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Standing in solidarity with Gaza

A weekly peace vigil in Carterton intended to “spark curiosity about what is happening now and during the past 76 years of the occupation in Palestine” is inspiring similar gatherings throughout Wairarapa.

The Wairarapa Solidarity with Palestine Group [WSPG] was formed earlier this year after local couple Twn and Jess Gwynne-Davies screened the documentary 1948: Creation and Catastrophe at Carterton Events Centre.

“About 10 of us gathered in Carrington Park for a picnic a week after watching the film to brainstorm ideas for raising awareness [of the situation in Palestine] in our community,” WSPG member Odette Rowe said.

Regular vigils in Carterton were settled upon as a “great place to start”.

“Our first vigil was on February 27,” Rowe said. “There were about 15 of us with Palestinian flags and Peace for Gaza signs.”

Rowe described the inaugural gathering as “pretty magical”.

“A local café brought us snacks and drinks in solidarity, and this has continued. This café is now our go-to place for family dinners!”

WSPG now holds a weekly vigil on the High St side of Memorial Square between 12 and 1pm every Tuesday.

Rowe said a vigil for Palestine started in Martinborough around the same time, and now runs every Wednesday from 11am to midday. Featherston’s vigil takes place every Saturday at 11am, and in April, WSPG started a Masterton vigil, held on Sundays at 9.30am.

“Numbers are growing each week – and we now have members of the local Muslim community attending in both Carterton and Masterton,” Rowe said.

“We keep having to buy more flags, so I guess this indicates that we are increasing steadily.”

Public interaction with the Carterton vigil has mostly been “very positive”, Rowe said.

“Sometimes people stop to chat and then join in a few weeks later. We’ve not had any disharmony with face-to-face conversations. Of all the people driving past, we might get two or three that give us the finger or shake their heads.”

A friend told Rowe she’d heard people in a Carterton café talking about “the terrorists in the park.” But WSPG wasn’t dismayed.

“It made us chuckle,” Rowe said. “Some middle-aged people on their lunch break and retired folks waving pieces of fabric are now terrorists? My friend encouraged those people in the café to read up about the situation and rethink their judgement.”

WSPG is certainly making some noise – in a peaceful way.

“The tooting from vehicles has become so frequent in recent weeks [including from truckies] that we have had a complaint from a local business about it being distracting during an appointment,” Rowe explained.

“We moved further away – but we have negotiated that it is merely one hour a week in a public park. “

To mitigate the challenge of enthusiastic public support, WSPG has devised a Carterton-only solution.

“We are making ‘Thumbs up for Gaza’ and ‘Wave for Gaza’ signs that we will only need to use in Carterton. All the other towns seem to be supportive of the tooting.”

WSPG hoped increased awareness of the situation in Gaza will lead to action at the top.

“As awareness grows, it might encourage our government to reinstate the United Nations Relief and Works Agency funding for aid in Gaza, and take steps towards support for the plight of the civilians, perhaps through sanctions [on Israel],” Rowe said.

“We hope we can provide information about how we, everyday people, can make a change. We can boycott Israeli goods, change our KiwiSaver plan away from anything weapons-related, and ask our government to be bold and speak out against the relentless killing of civilians. We do not need to feel helpless.”

In addition to the vigils, WSPG will start fundraising through activities such as yoga for koha and an auction to “help with vital supplies” for Gaza, Rowe said.

“Our friends from the Muslim community have found reliable pathways to send money where it is most needed.”

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