From the Museum Lawn to the Octagon “Palestine Will Be Free!”

From the Museum Lawn to the Octagon “Palestine Will Be Free!”

Disclaimer: The writer of this piece has attended Dunedin Justice for Palestine rallies in a protesting capacity.
Content warning: This piece includes discussion of violence and mass death. 

The world has watched in horror since October 7th last year as death, destruction, and devastation unfolds in and around the Gaza Strip. Locally, the ongoing tragedy has sparked weekly protests from Dunedin Justice for Palestine, marching from the Otago Museum Lawn to the Octagon in solidarity with the thousands of innocent civilians suffering under the onslaught of violence. 

With what has often been described as a “long, complicated history” sparking heated debate around the globe and within student flats, Critic Te Ārohi explores the perspectives of these local protestors and those who support them — Dunedin Palestinian activist Rinad Tamimi; John Minto, Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa (PSNA); Dr Leon Goldsmith, a Middle East geopolitical expert; and Jewish student activist and ally Zak Rudin — on one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time. 

Walk anywhere around campus and you’ll eventually find ‘Free Palestine’ and ‘End the Genocide’ chalked on the ground or plastered on posters. And if you’re at Central Library at 2pm on a Saturday, across the road you’ll see over a hundred people gathering on the museum lawn adorned in keffiyeh and watermelon iconography carrying signs. Among them are marshalls in Hi-Vis and police in uniform, preparing to facilitate protestors taking Dunedin’s streets by storm. 

The first few minutes are silent, mourning those killed in Palestine, but when the protesters’ chants begin they draw attention from everyone in the vicinity. Cars are stopped by police, shopkeepers emerge at their store entrances to watch, students peer from their flat balconies, pedestrians hold up phone cameras to film and, on occasion, a heckler will yell. 

The chants call for a ceasefire (“Hey, Luxon are you listening? Ceasefire now!”), expulsion of the Israeli ambassador (“Tahi rua toru whā, expel the ambassador!”), the boycotting of McDonalds and Starbucks (“When I say Maccas, you say boycott!”), condemnation of the Israeli Government’s mass killing of Palestinian civilians (“Netanyahu, you can’t hide, you're committing genocide!”) and freedom from military occupation (“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”). 

The protests lead towards the Octagon, where local Palestinians and rally organisers give speeches, mourning the loss of life while keeping spirits uplifted in hopes a ceasefire will be called and Palestinian self-determination will one day become realised.   

Why are people protesting? 

To provide a full historical context for the protests is beyond this piece’s limited local scope, authority, and editorial capacity. But it’s impossible to divorce the protest movement from its history. As Poet Claudia Rankine once wrote: “You can't put the past behind you. It's buried in you; it's turned your flesh into its own cupboard.” 

Dunedin Justice for Palestine’s weekly protests began after the Hamas attack on Southern Israel on October 7th 2023, which saw at least a thousand Israeli civilians murdered and 240 hostages kidnapped. Since then, the Israel Defence Force’s (IDF) retaliation has resulted in 31,704 Palestinian civilians confirmed dead (as reported by Al Jazeera’s live tracker as of the time of writing), more than 10,000 of whom were children. As their chants suggest, protestors believe Israel’s right-wing religious government, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, is committing genocide in the Gaza Strip. 

The Israeli Government claims it is acting in self-defence against Hamas (the militant group which governs the Gaza strip) and has rejected South Africa’s 84-page proceedings against them in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as “distorted,” stating civilian harm is “unintentional but lawful.” However, the ICJ has ruled it is “plausible” Israel has committed acts that violate the Genocide Convention and will issue an official decision at a later date. 

Undeniably, the Palestinian struggle goes beyond the current war. As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack, it “did not happen in a vacuum.” Interviewees in this piece condemn the Hamas massacre, but consider it a devastating drop in an ocean of 76 years of violence and oppression. From their perspective, to blame Palestinians' situation on Hamas (or Netanyahu) alone is to miss the forest for the trees.

