Violence should be condemned but my sources tell me that the reaction of the police in Melbourne yesterday was a gross over-reaction:
Capsicum spray was used on pro-Palestinian demonstrators who tried to storm a hotel where Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke last night.
About 200 demonstrators holding flags and placards tried to force their way into a side entrance to the Park Hyatt Hotel in East Melbourne.
Guests at a dinner whose guest speakers included Ms Gillard and Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister, Slivan Shalom, were being directed to use the entrance because about 200 of the protesters had blocked the main entrance.
A large group of the protesters came around to the side entrance and suddenly rushed the glass door, trying to force their way in.
Federal and state police already in the hotel foyer and hotel security rushed to block them getting in, as the demonstrators pounded on the door and shouted ”Free Palestine”.
The spray was used as one protester tried to force the door open, but three protesters still managed to break through the wall of police to get inside the foyer, where punches were thrown and three protesters were wrestled to the ground.
Uniformed police on duty at other parts of the building formed a line in front of the glass door and police horses were brought in to force back the crowd, which included women and children.
The dinner was organised by the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum, which aims to strengthen ties between Israel and Australia.
Michael Shaik, public advocate for Australians for Palestine, said the group was outraged by ”the hosting of an Israeli delegation at a time when Israel is coming under huge pressure from the rest of the international community to investigate war crime charges regarding its conduct in Gaza and to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem”.
Acting Senior Sergeant Steve Burke said the protest was held under an agreement with organisers and had been largely peaceful, but he was disappointed the agreement was broken.
Ms Gillard made no reference to the protest but said ”Australia’s support for Israel remains strong and remains bipartisan in this country”.
Mr Shalom said Australia was considering a request from Israel to help it rehabilitate the Jordan River.