Australian protests demand a free Gaza

January 17, 2009

Protests against the Israel's ongoing military assault and siege on Gaza have continued across Australia as the Palestinian death toll mounts.

By January 18 — 22 days after Israel began its brutal attack — more than 1200 Palestinians had been killed, including more than 400 children. At least a further 5220 people had been injured.

Sam Wainwright reported on January 10 more than 300 people gathered on the Fremantle Esplanade to protest Israel's war. The protest was the third in as many weeks, with 150 and 450 gathering in Perth on the previous two weekends.

Meanwhile the Friends of Palestine WA (FoPWA) group has rapidly grown into a thriving and democratic hub of activity with over 30 people attending its planning meetings.

The January 10 rally heard from a number of speakers from the Arab and Muslim communities and the Catholic Church.

Newly elected Greens Senator Scott Ludlam was warmly received and any mention of the federal Labor government's stance brought boos and jeers.

In contrast, when the statement by the Venezuelan government announcing its intention to expel the Israeli ambassador was read out the spontaneous chant of "Viva Chavez; Down, down Arab leaders" went through the crowd. A number of people had brought home made placards commending the stance of Venezuela.

Speaking just before the march through Fremantle, long time FoPWA activist Alex Whisson gave an impassioned speech that included a detailed account of the Gaza death toll.

The chants on the march reflected the mood of the crowd; "Rudd, Gillard you can't hide; You support genocide!" and "Israel USA; How many kids did you kill today!"

The Fremantle protest was followed up by a vigil and mass leafleting of the CBD by some 30 activists on Friday January 16. The next major protest will be in Perth at noon on Saturday January 31 in Forrest Place.

Ruth Ratcliffe reported that more than 1500 people rallied on the steps of Parliament House in Adelaide on January 11 to condemn the Israeli massacre.

The rally was organised by the Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA).

Speakers included AFOPA Chairperson Paul Heywood-Smith, SA Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, the public advocate for AFOPA Michael Shaik and South Australian independent MP Kris Hanna.

More than 2000 people also marched through the streets of central Brisbane in solidarity with Gaza on January 10.

Speakers at the Brisbane rally included Aboriginal elder Bob Anderson, jewish anti-war activist Margot Salom and the federal ALP member for Moreton Graham Perrett.

Up to 500 people joined a Muslim prayer and protest march to deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard's office in the Melbourne suburb of Werribee on January 16.

Margarita Windisch reported that the prayer and rally was organised by the Western suburbs Muslim community and the Melbourne Palestine Solidarity Network.

Sheikh Isse Musse, the Imam of the Virgin Mary Mosque in Werribee, led the prayer and strongly condemned Israel's continuing illegal occupation of Palestine and its horrendous attack on the people of Gaza, which has left essential infrastructure in rubble and has destroyed schools and hospitals.

The prayer was followed by a spirited march to Julia Gillard's office, with people chanting "shame Gillard shame, free Gaza", and "Israel is a terrorist state".

Tasnim Sammak, a young Palestinian woman whose family comes from Gaza, spoke outside Gillard's office and denounced the Australian government's implicit support for Israel's war on Gaza.

Other speakers also condemned the pro-Israel bias of reportage by mainstream media.

Amid loud chants from the crowd, a petition with over 10,000 signatures was handed over to a representative of Julia Gillard. The petition called on the Rudd government to oppose Israel's unjustifiable violence.

Jonathan Strauss reported that the single word "Gaza" shone out from brightly burning candles, which were placed on a black cloth surrounded by Palestinian scarves, in Cairns on January 16.

The candle display was the centrepiece of a vigil in solidarity with the people of Gaza, which supported an end to the Israeli attacks on Gaza. Protesters also called for an end to Israel's criminal blockade of the Gaza strip.

Around 45 people from Cairns and the Atherton Tablelands joined the action, which was organised by Socialist Alliance members, Green Left Weekly supporters and activists from the Cairns' group, Peace by Peace.

Speakers at the vigil included the Socialist Alliance, the secretary of the local Greens branch and a member of the Maritime Union of Australia.

The Newcastle NoWAR Collective has mounted protests denouncing Israel's attacks every Wednesday at the Hamilton clocktower since the bombing began.

Niko Leka reported that each protest has grown in numbers, with sixty people attending the rally on January 14. A popular chant at the Newcastle rally was "Free Palestine — yes we can!"

Four hundred people also protested in Wollongong on January 17. The protest was organised by Illawarra No War.

Jess Moore reported that the speakers included Lebanese community leader Saeb Ali, Reverend Gordon Bradbury from the Uniting Church and Arthur Rorris, the secretary of the South Coast Labour Council.

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