The crux of the Palestinian struggle began in 1948 — 58 years before Hamas came to power in 2006. For Zionists (supporters of the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine), 1948 is a cause for celebration as the year Israel was declared a state; observed by the national holiday Yom Ha'atzmaut. For Palestinians, 1948 is al-Nakba (“the catastrophe”) when over 700,000 Palestinians fled from their homeland or were expelled by Zionist militia. 

But the Nakba is not just a one-off historical event. More broadly, the term describes the ongoing “violent displacement and dispossession” of Palestinans and the “destruction of their society, culture, identity, political rights, and national aspirations.” According to Palestinians, the Nakba has never ended and everything happening today is a reflection of this. 

Those who remain in what’s left of Palestine bear the brunt of the region’s history, living as refugees under IDF military occupation and now, in the eyes of protestors, as victims of an ongoing genocide.  

Rinad Tamimi’s Generational Struggle 

Former Otago University student Rinad Tamimi is the main spokesperson and central organiser for Dunedin Justice for Palestine. She organises the weekly Saturday rallies with her mother Mai Tamimi and friend Rula Abu-Safieh, as well as local Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa (PSNA) members Brandon Johnstone and Andrew Tait.

Rinad grew up in Hebron, south of the occupied West Bank, before emigrating to Dunedin in 2008 when her mum received a scholarship from Otago University. “I was a little 13-year-old not knowing anything,” says Rinad. “We didn’t even know where New Zealand was on the map. We could see Australia, but not New Zealand.” Fifteen years later, Rinad “definitely counts here as home.”

After high school, she studied a degree in Information Science and Marketing at Otago Uni herself. At Uni, she was also the media relations officer of MUSA (Muslim University Students Association). Rinad sings the praises of her home country, explaining she’d rather be “showing off the beauty of Palestinian culture,” or be able to talk to her grandmother who still resides in Palestine “about what she cooked for lunch that day.” Instead, for a large portion of her life, Rinad has been a local spokesperson for her people’s struggle. 

As a first-year “knowing hardly any English,” Rinad was quoted by Critic Te Ārohi in the 2014 article ‘The Latest Assault on Palestine (A Primer)’ explaining that her parents were recently “forced from their home at gunpoint at night in search of [...] victims that the Israeli government knew to be dead.” 

The ten-year-old Critic article was authored by Otago Media Studies lecturer Olivier Jutel, who defended his support for Palestine against accusations he was a “self-hating Jew.” These accusations came after he spoke about Palestine on his Radio One Show. Jutel wrote that since 1967, the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, recognised by the United Nations (UN) as Palestinian territories that should be an independent state, have instead been occupied by Israel. He also wrote that in order to protect Israeli settlements (considered illegal by the UN under international law), “Palestinians are subjected to apartheid-like conditions with Kafkaesque regulations, roadblocks, checkpoints, separation walls, arbitrary mass arrests, daily humiliations, and the expropriation of vital water resources.” 

While Rinad’s parents have since left Palestine and now reside in Ōtepoti Dunedin, history continues to repeat itself. Rinad tells Critic Te Ārohi her grandparents’ neighbourhood had recently been invaded by the IDF, who knocked on their door at night to ask if they were hiding anyone. 

For many in Dunedin, it’s hard to comprehend the gravity of the situation happening over 16 thousand kilometres away. Rinad remembers the backlash protesters received from shoppers around the Christmas and New Year period who complained the rally was blocking their ability to cross George Street. “Town was obviously busy and people wanted to get past [us]. It's like, ‘Well sorry we're stopping your shopping while people are actually hanging on by a thread to survive in the Middle East.” 

Rinad adds she sometimes believes the public are “already bored of what's happening [...] I can already see the faces of people in the streets when they see us every week, but I don't think they understand the gravity of all this. I don't think they're exposed to what me and my family see, or the trauma that's behind it all. They think we're doing the rallies because we love to go around the streets and make some noise [...] If we don't make noise, we don't feel like we're doing anything for our own people.”

The Springbok Tour of Our Time? 

