"Free, free Palestine" chant interrupts former Israeli soldiers' lecture
Two Israeli soldiers were stopped in their tracks at Wellington's Victoria University as protesters chanted "free, free Palestine" in an attempt to disrupt their lecture.
Raphael Wein and Naftali Gross shared their stories about serving the army to a lecture theatre full of people – some of whom had turned out in support, and others in protest.
About 50 students, some from the Students for Justice in Palestine group, picketed the hall outside the room before a small group headed inside to express their feelings.
The protesters labelled the soldiers as "war criminals" and openly told them they were not welcome at Victoria University.
Victoria University student Mohammad Alzeer said he was upset the university had allowed "murderers" to speak.
While the soldiers claimed they were sharing their personal experience of fighting terrorists, Alzeer argued they did not fight terrorists, they killed innocent people.Alzeer was calling for the university to change its policies in light of Tuesday night's event.
Gross said the pair were "shocked" by the protest but they appreciated the freedom of speech.
Their lecture was about understanding the facts around Operation Protective Edge, he said.
A letter, signed by 20 academics, also expressed dismay the university would host the event. It said Operation Protective Edge in 2014 saw an Israel assault on the Gaza Strip in which more than 2000 people were killed - of them, over 1500 were civilians, including women and children.
In late 2014, the United Nations issued a statement, saying Operation Protective Edge was a "clear violation of Israel's obligations as the occupying power to protect the civilian population under its occupation and to ensure their dignity and well-being".
Gross said: "I think it would get everyone to a better understanding of what really happened. It's just really painful to hear about all these losses of innocent lives during Protective Edge."
Gross and Wein served and commanded troops in the Israeli army for two and three years respectively as part of the country's compulsory military service. Both are now army reserves, as they must remain until age 45, and are studying at university.
The 26-year-olds had travelled to New Zealand on a personal capacity as part of an upcoming religious holiday, which they would celebrate in Christchurch.