Hundreds of Kiwis protest Israeli ground invasion of Gaza

By John Weekes

Protesters block Queen Street. Photo / Michael Craig
Protesters block Queen Street. Photo / Michael Craig

Crowds gathered at Auckland's Aotea Square to protest the Israeli ground invasion of Gaza have been urged to shut down the Israeli embassy in New Zealand.

Groups including Global Peace and Justice Auckland, the Palestine Human Rights Campaign, Kia Ora Gaza, the Mana Movement, and the Unite union participated in the demonstration.

Crowd estimates varied from a few hundred to more than 1500.

Green MP Kennedy Graham told protesters their purpose was to promote peace. "And there can be no peace without justice," Graham added.

Roger Fowler, a Kiwi who was in Gaza during an outbreak of cross-border conflict in 2012, called on people to protest Israel's actions every Saturday.

An unidentified man from Gaza said with every passing day, more innocent people died in Gaza, and those opposed to the ground offensive must act quickly.

John Minto, speaking on behalf of the Mana movement, said the last few days had been a continuation of "66 years" of Palestinian suffering.

"We're on the side of justice," another speaker told the crowd.

The march moved down Queen Street. Some demonstrators waved Palestinian flags and various banners. One man defaced an Israeli flag, replacing the Star of David with a swastika.

"From Auckland to Gaza, support the Intifada," they chanted, and "we don't want your bloody war."

Protesters marched to the US consulate to show their opposition to the country's economic and military links to Israel.

Marchers earlier planned to also visit the New Zealand Herald building, to protest what they called biased coverage in local media of the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, they decided instead to sit down in Queen Street, where chants included "free, free Palestine" and "Allahu Akbar." Minto berated New Zealand print and broadcast media for referring to Palestinian fighters as "militants".

A counter-demonstration also went ahead, and the two groups approached near Britomart but there were no serious or violent incidents between them.

Demonstrators then reached the US Consulate on Customs Street. More chanting followed before people placed numerous olive tree branches outside the building to represent each life lost in the Gaza conflict.

Among those who made an offering was Diane Sisley. "I'm just so sad about all the innocent women and children being killed in Palestine," Sisley told the Herald on Sunday. "I think it's such an unequal, disgusting war."

The demonstration ended with a song from Fowler, "We are all Palestinians."

Treen and Fowler said demonstrators supported calls to eject Israeli diplomats from the country's embassy in Wellington. Further demonstrations were expected in upcoming weeks if the Gaza conflict was not resolved.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade(MFAT) said there was an "extreme" security risk in Gaza and advised against all travel due to the extremely dangerous and unpredictable security situation.

There were five New Zealanders registered in Gaza, 116 in Israel and two in the West Bank registered with the MFAT SafeTravel programme.

"New Zealanders currently in Gaza are advised to depart as soon as it is safe to do so. The New Zealand government has an extremely limited ability to provide assistance to New Zealand nationals in Gaza and the security environment in Gaza may deteriorate further," MFAT added on its website.

"New Zealand fully supports the United Nations Security Council's call for an urgent ceasefire in Gaza," foreign affairs minister Murray McCully said earlier this week.

Labour party MPs voiced concern about the situation. Foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer said although New Zealand was not a major military or economic power, it could use its good global reputation, alliances, and diplomatic expertise to pressure countries which waged war or broke international law.

"Obviously if New Zealand was on the Security Council we would have a greater say," Shearer added.

Associate foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff said Israelis, Palestinians and the international community must show leadership by making necessary compromises to achieve lasting peace.

"The Israeli retaliation is always disproportionate," he said of the latest ground offensive. "Having been there many times I can understand why the Palestinian people are bitter."

Yet he said Israel also had a right to security from Gaza-based rocket attacks. "Israel is a fact of life, It has a right to stable borders and peace but so do the Palestinian people."

