How Palestinian Australians Changed The Conversation On Israel In Just A Week

From near silence in the media last week, to thousands showing up to rallies a few days later — Palestinian Australians have been working non-stop to set the record straight.

Palestinian Australians Activism

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It’s been a tireless week for Palestinian Australians. On top of watching horrors unfold on their people overseas, the community has been lobbying, educating, organising, and calling out inadequate responses to the current humanitarian crisis, around the clock.

The success of their efforts was validated through a series of protests held on Sunday for Nakba, an annual day of remembrance and grievance for continued Palestinian displacement.

“We saw an incredible turnout over the weekend — it was unprecedented,” writer and poet Sara Saleh said to Junkee.

Thousands showed up to vigils, rallies and marches held in Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Hobart, Melbourne and Perth.

In Sydney, an estimated 4000 stood in front of Town Hall, helmed by members of the Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim communities.

“Drawing on the courage of the Palestinians relentlessly fighting on the frontlines for our freedom, we are optimistic that this is a window for us,” Saleh said about the attendance.

A delayed court decision on Palestinian evictions in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah spiralled after May 9th, into police raids at Al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan, and a to-and-fro of Israeli air raids that continue to outnumber Hamas rockets sent over the Gaza border.

The death toll began to rapidly rise again, and yet for days, there was near silence from wider Australia in response.

Confusion, a hesitancy to speak up, apathy, and sheer disagreement were rightfully called out throughout the week by activists, allies, and satirists alike.

“The hypocrisy I’ve seen is taking the stand of being neutral. Being neutral is denying to acknowledge the oppressor and the oppressed,” counsellor Assala Sayara said to Junkee.

“When I stood in the protest in front of thousands of people, I wasn’t representing myself only, it was for all Palestinians back home and in the diaspora.”

Now, a slow, small, but noticeable shift in Australia’s conversation around Palestine has happened in just seven days — and it’s only the beginning.

Who’s Watching The Fourth Estate?

One of the main groups criticised were Australian news outlets for their lack of coverage on the violence and atrocities by Israel.

Last Tuesday, there was a snap protest outside the ABC’s Sydney office, with a corresponding petition against the national broadcaster that garnered over 19,000 signatures.

Three days later, an open letter was released by Australian journalists, media workers, writers and commentators responding to “growing dissatisfaction, both in this country and elsewhere, with the media’s treatment of Palestine.”

Writer and reporter Jennine Khalik told Junkee that while the quantity of stories has since increased, the quality doesn’t quite align. The media’s use of language is yet to be consolidated, particularly the words ‘conflict’, ‘clash’ and ‘self-defence’ in articles.

“Media outlets are still obfuscating or are being outrightly deceptive by describing Israel’s senseless attacks against Palestinians […] as if they were talking about double-booking appointments, and not an occupying power subjugating a people they have fragmented under occupation and in apartheid conditions,” she says.

Australia’s poor reporting around Palestine is not a new critique, and publications like Schwartz Media’s the Saturday Paper have been challenged on their non-existent coverage in the last decade too.

“I would like to see courage,” Khalik said about Australian media outlets moving forward. “I would like to see rigorous, critical, nuanced reporting from journalists who are not regurgitating talking points and who stand up to management who may want to edit or kill stories.”

The Forefront Of The Movement

Discussion and allyship has broadened this week, in part due to Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

“Access to social media is a driving force in this growing support and so are the links between anti-colonial struggles across the world, including here in Australia,” Saleh said.

Viral explainers, infographics, posts, and videos have spread the movement’s reach and helped Australians grasp context behind the rolling timeline as it happens.

The collective effort is two-fold: voices from directly within Palestine’s borders, and those making sense of it from the outside.

“We’ve gotten to a point where we’re not relying on external sources such as the mainstream media to tell us what’s happening in the world,” Sayara says.

“Palestinians are literally using the only thing they have, which is their phone and camera, and providing to the world raw data, raw footage, and coverage of what’s happening in Palestine.”

At a personal level, Palestinian Australians also share their platforms to amplify voices of their family, friends and people overseas.

“I don’t fear talking about Palestine on social media because as an activist, social media has been a source to inform people about what’s happening,” Sayara says. “It’s also been a form of connection with other Palestinians in the diaspora too.”

The hours, energy, and emotional labour given are not without limits, Sayara admits. “It hit me last night. Being Palestinian, and an activist, and working within the community to ensure that solidarity is happening — it’s so tiring. It brings fatigue.”

Even despite the community’s efforts, not everyone is on the same page. Trolling and Zionism aside, Khalik says activists who are progressive except when it comes to Palestine (or ‘PEPs’), have stayed relatively hushed.

“It’s farcical that there are so-called progressives who claim to support Indigenous rights, land rights, self-determination, refugee rights, the right to live freely, environmental rights and so on and so forth, but can’t extend any of that to Palestinians,” she says.

“I prefer people who are outrightly anti-Palestinian and not trying to hid behind a cloak of progressiveness. It’s dishonest.”

Speaking out for Palestine comes with a personal cost. Khalik says she’s received threats in the past from lobby groups who have threatened her career and livelihood. She also fears the state of Israel will never let her back into Palestine, even when international borders reopen.

“I am happy to explain and educate well-meaning people, but I also want to be free of the burden of having to justify my people’s humanity,” she says.

Keeping Up The Action

While the momentum at the rallies was impressive last weekend, maintaining it is the next hurdle. But the burden to ensure crowds continue showing up shouldn’t solely lie on the diaspora.

“The work is hard and tireless and we need people to take action in between headlines, when no one is watching or tweeting,” Saleh says.

The community wants to see industries, corporations, public figures, and the government hold the state of Israel accountable through boycotts, divestments, and sanctions.

“The Australian government must stop pursuing a potential free trade agreement with Israel — particularly in arms trade and with illegal settlements, and condemn its actions in Gaza and East Jerusalem,” Saleh believes.

On a previous trip to her homeland, Khalik recounts asking Palestinians what she could do to help. Their reply was always the same: to tell the world what’s going on there.

The same applies for everyone else, she says. Following Palestinians currently in Palestine, organisations, and advocacy groups online is a good place to start.

“Educate yourself further, and sharing news on social media genuinely helps — I’m serious.”

Saleh says individuals can also do more heavy lifting by centering and amplifying Palestinian voices, having hard conversations, and contacting federal MPs.

“People know that a better, fairer, more just world is possible, we just need to create it together.”

Rallies in Sydney and Melbourne are being held again this weekend.