Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

First opinion piece in the (Wagga) Daily Advertiser, on Palestine

My first Opinion Piece published in the (Wagga) Daily Advertiser this week. It is the first of a weekly regular column the paper has given me, this one about Palestine, as I’m only just returned from the Freedom Bus ride there.

I based it on changes in Australian foreign policy to a more pro-Israeli stance, and comparisons between our two countries, as Israel and Australia are both colonial settler societies that displaced the indigenous population.

A great start to my weekly column, though no doubt there will be lots of flack from the pro-Zionist lobby.

The full story follows below:

Home Thoughts from Abroad

I never expected to begin my first Opinion Piece for the DA with foreign policy issues, but reflecting on recent developments in Australian policy as I lived amongst Palestinians displaced by Israel during the 2014 Freedom Bus ride I had cause to reflect on what I as hearing from home, and of course, inevitably I couldn’t help but compare Australia with the country I was visiting. So apologies to English poet Robert Browning for borrowing his title, though my thoughts were far from his sentimental and rather one-eyed patriotism.

Indeed, I was disappointed to read as I travelled around Palestinian villages destroyed by Israeli colonials to make way for new ‘settlements’ I was dismayed to read that our Foreign minister Julie Bishop was trying to argue that no courts had determined that such settlements were illegal. Try the International Court of Justice, Ms Bishop, which has repeatedly found them to be illegal.

On my travels I also heard that Prime Minister Abbott had invited Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Australia. This is the same Mr Netanyahu who is currently scuttling the peace talks by suddenly inserting a new clause that not only must Palestine recognise the state of Israel (which it did decades ago), but that it be recognised as a ‘Jewish’ state. I wonder how the large Christian and Moslem Arab populations feel about that.

One piece of welcome news, which I read about at Dubai International Airport on the way home, was Bob Carr’s account of his successful effort to persuade the Ms Gillard and her cabinet thsat Australia should abstain on last year’s Palestine UN vote. Pity he couldn’t have secured a ‘yes’ vote, but an abstention is at least better than a no.

However, rather than reacting to these snippets of news from home my main thoughts were about points of recognition between Israel and Australia, which were uncomfortable to say the least. In the big picture some were relatively trivial, that is, if you can regard pollution as trivial, for, just like Wagga Wagga has poor air quality because its pollution is trapped in a basin-like environment, so too the Jordan Valley traps polluted air within the beautiful Judean and Jordanian hills, beautiful that is, if you can actually make them out.

The Jordan Valley brings of course to mind its eponymous river, but ‘river’ is something of a misnomer, because Israel has extracted so much water from it that it has been reduced, at best, to a muddy little trickle. No wonder the Dead Sea really is dying. But we are better off because at least we have an agreement to reserve some environmental flow for the Murray-Darling Basin, and we still manage a healthy irrigated agriculture.

Entering across the Jordan into Israel, which one has to do in order to enter Palestinian territory, is a tortuous and nerve-racking process as the Israeli military put me through three separate interrogations, but as least I eventually got my entry visa. Not so lucky are the Palestinians who try to enter for work, education, medical or family reasons, and of course totally excluded are the hundreds of thousands of refugees forced from their homes in 1948 and 1967. Brings to mind our treatment of refugees, doesn’t it?

But the biggest parallel is even more dispiriting, for it is the realization that Israel and Australia are both colonial settler societies, based on expropriating the land of the country’s indigenous people. In the early days of white Australian settlement it was a policy of genocide that cleared the land of its indigenous population, and both before and especially after 1948 it was ethnic cleansing that got those inconveniently located Palestinian Arabs out of the way. But, to end on a note of hope, for us here at any rate, we have at least seen the error of our ways, and though we have a long, long way to go to make up for past sins, we now no longer try to remove the first peoples of our country, but unfortunately, as I witnessed, Israel is still hell-bent on a policy of ethnic cleansing. Food for thought.    


Amman, on the way home

Amman, on the way home.

Amman, on the way home

Saturday 5 April: on my way home, now in Amman. There was no trouble this time at the border crossing from Israel, but it took 4 buses and 5 passport checks! This was surely overkill. For the life of me I can’t see how people crossing in to Jordan would pose a problem for the Israelis.

First impressions of Amman are varied. The Hashemite kingdom is promoted everywhere, there are some very depressed areas, but where I’m staying is cosmopolitan and smart, though not over the top Dubai kind, more like gentrified trendy.

I’ve read that though Jordan is of course Muslim it is of a fairly easy going kind, and my observations point this out. Homosexuality, for example, is not illegal and I’ve even come across an LGBTI organisation and gay friendly cafes and bars. 

Two other thoughts come to mind. Firstly, a large proportion of Jordanians are in fact Palestinian, and secondly, this country has absorbed a huge number of Syrian refugees.

More posts after I’ve done a bit of cultural tourism.

Freedom Bus ‘official’ blog plus a few musings

Freedom Bus 'official' blog plus a few musings.

