Thousands of pro-Palestine protesters rally for fifth weekend in a row

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More than 10,000 protesters have rallied in Melbourne’s CBD for the fifth consecutive weekend to protest Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and call for a ceasefire.

It comes after a heated confrontation between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel groups in Caulfield on Friday night, triggered by the suspected arson attack of a local burger store owned by a Palestinian-Australian, who called the attack a hate crime.

More than 10,000 people rallied in Melbourne’s CBD in support of Palestine on Sunday, the fifth weekend in a row.Credit: Chris Hopkins/The Age

There were calmer scenes in Caulfield on Sunday afternoon, when an estimated 300 Jewish Melburnians gathered in the park and called for the release of Israelis taken hostage by Hamas during its attack on Israel on October 7, when about 1200 Israelis were killed. Israel’s counter-attack has displaced more than 70 per cent of Gaza’s inhabitants and killed more than 11,000 Palestinians.

Kites for Freedom, organised by Zionism Victoria, Habayit and United With Israel, flew kites with messages of hope and included missing person posters for the hostages.

Zionism Victoria executive director Zeddy Lawrence said the event was organised in honour of the Kfar Aza residents, who had been planning to hold their annual kite festival the day their kibbutz was attacked.

Jewish Melburnians gathered in Caulfield Park on Sunday to call for the release of Israeli hostages.Credit: Chris Hopkins/The Age

In Melbourne’s CBD, the Free Palestine rally organisers led thousands into chants of “Free, free Palestine” and “From the river to the sea”.

Raphael Duffy, a speaker at the rally who identified himself as an anti-Zionist Jew, said the pro-Palestine rallies were drawing bigger crowds each week.

He accused the Israeli government of targeting hospitals as part of its bombardment of Gaza.

“I look at that and I say, not in my name,” Duffy said.

Hash Tayeh, the Palestinian owner of the Caulfield burger store that was firebombed on Friday, spoke at the rally, telling protesters he will “not be silenced by anger”.

Protesters carry the Palestinian flag through Melbourne’s CBD.Credit: Chris Hopkins/The Age

The store fire triggered heated scenes between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protesters on Friday night, leading to the evacuation of a nearby synagogue.

Police have said the fire is suspicious but did not believe it was religious or racially motivated.

On Sunday, Tayeh doubled down on his belief that the attack on his store was politically motivated, telling the crowd that the fire had been an attempt to silence his support for the Palestinian cause.

“To those who sought to silence us with hate and violence, I say, you will not succeed. Love and Unity will always prevail,” he said. “Ours is a message of love, of inclusion. That we all belong. That we must and will all live together. Jews, Christians, Muslims and atheists.

Free Palestine protesters chant during the march on Sunday.Credit: Chris Hopkins/The Age

“We need to commit to keeping this energy going and growing every Sunday not just until the bombs stop dropping but until Palestine is free.”

Tayeh said he and his businesses had been the target of smear campaigns and had been called names that had hurt him deeply.

“I choose not to dwell on that,” he said. “I choose to stand up, to speak out and to continue saying, ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’.”

Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam told the rally the fire should be investigated as a hate crime.

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