For the past month, Critic Te Ārohi has been running a poll inviting tertiary students in Dunedin to share their opinions, advertised in the last three issues of Critic and numerous times on social media. Of the 644 self-selected respondents who opted to complete the poll, 71% considered themselves ‘Pro-Palestine’ as opposed to ‘neutral’ (15.7%) ‘Pro-Israel’ (7.8%) or ‘unsure’(5.3%). However, this doesn’t mean argument isn’t rife, as the numerous letters of complaint to OUSA in the last week in response to our coverage would suggest. One anonymous respondent to the Critic’s poll lamented: “It's either ‘you're a raging anti-semite’ or ‘you support genocide.’ What if I just don't understand?” 

Such accusations were made clear in a heated fight within fifth year Freya’s* whānau. Following the argument, her father brought home a Palestinian flag and mounted it to the side of their fence in a statement to family members driving past. A few days later, a mysterious pamphlet showed up in their mailbox.“There is no Apartheid in Israel,” one sentence reads. “None! Zilch! Nada!” 

Certain subjects tend to be off the table when meeting the parents. But when second-year Russell* mentioned the boycotts to his girlfriend’s family over dinner, “her old man” tutted disapprovingly, saying, “The media is all a crock. The Israelis aren't doing anything wrong. They’re defending their homeland. Look at the Bible, they’re called the Israelites.” After Russell challenged this logic in defence of Palestinians, he was called “antisemitic” and “a leftist”. Predictably, the two began yelling at each other. “I thought he was gonna punch me or something,” Russell recalls. 

Given the lattice of complex geopolitics and emotionally weighted nature of the violence unfolding in the Middle East, some prefer to remain “neutral” on the matter, including third-year Elijah*. “My girl and I got onto the subject while driving home in the car. You see, I’m hesitant to align myself with any solidarity movement, and she was militantly against that. She’s really invested in the Palestinian cause and wouldn’t listen to me and my explanations. She had this rigid belief in her moral high ground. It drove me insane.” As the argument escalated during the couple’s drive home, he admits, “I almost dumped her off by the side of the road.” 

It’s been suggested by many to Critic that the heated arguments between families, lovers, friends, and flatmates is perhaps reminiscent of the intense polarisation of opinion in Aotearoa over the 1981 Springbok tour. Across the motu, New Zealanders were divided against each other upon the arrival of the national rugby team of South Africa — then an apartheid state (a term describing policies or systems of segregation or discrimination on the grounds of race). 

Above all others, political activist John Minto has experience navigating disputes here in New Zealand regarding foreign apartheid, having famously led the Springbok tour protests 43 years ago. Minto tells Critic Te Ārohi he first got involved with the issue while studying, joining Halt All Racist Tours (HART) which was founded by students at the University of Auckland. 

“There was a big debate then about whether the 1973 Springbok team should come to New Zealand,” says Minto. “I sort of got interested because I thought it was an issue where New Zealand could [...] punch well above its weight.” At the time, New Zealand had the most important sporting contact with South Africa out of any other country in the world. “HART thought that if we can pressure those rugby links, we will be able to make a very big impression on apartheid in South Africa, more so than many other countries were able to. It was one issue where I thought [Kiwis] could make a big difference.”

Minto recalls that university students were a “really important” part of the anti-apartheid movement. “They were some of our greatest activists. Doing all sorts of things over that period of time. Lots of civil disruption, civil disobedience, interrupting rugby games. Students were [involved] the whole way through.” 

Of course, not all New Zealanders agreed with what HART was doing, resulting in one of the biggest civil disturbances in New Zealand’s modern history. Minto explains those who disagreed would often use the slogan “Keep politics out of sport” saying “‘We should just play rugby. Forget about this politics. Rugby's got nothing to do with an apartheid system.' Of course, they would say that as a way of not having to think about the issue. People would just throw it away as a one-liner, which meant 'that's the end of the 
discussion. I don't have to think about it anymore.’” 

The Springbok captain at the time, Wynand Claassen, didn't initially think much of the protests at all. Minto says that Claassen, an Afrikaner, passively supported his country’s ideology then. “He’s an intelligent person, he’s got a university degree. [But] he would've said, 'Oh, [apartheid] looks pretty ugly and it's not very good, but it's the best we can do' kind of thing. That lazy racism,” says Minto. 

