over the police’s previously successful attempts to block marching and seek extraordinary powers to search protesters.
The protest was chaired by social worker and Palestinian activist Assala Sayara and Palestine Action Group organiser Josh Lees. Lees opened the rally with a warning against antisemitic chants, flag-burning, and the lighting of flares.
“There is consensus among organisers and community leaders that people who want to come and attend with the intention to engage in criminal conduct — including violence or religious vilification — should not come and they are not welcome either at the rally or in our movement,” a statement from Palestine Action Group released on 14 October read.
An Acknowledgement of Country was given by Wiradjuri and Badu Island activist Lynda-June Coe.
“We recognise your sovereignty, your right to declare this war as a crime against humanity…Let us come together in love and in our shared humanity, our shared struggle.”
Gamilaroi and Waka Waka Elder and disability justice activist Aunty Shirley Lomas spoke further on the necessity of solidarity across colonial borders, “The greatest gift to mankind was the gift of life … we’ve already had the frontier wars in this country, we’ve had segregation. We’ve been there, done that and we’re still here.”
“There’s only one team and that’s team humanity.”
A statement from Gadigal, Bidjigal, and Yuin Elder Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor was read out to the crowd, expressing her solidarity with the Palestinian community, “They are doing to your people what they did to mine: genocide.”
Palestinian activist organiser and law student Amal Naser spoke of the siege on Gaza as a product of western imperialism.
“Western imperialism, to function, needs Israel…Israel’s systems and structures were exported from the United States, and were exported from Australia. Whether it’s in the treatment of Indigenous people right here in this land, or the violence that we perpetuate in the third world, from West Papua to Iraq to Vietnam,” Naser said.
“We say one thing to our politicians, to Albanese and to Wong: we’ll see you in the Hague.”
Ahmed Abadla, a Palestinian organiser with family currently in Gaza, gave an account of the resistance occurring on the ground.
“The mere suggestion that resisting a coloniser is an act of unprovoked aggression is incredibly absurd and should be unequivocally rejected, because colonisation and occupation are inherently violent, oppressive, and provocative of all sorts of aggression… Occupation is the root cause of all aggression,” Abadla said.
“We hoped for a heartfelt connection to our homeland, instead we felt fear and sadness,” said Hana and Lani Sawalha, twin sisters from Nablus in the West Bank, speaking of their recent experience of returning to Palestine.
“What we were experiencing was only a fraction of what the people of Gaza endure every single day…Children have been killed, severely injured, and exposed to violence and scarcity of food and water following countless days of airstrikes. Life in Gaza is terror.”
Jews Against the Occupation and Tzedek Collective activist Michelle Berkon provided an anti-Zionist Jewish perspective of support for the Palestinian struggle.
“We defy Israel’s claims on our Jewish identity and the exploitation of our history. We stand in solidarity with our Palestinian sisters and brothers, demanding freedom and justice in Palestine,” said Berkon.
“In demanding an immediate ceasefire, an immediate lifting of the blockade, and an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine, we are insisting that we are all united in our belief in equality and justice for everyone.”
Jenny Leong, Greens NSW Member for Newtown, rounded out the protest’s speeches, condemning the Minns NSW Labor Government’s response.
“We watched in disbelief as our so-called political leaders took a side … the Premier and the Prime Minister of Australia must be held to account for backing in the so-called self-defence of Israel. It is unacceptable. History did not begin on October 7. There has been a long and torturous history of Palestinian dispossession since 1947,” said Leong.
“There is no justification for genocide. While those in power, from the US to Australia, seek to pretend they speak for us, the thousands on the streets in Sydney today and the millions marching around the globe make it clear that they do not speak for us.”
With chants of “Shame, shame Albanese,” and “Free free Palestine,” led by rally MC Sayara filling the CBD, the crowd made its way along George Street to Belmore Park. There was a significant NSW Police presence at the protest of over 800 officers.
The next protest for Palestine has been announced for Sunday 29 October at 1pm at Town Hall.