Key Points:

A Catholic priest who splattered a mixture of his blood and paint on an Israeli memorial plaque during a protest yesterday said it was a symbolic act and nothing compared to the killing taking place in Gaza.

About 1000 people marched through central Wellington protesting against Israel's air and ground offensive in Gaza and calling on the New Zealand Government to end its neutral stance.

Father Gerard Burns, the parish priest of Te Parisi o te Ngakau Tapu in Porirua, was one of the protest leaders and smeared the blood and paint on the Yitzhak Rabin peace memorial.

Mr Rabin was prime minister of Israel from 1974-1977 and again from 1992-1995. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 and was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli radical in 1995.

Kiwi Friends of Israel called for Father Burns to apologise for his actions.

"Kiwi Friends of Israel strongly supports the right of all New Zealanders to have a robust debate on the rights and wrongs of Israel's policies but attacking peace memorials isn't legitimate behaviour.

"The desecration is doubly contemptible given Mr Rabin's lifelong commitment to peace and stability in Israel and Palestine."

Father Burns does not agree Mr Rabin's commitment to peace was "lifelong", but rather he "converted" to peace later in life.

The paint was a "symbolic action" and a "denunciation of the (Israeli) state, not an attack on the Jewish faith.

"I have a great esteem for the Jewish faith. I mean the founder of Christianity was Jewish ... but, the Israeli state is another beast altogether."

The prophets of Judaism would be criticising Israel's actions, Father Burns said.

An Israeli flag was also burnt at the protest.

There was no comparison between the burning of a flag, or painting of a monument and the killing taking place in Gaza, he said.

As for the New Zealand Government's response, Father Burns believes "not taking a side is taking a side. It's to say you accept what's going on".

He said despite being a small country New Zealand had shown in the past, with opposition to South African rugby tours (during the apartheid era), banning of cluster bombs and anti-nuclear stance, that it could spark global change.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said earlier the Government was not prepared to choose sides.

He said the Government's stance was in line with the international community, including the United Nations and European Union.

Father Burns did not find it strange that a New Zealand Catholic priest should take a stand against an Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"One of the people that I am very keen to support is the Christian Palestinians. It's not just Jews against Muslims. It's a political war with some religious implications.

"Denouncing injustice is a priestly role ... I might be failing in my duty if I didn't do it."

Catholic Church spokeswoman Lyndsay Freer told The New Zealand Herald priests were entitled to their individual views.

The New Zealand church's stance echoed Pope Benedict's address last week.

"We feel that in the interests of peace and dignity dialogue must take place, and the killing must stop, from both sides."

New Zealand's Tertiary Education Union (TEU) today called on the Israeli and Palestinian governments to "respect the peaceful role that education institutions play in communities" and keep war out of Palestine's schools and tertiary education institutions.

Their call follows the bombing of a Gaza school yesterday that killed over 40 people.