Peace and safety were front of mind for those at a pro-Palestinian rally in Castlemaine on Sunday.
More than 350 people gathered to voice their concerns about the Israel-Gaza war with protestors calling for Australia to push for an immediate ceasefire.
The Hamas-run health ministry has claimed more than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel's retaliation for the October 7 attack on its citizens while Israel claims its death toll is more than 1400 with Hamas holding 240 hostages.
In Castlemaine's Jaara Park on November 5, attendees held a minute's silence for all who had lost their lives in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel and for all those taken hostage, while condemning anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
Central Victorian protestors call for ceasefire
The Free Palestine Central Victoria group called for:
- Immediate ceasefire in Gaza and "unobstructed humanitarian aid" for Palestinian civilians
- "Release of all hostages, Israeli and Palestinian"
- "Justice and equality for all Palestinians, per international human rights law"
- "An end to the root cause of violence: oppression and occupation"
- The Australian Government to "publicly condemn Israel's gross violations of international law"
The group plans to meet on Sundays in Castlemaine's Jaara Park at noon.
Mother and anti-racism activist Nokomi Achkar told the Castlemaine crowds the situation in Gaza could easily have happened to her family.
In a "twist of fate" Nokomi's family moved to Australia for safety, after managing to stay relatively safe despite mass evacuations and expulsions of Palestinians in the Nakba of 1948 and in 1967 during the Six Day War.
"For some reason we are here," she said.
As she looked at her children in the crowd, children she calls her "habibis" - Arabic for "my love" or "my darling" - she spoke about the families that no longer have their children, or who have dug them out of piles of rubble in recent weeks.
Palestinian woman tells crowds of human links to tragedy
Although Nokomi has personal links to the conflict, she told the crowds that "by being human, you do have links".
The Free Palestine Central Victoria group called the current situation "a genocide", said Israel had violated international law and wanted these alleged breaches explicitly condemned as the actions of Hamas had been by the Australian government.
The Bendigo Advertiser is unable to independently verify any allegations of genocide on either side.
No moral justification for actions of Hamas
Dr David Kram AM, president of the Kehillat s'dot Zahav, the Progressive Jewish community of the Central Goldfields of Victoria, said his group "supports moderation of all kinds, political and religious, in Israel and around the world".
One of the group's umbrella organisations - the World Union of Progressive Judaism - has made a statement which can be read in full here.
It reads, in part, that the Union stands with the families of hostages and has called for the world to "unequivocally demand the release of all hostages immediately and without conditions".
"While some are now attempting to provide moral justification for the actions of Hamas on 7 October, we say in the strongest terms possible that there was no justification for the heinous crimes committed that day and we stand with Israel in its moral right to self-defence," the statement reads.
The statement also said the group was "starkly conscious of the toll this is taking on innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza".
They have called for Israel to allow essential food, water, medicine and other aid into Gaza more quickly, while also saying there should be a guarantee that aid will reach civilians.