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Demonstrators gather in Aotea Square in central Auckland on Saturday. (Photo: Marama Muru-Lanning/ Additional design: Archi Banal)
Demonstrators gather in Aotea Square in central Auckland on Saturday. (Photo: Marama Muru-Lanning/ Additional design: Archi Banal)

PoliticsOctober 25, 2023

Thousands take part in pro-Palestine demonstrations across Aotearoa

Demonstrators gather in Aotea Square in central Auckland on Saturday. (Photo: Marama Muru-Lanning/ Additional design: Archi Banal)
Demonstrators gather in Aotea Square in central Auckland on Saturday. (Photo: Marama Muru-Lanning/ Additional design: Archi Banal)

Thousands of protestors gathered in cities and towns around the country, demanding an end to Israeli forces’ bombardment of Gaza. Their calls have been echoed by Te Pāti Māori and the Green Party.

The streets of central Tāmaki Makaurau were transformed into a sea of red, green, black and white over the weekend. 

On Saturday, a vast crowd gathered in Aotea Square in Auckland from 2pm for the Rally for Palestine, which began with a karakia and a minute of silence. They joined demonstrators across the country and around the world rallying in solidarity with Palestinian communities and calling for an urgent ceasefire to the bombing campaign of Gaza by Israel, as well as long-lasting resolutions to the broader Israel-Palestine conflict which stretches back more than a century.

When you’re in a crowd so massive, it can be a near-impossible task to decipher exactly how many individuals make up the mass, but in Auckland the crowd was most definitely in the thousands – and potentially even more than 5,000, according to organisers. Exact numbers aside, what is certain is that there was a significant number of people expressing their solidarity with Palestinians and dissent to the stance taken by New Zealand’s government. 

The rally makes its way past Smith and Caughey’s on Queen Street. (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has been running for over two weeks now in response to Hamas’s October 7 attack in which the militant group killed 1,400 Israelis, and took 222 hostages, according to Israeli officials. Following the attacks, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was at war and pledged to exact an “unprecedented price”. Since then, Israeli forces have killed at least 5,087 Palestinians in Gaza – 40 percent of whom are children – and 90 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, according to Palestinian officials. The current situation in Gaza has been described as an “unprecedented catastrophe” – however Western political leaders, including ours, have remained, for the most part, unified in their support of Israel’s military response.

It was this context that coloured the mood of the demonstrators and those who spoke on Saturday: a mix of both sorrow and defiance. Organised by Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa, speakers included members of the Palestinian community, activists and Green Party MP Darleen Tana. Joined by fellow Green Party members Marama Davidson, Ricardo Menendez March, Steve Abel and Lawrence Xu-Nan, Tana told the crowd that the party was “deeply concerned at the escalation”, and called on the international community and our own government to take stronger steps toward peace, to end apartheid and against war crimes. “For there to be peace, there needs to be justice,” she told the crowd.

As they began their descent down Queen Street to the US Consulate office, protestors chanted “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “we don’t want your bloody war”. Some marching wore keffiyeh scarves, while others clutched Palestinian and Tino Rangatiratanga flags or cardboard placards painted with phrases like “stop the genocide”, “ceasefire” and the most common of the bunch: “Free Palestine”. 

While the Auckland rally was the largest, thousands also gathered in Hamilton, Christchurch, Whanganui, New Plymouth, Wellington and Palmerston North. Rallies in response to the situation in Gaza had attracted thousands around New Zealand the previous weekend too. And around the world, hundreds of thousands more. An estimated 100,000 people in the United Kingdom took to the streets over the weekend to express solidarity with Palestinians. 

Following the march, some attendees expressed frustration on social media with a perceived lack of coverage of the local rallies. On the six o’clock news that night, the demonstrations were largely overshadowed by the All Blacks’ win. While footage of rugby fans celebrating victory led the news segments with an eight-minute slot, the rallies around the country were compressed into a 13-second clip and soundbite, only mentioning the Auckland demonstration and shrinking the size of the crowd down to the “hundreds”.

