x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Australia denounced for its reaction to attacks

Hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators rallied in Sydney to condemn Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.

SYDNEY // Hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators rallied in Sydney to condemn Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip and to call on the Australian government to denounce "barbaric war crimes" being committed against civilians. The sombre protest on Friday at a park in the western Sydney suburb of Lakemba took place within sight of the city's biggest mosque and began when a coffin that symbolised the suffering endured by the people of Gaza was brought before the large gathering.

"The demonstration is to express outrage about the massacres in Gaza conducted by the Israeli army and to send a message to the Australia government that they should do more to pressure Israel to end the slaughter and the occupation," said Jamal Daoud, a spokesman for the Social Justice Network, one of 20 Muslim and Arabic organisations that helped to organise the rally. "There is much anger, but there is a lot of hope that Israel will be defeated this time," Mr Daoud said.

Speakers accused Israel of engaging in genocide and while Sheikh Taj el Din al Hilali, the local imam, criticised the "savage attacks" on Gaza, at the end of his passionate address he said Palestinians who would liberate themselves. His fiery words were enthusiastically received by the cheering crowd. Young boys paraded Palestinian flags and others held aloft placards as Australian police maintained a discreet presence beyond the park's perimeter.

Waleed Mohammed, 43, a migrant from Gaza, said he expected the "people" more than other Arab governments would do most to help his troubled homeland. "We are always counting on the people. The regimes ? are in some way or another controlled by the Americans ? but the people themselves are sympathetic and are trying to help." Mr Mohammed said he is in constant contact with friends and relatives in Gaza and said they are feeling increasingly besieged by Israel's actions.

"They don't feel that there is any place where they are safe and they say whatever happens, let it happen because no matter where we go, we are targeted." Among those at the Sydney rally was Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian and former detainee at Guantanamo Bay, who was released without charge from US custody in 2005. "An entire nation - Palestine - is being killed, murdered. Is that fair?" he asked. "The Australian government has done nothing."

Australia's acting prime minister, Julia Gillard, said last week that Hamas was to blame for provoking Israeli air strikes. "Clearly the act of aggression was engaged in by Hamas, which commenced shelling with rockets and mortars into Israel. But what we would be urging is for the ceasefire to start again and for all violent action to stop," Ms Gillard said. Jewish groups in Australia have declared the bombardment on Gaza to be "completely justified" and Robert Goot, the president of the Executive Council of Australia Jewry, said he believes Israel has a right to defend itself.

"I believe they [the air strikes] are proportionate and one also has to bear in mind that Hamas whilst it operates in Gaza is dedicated to the destruction of Israel itself, so they are not interested in negotiation; they are proceeding on a jihadist campaign of destruction to Israel commencing with rocket attacks on innocent civilians. I mean, who's going to put up with that? The British didn't when Hitler sent V1 rockets to London killing thousands of innocent civilians, why should Israel?

"To think that Israel indiscriminately attacked civilians is just nonsense. Israel is not interested in killing Palestinians, it is interested in stopping Hamas from killing innocent Israelis," Mr Goot said. Pro-Palestinian groups in Australia are planning to voice their anger with further demonstrations in Melbourne, Brisbane and the capital Canberra. pmercer@thenational.ae