Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Trip to Nablus, plus observations after a week in Occupied East Jerusalem

My Arabic learning is slow but I’m making progress, and it is very enjoyable. My tutor, Mais, is excellent, and very patient with me. I’m also learning the Arabic script, and taking great pleasure in forming the beautiful letters. Quite a change from my usual untidy English scribble.

No class today (Friday and Sunday form the Palestinian weekend) so off to Nablus I went, an ancient and large city in the mid-north of Palestine via Ramallah, the de-facto capital, all by public transport, so I’m pleased to find I can get around on my own. A great trip spoilt by too many illegal Israeli settlements on the way.

The countryside is so beautiful, and for reasons beyond my ken I seem to bond with the limestone hills of central Palestine, so it is very depressing to see so many hilltops crowned with an illegal Israeli settlement or colony, lording it over the Palestinian villages in the valleys below. I’ve developed over my by now three visits to Palestine a quick way of checking if such settlements are Israeli: i) if it is on a hilltop, ii) if the houses and apartment blocks have red roofs, iii) if there isn’t a minaret visible, and iv) if the indigenous olive trees on the hillsides have been replaced by central European style conifers. Unfortunately it works every time.

There was only one checkpoint to have to negotiate, on the way back into Jerusalem. The soldier who marched through the bus checking ID papers looked straight at the word Australia on my passport and then asked me where I was from. Perhaps he couldn’t read English, though he could certainly speak it. Only one passenger had a problem, a young woman with a toddler on her hip, but eventually they let her through. We had to change buses too, presumably to guard against bombs or arms smuggling.

The wall and its watch towers are as depressing as the settlements.

I’ve also linked in to a good range of lectures, talks and historical/political tours from a Palestinian perspective here in Jerusalem, partly but not exclusively through the Jerusalem Studies Centre of Al Quds University, where I’m studying Arabic.

One was an author launching his book ‘Three Promises’ about the contradictory and conflicting promises made to different interests during WW1. and another also a book launch, ‘Stateless Citizens’, which pointed out that Palestinians living in Israel proper may well be citizens, but as it is a Jewish state, and they are not, of course, Jewish, they are therefore stateless.

I’m also reading Ali Abunimah’s ‘The Battle for Justice in Palestine’, and I’m getting a lot from his argument that the only solution is a one state one, with one vote per person, constitutional guarantees for minorities (who would be the present Israelis), and built-in safeguards to ensure social and economic justice, so as to avoid a neo-liberal economic system that only benefits the previous oppressors, such as has happened in South Africa and Northern Ireland.

Much to ponder on.

Some progress and a little hope in Palestine

I felt better about my Arabic classes today, in  that I think I made a little progress, thank goodness.

It was also Israeli Memorial Day today, when they commemorate their war dead. Thankfully it was ignored here in Occupied East Jerusalem, though we had to put up with their sirens.

I also attended a very worthwhile evening lecture at the Kenyon Institute, which I think is an off-shoot of the British Council. Entitled ‘A Tale of Three Promises’, it was by Karl Sabbagh, and was about the British/French carve up of the Middle East after WW1, with special reference to Palestine.

It ended by positing an alternative new Balfour Declaration to break the Zionist created impasse, and therefore a way out of the two state dead end.

I also found an Al Quds University announcement of its boycott of Israeli universities, and I was pleased to see it, given Sydney’s appalling treatment of Professor Jake Lynch.

So all in all a productive day

Arabic classes began today

After the Peace Conference in Istanbul I’m now in Occupied East Jerusalem, which to me and millions of others, is in Palestine, though the Israelis have annexed it, which the rest of the world doesn’t recognise. Unlike last year I wasn’t interrogated when I asked for an Israeli visa, though on leaving Turkey I had to provide documentary proof of the Arabic language program I have signed up for.

So I began my Arabic classes at Al Quds Uni (AQU) in Occupied East Jerusalem today. It was hard work, and as I’m the only student it is quite intense – no slacking! My tutor is Mais, a young lecturer who has also taught Arabic in the US. She is very patient with me, thank goodness.

Today we focussed on greeting type words, which I succeeded in learning, though whether I’ll remember them is a moot point. Pronunciation is a key aspect, but I’m beginning to get the hang of it.

Though I signed up for Conversational Palestinian Arabic, Mais is keen that I learn Arabic script as well, which I appreciate, not just because it will b e useful, but also because I will be paying respect to the culture if I pay attention to its script. Does that make sense?

