Free Palestine Demonstration.
I arrived in Garema Place at 6pm on a Friday 20th for a quiet coffee and a bit of a read. I could do some reading, but it wasn’t going to be very quiet. People were gathering for the Free Palestine demonstration and the excitement level was beginning to build. An unseen female speaker was reciting poetry; it was the usual turgid, revolutionary free verse, full of struggles – loving, living, dying, and giving birth in a warzone – recited with painful sincerity. I decided to hang around and get some photos.
There was a spread of ages, but youth dominated, and there were two distinct groups represented: young revolutionary students with a range of hair colours and gender identities, and Arab Muslims, some of whom were in full traditional dress. Palestinian head scarfs were de rigor for the young revolutionaries.
As I watched and listened, one of the organizers stepped up to the microphone and started amping up the emotion with cries of “Palestine will be free, from the ocean to the sea!” I eavesdropped on a conversation next to me: A young woman was lamenting the failure of the Voice referendum to another protester; “Racism will only get worse.”
I hung around the demonstration for a few minutes and then retired to a nearby café to continue working my way through Arnold Toynbee’s A Short Study of History. As I emersed myself in the text, a young man walked past immaculately dressed in a business suit. I immediately recognised him as the manager of the 7/11 service station where I buy my morning coffee. An orthodox Muslim born in Pakistan who grew up in Australia, he was a law student nearing the end of his degree. We’d had many conversations about philosophy and religion as he served a line of construction workers buying coffee. From our conversations, I knew him to be a conservative who was as appalled as I was at the inundation of Western universities by Neo Marxist/Postmodernist ideology.
I hailed him: “You’re just in time for the demonstration,” I said jokingly, assuming that his dislike for the green haired set would definitely be a bar to his participation. Not a bit of it. He looked at me cheerfully but very earnestly – as was his way – and said, “Yes, absolutely.” He then launched into an impassioned condemnation of what was happening to the Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis – “Of course, as a law student I condemn violence against anyone.”
“You can’t trust what they say in the media,” he continued, “The Palestinians hate Hamas, but I have relatives over there who say that there are no Hama bases in hospitals. It’s all a lie.” He talked ten to the dozen, but reasonably and calmly, and I found myself carried away by his sincerity and rhetoric. There were counter arguments I could have made, but they seemed inappropriate under the circumstances. He finished talking and walked off at a great pace.
The organizers promised to “stop traffic”, and they did, for about five minutes as the marchers circled the block and returned to their stating point in Garema Place.
One thing was apparent to me from looking at the crowd. The image of a group of students with multicoloured hair and metal in their faces, shouting alongside immaculately dressed Muslim families who radiated traditional values seemed like the last word in visual oxymorons.
There were two agendas here which didn’t necessarily line up. The most obvious contradiction was a banner proclaiming “Queers for Palestine.” Of all the clash of values there, “queerness” and orthodox Islam would have to be the most glaring. Referring to this “alliance”, one social commentator quipped: “Have you heard of their sister organization – Blacks for the KKK?”
But the philosophical dissonance goes deeper than this. Marxist aligned activists see all national or racial struggles as a manifestation of a particular set of injustices. As far as they are concerned, capitalism is the root cause of sexism, homophobia, transphobia and racism. In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, colonialism is to blame.
This is not the philosophy of Hamas. The leaders of Hamas might be surprised to learn that their struggle is not about “Jews versus Muslims” (Red Flag). They also might not see eye to eye with Karl Marx about their billion-dollar personal fortunes.
But in another sense, they are in complete agreement: Israel has no right to exist, and the Jews should leave.
Red Flag sums up the conflict in Israel thus: “When oppressor nations have gotten serious about destroying liberation organizations with deep roots in a nationally oppressed population, the results usually have been devastating for the oppressed as a whole.”
There is only one complication to disturb the clear morality of this narrative; Hamas is an oppressive ruler who – according to my Pakistani Lawyer friend and many other Palestinian sources – are hated by many Palestinians inside Gaza.
One thing Red Flag does get right is to publish the full horror of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.
Looking for moral absolutes to leverage a resolution in this conflict is probably like choosing a winner between waring spouses and awarding damages on that basis. Every time you think you’ve found stable moral ground, one of the combatants looks further back into history and drags up more filth to throw.
It really is true that there are only a few degrees of separation between people across the world. My Jewish stepfather’s cousin lived with her Palestinian husband in a kibbutz a kilometre from the border with Gaza. They are safely in Australia now – they laid their escape plans long ago – but Hamas terrorists came close enough to their house so they could hear them talking outside. The politics of a “mixed” marriage made their staying in Israel problematic. We had dinner the other night. It was a lovely evening. I hadn’t seen them for 30 years. But we could just as easily have been mourning their deaths.
My stepfather texted me a few days after our dinner: “Did David tell you they were attacked & very fortunate their kibbutz was one of the few to repel Hamas? They have gone through a very bad time, bodies etc. I think they will take quite some time before coming to terms with the trauma.”
My stepfather is a psychologist, so he should know.
GENOCIDE IN GAZA: RED FLAG. REDFLAG.org.au. 16.Oct.2023. Issue242.