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January 26, 2022

Ghosts of Gaza haunt Byron forum

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Phil Monsour at the Gaza Forum and fundraiser, Byron Theatre.
Phil Monsour at the Gaza Forum and fundraiser, Byron Theatre.

Story and photos Harsha Prabhu

Ghosts were in the air at the forum and fundraiser for Gaza at the Byron Community Centre (BCC) Theatre on Sunday: the ghosts of the more than 700,000 Palestinians evicted from their lands in the ‘nakba’ (catastrophe) that befell them at the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

The ghosts hung as wraiths in the images flashed on the screen at the BCC theatre, images of a people and a time that the dominant paradigm that is Zionist Israel, backed by their patrons in the capitalist First World, would have us forget.

The ghosts spoke through the din of the bombardment of Gaza and the screams of the dying and wounded; whistled through the bombed-out shells of schools, hospitals and homes; cut through the spiderweb of Israeli hasbara (propaganda).

The ghosts were not just Palestinian Muslims. The ghosts spoke through the testimony of Bassam Shomali, a Palestinian Christian and Tyagarah local.

He shared with us a photo of his great-great-great-grandparents from 1865, showing a family working and taking their ease in the shepherd fields of Beit Sahour, very close to Beit Lahaim (Bethlehem), where Bassam was born. The Shomalis migrated to this land around 600 AD. This land is now occupied by Jewish settlers and Bassam is barred from going back.

Bassam spoke about what had happened to members of his family: his mother and brother were shot at by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF); one cousin had taken a bullet through the mouth; another, who happens to be a lawyer for UNICEF, a bullet through the abdomen that had his intestines hanging out of his back; another cousin was incarcerated a year in jail in a one-square-metre cell and had a skewer inserted into his genitals. And the IDF shot and killed his family dogs and destroyed his ancestral olive groves.

Bassam said: ‘It’s not just Palestinian Muslims, it’s not just Christians, even Arab Jews are treated as third class citizens’.

Bassam Shomali's Palestinian Christian great-great-great-grandparents, Beit Sahour, Palestine, 1865.
Bassam Shomali’s Palestinian Christian great-great-great-grandparents, Beit Sahour, Palestine, 1865.

Nick Sayers, a local Christian activist said: ‘I used to be a supporter of Israel. I am unlearning a lot. The Church has been infiltrated by neo-conservatism. But we can all agree that Gaza is a war crime. Jesus said to love your enemy. This is so totally against Jesus’ teachings.’ Nick said he was against genocide wherever it happened, be it in West Papua or in Israel-Palestine.

Rihab Charida, artist and daughter of Palestinian refugees said: ‘My family was from Galilee and were moved to a refugee camp in South Lebanon. Zionism disrespects the history of Palestine, which is older than the history of Judaism.’

Rihab said Zionism had used the history of Jewish persecution for its own political ends. She said: ‘Jewish people have been stripped of something too by Zionism’s racist reading of their rich history. Jews are also targets of Zionism.’

She said: ‘With every new Israeli atrocity it becomes clear, Israel’s existence is based on the dispossession of Palestinians.’

Talking about the Boycott Disinvestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement Rihab said: ‘Boycotts become necessary when world governments fail to resolve the crisis. Not only does Israel tick all the criteria of an apartheid state, but  Israel also plays a greater role in geopolitics than South Africa did, so the road to change is going to be a long one. But the tide has turned.’ Rihab mentioned an Israeli ship that had been prevented from unloading in Oakland, California in recent days.

Local activist Duncan Shipley-Smith added: ‘South Africans say discrimination in Israel is worse than it was under apartheid South Africa. There needs to be an economic, academic, cultural and sporting boycott. We need to say to Israel: we won’t do business with you unless you comply with international human rights standards. We need to make Israeli apartheid non-profitable.’

Addressing recent media coverage on Gaza, publisher and media analyst David Lovelight said. ‘There is no doubt whatsoever that our national broadcaster, the ABC, has increasingly filed reports from a pro-Israel stance. On many shows the guests are employees of the Lowy Institute.’

