“We Will Remain Here as Long as It Takes”: Interview With the 24/7 Gaza Picket at the PM’s Office

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Palestine camp

Right now, there’s a 24/7 protest camp set up outside Anthony Albanese’s electoral office in Marrickville, which is demanding that the prime minister act in a manner that would at least be an attempt to bring an end to the four-month-long massacre Israel is perpetrating in the Gaza Strip.

A heinous smorgasbord of war crimes, crimes against humanity and, as the International Court of Justice found, plausibly four of the five actions constituting the most serious crime of all, genocide, are being perpetrated by the Netanyahu government, with the tacit support of western allies.

The ICJ made the ruling in regard to the South African genocide case against Israel over its mass killing operation in Gaza, the worst atrocity in living memory, and it included amongst its interim orders that Israel be required to immediately increase humanitarian aid into the walled-in region.

Yet, on the day following the ruling, Israel released a document containing unsubstantiated claims that staff from UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinians, were involved in the 7 October Hamas attacks on Israel, and based on this, Australia stopped financing the main aid channel into Gaza.

Compounding genocide

When pressed on the ABC as to why she’d decided to make the decision to financing aid, despite their being a lack of any evidence supporting the allegations, foreign minister Penny Wong explained that as UNRWA took the claims seriously, she thought that reason enough to cease funding.

Wong further asserted to the 7.30 Report’s Sarah Ferguson that federal Labor had doubled UNRWA funding prior to cutting it, that this had already been supplied, and she was, therefore, not permitting an additional $6 million to be sent, so basically, her actions weren’t so bad.

However, it should be noted that Gaza is the site of a mass starvation crisis, and the cutting of aid is compounding a genocide. And Australia was one of only a few nations to initially stop financing UNRWA, which eventually involved more than 16 states, so Canberra likely influenced others.

For his part, the PM released another ceasefire statement in conjunction with his Canadian and NZ counterparts, and this has again been criticised for the conditions applied to a sustainable ceasefire, for its criticism of Hamas and not Israeli forces, and for its failure to mention the horror in Gaza.

Taking it to the PM’s doorstep

Many Australians are losing trust in their leaders due to the bipartisan support for Israel emanating out of Canberra. Yet, according to Sarah Shaweesh, a Palestinian woman participating in the 24/7 community picket at the PM’s office, such trust in so-called Australia has never been there for her.

Shaweesh and polish woman Zuzia Buszewicz are two of the initiators of the protest that’s now occurring outside the office on Marrickville Road, and they explain that it was necessitated as local constituents want the prime minister to front up and address their concerns about the mass killings.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers paid a visit to the picket on Sunday morning and spoke to Shaweesh and Buszewicz about what it seeks to achieve, the fact that Palestinians are being terrorised right across the globe, and how some murdered Gazan civilians won’t have the opportunity to ever get engaged.

The crew at the 247 community picket for Gaza at Anthony Albanese’s office
The crew at the 247 community picket for Gaza at Anthony Albanese’s office

So, you two initiated the 24/7 community picket for Palestine out the front of Anthony Albanese’s electoral office in Marrickville last week, in response to his government’s ongoing support for Israel and its lack of acknowledgement that a genocide is taking place right now in Gaza.

So, who’s involved and what do you hope to achieve?

Buszewicz: It’s a community picket. Families for Palestine are doing a lot of amazing work helping coordinate people who are willing to take part.

But it is not an event organised by any particular group. This is for everyone who supports the cause and wants to stand with us to demand a ceasefire, as well as cutting ties to Israel and the reinstatement of UNRWA funding at the very least.

A good portion of the people coming are from the electorate of Mr Albanese and are his constituents, so we expect that he will eventually come and see us.

This has been a long time coming. Families for Palestine have been here for four months every Thursday, asking for his attention and he has so far, not been unforthcoming.

So, now we are here 24/7, hoping that this will entice him to come speak to his people.

And you’ve been here for a week?

Buszewicz: A week from this afternoon.

How would you describe the situation in Gaza at present?

Buszewicz: It’s been described by many, but it is a genocide. It is ethnic cleansing.

The events that we are currently viewing are horrific. And the fact that it’s being denied by our leaders just compounds it.

Shaweesh: What I would like to point out is that a lot of our politicians don’t have family on the ground. And what we’re seeing right now, is that the only truthful media that’s coming out is civilian reporting from Gaza.

I personally have family in Gaza and many people in our community have family in Gaza, who are in the fifth month of a genocide.

Personally, my family has children, minors, who have witnessed all this. They have lost their friends. They don’t have school to go to.

They are constantly hearing warplanes. They don’t have food. They don’t have windows, so they are freezing. Nothing is available in terms of supplies.

