Saturday, 17 November 2012

Parramatta BDS protest Nov 15

Over 150 people protested at Parramatta Town Hall on November 15, calling for a boycott of Max Brenner chocolate shops and an end to Israel's recent escalation of attacks on Gaza.

The rally was part of the ongoing campaign for Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Max Brenner's parent company, the Israeli Strauss Group, donates care packages of chocolates to Israeli commandos of the Golani and Givati brigades.

Ultimo, Sydney.

Max Brenner stores have come under protests in Sydney and Melbourne. In 2011, 19 protesters were arrested for "besetting" the QV square store in Melbourne and for trespass in a public place. The charges were dismissed on July 23.

The rally heard from Ray Jackson, President of the Indigenous Social Justice assocation; Sylvia Hale, former Greens MLC; As’ad Awashra, a Palestinian student from Ramallah on exchange at the University of Sydney; Haskell Musry, member of Jews Against the Occupation; and Marlene Carrasco, Bankstown campus chair of the UWS student association.

Marching to Max Brenner

The protesters marched from Parramatta Town Hall to the Max Brenner store located in the nearby Westfields shopping centre, where they confronted around 30 counter-demonstrators who bore anti-Islam signs and Australian flags. Two male counter-demonstrators wore
niqābs and dresses in an attempt to provoke the pro-Palestine protesters; however, there were no incidents of violence.

Haskell Musry, Jews Against the Occupation

Westfields' board member and co-founder Frank Lowy is a long-time supporter of Israel; he joined the Haganah, the Jewish militia in Palestine, in 1945. He served for 2 years before joining the Golani Brigade and participating in Al-Nakba, where he was wounded during the attack on Sajra. Lowy moved to Australia in 1952.

At the end of the demonstrations, a motion to call for a rally on Saturday 24 November was passed; an ad-hoc organising meeting was held to plan details of the rally, which will take place at Town Hall at 12 noon. For more info visit the Palestine Action Group's Facebook or website

We recieved good coverage from Iran's Press TV; I haven't seen or heard the mainstream media coverage, but I've been told it was as atrocious as ever.

Friday, 16 November 2012

A Beautiful Day To Be Alive

After around two weeks in Palestine, I came down with a depressive episode. 

I don't normally talk about my mental health. It's been a year since that time, so I feel like I have enough distance to write about it, and maybe try and draw some lessons for my ongoing life and activism. And i'm doing Movember, so I thought this might be a little bit in the way of an explanation. Male mental health is somewhat stigmatised in a country like Australia, which is a barrier to treatment for many.

And in the face of the bombs raining down on Gaza right now, some of the feelings I've been writing about in this post have risen again, so the best way to work through them seems to be writing about them.

This is dedicated to all the friends, family, partners and comrades who have helped me through dark times. To Frank Tromp - vale. And to the children of Gaza.

When I first arrived at Ben Gurion airport, I was so nervous I couldn't even force myself to smile at the two women on the border security desk. Almost all of my thought in the days prior to my arrival had been on this part of the process, the possibility of being hauled aside and what I would say I'd been doing in Egypt and Tunisia to not arouse suspicions that I might actually think Arabs are human beings. I hadn't thought about getting through without a hitch, and I was quite emotionally unprepared to find myself in a Sherut running alongside the apartheid wall or stepping out in front of the Damascus Gate.

Sultan Suleiman Street, barbeque smoke hanging in the air.

My first few days in Jerusalem were somewhat off the deep end, but the whole experience of life in the holy land still felt surreal, like I wasn't really there, like I was living inside history. It's a simultaneously belittling and uplifting feeling; like the buildings and people around you all bear an ancient weight made up of the labour and lives of thousands of generations of people, and you have a chance to contribute a part of your life to that tradition.