I also learnt about cultural activities and study tours conducted by AQU’s Centre for Jerusalem Studies, which I’m keen to do. First one is next Saturday.

Later today I visited one of my favourite Palestinian places, which is also one of my favourite bookshops in the world – the Educational Bookshop in Saladin Street, which is near my hotel. I bought some books (about Palestine, of course), and also picked up leaflets o up-coming cultural events. Great!

I’ll try and do a progress report each day on what I have learnt and experienced.

Palestine trip in 2015

Off to Palestine today for a month’s course in colloquial Arabic at Al Quds University in Occupied East Jerusalem, via a peace conference in Istanbul. Hope the Israelis don’t hassle me again when I enter, for you can’t get in to Palestine without passing through Israeli border security.

This time I probably won’t write a daily blog, as language classes are not the most exciting stories, but I’ll see how I go – experiencing the Israeli occupation on  a daily basis may well provide plenty of copy.

Salaam (practising my Arabic),

Ray

What price Australia Day?

My Op Piece in Wagga’s DA today, based on Captain Abbott’s spectacular own goal of knighting a foreign aristocrat  may arouse some responses from the True Blue set as I used it to ask some questions about Australia Day. Indeed, a good friend said it would offend just about everybody, and if so, so be it, for I thought it about time we revisited the issue of Australia becoming a republic, and whether 26 January, being ‘Invasion Day’ to many, is the best day to celebrate Australia. I guess we’ll see.

I also managed to squeeze Climate Change into the 500 words I’m allocated

Here’s the full text:

Knighthood for Philip  

That our Prime Minister, the self-styled Captain Abbott, has scored a very embarrassing own goal by knighting Prince Philip, would not be worthy of a column of its own, but it does provoke some reflection about Australia Day.

This is not in any way to argue that we should not celebrate Australia Day, for our fortunate nation has indeed much to celebrate.

The knighthood to Prince Philip has thankfully been resoundingly condemned, so I don’t need to add to the chorus, but instead I’ll note that many have pointed the finger of blame at Peta Credlin. Isn’t it interesting how quick people are to blame a strong woman? A real sense of déjà vu here.

And regrettably the Australian of the Year award to Rosie Batty has been lost in the uproar.

The wider issue, that imperial honours (Knights and Dames) based on inherited titles are not appropriate in this day and age is also a valid point. Like most Australians, I regard the Order of Australia as all we need to honour those who have given outstanding service

Now, on to other, much wider issues, provoked by Australia Day. The first of these is the Republic question, as the leader of the opposition Labor party, Bill Shorten, has said Australians should make a fresh effort to declare their country a republic.

“Let us have the courage to ask ourselves if we measure up to more than just a grab-bag of clichés,” he said. “Let us declare that our head of state should be one of us.”

Also worth a national debate is whether or not the 26th January is the most appropriate day for our national day. At a relatively trivial level is the question of whether the establishment of a convict colony in Sydney in 1788 is something to be proud of, but of much more importance is the fact that for the indigenous population of Australia it marks an invasion of their ancestral lands.

Not everyone will agree, but I think a debate is necessary and certainly won’t hurt. What is a more appropriate date is a complex issue, but perhaps it could replace the Queen’s Birthday public holiday.

And whilst all the Australia Day hoopla was distracting us all the newest CSIRO Climate Change report was released, which contained dire projections for Australia. Thank goodness Greens leader Christine Milne’s office was on the ball enough to notice and bring it to our attention.

“These projections are not based on the findings at the bottom of a teacup; they are the work of Australia’s top scientists, incorporating observations of global warming that has already occurred.

“Addressing global warming means moving to 100 per cent renewable energy as quickly as possible. It means opportunities in renovating existing infrastructure and building new homes to new standards of resilience in the face of more extreme storms and heat “said Senator Milne.

On my way to Palestine (again)

A good day today. I booked my flight for my next Palestine trip (a month long intensive Arabic course in Occupied East Jerusalem). I hope I don’t get tear gassed this time, and that the Israelis don’t hassle me either getting in or out, as they’ve previously done both!

We also had Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi in town, largely to visit women’s organisations, and we all had lunch with her, which was very enjoyable. Mates Gully organic café was full – it’s great to see them doing such good business!

