So much for the new Australian government taking an even-handed position on Israel-Palestine. Before our politicians even warmed their seats in the new parliamentary sittings, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that he will lead a parliamentary motion to honor Israel on 12 March acknowledging Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. The opposition leader will second the motion. Then, celebrations will take place at a reception in the Mural Hall of Parliament House.
If Palestinians and their supporters had any hopes of a sympathetic hearing from the new Rudd government on the multiple human rights abuses being perpetrated by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, those hopes are now dashed.
This year marks 60 years of Palestinian dispossession and displacement and a savage, relentless occupation that is smothering the lifeblood of the Palestinians while Israel celebrates its ill-gotten gains. Palestinians are starving in Gaza, Palestinians are being sold out in the West Bank, Palestinians are dying. Their very existence is under threat. It is as simple and as awful as that.
Every Australian ought to be asking why our prime minister and the parliament feel so humiliatingly obligated to Israel that they must go to these lengths to show their friendship with a foreign country that consistently violates international law, United Nations resolutions and human rights conventions. If supporting the Palestinian cause is too much to ask, then refusing to single Israel out for any kind of positive recognition would at least be sensitive to the Palestinians living here and their stateless nation’s painful history. It is on a human wreckage of Palestinian lives that Israel celebrates its independence, honored so gratuitously by the Australian government.
Such demonstrations of affection are not new. Former Prime Minister John Howard had already fostered this extraordinary bond when he declared Australia as Israel’s closest friend. Many of his ministers followed suit and none was more accommodating than former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer when he said that he wore Israel as “a badge of honor” even as Israel’s war planes decimated the Lebanese landscape in 2006.
True to form, Israel has rewarded its friends with facile honors. John Howard received two in one year. He was awarded the Jerusalem Prize from the World Zionist Organization and he had a forest named after him in the Negev by the Jewish National Fund, which specializes in acquiring property for “the purpose of settling Jews on such lands.” These lands are the subject of legal proceedings brought by the now displaced indigenous Bedouins of the Negev who are being “moved out” for the exclusive benefit of Jews worldwide who want to live in Israel. Although these Bedouins live in what is now called Israel, 45 of their villages are not recognized by the state and have never received even the most basic amenities.
All this falls hard on the heels of the new prime minister’s moving apology to our own indigenous people and raises many questions about the sincerity of that momentous gesture. The similarity between the grievous losses suffered by both peoples — the Aborigines and the Palestinians — is not fanciful. Both peoples have been the hapless victims of the great white colonial enterprise and in both cases, it would have succeeded brilliantly, if these people would have just disappeared. But it is not so easy to kill off people and their dreams.
Official reports by human rights organizations documenting Israel’s violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories provide enough evidence to challenge the appropriateness of any country aligning itself with Israel. The words “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing” are beginning to enter mainstream consciousness after being given voice by former US President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Finally, the consciences of people are being stirred.
To counter this, Israel has established an Australian chapter of the Peres Center for Peace which is endeavoring to cast Israel in the role of peacemaker — a role it has been unwilling to honor at the negotiating table. It is part of Israel’s new public relations strategy to secure its legitimacy in the global community. Rather than the usual rounds of dialogue and conflict resolution, it is being done on a populist level through sporting activities and culture, and in Australia, where sport dominates so much of our cultural life and social interaction, it is a powerful vehicle for projecting an intended image.
The Center — named after one of the more notorious Zionist architects of Palestinian ethnic cleansing, Shimon Peres — has already persuaded the Australian Football League (AFL) to include a friendly team of Israelis and Palestinians in their 18-team line up for this year’s AFL International Cup. It has bedazzled the AFL administrators with the idea of people crossing all boundaries “for the simple love of the game” — a notion that would never be entertained by a government at war with an enemy state and one that has been rejected when political pressure through sports’ boycotts is deemed necessary to stop countries behaving oppressively. Nowhere else was this so effective than in South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle.
Regrettably, our leaders will continue to pursue their self-serving policies until ordinary, decent people force them to accept that our common humanity is worth more than the lucrative deals that bring such enormous profits to the multinational corporations, and from which many governments benefit. It is by no means impossible. Just as people brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa, the people can bring down the ethnically divisive Zionist regime in Israel as well. This is why the word “apartheid” so rattles Israel’s supporters.
However, we have a long way to go, especially when governments insist on continuing their love affairs with Israel. In the meantime, al-Nakba — the Palestinian catastrophe of dispossession and displacement — is being accelerated. This crime against humanity is what needs to be acknowledged in our Parliament, not a motion honoring Israel. The Australian “fair go” that our prime minister so fondly embraces, has never sounded so hollow or sunk so low.
Sonja Karkar is the founder and president of Women for Palestine in Melbourne, Australia.