After a few days I began the JAI olive harvest program, which certainly immersed me in life in the West Bank, life under an occupation. The structure of a program like that was good for keeping me moving, and climbing up trees and scratching my hands picking olives all day certainly shook me out of the bubble of surreality and grounded me in the present chapter of that history.


Meeting ordinary people in the West Bank - farmers, residents, workers, families, prisoners - and putting human faces to the suffering I understood on an ideological level didn't only bring me to a deeper understanding of the occupation; it inspired and invigorated me to expand my personal efforts for the Palestinian cause. It also helped me to see that there's a network of people all over the world struggling for justice in Palestine, even if we sometimes feel so few in Australia. The surreality of living in the holy land blends into the impossible reality of life under occupation; I think this contributes to the zest for life and the sumoud of the Palestinians.

Neda the zesty.

The program inspired me to push myself - late nights at the Grotto, early mornings for the harvest, evenings documenting what we'd done. On a day off I started this blog. I felt like the exhilaration of being in Palestine meant that my normal rules about burning myself out didn't apply. But despite the inspiration, I reached the limits of my energy.

After the program finished, I made my way down to Bustan Qaraaqa, a permaculture demonstration farm and project. Several of the friends I'd made doing the harvest had stayed there or knew the long-term volunteers, and I'd found out about it before hand online. It was certainly a fantastic space, and an amazing group of volunteers made it buzz.

As someone who's been involved in permaculture and environment campaigns in Australia, the project really appealed to me; some of the ideas I saw or worked on, like companion planting to make clearing fields more difficult for settlers, using traditional farming techniques to rehabilitate fallow land that hasn't been claimed by the ongoing expansion, or utilising the plentiful roadside plastic bottles to make a greenhouse roof that collects a great volume of rainwater, all make environmentalism another way to resist the occupation.

The reclaimed greenhouse.

However, despite the political interest I had in Bustan, I couldn't give as much energy to it as I would have liked. The thrill that drove me during the harvest program wore off; I found myself sleeping too much, drinking too much, and struggling to motivate myself in the less scheduled and more individual environment of the farm. To finish transcribing the interviews and article notes I'd done in Egypt and Tunisia and finish them became more and more difficult and less and less interesting. And knowing that I wasn't firing on all cylinders brought on some pretty strong guilt - I can't be weak, I have to keep going, I have to do as much as I can while I'm here. I had made some friends in the harvest who were still in Bethlehem, but I didn't have the energy to try and see more of them, or participate in many of the political activities I could have.

Comfort food, Palestinian style - broaster chicken

At first I put it down to another kind of culture shock - this certainly did hit me hard when I first arrived in Egypt - or perhaps missing some of the creature comforts I got in the hotel I didn't at a permaculture farm, but after a while I realised I was pushing myself too hard. To see the occupation up close and personally, just like the holy city, made me feel small and inconsequential - in the face of an injustice with the whole weight of global neo-colonialism behind it, I felt like I could do nothing to make a difference. In a sense, I think what triggered me was a kind of occupation shock.

The guilt I felt for feeling helpless was magnified by the fact that I knew I could go home with relative ease to one of the richest countries on earth, while for the Palestinians around me this weight had been on them their whole lives and didn't appear to be going anywhere. And despite that, the Palestinians live hard, live with sumoud, love and work and struggle far more than Australians who sit in empty cars and avoid each other in the street. I felt guilty for ever feeling weak and alone and depressed when my suffering, too, was so insignificant in the face of the occupation.

Graffiti on the apartheid wall, Bethlehem. I wrote this when I first saw it: "That a Palestinian could spraypaint this on the biggest symbol of their people's dispossession makes me feel ashamed for every day I only got out of my comfortable Queen-sized bed to drive my car to a fast food drive thru"

Seeing my dear friend and fellow Wollongong activist Ella after my time at Bustan, hooking into the network of teachers in Nablus, and having some amazing times travelling the rest of the length of the West Bank, certainly helped me recover. But the thing which cleared my head the most was the fact that seeing Ella again also got me demonstrating - for the Freedom Waves flotilla crew detained for breaking the siege of Gaza (including fellow Aussie Michael Coleman!), documenting the Freedom Rides, and on my last day in the West Bank, joining in the weekly demonstrations against the apartheid wall in Bil'in. To take direct action - no matter how small or ineffective it may be on its own - is our strongest and most empowering collective tool of action.