When they arrived in New Zealand, the Springbok team apparently assumed “just a bunch of long haired hippies were [going to be] protesting against them.” Instead, the team got the shock of their life during their Hamilton game. As a security measure in anticipation of protestors, a barbed wire fence was put in place around the field. The Springboks were in their changing rooms when they “heard this boom, boom, booming sound coming from outside.” Claassen, confused, stood on a chair and looked out from the top window, only to see hundreds of anti-apartheid supporters pushing huge cattle wagons into the fence to destroy it, as police tried to barricade and arrest them.“There were old people, young people, there were students, there were Māori, there were Pākehā. He was absolutely shocked.” 

Thirty years later, Claassen told Minto that was the moment he knew things needed to change in South Africa. “He now looks back, and I think he […] realises that what he was thinking at the time was wrong. What was happening was wrong. They should have seen it earlier. They should have done more.”

The 1981 protests led by Minto not only had a big impact on white South Africans, but Nelson Mandela himself. Minto met Mandela in 1995, and although the two didn’t get much of a chance to sit down and speak, he remembers a powerful anecdote Mandela shared demonstrating the importance of “international solidarity at its finest.”

Mandela had been imprisoned on Robben Island for 19 years by the time the Springboks arrived in New Zealand. One night, the prison guards got up in the middle of the night and turned on their televisions to watch the first ever international rugby game televised live in South Africa. “White South Africans right across the country got up in the middle of the night to watch this [Waikato match]” recalls Minto. But the guards didn’t see the game. Instead, they saw hundreds of protestors charging the field. The prisoners very quickly realised the game on the guards’ TVs had been stopped by an anti-apartheid protest in New Zealand, on the other side of the world.

“[Mandela] said the prisoners were absolutely elated. They grabbed the bars on their cell doors and they rattled them around the prison. He said it was like the sun came out.”

Minto, now the Chair of PSNA, draws parallels between the plight of Black South Africans and Palestinians. As a young teenager, Minto remembers supporting the Israeli Government, a position he looks back on with vehement disapproval. “I remember it was the Six-Day War when Israel attacked. I would've been 14 then. I was a supporter of Israel just because everyone was.”

Minto says that it wasn’t until going to university and interacting with both Palestinians and anti-Zionist Jews that he “rapidly saw that, hell, all my thinking that I grew up with was wrong. This was an issue of basic human rights [where] we should all be on the side of [Palestinians], just as we were on the side of [Black] South Africa.”

South Africa never denied being an apartheid state, but Israel has adamantly rejected this characterisation on the basis that its Arab minority enjoys full civil rights. While the Israeli Government position is that IDF presence is necessary in Gaza to “prevent terrorism”, and maintains the West Bank is disputed territory, Amnesty International has labelled Israel’s treatment of Palestinians apartheid. The human rights organisation’s 2022 report states that Israel perpetuates “laws, policies and practices” which are “intended to privilege Jewish Israelis,” while “maintain[ing] a cruel system of control over Palestinians [...] [who] are treated as an inferior racial group and systematically deprived of their rights.” 

As with “Keep politics out of sport” during the ‘81 Springbok Tour, Minto thinks that “it’s a long and complicated history” is used to shut down discussion on the ethics and legality of the Israeli Government’s actions. “[They] say, 'Oh, it's very complicated. No one should say anything until they've studied the history.’” But just as South Africa’s own history was arguably “long and complicated”, Minto alleges the crux of what’s happening in Palestine is “absolutely simple.” In his view, “It's genocide based on race, hatred based on [...] forcing the indigenous people off their land.” These are both claims that Israel has refuted.  

It’s Minto’s belief that, in the same way the HART efforts have aged well, to stand in solidarity with Palestinians is to be “on the right side of history.” He hopes the protests and PSNA’s other efforts will have a positive impact on Israelis, Palestinians, and New Zealanders alike. 

“Right from day one, we condemn the killing of Israeli civilians just as we condemn the killing of Palestinian civilians. These are war crimes under the fourth Geneva Convention and we absolutely condemn them, but that is not an excuse for Israel doing what it's doing. It is not an excuse for any of us to ignore the 76 years of brutal oppression which led up to it.”

