Numerous rallies around the country on Human Rights Day condemned Israel’s ongoing war on the Gaza Strip and renewed the call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire.
One of these rallies on 10th December 2023 was organised by the Blue Mountains Friends of Palestine (BMFoP) that took place in Katoomba. The event attracted around 80 people who initially assembled at the town’s old library site and later marched a short distance to Carrington Park.
At the time of the rally, Israel’s war on Gaza had claimed at least 17,700 Palestinian lives with more than 48,800 wounded since the attack by Hamas militants on 7th October. The majority of these escalating Palestinian casualties have been women and children. In Israel, the revised official death toll stood at 1,147.
Further, the majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been internally displaced by Israel’s relentless and indiscriminate bombing of infrastructure, hospitals, schools and residential areas in the densely populated enclave. Weapons investigators have recently confirmed that Israel is using massive 2,000-pound SPICE bombs. The high Palestinian death toll is partly attributed to the “extreme” wide area effects of these munitions.
United Nations’ agencies have recently reported that there are no longer any safe areas for Palestinians to shelter from Israel’s bombing, artillery and ground attacks. Human rights advocacy groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have produced damning evidence of Israeli war crimes such as starvation used as a weapon of war and indiscriminate attacks that have wiped out entire families in Gaza.1
In its news report dated 20th October 2023, Amnesty International declared that for “16 years, Israel’s illegal blockade has made Gaza the world’s largest open-air prison – the international community must act now to prevent it becoming a giant graveyard.” With the complicity of nations such as the United States, Britain and Australia, it appears that this possibility has now become a reality.
It was in this context that speakers at the rally in Katoomba spoke so passionately against Israel’s war on Gaza and the Labor government’s failure to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire to date.
The proceedings of the Katoomba rally were opened by BMFoP coordinator, Jess Steele, who referred to the responsibility of settler societies to tell the truth about the adverse impacts of colonisation on indigenous peoples.2
She argued that our responsibility as settlers:
… extends to bearing witness to what is happening in Palestine. We bear witness so we can tell our children and the world the truth. The truth telling extends beyond witnessing the horrific. We witness the honor, dignity and strength of Palestinians. We witness the love, the care, the solidarity and their honorable fight for liberation. In their darkest moment, they are stronger than their occupier will ever be. And the occupier will lose – it is only a matter of time. And until that day, we must keep calling for a free Palestine.
Activist Stephen Langford made reference to singer/songwriter David Rovics and his song ‘Once the Last Palestinian’s Killed‘. The lyrics of this song were recited. This was followed by Stephen singing ‘What shall we do with the shrunken PM’ with a ukulele accompaniment. This alluded to Anthony Albanese’s diminished standing as a result of his moral failure to call for an immediate and lasting ceasefire to Israel’s war on Gaza and to the escalating violence perpetrated by Israeli forces and settlers in the occupied West Bank.
Many more speakers stepped forward and addressed the rally. These included:
- additional members of the Blue Mountains Friends of Palestine
- community members, one of Palestinian descent
- a representative from the NSW Teachers Federation who referred to the union’s Executive Statement on the Middle East Conflict
- two local Greens’ councillors: Cr Sarah Redshaw and Cr Brent Hoare.
Most of these individual speeches can be accessed via the Blue Mountains Friends of Palestine’s Instagram page.
The significance of the event was enhanced by the recounting of personal and family experiences such as the speech by Aprille Asfoura, local reactions from some quarters to those standing up for Palestine and the reciting by Caradene Hannan from BHFoP of a poem by Dr Refaat Alareer, a prominent Palestinian academic, poet and activist.
The poem in question, entitled ‘I Am You’, was posted by Dr Alareer on social media on 1st November 2023. Tragically he was reportedly killed in Gaza on 6th December in a targeted Israeli airstrike. His brother and brother’s son, his sister and her three children, along with a number of others, were also killed in the same airstrike.
Upcoming actions announced at the rally included:
- A vigil outside Susan Templeman MP’s electoral office at 299 George Street, Windsor 2756 at 1.00pm on Monday 11th December 2023.
- Craftivism for Palestine, 5.00pm to 7.00pm, Wednesday 13th December 2023, Lyttleton Stores, Lawson 2783.
- Blue Mountains Friends of Palestine rally and march from 12.00pm on Sunday 17th December 2023, underneath the Cultural Centre, old library, 81-83 Katoomba St, Katoomba 2782. Speakers to include Cr Mark Greenhill, Mayor Blue Mountains City Council and Antony Loewenstein, author and activist.
- Sydney Town Hall rally at 5.00pm, Tuesday 19th December 2023 where PM Anthony Albanese will address a fundraising dinner hosted by the Lowy Institute.
In addition to the above actions, rally participants also called upon Greens’ councillors to prepare a ceasefire motion to be put before Blue Mountains City Council early in 2024.
1. Refer to Human Rights Watch, ‘Israel: Starvation Used as Weapon of War in Gaza’, 18th December 2023 and Amnesty International, ‘Damning evidence of war crimes as Israeli attacks wipe out entire families in Gaza’, 20th October, 2023.
2. With respect to the decision made by the League of Nations to establish “a Jewish national home in Palestine” and the reaction to this Mandate assigned to Britain by Palestinian Arabs, the “indigenous people of Palestine”, refer to United Nations, ‘Israel-Gaza Conflict: History and Background’, website accessed 13th December 2023.