Tensions ran high on Monday night as pro-Palestinian protesters gathered in Sydney’s CBD and in front of the Opera House in a rally against Israel.
Starting at Town Hall at 5.30pm, the crowd grew larger by the minute, with hundreds of Palestinian flags and anti-Israeli signs being waved during the opening speeches.
Chants of “Resistance is justified when Palestine is occupied”, “Israel, USA, how many kids have you killed today?” and “Israel, Israel, you can’t hide, you’re committing genocide,” echoed throughout the rally.
Thousands of protesters then marched and chanted through the streets of Sydney up to Circular Quay, where they staked out the Opera House in preparation before the monument was illuminated with the colours of the Israeli flag, a move intended to show solidarity with the nation.
Hundreds of police and the riot squad stood behind a barrier in front of the Opera House, while dozens of mounted police kept a lookout.
The energetic crowd was filled with men, woman and children of all ages, donning attire bearing the Palestinian flag’s colours.
Many painted their faces and held flags and signs in support of Palestine.
A group spelled out “Free Palestine” with tealight candles just below the steps of the Opera House as police watched on.
Deafening shouts of “Allahu Akbar” rang out, while the speeches continued.
As the night went on, the atmosphere only intensified, with groups of men starting to throw flares and fire crackers into the crowd.
Along with what appeared to be plastic bottles, one threw a lit flare at police in front of the Opera House, with one officer rushing to attempt to put it out.
However, it would not be tamed, and the police officer enlisted the help of a colleague, who had to get a fire blanket to fully douse the flames.
Fiery red smoke began billowing from different pockets of people who had thrown flares or firecrackers, which audibly ignited fear among some and excitement from others.
While the majority of protesters were peaceful, a few began shouting anti-Semitic slurs and at one stage, a chant of “F*** The Jews” started amid a few groups.
Anger with the Australian government was evident, with a few protesters calling on Anthony Albanese to cut ties with Israel amid chants of “Shame, Shame, Albo” among the crowd.
The event was shared on the Palestine Action Group Sydney’s Facebook page earlier on Monday, and was declared an “emergency” protest.
According to the event online, over 252 people said they were attending – however thousands of people showed up.
“Israel has declared war on Palestine for the humiliation it suffered today when Palestinians tore down apartheid walls at a Gaza border, and began to enter ‘48 land that is rightfully theirs,” the event’s post read.
“This comes in the context of the deadliest year ever for Palestinians with Israel elected its most right-wing government.
“There were 3 Israeli attacks on Palestinians per day for the first 8 months of 2023. Israeli settlers only recently stormed Al Aqsa mosque.
“End Israeli apartheid, the occupation, the siege on Gaza. Free Palestine! We demand Australia cuts ties with Israel.”
The protest started two hours before the Opera House was set to be lit up with the colours of the Israeli flag in solidarity with Jewish communities across NSW.
The rally came after Israel declared a state of war against Palestinian militant group Hamas, which launched a surprise attack on Saturday, with the death toll rising to more than 1100.
A statement issued by the NSW Police before the rally confirmed officers would “have a presence at the protest” and would “work with protesters to ensure there are no breaches of the peace and there is minimal impact to the community”.
“The NSW Police Force is aware of upcoming planned protest activity at Sydney Town Hall today (Monday, October 9, 2023) and will monitor the situation accordingly,” the statement read.
“The NSW Police Force recognises and supports the rights of individuals and groups to exercise their rights of free speech and peaceful assembly; however, the first priority for NSW Police is always the safety of the wider community.”
On Sunday night, the Sydney suburb of Lakemba, along with surrounding neighbourhoods, broke out in wild scenes as hundreds of Palestinian supporters gathered outside the train station to celebrate the terror attacks on Israel.
Sections of Australia’s Islamic community celebrated the attack, sparking condemnation from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong.
At the pro-Palestine rally in Lakemba, the crowd was reportedly heard chanting “Palestine will be free” and “Allahu Akbar”.
Women and children were also seen holding signs and flags.
In his speech, Sheikh Ibrahim Dadoun lauded the Hamas fighters.
“My brothers, My sisters, I’m smiling, I’m smiling, and I’m happy, I’m elated,” he said.
“It’s a day of courage, it’s a day of happiness, it’s a day of pride, it’s a day of victory.
“This is the day we’ve been waiting for … 75 years … 75 years of occupation.
“What yesterday happened was the first time our brothers and sisters broke through the largest prison alive.”
Footage of fireworks and flags also emerged from nearby the gathering and surrounding suburbs.
One video filmed in Greenacre showed a person hanging out the window of a ute, draped in a Palestinian flag, spraying the street with fireworks.
The Australian Jewish Association labelled the celebrations “disgusting, obscene and extremely concerning” and pleaded for political and media condemnation.
On Sunday, sections of Australia’s Muslim community condemned the Australian government’s stance on the conflict.
The Lebanese Muslim Association, based in Lakemba, issued a statement on Sunday afternoon stating it felt “blindsided” by Mr Albanese, who on Friday visited the Lakemba Mosque regarding the Voice to parliament, a day before the fighting began in Israel and Gaza.