Demonstration for the Freedom Waves flotilla in Ramallah, 04/11/11

Freedom Riders on a bus being taken through Hizma checkpoint, 15/11/11

Bil'in, 25/11/11

Asides from what I learned about the situation in Palestine (and Egypt and Tunisia), some of the lessons I learned about myself during my travels I've tried (not totally successfully) to apply to my activities here in Australia. It's important that we all take time for self care, and set whatever conditions or limits to our activism are necessary - not only for the sake of long-term committment, but also for approaching our tasks professionally. Some activists I struggle alongside rarely seem to need their own time, while others are ironclad that they have nights or at least one day off every week. I don't want to prescribe a recipe, but whatever your personal limits are, you shouldn't let them be eaten into. To say yes to everything and always be rushing from task to task without an overall clarity on what we're doing is worse than to say no. Here in Australia we're not fighting an underground struggle which uses military means, so we shouldn't take Lenin too literally. The struggle needs us for the long haul.

Sunday, 11 November 2012


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Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Shoutout: Kristel in Palestine

I encourage everyone interested in reading about life in Palestine to bookmark Kristel's blog. She was one of the organisers of the JAI Olive Harvest program I participated in last year, and she's engaged to a Palestinian man who lives on the other side of the apartheid wall from her. Sofar she's made some interesting posts with little snippets about her work & life. Insh'allah she'll keep writing every day :)

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Koori Centre Cuts

Earlier this year, myself, members of the local Redfern community and many supporters of Aboriginal rights staged a small photo shoot in Redfern in front of the Block's Aboriginal flag, to show support for Damien Hooper at the Olympics:

Unfortunately, Sydney Uni doesn't share in the same level of goodwill towards the original owners of our colonised land... Despite acknowledging the Cadigal people of the Eora nation whose land the university was build on, the administration has pushed ahead with implementing a new strategy for Indigenous education which has raised serious concerns by the students, particularly due to the fact that the “Wingara Mura — Bunga Barrabugu” strategy will scatter the Koori Centre’s functions and staff across campus in 16 faculties".

In the above article SRC Indigenous Student Officer Narelle Daniels highlighted the key concerns students had with the changes:

"How long will students have access to Koori Centre facilities like the library, computers and common room?
It’s not just about the rooms, it’s about keeping Indigenous support close to home. We simply don’t want 16 different places … But when we’ve asked for a meeting with him [Houston] reception keeps putting us off."

Although students have gotten word of this restructure coming down on the Koori Centre at the end of Semester 1, due to SRC elections taking place this semester the campus activists who took on the management over staff cuts in Semester 1 didn't play a huge role in organising. Koori students have been collecting signatures and attempting to at least get a meeting with the DVC Indigenous, Shane Houston, to discuss the implications of the restructuring on their experience and ability to remain at Sydney Uni.

Resistance members collecting signatures during the SRC elections

By the end of semester Koori students were feeling quite uncertain about the future - particularly given the break for exams begins this week, and students will be off campus and unable to mobilise any action against closing the common room for months. So at short notice a rally was called for the final week of semester, at which over 60 students turned out to support the Centre remaining open. As soon as the action was called it got picked up by the national movement; Alice Springs radio called Kyol Blakeney, one of the organisers, for a live interview, and a letter was read out from Gary Foley, legend of the Tent Embassy movement!