And my Op Ed column on Abbott’s sledge g boast in the DA yesterday has had good reactions. Here’s the full column:

PM’s sledging a sign of worrying tendencies

Competition between sporting teams is sometimes promoted in terms that are unhealthily aggressive, sot I was very concerned to read that ” As tensions between the Australian and Indian cricket teams reach boiling point, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has revealed sledging was his only strength as a cricketer” (SMH)

“I couldn’t bat, I couldn’t bowl, I couldn’t field, but I could sledge, and I think I held my place in the team on this basis, and I promise there’ll be none of that today,” said the former captain of Oxford’s Middle Common Room team of the Queen’s College.”

Reactions were interesting. Some saw it as normal ‘blokey’ behaviour, others as ‘boys will be boys but thankfully some dug a little deeper, noting that his boast may explain why he was an effective opposition leader but ad absolute dud as a Prime Minister. Which is all very well if you count the adversarial combat arena that passes for the democratic process in Parliament as an appropriate way of debating important issues.

Captain Abbott & Co don’t play the issue, they play the person. That is not a civilised way to conduct the democratic process.

Others noted that if sledging was/is his only talent, he should be dropped from Team Australia. Quite.

There was also comment that it was an odd boast for the Minister for Women! Yes indeed.

What really interested me though was the point that cricket is often described as a metaphor for life, and as such reflects accurately our PM’s entire political career!

His modus operandi, and for this insight I’m indebted to Bruce Grant who wrote (SMH 2 January) “Simply put, Abbott is always spoiling for a fight,”

Examples abound. His shirtfront diplomacy was one such, and seems to be instinctive for him. He could barely wait to accuse Vladimir Putin of being responsible for downing MH17.

Another is his Anglophone values, which are very dated. True, the restitution of knights and dames in Australia is nothing more than comical, but more significant is his reversal to gunboat diplomacy. He is now even talking of increasing our ‘boys’ own adventure in Iraq.

His warrior tendencies are of the past, not the future.

True, the past is attractive for a political leader with a warrior bent,. He sees Australia as bring on the ‘winning’ side in the global wars of the 20th century.

It’s an impressive heritage, which accounts for some of the confidence, even cockiness he displays. But now  our Captain seems to be batting on the wrong side of history.

For that was then, and now is now, and the world is changing, dear Captain. Surely is it time to note, as British PM Harold McMillan so perceptively remarked about decolonisation in the 1960s, “The wind of change is blowing through Africa”. Add the rest of the world to that, Captain.

An Un-Happy New Year in Palestine

My satisfaction of having my Op Ed column that included a reference to Palestine published in the Daily Advertiser yesterday as been overshadowed by the UN Palestine motion being voted down by Australia (and the USA).

As an Australian I am deeply ashamed that my country voted against an opportunity to grant something approaching a just peace for the Palestinians. Shame on you, Abbott, Bishop and all your sorry crew.

Not a Happy New Year for many.

Anyway, here’s the full text of my Op Ed column:

Little New Year cheer in cabinet reshuffle

Last week’s cabinet reshuffle brought little joy for the New Year for those of us who might have hoped for a more compassionate government in 2015.

There were two hopeful glimmers, more of which later, but essentially the reshuffle, if anything, went in some ways from bad to worse. Much to the delight, of course, of those devoted to the cruelties of the Thatcher-Reaganite neo-liberal economic and social policies espoused by Abbott, Hockey, Cormann et al.

Indeed, the Daily Telegraph, salivating at what horrifies fair-minded people, screamed with delight in headlines such as “Minister who stopped the boats to stop the bludgers”. (22 December).

As Greens Parliamentary Leader Christine Milne commented “”Putting Scott Morrison in charge of social services will send shivers down the spines of people across the country. Scott Morrison and the word compassion don’t go in the same sentence.

“This is the government that has rejected climate change science and isolated Australia from the rest of the world”.

“Nothing about this reshuffle today changes the fundamental policies … you’ve still got their commitment to go after the most disadvantaged in our community,” said Senator Milne.

There are some slight glimmers of hope. Making up for a glaring omission, Science has been added to the Industry portfolio.

The elevation of Albury’s Sussan Ley to Cabinet is also a step in the right direction. Not because she has the Health portfolio, because she is as addicted to the laissez- faire economic and social policies where the powerful get richer and the ordinary folk pay for it as the rest of Captain Abbott’s heartless bunch.

Instead her elevation is noteworthy, partly because she doubles the representation of women in cabinet, though with Captain Abbott, or should that be Mr Misogyny, bizarrely retains the title of Minister for Women. And even doubling the number still means a grand total of only two!

