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EuroPride headline act received with chants of 'free Palestine'

The headlining act of the EuroPride opening ceremony - Israeli singer and former Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai - was received with chants of "free Palestine" and over a dozen Palestinian flags.

News of  Barzliai's participation courted controversy in the lead-up to the event, with activists arguing her support of Israeli ‘apartheid’ made her unsuitable for the event. 

The flags were whipped out just before Barzliai took to the stage. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The flags were whipped out just before Barzliai took to the stage. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Banners in support of Palestinians. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Banners in support of Palestinians. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Human rights NGOs and former president Marie Louise Coleridge Preca joined calls for EuroPride organisers to withdraw her invitation to perform, accusing Barzliai of “pinkwashing" Israeli apartheid and occupation.

Organisers rejected the calls, saying the singer had a longstanding history of performing at Pride events across the world. 

On Thursday, just before Barzliai was due to take to the stage, members of the audience pulled out flags of Palestine of various sizes, a poster reading 'Free Palestine' and started chanting "free Palestine" and "Queer pride not apartheid".

The unexpected turn of events reportedly delayed Barzliai's entrance, while police officers and security personnel stood in a line just in front of the protesters, creating "a human wall", those present told Times of Malta.

Police officers approached the protesters before the performance. Photo: Matthew MirabelliPolice officers approached the protesters before the performance. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

One activist said "Palestinian people need to be free, they need their land back. They’re Mediterranean, we’re Mediterranean".

An Israeli woman however told Times of Malta she disagreed with the protest, and felt scared, adding she “wasn’t sure what they might do”.

When asked if she felt safer with the presence of the police, she said she thought the activists should have been removed.

Another reveller who did not form part of the protest said he agreed with the action but stressed the police presence made him feel uncomfortable and he felt intimidated by their presence. 

Protesters chanting "free Palestine". Video: Jessica Arena

'Thank you for your love... and hate'

Unfazed, Netta repeatedly thanked Malta for its love.

Towards the end of the performance, she said it was "difficult but worth it. Thank you for your love... and hate."

Activists have protested Barzliai's participation for weeks. Photo: Matthew MirabelliActivists have protested Barzliai's participation for weeks. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

'A reminder that Israeli efforts will never be successful '

Activists behind the "symbolic action" told Times of Malta Barzilai regularly participated in initiatives organised by the Israeli state outside Israel, in initiatives that celebrated the banishment of Palestinians from their homeland, and in concerts of the far right.

According to her, the bad reputation of the Israeli state on the international scene is simply a question of 'bad PR' and not because of its politics of terror, they said.

"This symbolic action of solidarity with Palestine serves as a reminder that Israeli state efforts to erase its oppression of the Palestinian people from the international agenda will never be successful.

"Millions of people around the world continue to have Palestine in their minds and hearts and are ready to hold Israel to account for its colonisation of Palestinian land and its brutality against the Palestinian people."

They added that just as in the 1990s the apartheid regime in South Africa came to an end following international boycotts and sanctions, Palestinian civil society wanted the world to put pressure on the Apartheid state of Israel by means of boycotts and sanctions against all those that in one way or another are accomplices in its actions.

Police officers formed "a human wall". Video: James Cummings