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By Wendy Bacon in Sydney

Twenty-four weeks of city marches and a five-week vigil outside the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s electoral office in Marrickville have taken pro-Palestinian protests against Israel’s war on Gaza to an unprecedented level.

In a new development, hundreds of protesters joined in a street theatre performance outside Albanese’s electorate office on Friday evening to highlight their horror at massacres of Palestinian citizens by Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in Gaza.

Over 31,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since October 7, including many shot by the IDF while seeking care in hospitals, food from aid trucks or fleeing IDF bombing.

Senator Mehreen Faruqi
Senator Mehreen Faruqi (right) at the protest . . . Image: Wendy Bacon

The street theatre protest was part of an ongoing 24-hour-a-day peaceful vigil that has been going now for five weeks. There is no shortage of volunteers.  A minimum of 6 people are present at any one time with around 200 people visiting each day.

When City Hub attended twice last week, frequent toots from passing cars indicated plenty of public support.

At 6.30 pm on Friday, sirens and rumblings could be heard along Marrickville Road sending a signal to scores of protesters dressed in white to lie down on the pavement. They were then sprinkled with red liquid.

As the sirens quietened, a woman’s voice rang out: “War criminals, that is what our government is. They are not representing the people . . . We will not stop until our government ends every single tie with Israeli apartheid.

‘We’ll not stop . . .’
“We will not stop until the ethnic cleansing has ended. Palestinian voices need to be heard. Palestinian voices must be amplified.”

Greens Deputy Leader Senator Mehreen Faruqi attended the action. Before the “die-in”, she responded to Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s announcement earlier in the day that Australia will resume funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Last week, Senator Faruqi called on Wong urgently to restore the funding. “It has been 43 days since the morally corrupt government made the inexcusable decision to suspend aid funding to UNRWA despite the minister admitting she hadn’t seen a shred of evidence,” she tweeted.

Along with some other Western governments, the Albanese government suspended UNRWA funding when Israel circulated a reportedly “explosive” but secret dossier outlining alleged links between Hamas and UNRWA staff. This happened shortly after the International Court of Justice found that Israel is “plausibly” committing genocide.

The dossier alleged that UNRWA members were involved in the Hamas attack on 7 October 2023.  After analysing the documents, Britain’s Channel 4 concluded that the dossier provided “no evidence to support the explosive claim that UN staff were involved in terror attacks”.

Recently, UNRWA accused Israel of torturing UNRWA staff to get admissions. On Friday, the European Union’s top humanitarian official Janez Lenarcic said that neither he nor anyone at the EU had been shown any evidence.

In “unpausing” the aid, Wong provided no evidence about what the government knew when it suspended aid and what it now claims to know about the allegations. Speaking at Friday’s protest, Senator Faruqi said she welcomed the restoration of  funding but, “just as they restored the funding, they paused the visas of Palestinians en route to Australia while they were mid-air. How cruel and how inhumane can this Labor government get? Just as you think that there are no further depths that they can get to, they show us that they can.” (Late on Sunday, there were reports that the visa decision may be reversed.)

Unprecedented protest
While protests outside Prime Minister’s offices are not unusual, a 24-hour protest for more than a month has never happened before.

Given the length of the protest, it is remarkable that there has been almost no media mainstream coverage. City Hub conducted a Dow Jones Factiva search which revealed one report on SBS and a mention in The Guardian. (The search engine does not cover commercial radio.)

The weeks long, 24 x 7 protest in the heart of the Prime Minister’s own electorate has remained hidden from most of the Australian public and international audiences.

Prime Minister Albanese has not responded to requests for meetings with organisers who include Palestinian families who have been his constituents for many years. City Hub has spoken to protest organisers who say that despite repeated requests, they have received no response from the Prime Minister. The office is now closed to the public which means people are unable to deliver letters or make inquiries.

Protesters sit down in Market Street

The Marrickville protest
The ongoing 24-hour sit-down Marrickville protest. Image: Wendy Bacon

The ongoing 24-hour sit-down Marrickville protest is an extension of the broader protest movement in which thousands of protesters marched on Sunday for the 24th week in a row. Similar protests have been happening in Melbourne and other cities. Again, although there have been bigger protests at times, the regularity of protests attended by thousands each week is unprecedented in Australian history.

Protests on this scale did not happen even during the Vietnam War era in the 1970s.

Last week, protesters marched from Hyde Park down Market Street completely filling several blocks of Sydney’s busiest shopping area. Their chant “Ceasefire Now’ reverberated around the streets. It was accompanied by drummers, some of them children.

Some protesters briefly took their demonstration to a new level by staging a brief sit-down in Market Street. The area was filled with Sunday shoppers who watched as protesters chanted, “While you’re shopping, bombs are dropping.”

The Prime Minister’s office has been contacted for comment. When a response is received, this article will be updated.

Wendy Bacon was previously professor of journalism at the University of Technology (UTS). She spoke at the rally about the lack of media coverage of pro Palestinian protests. She will write about this in a future article.

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