A demonstrator leads chants via a speaker affixed to a car. (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

Over the weekend, as a sparse amount of humanitarian aid began trickling into Gaza, the World Health Organisation issued a statement illustrating a dire situation in the territory: hospitals overwhelmed with casualties; tens of thousands of people displaced; and civilians, including children, pregnant women and the elderly, denied their right to protection, food, water and health care. “We call for a humanitarian ceasefire, along with immediate, unrestricted humanitarian access throughout Gaza to allow humanitarian actors to reach civilians in need, save lives and prevent further human suffering,” said the statement. “Gaza was a desperate humanitarian situation before the most recent hostilities. It is now catastrophic.” A group of UN agencies have called for a humanitarian ceasefire. However, this week, US president Joe Biden said he would not consider backing a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war until all hostages kidnapped by Hamas are released.

So far, our leadership has mirrored other Western nations’ official response to the ongoing conflict. The day after the October 7 attacks, when media had begun reporting that advances from Hamas militants killed 250 Israelis and Israeli retaliatory strikes had killed at least 232 people in Gaza, prime minister Chirs Hipkins “unequivocally” condemned the “terror attacks by Hamas on Israel”, and criticised the targeting of civilians and the taking of hostages. “New Zealand has designated the military wing of Hamas as a terrorist organisation, and we recognise Israel’s right to defend itself,” Hipkins said in the statement which echoed those of other Western leaders. “We are very concerned that the situation will escalate in the coming days and New Zealand again calls for restraint, the protection of non-combatants, and the upholding of international humanitarian law by all parties.”

On the same day, National leader and prime minister elect Christopher Luxon wrote: “I am shocked and saddened by the attacks overnight against Israel. We condemn these Hamas attacks on Israel and the violence and suffering being inflicted on innocent civilians. There is no justification for these attacks and Israel has a right to defend itself.”

The Act Party issued a statement expressing solidarity with Israel too, while condemning “terrorist attacks” from Hamas. “In an increasingly uncertain world, New Zealand needs a government that is committed to defence, committed to working with our allies and committed to defending freedom and democracy worldwide,” the statement said.

Last week, Hipkins announced after consultation with Christopher Luxon that the government would provide $5 million in funding to address urgent humanitarian needs in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. “New Zealand is deeply saddened by the loss of life and devastation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories,” Hipkins said. “New Zealand calls for rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access to enable the delivery of crucial life-saving assistance. We call on all parties to respect international humanitarian law, and uphold their obligations to protect civilians, and humanitarian workers, including medical personnel,” Hipkins said.

Today, following similar appeals by the UN, US and Canada, a joint statement from Hipkins and foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta urged for a humanitarian pause in Gaza and the immediate establishment of humanitarian corridors and safe areas to protect civilians living in the Gaza strip. The call comes a week after the US used its veto at the UN security council to block a resolution calling for Israel to allow humanitarian corridors into Gaza and an immediate humanitarian pause. A pause is generally considered less formal and shorter than a ceasefire.

On Friday last week, Labour MP Damien O’Connor broke ranks with the party; sharing a video of Israeli journalist Amira Hass outlining the situation in Gaza and firmly criticising the Israeli government with the caption: “We cannot remain silent on this tragedy”. 

The crowd on Queen Street, Auckland. (Image: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

And both Te Pāti Māori and the Green Party have publicly called on the government to do more. In a statement last week Te Pāti Māori co-leaders Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer demanded the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador if Israel does not immediately implement a ceasefire and open safe humanitarian aid corridors for Gaza. “We condemn Hamas for murdering civilians and taking civilian hostages. We also condemn the retaliatory actions of the Israeli government,” said Waititi. 

“Western countries are wilfully in denial about the long term aggression by Israel against Palestine. They have instituted an apartheid regime and have blockaded Gaza by land, air and sea,” said Ngarewa-Packer.

The Green Party condemned the targeting of civilians by both Hamas and the Israeli Defence Force and called on Hamas to allow the safe and immediate release of all Israeli civilian hostages in a statement. They described the withholding of access to water, electricity and humanitarian supplies while the ongoing military assault on Gaza continues as “a clear breach of international law”. 

“Together we call upon Israeli leaders for immediate cessation of the assault on Gaza and opening of aid corridors and supplies. We call on the international community to unite to support a ceasefire and a durable, just peace,” the party’s statement said. “The only sustainable path forward for peace in both Israel and Palestine is respect for the dignity and rights of both communities to self-determination, through an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, freedom of movement, equal rights, and a path to statehood for Palestine. The global community must take all steps to secure a lasting peace.”

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