Freedom Bus ‘official’ blog plus a few musings

March 30: Freedom Bus trip is over now, and I’m in East Jerusalem, basically on a few days cultural holiday, so I’ll only post if something really significant happens. In the meantime the ‘official’ Freedom Bus blog can be viewed here: http://freedombuspalestine.wordpress.com.

The Freedom Bus project ended with a very moving group session in which we shared our final feelings about what we had experienced. I had brought with me an Australian Aboriginal flag as a present for the Freedom Theatre, which I gave to Faisal and it clearly moved him greatly. I had several times made the point that, just like Israel, Australia is a white colonialist settler society.

On the way from Bethlehem to Jerusalem we had of course to pass through an Israeli border checkpoint. As we were traveling on a regular bus the ‘international’ passengers got their passports checked whilst we remained comfortably seated on the, but the Palestinians had to get off, wait, have their IDs checked and then re-board the bus. What a time wasting humiliation for them. I can’t for the life of me see what difference it makes whether they are on the bus or off it! 

Final full day of the Freedom Bus

Mar 28: final full day of Freedom Bus. We had a ‘political tour’ of Bethlehem in the morning, which was far more interesting than what I imagine the ordinary tourists get. We had lunch at an interesting place, the Al Rowwad a theatre, arts and education project in the Aida Refugee Camp, which I will investigate further.

The tour ended however with an altercation between our guide and a local camp resident, who argues that those who live in the camp should give the tours. Our guide however argues that he had a permit from the relevant Palestinian authorities, so he was  -in the right. An interesting conundrum.

An in the afternoon the final and excellent Playback Theatre performance, which really was excellent. It was in the Alternative Education Centre, a place packed with just about all possible information its name implies. It also had a good performance space in a beautiful old complex of buildings in Beit Sahour, not central Bethlehem. It was the right venue at the right time with the right audience. I told a stry to be performed by the actors about the elderly gentleman in the Susyia craft shop who chatted keenly to me about his time in Australia. All was going well until he told me how much he had enjoyed Vienna. Whoops! Did I, at the time, feel inadequate.Nonetheless my story went well and the whole show was theatrical, social and political bliss. 

BDS and media coverage

BDS and media coverage.

BDS and media coverage

March 27: as we near the end of the Freedom Ride we traveled on to Beit Sahour, a suburb of Bethlehem, where we had an excellent talk on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). I do hope it can be successful, and of course it makes me worry about Professor Jake Lynch in Australia. I do so hope the Israeli motivated court action against him fails. I’m also concerned that the Coalition government will mount a huge campaign against progressive minds, including the Greens over it, through their mouthpieces the Murdoch press and most of the commercial media.

However, I do believe that though there is of course major value in planning campaigns carefully for maximum effect, I do believe on very important matters of principle you do need to lead with the front foot, and not be a shrinking violet, as per the paragraph below.

Last night Sylvia Hale emailed me the story of ‘my’ tear gas attack in the (Wagga) Daily Advertiser, a full night before I received my e-copy of the paper. I can’t explain the way the time difference worked. Anyway, the version Sylvia mailed had a photograph of me and much more text, whereas my version of the paper had no photo and less  text, but I was pleased with both, and I’m very grateful to Lee Rhiannon for writing and circulating the media release. As Kevin emailed me. I’ll get lots of ‘stick’ for it, but please refer to the above paragraph.

Bethlehem is so urban after the rural villages we have been living in for the last couple of weeks. It even has hot water and power points with electricity (apologies for a cheap joke). But joking aside, compared with where we have been this is real luxury, though I do feel so much for those villagers bearing the brunt of the Israeli occupation, and living in poverty, though I’m careful not to type ‘abject’ before ‘poverty’, because abject they are not..

Bearing witness

March 26: we visited two extremely poor Palestinian villages today that are being squeezed in by surrounding illegal Israeli settlements, which have already demolished both villages several times. But at least both have electricity, supplied by COMET-ME, the NGO we visited yesterday, so though the whole situation is sad beyond compare, at least they have some power. However, how long that will last is debatable, given that there are demolition orders on both power plants.

The first village was called Susiya, at which we were given a very informative talk (and a jar of village honey), and the second was Om Alkkair. Here the settlement had been built so close to the village it was the closest I’ve ever been to one. Their extremely good living conditions were in stark contrast to the poverty of the villagers’ shacks.

At 7.00 this morning I went to bear witness to an Al Tuwani daily event, the journey of some outlying primary school age children (about 20 of them) to school. The are accompanied by the Israeli military (on this day one guy in a truck), by Court order I understand. There are several explanations for this, and the one that suits Israeli propaganda the best is that the IDF is protecting the children from attacks by the settlers, who overlook their route, and this certainly happens, but more likely is that the army is herding them to school to stop them harassing the settlers, which in reality can’t happen, given the geographic layout. So yet another example of settler intransigence.

Normalisation, or a good thing?

Normalisation, or a good thing?.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 449 other followers