Adelaide is the capital of South Australia. It’s a sprawling city; Adelaide’s metropolitan region is more than twice the size of Gaza but with a smaller population. Gaza has 1.7 million people compared with Adelaide’s 1.2 million. However there are much more significant differences. Here we move freely in and out of our city and country, trade with everyone, have ready access to water, food, medicines, hospitals, medical care and education. No-one has ever imprisoned our whole population and then bombed us. Yet in spite of our differences and the vast 13,000 km distance between our cities a growing number of people in Adelaide are developing a sense of solidarity with the people of Palestine.
As part of our contribution to the international BDS movement, over 10 months ago the Australian Friends of Palestine Association held the first Adelaide Seacret (Israeli cosmetic company) protest. Each week an ever increasing number of pro-Palestinian protesters have demonstrated in front of the Myer Centre shopping complex which hosts the Seacret kiosk. Our latest You Tube shows that despite strong opposition and varying intimidating tactics from Zionist sympathizers, we are determined to continue to educate the people of Adelaide about Palestine and encourage them to boycott Israeli products. Our first action was held on October 8th 2010 and we were fortunate to have Tariq Ali present. The next few weeks saw numbers drop but our persistence paid off as people shopping in the Mall started to ask if they could join the protesters. The word spread. From the initial dozen protesters there are now consistently approximately three dozen protesters in the Mall every week with the average numbers for every month increasing. The following You Tube shows a not uncommon scenario where a group of young teenage boys just passing by were inspired to join in. Our aim with these protests was to educate Adelaide shoppers about the human rights violations inflicted every day upon the Palestinian and to inform them about the current boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement plus show shoppers in the Mall how they could boycott Israeli goods. Every week we see more and more evidence that a city like Adelaide not only needs to hear the truth about Palestine but in general wants to hear factual information about the conflict in the Middle East.
Hundreds of people have stopped to talk to us about the situation in Palestine. Most are genuinely interested, some want to argue the point and some want to abuse us. However it is obvious that, particularly since “Operation Cast Lead”, there are many people in Adelaide who feel compassion for the people of Palestine. These Seacret protests are tapping into a growing disquiet among Australians about the human rights abuses in Palestine and the complicity of our government in supporting a military occupation that causes so much suffering. An interesting aspect to these 44 weeks of protesting in the Mall has been the amount of intimidating behaviour from all manner of groups. Probably the easiest to deal with has been our apparent interest to photographers as most weeks we are filmed both openly and covertly by at least 5 people. Occasionally we are told the photographs would be used in a court case against us. A common comment was that we were being photographed so that photos could be sent back to “friends in Israel”.
Abusive behaviour towards the protesters from seemingly random people passing by is becoming more threatening and plumbing new depths in sexist and racist remarks. I use the words “seemingly random” because most weeks there seems to be a common theme behind the abuse, eg just recently all commentary mentioned that we were Australians and not interested in other people’s problems. It all starts to look a bit scripted and rehearsed. Initially words like “misguided” were yelled at us now it’s more likely to include an expletive and the attractive female protesters have been subject to objectionable comments ranging from the patronizing (“Go home to your husband”) to the sleazy (“You can lick my Zionist balls”). None of this reflects well on our detractors.
Most worrying has been the revelation that Christian Zionists play a powerful role on the ground in countries like Australia in stifling debate on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Our Christian Zionist counter-protesters have used an arsenal of techniques to scare us away from the Mall. They turn up in groups and loudly proclaim a most un-Christian hatred and condemnation of the protesters and many other sections of the Australian community. This particular group usually arrives with Israeli flags, soap boxes, a full size cross on wheels and loud speakers to stridently broadcast their repugnant views to hapless shoppers in the Mall. Some verbally abuse the protesters and all promote a similar message, “You are doing the devil’s work and you need to repent or you will end up in hell.” Protesters have been called murderers and we have witnessed certain protesters being targeted in an attempt to provoke violent reactions.
Residents of Adelaide are not surprised by this but it would appear that peaceful pro-Palestinian protests have zero interest for our media. As you saw in the earlier You Tube of our actions for Weeks 41 and 42 the Seacret protest group is highly visible as the protesters wear bright green T-shirts, hold large placards, banners and Palestinian flags. Though we have attracted the attention of tens of thousands of passers-by, engaged hundreds of people in discussion about Palestine and given out over 20,000 leaflets, we are apparently invisible to local mainstream media. In 10 months not one word has been printed in our only local daily newspaper, News Limited’s The Advertiser. Apple growers from the Adelaide Hills rightly received considerable space for one of their protests. Ditto for teachers and truck drivers. For me the interesting story is why nearly a year of peaceful protests is not worth one word of print. It would seem pro-Palestinian activists may only be seen in the media if they can be portrayed as violent and in conflict with the police.
It has also been interesting to see that while Adelaide’s mainstream media has deliberately ignored the protests other elements of society have paid us lots of attention. For example when the protests first started there would be approximately 15 management and security personnel watching a dozen protesters hold placards and hand out leaflets. Members of SAPOL (South Australian Police) quickly realized we were law-abiding and at all times the police have treated protesters with courtesy.
Australian politicians in the main are stridently pro-Israel and as we saw in the recent Marrickville council elections it is a brave politician indeed who dares endorse the BDS movement. However if they attended one of our protests they may be surprised to see that the issue of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians does resonate with Australian voters and that they could safely take a more principled stand on this issue.
Margaret Cassar is Executive Member, Australian Friends of Palestine Association.