By Royce Millar
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators slammed the Albanese government for backing missile attacks on Yemen and failing to support South Africa’s case of genocide against Israel in the International Court of Justice as they marked the 100th day of the war in Gaza in Melbourne on Sunday.
Thousands of protesters heard Palestinian, South African and First Nations speakers talk of their shared struggles and call for unity, including Aboriginal activist and historian Professor Gary Foley’s congratulations to South Africa for its legal action against Israel.
“How exquisitely ironic, perfectly, that the nation that’s taken Israel to the International Court [of Justice], accusing them of genocide, is South Africa,” Foley told the rally. “Good on our South African brothers and sisters – from a nation that was formerly cursed with apartheid – making absolutely accurate accusations against the new nation of apartheid, Israel.”
The 14th consecutive weekend of Free Palestine rallies around Australia and the world marked 100 days since Israel began its intense bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Victoria Police estimated between 3000 and 4000 people attended Melbourne’s march from the State Library to Parliament House on Sunday, however, organisers from the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network estimated between 10,000 and 20,000.
Following South Africa’s launch of its genocide case against Israel in the ICJ late last week, placards at Sunday’s march quoted South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela: “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
Israel rejected the accusations by South Africa that its military operation in Gaza is a state-led genocide campaign aimed at wiping out the Palestinian population. Israel claimed its war in Gaza was a legitimate defence of its people and that it was Hamas militants who were guilty of genocide.
Rally MC Hajar, who did not provide a surname, thanked South Africa for making its case to the ICJ.
“South Africa is doing what many should have done generations ago. But let’s be clear about this though, the colonised will be liberated with or without the validation of international law.”
Noting Australia’s support for US and UK attacks on Yemen aimed at Houthi rebels, Hajar said Yemen had been targetted because it “refused to allow weapons and supplies used to massacre Palestinians into their waterways”.
South African artist and writer Kali, who also did not provide a surname, told the crowd that he had once thought that apartheid was a “legacy” that would never be repeated.
“But in reality it never went away,” he said. “In the plight of the Palestinians, Nelson Mandela saw their struggle as a reflection of his own.”
In a written statement on Sunday, Australia Palestine Advocacy Network president Nasser Mashni accused the Albanese government of “involving itself more deeply in propping up Israel’s genocidal regime by the day”.
He said the government first did this in its “unwavering support” of Israel during the war that raged since Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel on October 7, then in its “foot-dragging” in calling for a ceasefire, and again in refusing to support South Africa’s case at the ICJ.
“And now in spreading the violence across the region by following the US and UK into an illegal war in Yemen on behalf of Israel,” said Mashni.
“The outpouring of support for this weekend’s solidarity actions show that we won’t stop demanding an end to Australian government racism and hypocrisy, and its complicity with genocide and violent settler-colonialism.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told The Age in a statement that it would not comment on matters before the court but that the “ICJ plays a critical role in upholding international law and the rules-based order, and Australia respects the independence of the ICJ and the judicial process”.
Foley, who is a Gumbainggir man, invited Palestinians and their allies to the January 26 ‘Invasion Day’ protests.
“Join us on Invasion Day because both our peoples have been subject to invasion and occupation so let’s make it a joint Aboriginal-Palestinian Invasion Day on the 26th of January,” he told the crowd.
US President Joe Biden says he’s delivered a private message to Iran after two days of US-led strikes on Iranian-backed Houthi bases in Yemen.
More than 23,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza since October 7, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. About 1200 Israelis died when Hamas launched its surprise attack in the south.
British charity Oxfam says the daily death toll of Palestinians surpasses that of any other major conflict in the 21st century.