From kindergarten to year 12, students rally in CBD to support Palestine

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Hundreds of school students across Melbourne have ignored pleas from politicians to stay in school and instead took to the city streets rallying to support Palestine.

About 500 young people, aged from kindergarteners through to year 12 students, gathered on the steps of Flinders Street Station on Thursday afternoon.

The crowd included students from more than 20 schools and groups accompanied by parents and teachers. They filled the intersection of Flinders and Swanston streets chanting: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

The group then marched along Swanston Street before entering Melbourne Central.

Federal Education Minister Jason Clare and Premier Jacinta Allen both said in the lead-up to the event that they expected students to stay in school on Thursday, but the federal and state oppositions have said the governments should have mounted a stronger stance against the event.

Many students came to the event in their uniforms, including students from Preston High School, Coburg High School, Northcote High School, Melbourne High School, Strathcona Girls Grammar and Melbourne Girls College.

A crowd of students unfurled a watermelon flag in the Palestinian colours of red, white, black and green. Credit: Luis Enrique Ascui

Students who spoke to The Age at the event said they had been offended by calls from politicians to stay in class instead of attending the rally and that the opposition had, if anything, encouraged more students to attend.

“We’re learning more than school could ever teach us,” said Ivy, one of the student organisers behind the event.

“It’s our right as high schoolers to be political people.”

Organisers of the strike, School Students for Palestine, said the turnout had exceeded their expectations thanks to a mix of social media outreach and word of mouth.

Students walked the streets waving Palestinian flags and holding signs with slogans including “With Palestine until Victory” and “Protesting for Palestine is part of my humanities curriculum”.

Year 12 student Cruz said politicians were “insulting” young people by asking them not to attend the event.

“I’m out here campaigning for children to be given their basic human rights, for adults to be given their basic human rights,” he said.

Victoria Police confirmed on Thursday afternoon that the group was compliant with police directions and no arrests were made.

Student organiser Ivy said the event’s attendance exceeded expectations. Credit: The Age

Ahead of the event, Education Minister Ben Carroll urged all students to remain in school.

“Invest in your education, because at school is where you’ll get all the resources and all the help you need to support you through this difficult period,” he said on Thursday morning.

A letter from the Education Department sent to parents of Victorian school students on Tuesday afternoon emphasised that normal attendance requirements were expected on Thursday.

The note said school communities must continue to treat each other with respect.

“It means we do not use language that seeks to hurt and damage. It means we do not uncritically accept the views of others, but seek a full understanding,” it said.

The student walk-out has divided politicians and the community since it was first promoted via social media on November 13.

Members of Melbourne’s Jewish community wrote to Allen and Carroll this week urging them to take a tougher stance on the strike.

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