He said the Lowy Institute was a right-wing think tank whose founder, Frank Lowy, had been a member of the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organisation and also fought with the Golani Brigade in the Arab-Israel war in 1948. The Westfield Group co-founder, ranked as the fourth-richest Australian by BRW magazine, was also a dual Australian-Israeli citizen.

Gi Linda, former BBC reporter and documentary filmmaker and organiser of the fundraiser, said: ‘Australia is a signatory to the laws on genocide. We call upon the Australian government to hold Zionist Israel accountable.’

As Phil Monsour began to sing ‘The Ghosts of Deir Yassin’, faces and images flashed across the screen, some with writing on their hands showing the names of  villages that people were ethnically cleansed from in 1948.

Deir Yassin cast a long shadow. Buried in the archives of the New York Times your correspondent found this letter, signed by Albert Einstein and a battery of individuals representing the the cream of Jewish intellectuals of that age, including Hannah Arendt and Sidney Hook and Rabbi Jessurun Cardozo, a minister in the oldest synagogue in the US.

It mentions Deir Yassin: ‘On April 9… terrorist bands attacked this peaceful village, which was not a military objective in the fighting, killed most of its inhabitants (240 men, women and children) and kept a few of them alive to parade as captives through the streets of Jerusalem.’

Interestingly, the letter also goes on to talk of the reign of terror instituted by Jewish right-wing militias against the Palestinian Jewish community as well. ‘Teachers were beaten up for speaking against them, adults were shot for not letting their children join them. By gangster methods, beatings, window-smashing, and wide-spread robberies, the terrorists intimidated the population and exacted a heavy tribute.’

The letter was in response to the visit of Menachem Begin to the US in 1948. Clearly, thinking Jews saw the threat of Zionist fascism, including ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, right from the start.

Begin, a member of the Zionist terrorist group Irgun that was involved in the Deir Yassin massacre and the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, and was the founder of Likud, who later became PM of Israel, is current Israeli PM Netanyahu’s mentor. Zionism’s racist origins still haunt us in Gaza, and in Israel, today.

Other speakers at the forum spoke of Israeli’s pivotal role in the military industrial complex and how, from the streets of Ferguson in the US to Gaza in Israel-Palestine, the people were challenging the same racist and brutal Goliath.

Then came the time to exorcise the demons of divisiveness and Phil Monsour launched into the Warumpi Band anthem ‘Black Fella, White Fella’ and the audience responded with  ‘stand up, stand up and be counted.’

And Willy McIlroy, the wildest member of local band Wild Zinnias, reminded us: ‘I didn’t think the Irish would resolve things but they did!’ He ended his set with a shout: ‘Free Gaza!’

MC Frank Khouri wrapped up the night saying: ‘It’s about oil, gas and geopolitical power. All the religious stuff is a series of distractions. Read the signs. I think you will find we are all Palestinians now.’

It was Duncan Shipley-Smith who drew our attention to Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s recent eloquent plea to Israelis: ‘Nelson Mandela famously said that South Africans would not feel free until Palestinians were free. He might have added that the liberation of Palestine will liberate Israel, too.’

The Gaza fundraiser and forum was an initiative of Byron Forums, with support from Byron Community Centre, Cafe Oska and Byron Friends of Palestine. All proceeds from the night went to ANERA (American Near East Relief Agency) to help Gaza children. More at: www.anera.org

Albert Einstein’s 1948 letter to the NYT:


Desmond Tutu’s appeal to Israelis:



Willy McIlroy from the Wild Zinnias at the Gaza Forum and fundraiser.
Willy McIlroy from the Wild Zinnias at the Gaza Forum and fundraiser.


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  1. Congratulations to everyone who helped organise this fundraising for the children of Gaza. We were in Paris for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Paris and saw exhibitions of the French Resistance fighting the Nazi occupiers and their Vichy government fellow teavellers. They killed German soldiers, blew up bridges and derailed trains; they are hailed as heroes and many were awarded the Legion d’Honneur. When will we celebrate the liberation of Palestine and recognise as heroes those who fight the Israeli colonisers? When will we oust Australia’s version of the collaborationist Vichy government?


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