by Sophie Haslam
13 May 2019
On 11 May, a commemoration of the Nakba saw hundreds stand in solidarity with Palestinians at a rally in Town Hall. The day was organised by Palestine Action Group Sydney and BDS Australia.
Protestors demanded the right of return for all Palestinians and a boycott of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest which is to beheld in Tel Aviv this weekend. Protesters were accompanied by a giant Palestinian flag while enthusiastic chants including, “from the river to the sea/Palestine will be free” could be heard amongst the crowd.
So what is the Nakba? Meaning “catastrophe” in Arabic, it’s the day apartheid was firmly established in Israel, on May 15, 1948. 85% of the Palestinian population, around 750 000 people, were systematically expelled from their land by the Israeli military. Palestinians were only given minutes warning in many cases, and it is said that even today, families still have the keys to their stolen houses.
The legacy of the Nakba is still felt today among Palestinians; as Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi said at the rally, “71 years later, we have not forgotten…the Nakba is a lived history.”
74% of Palestinians today are refugees and many are direct descendants of people made refugees by the original Nakba. As such, the right of return has become a central demand for the Palestine solidarity movement.
“Nakbas” continue to happen frequently. Israel has expanded outward in its 71 year-long occupation and as a result, all that remains of historical Palestine are the tiny and separated areas of the West Bank and Gaza, making the initial division of Palestine look utopian. The West Bank is kept under a repressive leash and Gaza has had a blockade imposed on it — it will become uninhabitable by next year. Gaza has been a focal point of the movement, with the rally in Sydney demanding an end to the siege and chanting “long live Gaza.”
The other demand of the rally was a boycott of Eurovision, which the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement has taken up internationally. Israel’s win last year signifies the West’s unending role in reinforcing apartheid, and was particularly egregious as it was on the 70th anniversary of the Nakba. The months prior saw the Great March of Return movement shake Gaza, when protesters demonstrated every Friday at the border wall demanding the right to return. These protests still occur today, lasting for 57 weeks and counting. They have brought out 40,000 protestors and have cost the lives of 250 Palestinians, murdered by the Israeli military.
By comparison, the Sydney Nakba rally mightn’t seem to make much of a difference. But the aim of the Palestine solidarity movement is, in essence, solidarity. Palestinians have had everything stolen from them for the last 71 years, and yet they still hold a capacity to resist, and maintain eternal solidarity. Both Gaza and the West Bank has produced some of the most incredible fighters, including Gazan medic Razan al-Najar who was murdered during the Great March of Return protests, and Ahed Tamimi from the West Bank, a 17 year-old who was jailed for fighting the occupation and received international support.
The rally emphasised the need to consistently support our Palestinian brothers and sisters in their fight. By striking a blow against our government, we fuel the struggle for a free and equal Palestine. Resistance has to be international for it to win. Our actions do have an impact — last year, protesters in Gaza held up posters for the Sydney Nakba Rally at Great March of Return organising tents. As one of the chants from the Sydney rally proclaimed, “In our thousands, in our millions/We are all Palestinian”.
Palestine won’t be liberated by a single demonstration in Sydney but that doesn’t mean we should stand idly by. We need to establish that whenever Palestinians fight back, we will struggle with them against all odds. When the full might of Trump, Morrison, and the rest of the Western world seeks to repress and demonise Palestinians, it will take a large-scale, international solidarity movement to demand nothing less than liberation. We have to start building that movement now.
As Razan al-Najar wrote in her last Facebook post, “I am returning and not retreating. Hit me with your bullets. I am not afraid.”