Tears and Tight Restrictions in Gaza Protest at COP28

At the UN climate conference in the UAE on Sunday, teary-eyed, keffiyeh-clad campaigners protested Israel’s shelling of Gaza, a meek but rare gesture in a place where rallies are prohibited.

Despite UN limitations that prevented them from waving Palestinian flags or singing certain chants, more than 100 demonstrators urged a Gaza ceasefire in a COP28 “Blue Zone” site supervised by the world organization rather than local authorities.

“We say to the Palestinian people that the international community may have forgotten you, but you are not alone,” said Asad Rehman, lead spokesman for the Climate Justice Coalition.

“Free Palestine,” he told a sobbing crowd that echoed his chant before they were shushed because of UN guidelines prohibiting the naming of states, leaders or companies in activist actions within the COP venue.

Sunday’s rally, the largest yet, pales in comparison to the mobilizations that have swept other areas of the world since the Israel-Hamas conflict began on October 7.

It stands out, however, for the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven sheikhdoms that restricts protests and speech that is regarded to cause or encourage civil disturbance.

Participants take part in a demonstration demanding a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war at the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 3, 2023. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)


With activist actions beginning on Sunday, the fourth day of the climate talks, it was severe UN protocols that regulated prior COPs that limited the protest space.

Organizers had to apply for permits, designate action zones, and get clearance for banners, slogans, and chants, some of which were prohibited.

“We were not allowed to name states or raise (Palestinian) flags,” said Abderraouf Ben Mohamed of the Debt for Climate group, prompting activists to rely on the watermelon — a symbol of the pro-Palestinian movement — as a way to bypass restrictions.


Damian Godzisz, a member of the UAE’s COP28 delegation, said he was requested to remove a Palestinian flag and keffiyeh scarf from his backpack at the Blue Zone security checkpoint.

“I find it insensitive that while other nations can display their national attire, the Palestinian flag and keffiyeh are restricted,” he said.

According to Israeli sources, Hamas terrorists from Gaza conducted an unprecedented onslaught on southern Israel on October 7, killing around 1,200 persons, largely civilians, and seizing approximately 240 captives.

In response, Israel pledged to destroy Hamas and launched an air, sea, and ground invasion, killing more than 15,500 people, the majority of them were women and children, according to Gaza’s Hamas administration.

The war has cast a lengthy shadow over the Dubai climate negotiations, and it has had a significant influence on the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) COP28 delegation, which had been optimistic about their first-ever COP pavilion.

According to Hadeel Ikhmais, a climate expert with the PA, only 10 representatives were able to fly out for the event, with the majority canceling their participation.

“It was really difficult for us to come here, and we were reconsidering our participation right up until the last minute,” said Ikhmais, who had to travel nearly 11 hours from her home in Bethlehem to Jordan’s airport to take a flight to Dubai.

‘Killed in cold blood’

“What does climate justice mean, what does international law mean, when Palestinians are killed in cold blood and the world is just watching?” Ikhmais asked.

“I want to go back. Honestly, we are counting the days just to go back home.”

A book of posters of Palestinians held prisoner by Hamas was displayed at the Israeli pavilion, just a few metres (yards) away, under a giant banner that read: “Bring them home now.”

Maya Kadosh, Israel’s COP28 national coordinator, wore a dog tag with the same wording and said she noticed bias among climate campaigners at the summit.

“I wish they would understand the Israeli suffering,” she told AFP.

“They stand for human rights, but as long as the people are not Jewish,” Kadosh said.

“I think if people want really to help free Palestine and free the people of Palestine, they should help the people of Palestine get free from Hamas.”

Israel had been planning a 1,000-strong representation at COP28, but the war reduced that figure to around 100, including some 30 officials with the government delegation, she said.

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