Jeanine Hourani has participated in protests calling for the freedom of Palestine since she was in a pram.
“I always joke that as Palestinians we learn too much before we learn to walk,” she laughs.
But even still, she said Saturday’s protests were different.
“I’ve been at these things my whole life and I honestly don’t remember seeing such incredible or meaningful participation as today. There were thousands of us there and it was really, really amazing to see.
Hourani was an organizer of the Rally for Free Palestine in Melbourne, joining hundreds of coordinated protests across the country and around the world to protest Israeli military attacks on the Gaza Strip. It came as the two countries experienced the most violent explosion of tensions since 2014, with at least 132 killed in Gaza and eight in Israel since Monday.
Israeli planes renewed airstrikes in Gaza on Saturday and Hamas militants in Gaza responded by firing rockets at Israel as their battle entered a fifth night.
In recent days, Australian and Palestinian human rights groups have urged the Australian government to stop seeking a possible free trade deal with Israel and to condemn its actions in Gaza and East Jerusalem.
The protests reflected these demands and went further, urging the government to adopt boycott, divestment and sanction actions against Israel, similar to those used against South Africa during the apartheid era.
Many participants in Australian rallies spoke of Israel committing apartheid – a view supported by Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem, a Jerusalem-based human rights group, but hotly contested. by several Australian Jewish associations such as the Anti-Defamation Commission.
Randa Abdel-Fattah, writer and prominent Palestinian activist, was one of some 5,000 people who attended a rally at Sydney Town Hall. She said access to social media has been a driving force in growing support in Australia.
“I think there are two things going on… now you have social media and you have the videos that you have in real time. Bombs on buildings and Palestinian children removed from the rubble; fathers and mothers howl in the morgues. It’s happening in real time, the evidence is there, ”she said.
“There’s also a new generation that we can really see on TikTok and Instagram… They see what’s going on.”
During Abdel-Fattah’s speech at the rally, a man climbed the side of the town hall, standing on the roof under the clock tower and waving a Palestinian flag.
A young girl attended the rally with her parents holding a sign saying “Israel is killing children like me”, as the large crowd chanted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
“It was different this year,” Abdel-Fattah said. “Usually that kind of crowd energized me and gave me hope. And while I really felt a certain level of dynamism in the number of people in attendance, I also felt the weight of what is happening.
“Knowing that while I was literally speaking, the Palestinians were being bombed – the dissonance between that… it’s really, you know, wreaking havoc,” she said.
“I see an uprising,” Sydney protester Walla Abu-Eid said. “I see people who will no longer be silent. People who have had enough, people who react to oppression and violence by standing up for themselves. “
There were no reports on Saturday night of arrests or misconduct during any of the day’s protests.
Dr Dvir Abramovich, chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission, which aims to end anti-Semitism and other forms of hate speech in Australia, has confirmed that so far no complaints have been filed with of his organization about the gatherings for Free Palestine, but noted as the Sabbath. had just ended some could still filter.
He expressed concern, however, that the rhetoric could escalate into anti-Jewish hatred.
“While everyone has the right to have strong opinions on climbing
conflict between Israel and Hamas and expressing them in public, we would be
alarmed if the moral guardrails have come loose and these views have crossed the line
in anti-Semitic rhetoric that not only put Australia’s Jews in danger
but has created a wedge between communities, ”he said.
“Over the past few days, CDA has expressed concern about the high volume of online hate circulating on the local social media scene, targeting in particular young Australian Jews.
Abramovich said his organization believed accusing Israel of genocide or calling it an apartheid state would cross the line.
“In fact, accusing Israel of promoting the vile racial policies promulgated by the former South African government is an insult that has no basis in reality and does not contribute to a thoughtful and respectful dialogue with the people of the other. side of the political divide. duty to maintain a respectful dialogue and to ensure that despite our differences, we do not destroy the mutual courtesy and affection that we have for one another as fellow citizens.
Earlier this week, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne called for an end to the violence. Payne said the government was deeply concerned about the escalating unrest in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.
“We unequivocally called on all leaders to take immediate action to end the violence, maintain restraint and restore calm,” she said at a press briefing in Washington on Friday.
He followed Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday reaffirming the government’s policy of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, describing Australia as an agent of peace. He urged Australians linked to the conflict to act with tolerance and respect.
“Of course, people can have concerns and views, and there is tolerance for it, but at the same time, we don’t want to import the troubles from other parts of the world into this country,” said Morrison.
With additional reporting from Australia Associated Press and Reuters.