Kyol told me:

I promote the idea of more black fullas in Uni and more understanding throughout the wider community of the culture but I do not condone the idea of the removal of the Aboriginal support staff as it makes no sense to take away support when you are trying to encourage other Aboriginals to come to uni and succeed. That is the reason why I am in the protest and against Shane Houston.
At a meeting with Houston at the end of the protest, Kyol and the other students from the Koori Centre got the following commitments (posted around the Save the Koori Centre FB page):
Space and facilities – common room, computer lab
Indigenous Student Support & ITAS Co-ordinators – Tanya Griffiths and Freda Hammond to be reinstated into their office in the Koori Centre at 2 days per week minimum with their own office space.
Faculty support – support officer (Indigenous within each faculty.)
2 additional support officers with roles towards – ITAS, Working with Cadigal, Basic Personal Support.
Looking to seek funding for an entirely new Koori Centre that acknowledges the word (Aboriginal/Cadigal) in the title. This will include common room, Computer lab and Indigenous support staff at a minimum.
No faculty-specific common areas – There will be only one big community space for every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student on main campus and the University of Sydney.
Ie they won! (At least the lion's share of demands, although the dispersal of the academic programs doesn't seem to be on the table for discussion anymore, and students of those courses have recieved notification presenting it as a fait accompli).

Of course, we haven't seen the students demands incorporated into the new strategy yet, so it's all tentative... It's now summer break, so the uni may try and take advantage of the absence of students to reneg and hope nobody notices... but the inspiring action sofar has certainly showed that the student movement at Sydney Uni hasn't gone anywhere. And they know the latent power of the student movement and its' ability to create PR nightmares and untenable situations for management.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Next Sydney rally for BDS

This week the chief Chazan and Rabbinate Choir of the IDF performed at a "Salute to Israel" concert at the Central Synagogue of Sydney. Although there was no protest there to greet them, it's nonetheless worthy of condemnation that officials of an occupying military would attempt to tour the world at a time when the writing is really on the wall.

Sydney's next rally for BDS will take place in Parramatta on November 15 - the date has changed after it was originally called for November 8, which clashes with another local event.

As part of the ongoing campaign for solidarity with Palestine, the Palestine Action Group is calling another peaceful protest against Max Brenner at Parramatta Westfield.

Max Brenner is an ongoing target of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign for its support for Israel and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Max Brenner supports the torture, displacement and genocide of the Palestinians. The company is owned by the Israe
li conglomerate the Strauss Group, which provides “care rations” for the Israeli military, including the Golani and the Givati brigades. These were two of the key Israeli military brigades involved in Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza in December 2008/January 2009, which killed more than 1300 Palestinians, the majority of whom were civilian, including over 300 children.

Since the Golani Brigade was deployed to Hebron in late 2011, Palestinian residents of Hebron have reported an increase of arbitrary arrests, home invasions, tightening of restrictions on movement and other acts of aggression as part of Israel's criminal occupation of the West Bank.

Max Brenner wants to "sweeten" the "special moments" of these brigades and be "there at the front to spoil them with our best products". It wants to sweeten genocide. It deserves to be boycotted.
Videos of the last protest:

There's been some recent victories in the global movement that are worth reflecting (and I don't think we'll have a victory anytime soon around Max Brenner, but mobilising in our hundreds to stand up for Palestine is a victory in itself :) The Israeli Batsheva Ensemble dance troupe last week announced they would cancel their performance in Brighton, England due to BDS protests, while protests called by Open Shuhada Street in Cape Town, South Africa won a campaign to have Israeli AHAVA products taken off shelves earlier this month.

The global campaign against Veolia continues to build pressure as well, with actions taking place in London against the Natural History Museum and Perth against the state government for contracting with the company. While I waited for the Palestinian Freedom Riders to get on their bus to Jerusalem, I was passed by several run by Veolia. *UPDATE* I find it quite cool that the Perth activists mirrored those freedom rides in their action by occupying a bus and singing a knock-off of "Wheels on the Bus" - definitely an addition to the West Bank action!

Peace and Justice.