Gaza death toll passes 300


Two flares sent by Israeli army illuminate the eastern part of Gaza City. Photo / AFP

Fresh Israeli air strikes killed 10 people in Gaza today, hiking the death toll above 300 as UN chief Ban Ki-moon headed to the region to bolster truce efforts.

The new peace push came as Israel's campaign against the besieged Palestinian territory entered day 12 in the bloodiest conflict for several years, and the Jewish state stood poised to intensify a ground operation inside the Strip.

Watch: Israeli troops push deeper Into Gaza

US President Barack Obama has supported Israel's right to defend itself against Gaza rocket fire, but urged it to work harder to avoid innocent deaths in an operation with a high civilian toll, including many women and children.

In the face of Israel's land, sea and air offensive, Islamist movement Hamas, which is the main power in Gaza, has remained defiant as Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas travelled to Egypt and Turkey for truce talks.

An early morning air strike outside a mosque in the southern city of Khan Yunis killed seven people on Saturday, including a woman, medics said, with other raids shortly afterwards bringing the total death toll to 306 Palestinians and two Israelis.


Israeli army flares illuminate the sky above the Gaza strip. Photo / AFP

The UN said Friday Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would fly to the region Saturday in a bid to end the violence.

Ban would help Israelis and Palestinians "in coordination with regional and international actors, end the violence and find a way forward," under secretary general for political affairs Jeffrey Feltman told emergency talks at the Security Council.

But the two sides' UN ambassadors traded blame for the violence, with Israel's Ron Prosor insisting no other country would "tolerate... terrorist" rocket fire at its citizens.

Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour read aloud the names of Palestinian dead, including women and children to the Security Council, and at one point appeared close to tears.

Watch: Israel launches ground offensive

Israel's ground incursion, launched on the tenth day of an operation to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza, has killed dozens and forced thousands of people to flee.

- Sanctuary, supplies sought -

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA has opened 34 of its schools to shelter those fleeing.

It said Friday there were 47,000 Gazans seeking sanctuary with the agency.

In Gaza, the World Food Programme said it had already distributed emergency food rations and food vouchers to more than 20,000 displaced people.

But with the ground operation, it was gearing up for a huge increase in the coming days and hoping to reach 85,000 people with food distributions, a spokeswoman said.


A convoy of Israeli armoured personnel carriers (APC) move towards the Israeli-Gaza border. Photo / AFP
Gaza was also struggling with a 70 per cent power outage after electricity lines from Israel were damaged, officials said.

Netanyahu said he had ordered the military to be ready for "a significant broadening of the ground activity."

He then convened his security cabinet to discuss a possible expansion of the campaign, which began on July 8 with the aim of stamping out cross-border rocket fire.

In Gaza, after a relative lull Friday, violence picked up again in the evening, with intensifying tank shelling and air strikes killing more than a dozen people.

Among them were eight members of a single family killed by tank fire on their home in northern Gaza, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

Four children from the family were among the dead, joining another four children killed in several separate incidents of tank fire east of Gaza City, the youngest of them just two years old.

- Tunnel operation -

Israel has said the aim of the ground operation is to destroy Hamas's network of tunnels which are used for cross-border attacks on southern Israel.

Netanyahu said the ground operation was necessary to deal with the tunnels, but admitted there was "no guarantee of 100 per cent success".

Obama told reporters the US supports Israel's right to defend itself, but said Washington was "deeply concerned about the risks of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life".

He added that Washington was "hopeful" that Israel would operate "in a way that minimises civilian casualties".

The EU called for an immediate ceasefire, reserving particular concern for "too many civilian deaths, including many children," and urged efforts towards a "lasting peace" between Israel and Palestinians.

Israel pulled out all of its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but within a year it became the de facto seat of Hamas after it won a landslide victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections.

Meanwhile, Abbas was in Turkey where he urged support for an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire proposal.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Abbas had urged Paris to ask Hamas allies Qatar and Turkey to pressure the group into accepting a ceasefire.

- Herald on Sunday, AFP

- Herald on Sunday

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