Pro-Palestine: A Jewish Perspective 

Fourth-year law student Zak is one student who attends the local protests, having gone to “pretty much every rally” since October 7th. But unlike many other students who attend, Zak is Jewish.

Israel was born out of the Zionist movement, which sought to establish an ethnic Jewish state as a homeland and refuge for the global Jewish community after thousands of years of violent persecution and anti-semitism. Zak believes it is “really important” to make a distinction between identifying as ‘Jewish’ and ‘Zionist’. “[There’s] this sort of narrative that conflates Judaism with Israelism, which makes it really difficult to talk about this sort of thing [...] because usually if you say you're Jewish the automatic assumption is you support Israel, which for a lot of Jews is not the case at all.” 

‘The Law of Return,’ passed by the Israeli Parliament in 1950, gives individuals with at least one Jewish grandparent around the world the right to relocate to Israel and acquire citizenship on the basis of connecting to their Jewish identity. However, Israel has been accused of ongoing colonialism through forcibly evicting Palestinians from their homes in the occupied territories in order to accommodate these new settlers (a practice UN experts have denounced as a “gross violation” of international law). Zak explains he doesn’t believe that “by virtue of being Jewish” he should be able to “[go] there, buy a house and have full rights as a citizen” while “a Palestinian [who was] forced to relocate effectively has no rights and is treated as a [second] class citizen.”

Zak is confident in his support of the Palestinian people, but admits criticism can become personal when family is involved. “When I posted [about the protests] on social media, I got some responses from close and distant family about it.” One of them was a cousin in New York, who told Zak, “You can't say these things. That's anti-semitic.” Zak says he engaged for a while in the attempt to understand his cousin’s point of view, but the conversation ended up not being useful for either of them. “He ended up pretty much completely disowning me,” Zak explains. “He was like ‘I don’t ever wanna be in the same space or room as you ever again. You’ve brought shame on our family,’ and obviously ‘the state of Israel’ for what it's worth.” 

Zak believes the way some Zionists speak about anti-semitism is more about protecting the Israeli Government than Jewish people. “A lot of Jews do make quite a clear distinction between anti-semitism and anti-Zionism […] They're often conflated as the same thing, which is entirely untrue,” Zak says. “It’s really harmful for the movement because it distracts from the real issue of Palestinian [people’s] suffering and de-legitimises a lot of valid critiques of the state of Israel. People can say ‘that's anti-semitic,’ and suddenly you're having to defend yourself on that point, when it’s not even close to that.”

The protest chant “from the river to the sea,” has garnered criticism from Zionists, who claim the phrase (which features in Hamas’ charter) is an “anti-semitic” call for the destruction of Israel. Zak refutes this, saying that the protestor’s use of the phrase simply means “freedom for all living in the region, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, including Palestinians and Jews. Saying it’s anti-semitic is missing the point entirely.”

Despite Zak’s strong convictions, he admits generational trauma can make what’s happening in Gaza right now a tricky subject, explaining he’s had some “tough conversations” with his parents who, in light of what’s going on, have come to agree with Zak’s opinion that what’s going on is a genocide. “It’s history repeating itself on a twisted level,” he says. 

While Zak believes Palestinians have been victims of ethnic cleansing for over 70 years (a position held by academics such as Israeli historian Ilan Pappé), he believes October 7th has moved “a slow genocide” into “a fast one.” “I have a really strong moral and political objection to the idea of using [the Holocaust] as justification [...] It doesn’t take away from the fact that, of course, the Holocaust was a huge atrocity. [But] you hear these words ‘never again.’ Well, for those words to actually mean something, we wouldn’t be having this atrocity [in Gaza] in the first place.”

The Jewish Council of New Zealand has expressed support for the state of Israel and rejects the notion that the Government’s actions amount to genocide and ethnic cleansing. In a radio interview, a Jewish Council spokesperson labelled the use of both terms as “anti-semitic,” arguing they are incorrect “as a matter of fact.” 

Although Zak feels saddened that, in his opinion, “a lot of Jews are effectively putting themselves on the wrong side of history,” October 7th has also caused him to reconnect with his Jewish identity. “Through grief and trauma people come together. I have been connecting with alternative Jewish voices.” 

