Protesters were pepper-sprayed and led away in handcuffs after a pro-Palestinian demonstration turned violent outside a popular burger restaurant which burned down overnight.
Protesters from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian debate were seen at 7pm on Friday at Princes Park, near the Burgertory restaurant in Caulfield, southeast of Melbourne.
Shocking footage showed a huge fight between the two groups, with numerous punches thrown as police attempted to intervene.
Burgetory CEO Hash Tayeh, 32, had asked people not to protest after the fire at his restaurant.
Victoria Police are investigating the circumstances behind the fire which they consider “suspicious” but do not believe it was politically motivated.
Mr Tayeh, who grew his business into Australia’s largest independent burger chain after founding it in 2018, had sparked controversy for raising the cry of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” at a rally in Melbourne a fortnight ago.
A pro-Palestinian rally descended into chaos at Caulfield in Melbourne on Friday evening.
Police had to divide the opposing camps on each side of the street to avoid violence during the Palestinian-Israeli demonstration on Friday evening.
At Friday night’s protest, pro-Palestinian supporters and pro-Israeli crowds stood on opposite sides of Hawthorn Road and cursed at each other.
Israel supporters lined up on one side of the street
Palestinian supporters lined up on the opposite side
Police attempted to separate the opposing groups, but were unable to do so without using pepper spray.
A Victoria Police spokesperson said several protesters were arrested to “keep the peace”.
At 7:30 p.m., a synagogue was forced to evacuate when protesters spilled into a park across from the synagogue.
At Friday night’s protest, pro-Palestinian supporters and pro-Israeli crowds stood on opposite sides of Hawthorn Road to hurl insults at each other.
Both sides were seen draped in Israeli and Palestinian flags, while shouting through megaphones.
Police had created a line of officers and closed the road in an attempt to quell the chaos.
Young Palestinian supporters repeatedly attempted to break through the police cordon during the protest, prompting police to fire pepper spray.
Jewish participants were evacuated from a nearby synagogue when the pro-Palestinian group spilled into the park across the road.
Members of the Jewish community had already been warned to stay away from the burned-out Burgertory.
Victoria Police has been contacted for comment.
Earlier on Friday, tensions erupted outside the restaurant, when a group seen as pro-Palestinian began arguing with others.
Protesters are seen in Caulfield on Friday evening
Hawthorn Road was closed for hours as the protest descended into chaos
Victoria Police arrested several people after the fight to “keep the peace”.
“It is believed a verbal altercation took place between around 15 people on Glen Huntly Road just after 2.30pm,” a spokesperson said.
“A number of people were detained briefly in order to maintain order. A woman was briefly arrested for failing to show identification.
“No one was injured during the incident.”
Ten fire crews battled to put out the Burgertory restaurant fire after it caught fire shortly after 4 a.m. Friday.
Mr. Tayeh called the fire “arson” and said it “would not derail my call for peace or silence me.”
“We are working closely with the authorities to investigate this alarming incident and we are determined to help in any way we can,” he said.
“As an Australian of Palestinian heritage and CEO of Burgertory, and as someone who cherishes life in our multicultural Australian society, I am deeply troubled by the spread of rumors suggesting that we harbor anti-Semitic sentiments.
“I cannot stress enough that this could not be further from the truth. My participation in pro-Palestinian rallies was motivated by a desire for peace and a ceasefire, not violence or division. I have lost 38 loved ones in Palestine and I want the violence to stop.
Mr Tayeh, 32, was filmed at a pro-Palestinian protest in Melbourne on October 29, holding a loudspeaker and chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.
Some interpret this rallying cry as anti-Semitic, as it actually calls for the abolition of Israel by expanding the Palestinian state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
He vehemently rejected allegations that he held anti-Semitic views and claimed he was a “voice for peace”.