NSW Police Officers Assault and Arrest Pro-Palestinian Protesters in Sydney

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Palestinian Protesters in Sydney

Sydney pro-Palestinian unionists and activists blocked off the road leading into Port Botany’s Patrick Terminal on Sunday night, targeting the Ganges container ship, which docked early that morning to unload goods bound for Australia, as the boat belongs to Israeli shipping company ZIM.

The oldest Israeli shipping business, ZIM commenced operations in 1948: the year that the state of Israel was established on the historic land of Palestine.

Indeed, ZIM has been the target of protests at ports across the continent since last October, in an effort to put pressure on the Netanyahu government to end its genocide in Gaza.

And as is the habit of NSW police, it applied excessive force to the nonviolent protesters, attempting to head off the nightshift from entering at 9.30 pm on Sunday. But after sitting and chanting for 15 minutes, riot squad officers moved in, forcefully picking off some and then pushing off the rest – conduct which legal commentators assert constitutes the use of excessive force and therefore amounts to the crime of assault in our state.

Two reasons for the force applied being ramped up a tad further are that supporting Palestine and condemning the wholesale massacre of the Palestinians of Gaza has been increasingly criminalised in the public sphere since October, and the protest also threatened economic supply lines.

The Sunday night protest was organised by Palestine Justice Movement and Unionists for Palestine. And as police applied the ‘extract single protesters while officers then wrestle them to the ground’ technique, seventeen were arrested, including MUA Sydney Branch secretary Paul Keating.

The ever-thickening thin blue line

“To keep ZIM Shipping out of Australia, that’s the main goal,” Ahmed Abadla, a spokesperson for Palestine Justice Movement, explained on Monday. “What happened yesterday was completely peaceful. We had no intention of getting this violent response from the police.”

“There are a number of other things we can also do to continue to protest against ZIM and other organisations that are complicit in the Israeli apartheid system that is imposed upon the Palestinians,” said the young Palestinian man from Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip.

Abadla told Sydney Criminal Lawyers that he’d been warned that NSW police could get brutal with protesters in the past, but he hadn’t really believed this until officers unleashed it before him on Sunday: similar to the way that NSW police dealt with another ZIM ship protest last November.

Legal Observers NSW told the Guardian on Monday that a number officers were spotted wearing thin blue line batches, which is a symbol associated with white supremacist-minded police officers. This practice originated in the US and is now a proud part of Australian policing cultures.

Meanwhile, over where Abadla is from, Israel has carpet bombed the ancient Palestinian cities within the 40-kilometre-long strip of land, displacing the 2.3 million Palestinians of Gaza, who are all suffering malnutrition and are, right now, slipping into famine, as they’re being starved on purpose.

The conservative death toll of the six-month-long Gaza genocide has surpassed 32,000 Palestinians, almost completely all of whom were civilians, with 14,000 of them being children. Over 74,000 people have been injured, and thousands more are stuck under rubble.

Yet, Israel is blocking around 7,000 aid trucks from entering the site of mass starvation on a scale never seen before, which are lined up at the Egyptian border into Gaza.

“Nonviolent resistance through Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has been instrumental in combating apartheid Israel,” Abadla added.

“PJM is demanding Australia immediately cut all ties with the state of Israel, including economic, diplomatic and military ties.”

Palestinian Protesters

Countering sanctioned genocide

Abadla related a few heinous stories of the last few days coming out of the genocidal military operation officially referred to as a war, and then said, “All these western governments are saying, ‘Israel has the right to defend itself.’ But this is beyond self-defence.”

“This is a scar on every human being. This is what we are trying to do,” the Palestinian man continued. “We are trying to actively educate people about what’s happening back home.”

“We are trying to actively force Israel to comply with its obligations under international law by this peaceful demonstration, which is part of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.”

Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Sydney Branch secretary Paul Keating said his union had recommitted to the Palestinian cause at the national level, and local members would be down at the port whenever a ZIM action is taking place to ensure the community’s right to protest is upheld.

“I say this to the ZIM shipping line – we don’t want you in our ports,” Keating said, after being released from Surry Hills Police Station. “And I say this to every global shipping line, declare that you are not moving Israeli owned or made goods, and you will not see these protests in the ports.”

“I say to every union leader in Australia, now is the time to stand up, now is the time to fight.”

Protesting against Israeli operations in Gaza since the outbreak of the genocide in October has been demonised and heavily criticised by both major Australian parties, and the fact that NSW police is taking off the gloves at Port Botany is not because Macquarie Street is naïve to it.

However, the Greens have supported pro-Palestinians rallies protesting the multiple crimes against humanity that Israel is unleashing. And Greens Senator Dr Mehreen Faruqi has been supporting the unions and community campaign against ZIM “to make Israel pay a cost for its genocide”.

“Israeli businesses that choose to align themselves with Israel’s war machine are not welcome here,” the Greens Senator said. “As the Labor government shamefully supports Israel, we will continue to protest and call for boycotts and sanctions.”

The Albanese government long blew the “Israel has a right to defend itself” line, while it committed mass slaughter. And it’s since issued weak conditional ceasefires calls, while a day after the International Court of Justice ruled Israel is plausibly committing genocide, it cut funding to UNRWA.

This meant Labor stopped funding the main aid line into the site of a likely genocide and forced mass starvation. And it’s this behaviour that’s seen PM Albanese, foreign minister Penny Wong and defence minister Richard Marles referred to the International Criminal Court for being complicit.

“We hear these perfunctory statements about sharing similar values with Israel,” Abadla said. “There are no values in apartheid. There are no values in genocide. My message to Anthony Albanese is, ‘Stop calling Israel our friends and allies, it is an insult to every single person who lives in Australia.’”

“Targeting hospitals, universities, schools, streets, infrastructure, livelihoods and lives of innocent children – there was a kid who was looking for some food and he was sniped on the street.”

“I can go on for hours and hours and hours about why every single person should take this matter personal, as a human being,” the Gazan man concluded.

All images of Sunday’s ZIM Shipping Blockade were supplied by Solidarity Sydney

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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