Ms Ley’s elevation is important also because she had been a rare Liberal voice in support of a just peace for Palestine, having been a co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Palestine and supporter of Palestine’s UN bid for statehood.

“I support the Palestinian bid for statehood in part because it will give heart to the ordinary people of the West Bank and Gaza” said Ms Ley (House of Representatives 2011)

Let us hope in 2015 that Ms Ley doesn’t have to bury her support for Palestinian statehood in the name of Cabinet solidarity, but instead is able to use her newly elevated status for the cause of a just peace in this strife torn region.

At this stage it is of course touch and go as to how Ms Ley will proceed, but a small sign of hope for the New Year is that her address to Parliament from 2011 is still on her website.

Australia’s shameful role at Lima

Publication of my Op Ed column on Australia’s shameful role at the UN Lima climate change conference today has been overshadowed by the outcome of the Martin Place hostage situation.

I hope it doesn’t result in a fit of Muslim bashing, and I echo the words of the Greens NSW MPs, who issued a press release that read  “Let’s make sure that this tragedy doesn’t tear us apart but makes  us stronger and more united as a society that prides itself on inclusiveness, peace and harmony.”

Anyway, here’s the full text of the Op Ed column:

The news from Lima is worse than expected

Reluctant as I am to write a follow-up column, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s appalling actions at the UN Lima climate conference demand a response to last week’s piece. For we continue to be the chief obstructer at these talks, making efforts to remove the most basic things from the draft text which have already been agreed to, like a commitment to global solidarity and long term temperature limits,” Senator Milne said.

Julie Bishop has exposed Australia’s true colours to the delegates in Lima. Her statements are nothing more than global warming denial.

The Minister’s question ‘How could one possibly commit to having a fossil fuel free world by 2050?’ certainly tells the story. The Abbott government does not accept the science, continues to support coal expansion and can’t see that they will be left behind as plenty of countries commit to a fossil fuel free world.

As Green leader Senator Christine Milne observed, “The sad reality is that Australia is embarrassing itself all over the place in order to soften the ground for Australia abandoning genuine action altogether.

“Everyone knows the whole point of a global climate agreement is to constrain global warming and to find the fairest and most effective way of doing it. But everything Australia has done flies in the face of good faith and ignores the science,” said Senator Milne.

Of course, Ms Bishop got off to a bad start by only contributing a measly $200 million to UN funds. For though the Murdoch media and right wing shock jocks have shrieked that we are being over generous with tax payers prescious funds, this is comparatively a tiny amount, of which we should be ashamed.

And to add insult to injury, Ms Bishop has taken that money from the Foreign Aid budget, a funding source she said she would never use for climate change purposes.

And yet I don’t hear Alan Jones et al calling Ms Bishop a liar. Perhaps it is because ‘Julie’ doesn’t morph into ‘Juliar’ as easily as the former PM’s given name of Julia did.

As I write this the Sydney Morning herald’s front page headline is ‘Bishop seeks special deal on emissions’, and the text explains that she is busy at Lima trying to change the rules around measuring carbon emissions. Clearly she’s really using Lima for domestic politics.

Perhaps Captain Abbott should bring his entire team to Wagga Wagga next July to attend Erin Earth’s important forum entitled ‘Are we being misled?’, which asks if the free market is really the most socially and environmentally just way of living.

For as last week’s topic of Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate’ makes clear, it is rampant free market policies are behind the climate catastrophe we now face.

So Captain Abbott’s excursion to Wagga should be by train, or coach/train if they are travelling from Canberra.

A Christmas Present for Julie Bishop: Australian Foreign Minister needs to read Naomi Klein

Good to see the Greens Regional, Rural and Remote Working Group created at last weekend’s State Council. Also, my Daily Advertiser Op Ed piece recommending Julie Bishop reads Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate’ published today. After cutting Australia’s funding to the UN climate body by 80% she’s representing us at the Climate Change conference in Lima, Peru. Go figure!

Here’s the full text:

A Christmas present for the Foreign Minister

Treasurer Joe Hockey urged us to “Spend up big” for Christmas (ABC TV, 2 December) and whilst it is debatable whether his reducing Christmas to nothing more than crass consumerism and avarice, it did remind me that a book I have recently been reading would make an excellent end-of-year present for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop as she jets off to the UN Climate Conference in Lima, Peru.

