A Question Of Humanity: Why Not Report Why We Stand With Palestine In Melbourne?

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During a recent action in Melbourne in support of Palestinians gunned down by Israel snipers for protesting their ‘right of return’, Australian activists encountered the usual abuse from pro-Israel supporters. But as Tasnim Sammak explains, it was the puzzling questions from media that most surprised.

Recently, I was marshalling the protest in front of Melbourne’s State Library for Palestine in solidarity with The Great Return March at the Gaza border. It was a dangerous and messy task made necessary by the presence of Avi Yemini and the Australian Liberty Alliance, who gathered no more than 40 people and a speaker system to blast the Australian anthem at us and call us Islamic terrorists.

As one of the founders and organisers of the Palestine coalition group Solidarity for Palestine – Melbourne with insight into the planning and execution of our protest from its urgent call post-death toll to its conclusion at the steps in front of Melbourne Central Train Station, I was the media liaison person for our protest.

I was asked by Channel 9 News, The Age and numerous other media outlets the not-so-impeding question: ‘Why are you protesting for Palestine here in Melbourne?’ As a second-generation Palestinian whose father was born in Gaza, I said that we are members of the Palestinian community, something about international solidarity as resistance, open gun fire policy, Israeli snipers, ongoing siege on Gaza, latest massacre; for the key words of our suffering and oppression are countless.

As I was responding though, I felt a deep discomfort for having to state reasons that are obvious to me as a Palestinian, and to any supporter of the Palestinian struggle for freedom and dignity. Of course we are out here on the streets of Melbourne expressing solidarity for Palestine before the Australian public and members of Parliament. 21 peaceful protesters were gunned down at the Gaza border by a sniper policy that remains in place in two consecutive Friday protests for the right of return.

The question that occupied my mind in the lead up to our protest and as I was marshalling was why, why is there a rival group across the street right now?

What do they want? More snipers to gun down Palestinians in Gaza? For Israel not to budge to pressure from the international community and maintain its illegal and criminal use of live ammunition at protesters? They want this, but no one is reporting on their murder-driven ideology.

We can break it down further. What is their cause when both our government and Labor stand with Israel? It’s not as though the Australian government is even contemplating the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador (one of our protest demands reported by Channel 9) for Israeli supporters to worry about the safety of Australia’s loyalty to Israel.

Both Australia and Israel are settler colonial entities, facing movement demands led by Indigenous peoples for sovereignty, dignity, return of stolen land. Maybe that is why The Australian Liberty Alliance hosted the ‘Stand with Israel against Islamic Terror’ protest with Avi Yemini. They know too well the settler anxiety posed by a reimagining of nationhood.

As they played the Australian anthem at us, I laughed at their logic that because they carry the Australian flag, they somehow have more legitimacy in the eyes of the Australian public. That they can point us out as Muslim immigrants (though many on our side were not) and yell out that we should be deported. Their xenophobic and Islamophobic chants are, also, not reported as though their stance is simply ‘nationalistic’, though even that characterisation carries its own inherent violent connotations.

Maybe their ‘Australianness’ brand does work in their favour, but as an organiser I can affirm, we are not interested in appealing to Australian markers of white colonisation for our anti-colonial Palestinian struggle. We know why Palestine receives little sympathy from Australian politicians who maintain an ongoing white Australia policy with indigenous, refugee, counter-terror and immigration policies.

As an organiser for Solidarity for Palestine-Melbourne, I anticipate that Yemini will continue to call for counter-protests as he did against our protest of Trump’s embassy move to Jerusalem last November.

We do not see their rivalry as a threat to our protest efforts, for their presence leads anyone interested in understanding our cause to seriously ask why it is that Israel enjoys unmoving support from the Australian government, opposition, alt-right and Jewish peak bodies?

While we are protesting in solidarity with The Great Return March by refugees in Gaza expelled from villages that are now Israeli suburbs, I wonder why it is that Jewish peak bodies such as the Jewish Community Council of Victoria have no public concern about Jewish youth being invited to join and stand alongside racist, anti-refugee, Islamophobic Avi Yemini.

I hope that these will be the questions surrounding the reporting of our upcoming Nakba protest commemorating the expulsion of Palestinians from their occupied homelands which Avi Yemini is likely to counter. Asking me, a Palestinian, why I protest in Melbourne is inconsequential.

Tasnim Sammak

Tasnim Sammak is completing her PhD at the Faculty of Education, Monash University. She is a high school teacher and mother, and a writer at Djed Press. As one of the founders of Solidarity for Palestine - Melbourne and a former vice-president of Famsy Victoria, she has led a number of political campaigns on issues related to Muslims in Australia and abroad.

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