As the Israeli government announces an escalation of its military operations in Gaza, a new ecumenical group, Christians for Justice in Palestine, held a ‘die-in’ in Wellington’s Civic Square near the Rabin memorial this week .
Wellington priest, Gerard Burns, was widely criticised for his ‘symbolic’ gesture last week in smearing red, water-soluble paint mixed with some of his blood on the monument to former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Fr Burns told Tuesday’s gathering that the ‘die-in’ commemorated those who had died on both sides of the conflict which started with Israeli bombings of Gaza on December 27.
Protesters wore bandages stained with red dye to symbolise the wounded in the occupied territories and lay down on the pavement while beats on a bass drum represented the 884 deaths of innocent victims, the majority of them women and children. (The death toll has since climbed to more than 1,000, 40 percent of which are believed to be women and children. UNCROC, of which Israel is a signatory, has criticised the direct targetting of sites such as schools and hospitals where there are likely to be a substantial number of children.)
The demonstration began with a short time of silence at the Yitzhak Rabin memorial recalling the 60 years of dispossession and suffering of the Palestinian people. The group then moved to Civic Square.
After speeches and the ‘die-in’ a petition was signed and carried with the bandages to Parliament.
The petition calls on the New Zealand Government to cut ties with the Canberra-based Israeli Embassy, to prevent exports of electronic equipment that could be used to support military attacks and to increase aid and support for the Palestinian people suffering under occupation.
Meanwhile, Fr Burns has apologised to anyone who felt that his action was anti-Jewish. In a statement published in the New Zealand Herald’s weekend edition he said that as a Christian he was formed by the ethical tradition of the Hebrew scriptures.
‘My gesture was aimed at the actions of the State of Israel, a political entity. No state can be beyond criticism in terms of human rights and international law. Perhaps I was imprudent but Israel is militarily powerful.’
Yitzhak Rabin was hailed for his part in the Oslo Accords imortalised in the famous handshake with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 1993 on the White House lawn. But Fr Burns says during the 1948 war, Rabin took part in the expulsion of Palestinians from Lydda and Ramleh.
‘In 1967 he led the Israeli forces in occupying the Palestinian territories. In 1987 he ordered the “broken bones” policy for Palestinian prisoners.’
He says the Rabin memorial also commemorates the Jewish National Fund, dedicated to obtaining land in Palestine for Jewish settlement. After 1948, the JNF took over land from which Palestinian families had been expelled and leased it to Jewish settlers.
‘The expansion of these settlements and the settler-only roads connecting them are major hindrances to a future viable Palestinian state.’
Fr Burns quoted Anglican Bishop Richard Randerson who said in a January 6 statement on the Gaza situation, ‘with greater power comes greater responsibility’.
‘In this case Israel has by far the greater power,’ Fr Burns said.
Images: Top: Demonstrators in a depiction of deaths in the West Bank and Gaza. As they lay ‘wounded’ or dying drum beats counted the number of deaths on both sides of the conflict – 884.
Centre: a pile of bandages and a petition that were taken to Parliament to illustrate calls for the New Zealand Government to withdraw its support for Israel.
Above: waiting to sign the petition after the ‘die-in