The book is Naomi Klein’s acclaimed ‘This changes everything: Capitalism vs the Climate’ by Naomi, published by Alan Lane. It would also be useful for all the climate change sceptics still sticking their heads in the sand.

More of the book in due course, but why would it make a good present for Ms Bishop?

Not just because she ignores the weight of climate science, but because as Foreign Minister she has a public voice denied to most, and power to put her misguided views into practice.

For despite calling for ‘strong’ greenhouse gas emission cuts (SMH, 5 December), she is also promoting really dangerous ideas, such as nuclear energy being an option for Australia, describing it as an “obvious direction” as it considers how to cut carbon dioxide emissions after 2020.

Others of course are aware that uranium is dangerous to mine, to transport and use as fuel, and that it remains fatally toxic for millions of years, as renowned Australian scientist Helen Caldicott has been warning for years.

I guess Ms Bishop is just preparing a case for when, at the Lima conference, Australia will face pressure to announce its climate targets for beyond 2020.

Which reminds me, why isn’t Captain Abbott sending the Minister for the Environment?

Anyway, at Lima Ms Bishop may also become the pariah of the international community for her slashing funding to a key United Nations environment agency by more than 80 per cent.

Not surprisingly, environmental groups are stunned.

Now, what would Ms Bishop learn from Ms Klein’s most recent book? In it she examines in exhaustive detail the politics, ethics and realities around climate change. She shows how the Western power elites remain in denial about the extent of the problem because it suits their economic interests to do so.

Klein tackles big business, big banks, oil and gas, compliant environmentalists, and a mainstream media that largely follows the narrative set by its paymasters and advertisers, all issues dear to the neo-liberal ideology of Team Abbott..

She also points the finger at corrupt trade deals such as the one being negotiated with Australia, The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would allow multinationals the power to sue Australia for loss of income, lessening our sovereignty.

So something to help Ms Bishop while away the hours as she jets across the Pacific.

Actions about Children in Detention

My Op Ed column about refugee children in detention (the ‘We’re better than this’ celebrity action, and the local Children’s Cage event to take place here in Wagga this Thursday and Friday on the forecourt of the Civic Centre) published in the Daily Advertiser today.

Here’s the full text:

Children in detention

It is the nature of newspaper Opinion Pieces to comment on something that has already happened, and that is how this week’s column starts, but fortunately this time it can go on the discuss something that is about to happen locally.

Firstly, what has already happened, and a comment to begin. Putting the often dubious nature of celebrity to good use high profile Australian sports stars, actors and media personalities have come together in a slick television and online campaign with a simple message to the Australian government: remove children from immigration detention.

Titled “We’re better than this” they include former Australian cricket captain Ian Chappell and  journalist Ita Buttrose who criticised the incarceration of asylum seeker children, particularly in the offshore processing centre in Nauru and the detention centre on Christmas Island.

They are joined by actress Deborah Mailman, author Tom Keneally, and film critic Margaret Pomeranz in the short one minute advertisement, while Bernard Fanning from Powderfinger has lent his musical skills to the production.

I’ll believe every child deserves a safe place to play,” Ian Chappell says in the video. “I mean Christmas Island, it’s a phosphate mine; it’s dangerous and it’s dirty and it’s got to affect the health of children. We’re better than this.”

Rosie Scott, an author and the founder of the movement, said she wanted to attract the attention of mainstream Australia through a campaign that could shine a light on the “horrors of children in detention”.

“This is just the beginning.”

There are currently 603 children being held in Immigration detention, including on Christmas Island, and 186 children being held in Nauru, according to the Department of Immigration. The average length of detention is currently 413 days.

Children kept in immigration detention are shown to suffer from high rates of depression and mental health problems.

In July the government’s medical health group the International Health and Medical Service told an Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into children in detention that the Immigration Department requested they withdraw alarming mental health figures of children in their report.

The ‘about to happen locally’ aspect of this column is the ‘Free the Children’ event taking place at the (Wagga) Civic Centre forecourt all day each day on Thursday 4 and Friday 5 December.

Part of a national tour organised by ChilOut and the Australian Coalition to End Immigration Detention of Children its centre point is ‘cage’ installation created by ‘Agency of Sculpture’ in which are dolls symbolising the children locked up by our government.

The public are invited to ‘free a child’ by entering the cage and remove the doll’s ID card, which is a letter to federal MPs and the Immigration Minister – a symbolic but also direct and positive way to take action on this important issue.

After the Wagga Wagga event the cage will move on Leeton and Griffith

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