As Palestine bleeds, Sydney Opera House drapes itself in the colours of apartheid

Oct 11, 2023
Participants of a Free Palestine rally react outside the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Monday, October 9, 2023. Israel has pounded the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, killing hundreds of people in retaliation for one of the bloodiest attacks in its history when Islamist group Hamas killed 700 Israelis and abducted dozens more. Image: AAP/Dean Lewins

“We are fighting human animals and are acting accordingly.” – Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

On October 7, the special day being Simchat Torah, the vaunted security barriers protecting the State of Israel from those troublesome, sovereignty yearning Palestinians were spectacularly breached. From sea, air and land, Hamas executed a daring operation that saw, within hours, attacks being mounted within Israel proper. Hundreds of Israelis were killed. Dozens were taken hostage, some even transferred back to Gaza. In retaliation, the Israeli Defence Forces have killed hundreds of Palestinians in kind, huddled in the incarcerated, dense confines of Gaza itself, with a promise to do more.

In commemoration of the Israeli fallen, a number of cities in Western countries mourned through projecting the colours of the Israeli flag upon various monuments and edifices. The Berlaymont, the headquarters of the European Commission’s building in Brussels, was bathed in blue and white. New York Governor Kathy Hochul ordered that such landmarks as the One World Trade Centre, the Moynihan Train Hall and the Empire State Building receive the nocturnal blue-white showering of light. “New York stands with Israel – today and every day,” Hochul reiterated with mighty righteousness.

Australia proved to be no exception. Melbourne’s Flinders Street, the Old Treasury Building and the National Gallery of Victoria received the same illumination touch-up, as did Brisbane’s Story Bridge and South Australia’s Parliament House and Adelaide Oval.

In Sydney, New South Wales Premier Chris Minns announced on October 8 that the sails of the country’s most internationally recognised edifice – the Sydney Opera House – would be lit “in solidarity with the Jewish Communities across New South Wales.”

With the projection of the Israeli flag covering the Opera House, Palestinian activists did not take too kindly to this overt statement of preference. The Israeli flag hardly screams of noble victimhood. Given that no complementary, or parallel commemoration had been organised to recognise the victims in Gaza or even the plight of those suffering under Israeli occupation and oppression in general, this proved stomach-turningly rich.

A rally was duly organised, starting with speakers addressing a crowd at Town Hall, before venturing towards the Opera House. But a slew of political voices thought that the rally was ill-conceived. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, for one, expressed the view that “people need to really take a step back,” a point that would have struck some of the Palestinians as curious given that they have been told, and forced to take a step back for decades.

It soon became clear that the very idea of protest in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks – especially by those barracking for the Palestinian cause – would not be tolerated. Even as the Opera House was bathed in the exclusive, and exclusionary colours of blue and white, those taking issue with such preferential politics were to be condemned as daft, unhinged, and antisemitic.

Allegra Spender, the independent federal MP for the Sydney seat of Wentworth, proved one of the noisiest judges, calling the protests outside the Opera Hall “abhorrent. At a time when there should be solidarity with our Jewish community, they have been subject to appalling abuse.” She went on to demand “an urgent explanation of how this was allowed to happen.”

In a separate statement Spender excoriated the attacks on Israel as disconnected, illegitimate acts of outrage against Israeli policies: “People should not let sympathy for the Palestinian’s legitimate aspirations for statehood blind them to the fact that Hamas remains dedicated to a Palestinian state where Israel does not exist.” It should also be pointed out to Spender that Palestine’s existence has essentially ceased to be of relevance to prosecuting Israeli policy.

Allegra’s predecessor in the seat of Wentworth, Dave Sharma, did little better on ABC News Breakfast’s October 10 program, suggesting that those irritatingly inconsiderate protestors taking issue with the Opera House-Blue White schema should never have been permitted to march in the first place. Any decent sort of protester (read: silent, tolerant, accepting Palestinian) should have picked another day, if at all.

For his part, Minns managed to cover all the bases: show solidarity with Israel by permitting the illumination of the Opera House, though telling the Jewish community to mind itself should they turn up; permit pro-Palestinian activists to assemble lawfully; and, to complete the trifecta, take a generous swipe at those bothering to attend the rally. They were, according to the Premier’s office, “horrible” and did “not represent the people of NSW.”

As horrible as they were, not a single arrest took place. But that did not stop the Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten from babbling about the “un-Australian” nature of the gathering, presumably implying that it would have been far more Australian to either stay home and shut up, or actually be arrested. “The truth of the matter is that some of the anti-Israel rhetoric has always been a mask for antisemitism.”

Australia’s most renown political sadist and militarist, the current Federal Opposition leader Peter Dutton, was also one who was unlikely to miss out on the platitudinous scoldings. The Sydney Opera protest was “unimaginable in modern Australia”. To be fair, Dutton’s Australia is becoming an increasingly intolerant place for activists who find fault with power, be it against predatory fossil fuel industries, the AUKUS agreement, or undeclared nuclear powers habituated towards dispossession, segregation and collective punishment.

With such confetti of favouritism towards Israel strewn across the Australian political landscape, the wounded state began to exact its revenge. Gaza, already facing a sixteen-year blockade, was blockaded again, which can only prompt the following, grim question: What do you call a blockade of an enclave that is already blockaded? The answer, willingly offered by Israeli defence officials: “A siege.”

A siege entails cutting off water supplies (97% of the water in Gaza is already contaminated), food, fuel and access to electricity that was already in short, erratic supply. The real sentiment, and one that should bother the blue-white illuminators of the Sydney Opera House, was best captured by Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on a visit to the Israeli Air Force’s underground command centre. “We are fighting human animals and are acting accordingly.”

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