Zak is now a member of the organisation Dayenu, a “large and rapidly growing” community of New Zealand Jews against occupation. Zak tells Critic Te Ārohi that he recently attended an inter-faith hui with local Palestinians. “The focus of the hui was whakawhanaungatanga (the process of establishing good relations) through sharing kai and making genuine personal connections across faith, culture, and ethnicity. The discussions and what's come out of that has been really positive. [It's been] a very, very small silver lining.” 

A Shared Humanity

Otago Politics lecturer Dr Leon Goldsmith is an expert in Middle Eastern affairs. While he does not personally align himself with any movement, Leon tells Critic Te Ārohi he believes it is a “great thing” students like Zak are beginning to protest in support of Palestinians. 

In Leon’s expert opinion, members of Netenyahu’s coalition are “undeniably racist” and have “genocidal intentions'' in both the West Bank and Gaza. However, Leon says it is important to hold other actors he believes are complicit in the oppression of Palestinians accountable – not limited to the Iranian, Syrian, Jordanian and Egyptian government, all parties to the Abraham Accords, the American evangelical right and the British colonial empire. 

While Leon could explain at length the ins and outs of every group’s interest (both historic and present) in the conflict, he emphasises their one commonality is having “nothing to do” with the interests of the Palestinian people caught between them. Leon tells Critic Te Ārohi that the story of Palestine is “in many ways, the ultimate tragedy.” 

At university we are taught to be dispassionate analysts of world events, which is especially true for academics like Leon. But after visiting Southern Israel last July, the human impact of his area of study became far more personal for him. 

Last year, Leon was invited to a conference at Tel Aviv University, admitting he was reluctant to attend. “I knew they were going to try and show a different side [to what I know],” he says, adding with laughter, “I don’t think they liked me very much by the end.” Although Leon says he met “many close-minded people,” he also met a “lot of open-minded people,” particularly at a kibbutz in Southern Israel, bordering the Gaza Strip. 

“It's not something I like to talk about much,” Leon says. “But I stayed for two weeks there [last July] to see their perspective.” To Leon’s surprise, many Israelis he encountered desired a one-state solution, which would see Palestinian and Israeli civilians living together, side by side under the same rights. 

Having lived in Arab society for ten years himself, Leon was surprised to learn how much of their culture was the same: “They make falafel, we make falafel; they eat hummus, we eat hummus.” From the food, the music, and hospitality, Leon says the two populations “belong together.” Although the Israelis he met lived in fear of Hamas rockets, Leon observed “they had some sort of respect for the Palestinian situation [...] They hate Netanyahu. They want to do something, but they don’t know what. They feel powerless.” 

One woman in particular, the lunch lady, reminded him of “an aunty” (an affectionate term in Arabic culture). “I was being a cheeky Kiwi, asking her how she made it so well, mentioning how good the lunch was,” says Leon. In turn, the lunch lady cooked an entire second round of food and sent it to his hut. She, along with other individuals Leon had met, were murdered three months later on October 7th by Hamas.

“It’s the definition of a tragedy. Unnecessary suffering,” says Leon of the attack and mass death that’s since followed. “How can humanity bring out the worst in itself like this? How do we end up doing this to ourselves? How does this all happen? It’s complicated and it's awful.”

“This stuff, it doesn’t leave you. It’s not like you go home and write an article for the NZ Herald and go about your life. It’s hard to describe what it does to you. [It] destroys your spirit.” 

Leon urges everyone to keep the humanity at stake at the forefront of discussion, and not to conflate civilians with the regimes of their governing powers. “These people are human beings. They just want to live life in peace.”

Rinad Tamimi echoes this sentiment, emphasising that as much as she cares about the lives of Palestinians, she also cares about the innocent Israeli civilians. “People think that we don't want the same peaceful life for everyone, but we do,” she says. “No matter what happened in the background, no matter who started what [...] People deserve to live, deserve to have basic rights.” 

It’s a strange tendency of the human psyche that the more overwhelming loss of human life becomes, the less it tends to be emotionally appreciated. As the saying goes, “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” But at the protests, organizers Rinad, Mai and Rula strive to put the human face of this “genocide” at the forefront. “We’ve always given the hint we’re a humanitarian rally,” says Rinad. “At this point I feel like, [I’m here] not because I'm Palestinian, but because I'm a human.”