It is quite offensive for people like Chris Minns, Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong to be standing with war criminals at this crucial time, when they could be standing on the right side of history and calling it for what it is: a genocide.

There has been a slow ethnic cleansing process since 1948. It is not October 7. It is 1948.

And the ongoing massacres of Palestinian people, the ongoing ethnic cleansing, the ongoing landgrabs and cultural theft has occurred over the last 75 years – there is no denying that.

A steady stream of supporters have been lending their support to the protest camp, which is currently operating around the clock
A steady stream of supporters have been lending their support to the protest camp, which is currently operating around the clock

A couple of the clips that have been posted to social media about the community picket over the last couple of days have underscored the issue you’re having with the media.

Along with its ongoing misrepresentation of events in Gaza, most local mainstream media hasn’t been reporting on the picket.

Can you talk about that?

Shaweesh: What we have seen for decades in Australia is inadequate media coverage. It is horrific and the narrative needs to change.

The narrative that they have designed has negatively impacted a whole minority group in Australia, who are Arab, Palestinian, Muslim and people of colour.

The whole narrative needs to change. They have designed the narrative to suit their agenda. It suits the agenda of what’s happening on the ground in Palestine, so-called Israel.

The narrative that Israel is the victim needs to stop. It needs to be called out for what it is, it is a settler colonial project, and it needs to end.

It’s shocking that this is what our government and media are standing for. They have the responsibility, the politicians have the responsibility, to hold the media accountable for every single lie they have spread regarding Israel as the victim.

It’s not just what happened in October. It is what happened before. It is our hostages in Palestine, over 8,000 Palestinian hostages. There has been no mention of them from our politicians.

Yes, there are hostages on the Israeli side. But what about the last 75 years of Palestinian hostages.

The one-sided reporting of media bias is disgusting. It is disgusting that we have allowed it to go on this long.

Palestine signs

I would say from the perspective of a journalist, it appears that you get in more trouble in this country for criticising Israel than you do for any negative commentary about Australia.

Yesterday, at the Palestine Action Group rally in the city, a Palestinian activist told the crowd that her fiancé had just lost family members in Gaza.

It appears that even though Palestinian refugees have left Palestine, they’re still terrorised whenever they are around the planet.

As a Palestinian person, can you respond to that?

Shaweesh: I’m a refugee by birth. In 1948, my grandfather was displaced. We were one of the lucky families of refugees that went to Jordan and our families were given nationality and rights to work. It is unfortunate that was not the same for the refugees who went to Lebanon.

Palestinians all over the world face censorship. They face discrimination in their workplaces. They face discrimination in social situations, in not-for-profit organisations, in religious circles and situations.

This is the reality of Palestinians: censorship. It is like we always have to pretend that we don’t exist, when the reality is that we will forever exist, and we will forever hold onto our culture and our heritage.

It is not like we are linked to Palestine for any economic gain. We are linked to Palestine because of our rich culture, our rich connection to the land and our rich connection to the food, the olive trees and all things in Palestine that aren’t economic.

There is nothing that is going to make us forget about who we are and where we came from.

We’re sitting outside the PM’s office, who presides over a government that has done little during the last four months in regard to the massacre taking place in Gaza – that is, besides showing support for Israel and even cutting financing to UNRWA: the main aid agency into the region.

Has this changed the way in which you consider the nation of Australia?

Shaweesh: I have never had trust in so-called Australia and something that we always hear is “go back to where you came from”.

Well, get out of where we came from, whether that’s Palestine, Iraq, Syria – anywhere. The west should just get out, so we can all go back and live in peace.

You know, we don’t want to be here. Our countries are where our families are from. I only have my immediate family here. I would love to be able to return.

All of us have the right to return. It should be our basic human right – the right of return.

And our prime minister Anthony Albanese should be supporting that and making it happen for the Palestinian community living in Australia.

Palestine sign

My last question is, what do you think about prime minister Anthony Albanese this week proposing to his partner in the midst of the genocide that’s unfolding?

Shaweesh: I don’t want to make this about Anthony Albanese, but I’d like to mention all the Palestinian people in Gaza and occupied Palestinian and the Palestinian community living abroad, who had plans of getting engaged, of getting married – who had plans to celebrate and do some many things that have now been taken away.

My cousin’s brother-in-law in Gaza was actually meant to have his engagement party on 9 October, which was then cancelled because of the ongoing bombardment of Gaza.

So, how dare you celebrate, and how dare you live in comfort. And I do want to let you know, Anthony Albanese, we will not give you a day of peace.

We will remain here as long as it takes, and when we see you on the streets of Marrickville, because we are your constituents, we will make you feel uncomfortable.

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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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