'Free, free Palestine!'

April 24, 2002



SYDNEY — Two thousand people, many of them carrying candles and Palestinian flags, marched through the city centre as part of an Asia-Pacific regional day of action for Palestine on April 19. Simultaneous protests were held in every Australian capital city, as well as in India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Pakistan. The day of solidarity was initiated from the second Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference (APISC) held in Sydney at Easter.

Chanting "Free, free Palestine!", the Sydney protesters arrived at the United States consulate just as the sun was setting. The mood of the marchers, who were overwhelmingly from Sydney's Arab communities, was both sad and angry. Some carried coffins draped in checked Palestinian scarves (kuffiyeh) while others brought placards and banners denouncing Ariel Sharon as the "new Hitler".

As Palestinian Zahira Charida described the atrocities being committed by Israel in the Occupied Territories, many people cried, calling out the names of their relatives and friends there. One woman I spoke to explained that her whole family lived in Jenin. She had not heard from the young men in her family since they were taken away by Israeli troops three days ago. Picture

Huge cheers followed APISC organiser Max Lane's description of the solidarity being organised across Asia. Messages of solidarity with Palestine were read from the Indonesian National Front for Labour Struggles (FNPBI) which held a picket outside the US embassy in Jakarta on the day, the Labour Party Pakistan, which, in alliance with other groups helped to organise rallies in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad on the day, and the Cuban government.

Franciscan nun Aileen Crow, a Justice and Peace promoter with the Catholic Archdiocese, and the NSW state secretary of the construction division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, Andrew Ferguson, also spoke.

The public sympathy shown to protesters by bystanders was markedly higher than previous pro-Palestine marches.

As well as attending May 1 protests, Palestine supporters will protest on May 4 in a Women and Children for Palestine march.

Jess Melvin reports from Melbourne that 600 supporters of Palestine surged out into Swanston Street on April 19, most of them young members of the Arabic community. Picture

"We are justified in our rage, we are right in our anger... We have a right to exist", Alex Koutab from the Australian Arabic Council told the protest, which met at the State Library.

The march to parliament quickly gained momentum — the crowd half running as fists punched the air, Palestinian flags swung back and forth and the crowd united in chanting "Freedom for Palestine! Down, down with the USA". At another point in the march "The workers united will never be defeated" swelled out in Arabic.

"Information", declared Jacob Grecht from Friends of Palestine from the platform at Parliament, "is just as much a weapon as every bullet out of a gun". The Democratic Socialist Party's Graham Matthews added, "It is human solidarity that will win this war".

"It is good to have you here beside us", Nimat, an Egyptian woman told protesters, "we feel stronger".

From Brisbane, Julie Utler Gjengedal reports that a loud contingent of Islamic youth waving Palestinian flags headed an 800-strong march through the streets of Brisbane's Queen Street Mall. The twilight protest was called by the Palestine Solidarity Committee.

Ali Kazak, head of the Palestinian Delegation in Australia, appealed for United Nations intervention to stop Israel's slaughter of Palestinian men, women and children. "We cannot have Israel above international law any longer", said Kazak.

"Where is the voice of the Australian government?" asked Sultan Deen on behalf of the Islamic Council.

Roger Jarrett, national secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, called for trade unions to defend the Palestinians. He pointed out that union solidarity helped free the people of East Timor from Indonesian occupation.

Lisa Lines reports that 300 rallied in Adelaide. The protest was addressed by speakers representing many organisations, including the Socialist Alliance, the University of South Australia's Islamic Society and the Greens. Chanting "Hitler, Sharon are the same, only difference is the name", the protesters marched through the city to the office of foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer.

"Where has human rights and human justice gone to, when we blatantly allow [the Israeli's] to kill hundreds of civilian Palestinians, for every one Israeli who dies", Palestinian activist Ranne asked the 160-strong solidarity rally in Perth, Alex Salmon reports.

Palestinian activists and speakers from the Columbian Peace Ecology and Justice Centre, the Socialist Alliance, Resistance, and the WA Islamic Council also addressed the crowd.

When Israeli and US flags were burnt by a few protesters, police broke up the protest and arrested two people, who were not involved in flag burning.

Peter Krbavac reports around 150 protesters, undeterred by heavy rain, assembled in the centre of Canberra to voice their support for Palestine. Among the speakers were Bishop Pat Power, and Diana Rahman, from the Committee for Peace in the Middle East and Palestinian Rights. Rahman asked people to sympathise with rather than criticise the suicide bombers "because they have given their lives to raise awareness for Palestine".

Rally chairperson Stuart Munckton, from Resistance, said that "All people who believe in peace must act to stop Sharon".

In Hobart, Carmel Samuels reports that 40 Palestine supporters gathered in Franklin Square. The protesters heard from representatives of Resistance, Amnesty International, the Tasmanian Greens and the Socialist Alliance. Around 40 people also attended a Palestinian solidarity public meeting held in Lismore on April 20.

Another chance to protest for Palestine will occur at the M1 protests on May 1. For details see the activist calender on page 23.

From Green Left Weekly, April 24, 2002.
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