In one heartfelt speech, Rinad drew attention to Hind Rajab, a five-year-old who begged for rescue as IDF tanks closed in on a car filled with her dead relatives. The phone call went viral around the world. Rinad asked the crowd to keep Hind, who at that point had been missing for twelve days, in their thoughts and prayers. Later that same day, Rinad received the news that Hind’s body had been found decomposing in the car. Nearby were the bodies of the medics who had attempted to rescue her. 

Teary-eyed, Rinad recalls that night with quiet emotion. “She was murdered by the IDF [...] I was really upset, still am. Especially because I spoke about her that day. I felt a connection [to her].” Rinad herself has a three year old girl, who runs around cheerily with the other kids at the rallies in sheltered bliss. “When I look at my daughter in her eyes, I swear this world is so unfair.” 

Rinad admits that it is hard living under the weight of “survivor’s guilt,” relaying the climbing death toll every weekend to the Dunedin community. But while the rallies are a place of collective mourning, it is also a platform for empowerment and hope. Rinad says “despite everything” she is hopeful this “genocide” is going to end. “Maybe not as soon as we would hope, but it will end and we will rebuild [and] we will keep rebuilding. Palestine is not going anywhere.”

Despite having fallen out with friends over differences in beliefs since October 7th, Rinad says she has “gained a new family” in local protestors. “At the end of the day, we're all hurting together. They've definitely helped us through this grief. I'm forever thankful. There's something different about people thinking the same as you do, about people supporting your own people. It's hard to explain, but it's just been so powerful and I'm forever grateful for the Dunedin community we've built.” 


Associate professor Marcelo Rodriguez Ferrere belongs to this community of protestors, telling Critic Te Ārohi his “mind was blown” at the most recent rally, where he found himself amongst 200 other Dunedin citizens. “That [was] the 20th rally — in Dunedin! It's getting a level of support that I don't think I've ever seen before. This consistency every weekend being out there, telling stories, making voices heard. It's a bit of a phenomenon that's quite unlike anything else. It hasn't happened in New Zealand [...] since the Springbok tour.” Ferrere believes students and local protestors, in conjunction with the wider movement, “[have] the power to make a change in a way other instances don’t.”

Of course, not everyone agrees. One student spoke to Critic Te Ārohi about his apathy towards the rallies. “I don't wanna be part of that movement [of] people who are interested in an issue because it's popular and then forget it at the next global incident.” He dismissed the local protests as the latest trend to “add in their Instagram bios [...] the government is not going to listen.” 

But Rinad’s mother, Mai Tamimi, who says she gets three hours of sleep at best each night due to distress over the death and destruction back home, shared the following anecdote to a crowd of supporters as “the only thing” that keeps her going:

During the Vietnam War, a man stood outside the White House for years every night holding a single candle in solitary protest. On a very rainy night, the man, a lifelong pacifist, was approached by a reporter who asked him, “Do you really think you are going to change the policies of this country by standing out here alone at night in front of the White House with a candle?" The man replied softly: 

“I don't do this to change the country. I do this so the country won't change me.” 


Notice from Dunedin for Justice in Palestine: The protests have paused during the month of Ramadan and will resume Saturday 13th April at 2pm. To keep up with the events of the organisation follow the group on Facebook ‘Dunedin For Justice in Palestine,’ Instagram @dunedinforpalestine, and tune into Rinad’s radio show The Watermelon Report Thursdays 8:30pm on OAR FM.

Notice from Dr Leon Goldsmith: My trusted Palestinian friend Dr Hani Al Basoos’ parents, remaining brothers and their families are stuck in two tents in Gaza in a very exposed situation. It is beyond Hani’s capacity to fund the evacuation of his family. If you want to take concrete action, helping this family would be something tangible and real. Even donating the price of a cheap box of RTDs - which you’d regret buying the morning after anyway! Here is the link to the GoFundMe:

*Names have been changed. 

This article first appeared in Issue 4, 2024.
Posted 10:30am Monday 18th March 2024 by Iris Hehir.