Byron Friends of Palestine (BFOP) invited me and others to participate in the Mullumbimby to Brunswick Heads Paddle on May 28. They had entered three kayaks and associated small watercraft which were decked out advertising the appalling state of Gaza.
I registered my own craft which had a Palestinian flag attached to it. Principal sponsors of the event include The Echo and Byron Shire Council. So, on the day, I came down to have a paddle with my BFOP friends, Gareth and Maxine, who set up a felafel stall on the west bank of the Brunswick river.
My aim was to draw people’s attention to the plight of people in Palestine whom I have supported for over 40 years because of many injustices they have suffered at the hands of the Israeli Apartheid state.
Byron independent newspaper The Echo reported the paddle as a success declaring ‘It was a spectacular event and a wonderful atmosphere. Everybody was so happy. People were enjoying life. What a fabulous spirit there is in the community.’ But I have a different point of view.
Here is my diary of events that took place during the race. 8.10 am on the Brunswick River, Brunswick Heads, Sunday Byron Shire The crazy guy from the Big Fish wilfully damaged our signs, stole some in concert with others and assaulted me by pushing me to the ground.
“There’s a crazy Israeli down here at Brunswick from The Big Fish Collective pulling down all the Palestinian signs. I had to fight him off because he threatened me and began ripping up the felafel sign, then the Palestinian flag and the BDS banner … he tried to pull down the ‘al nakba’ banner … I did my best to restrain him by holding him but he knocked me to the ground grazing my leg and drawing blood. He claimed this as his country grabbing a Palestinian flag. I was unsure what he meant. Was he saying that Palestine was his land or Brunswick Heads or both. Still on the ground and fearful that he would do as he was saying and ethnically cleanse my Al Nakba banner I pointed desperately to the aboriginal flag. On the back of it were the yellow sun black and red and I simply said this is Bundjalung country and he bawked, he actually halted mid rage! Was it the pathetic lock I had placed on the banner post? What was going through crazy’s mind apart from Krav Maga moves.
As he had knocked me down, police pulled to a stop not 3 metres away, looking at the flags. Crazy decided to beat it yeling that he would be back with his mates.
Police drove on. Grazes on my right leg (and right arm) when crazy guy from Big Fish pushed me to the ground
Then this redneck guy came along ripping down banners and signs from over the other side of the bridge and dumped them in the water … one of the signs was later confiscated from below the high water mark by Byron Shire Council officer Christian Kuta.
The Byron shire council officer told me that political material was not allowed in Banner Park, he impounded the Palestinian flag, unjustly I thought, I offered to retrieve it from the water myself, even though I had already got out of my wet suit. I was now resigned to the fact I would not be paddling today. My entrance money was wasted.
I saw the flag was floating in the water like a first born son … but Christian took it anyway.
Then a very big man in a turquoise four-wheel drive pulled up in front of the al nakba banner and said “what’s this?”
I said don’t take me for a fool, you can read can’t you. His bull bar was right up near the banner poles to the right of the No Stopping sign.
He seemed ready to drive over it, so I stood in front. I said you can’t park there, you’re in a “No Standing zone”. He waited and then backed away but remained in the parking area . Placed carefully at the base of the tree under the Palestinian Flag sign by the guy from the boat nearby Then the guy from the boat hire on the Brunswick River put a sign that read Suicide Bombers right underneath a Palestinian flag so I put free Palestine beside it and he said “if you touch my son I will f****** belt you.” A Palestinian man and his partner arrived some time later and the same guy threatened the Palestinian (originally from Bethlehem) if he touched his ridiculous sign “Suicide Bombers”.
He told the Palestinian to ‘fuck off to his own country”. The Palestinian was upset because he is a refugee from Bethlehem, his land confiscated and so he took up the sign. There was some pushing and shoving with the man from the boat hire and then the Palestinian left. The guy on the boat continued to harass the stall all morning and spoke on his mobile with the guy in the turquoise four-wheel drive. On land and sea. Crazy guy from the Big Fish came up to my car and told me he would fucking punch me in the face if i ever put any more banners up in Brunswick. Later the crazy guy (wearing blue jeans and a thin blue lined white checked shirt nearly) came up to my car to threaten me for the umpteenth time today.
I had managed to defend most of the banners and signs. He threatened to punch me in the face and put out a lot of disinformation about what we were doing saying that we should be doing stuff like ‘Free Tibet’ rather than ‘Free Palestine’. He also said that I should be doing something about ‘children in detention’ in Australia. What about children-in-detention in Israel! Gareth (foreground) finishes the paddle from Mullum to Brunswick A dragon boat went by with 20 rowers carrying a sign opposing the Adani coal mine on Wangan & Jagalingou land. A Bunjalung man dived sweetly from the bridge. An aboriginal woman from Dubbo admonished me for making a family fun day political. A local came up and told me he disagreed with what I was doing but that the crazy guy owned the shop around the corner called the Big Fish. The settler colonialist mentality was everywhere evident among those who took the felalfels and stopped to talk.
A senior constable with a blonde crew-cut from Brunswick Heads police who drove a paddy wagon directly past the assault by crazy guy approached me at lunch time while I was retrieving signs and banners from the Brunswick River.
This is how the conversation went (not precisely verbatim but the meaning is correct).
Police: What is your name, Ian?
Ian: You know my name.
Police: I am requiring you to give me your name.
Ian provides full name. Police: What is your DOB? Ian: 21 12 50
Police: What is your address?
Ian provides address Police: I understand that man over there (pointing at the man on the boat hire Pirates Schooner) assaulted you.
Ian: No he did not.
Police: You are saying he did not assault you.
Ian: No ‘crazy guy’ from around the corner (The The Big Fish) pushed me to the ground.
Police: What are you saying?
Ian: Police were there in the paddy wagon when it happened … they pulled up as I was knocked to the ground. Look up your incident report.
Police: What time was this? Ian: 8.10 or 8:15am Police: That was me in that police car.
Ian: Then why are you asking me about it? You must have seen it.
Police: We were going around the corner.
Ian: No you stopped
Police: We slowed down to look at the signs and went around around the corner.
Ian: I was assaulted right beside the banner.
Police: I was unsighted. I will have to enter a report. Ian: Common on, you ignored it.
Police: I will enter it on our database.
Ian: Go away (I’d had enough). Later that afternoon when crazy guy came up to my car window to abuse me for a second time that day he mentioned that he had looked me up on facebook. Did police give him my name? I asked members of the Byron Friends of Palestine group if they had given out my name. They said they did not. Most of them did not even know my surname.
Only the Palestinian people can free Palestine … no one else can … all we can do is offer our support and solidarity. Under the surface there is real contempt by authorities and many Australians for struggles like that of the Palestinians. However we have come a long way but democratic rights are constantly under attack.
28 May 2017