Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Advocating for Palestine and more

A productive week just past. Attended an excellent integrated transport forum in Wagga on Thursday, with most participants advocating for public transport, cycling and pedestrians, and where cars were clearly the problem.

My column in the Daily Advertiser was on Palestine, particularly the EU mandating labelling for Israeli settlement made good, the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) adopting a Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) policy, and the Australian Greens recognising the State of Palestine. This weekend I’m in Sydney for a Greens for Palestine meeting.

In full my Daily Advertiser column read as follows:

Finally some welcome developments regarding Palestine

At times it seems that there will be no end to discord in the Middle East, including the outburst of violence in the Israeli occupied Palestinian Territories that began in October. In part it was fuelled by the seemingly never ending occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and the growth of illegal Israeli government supported and protected ‘settlements’ in these areas.

So it has been encouraging to see several recent developments that could help the move towards a just peace for the Palestinians.

Last Wednesday, for example, the European Union published new guidelines mandating the labelling of products made in Israeli ‘settlements’ in the Palestinian West Bank. This means Israeli producers must explicitly label farm goods and other products that come from settlements built on land illegally occupied by Israel if they are sold in the European Union.

Not unsurprisingly the EU rule has triggered a fierce backlash from the Israeli government. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasting it as “hypocritical” and invoking memories of the Nazi holocaust, which has sadly become something of habit when Israeli illegal activity is challenged, for its inappropriate repetition weakens the horror of the historical reality.

The many Palestinians the EU ruling is a welcome development. PLO secretary-general Saeb Erekat said the labelling decision was a “significant move toward a total boycott of Israeli settlements.”

This is more fully known as a Boycotts, Sanctions and Divestments (BDS). It is similar to the movement that ended Apartheid era South Africa, and is increasingly gaining support throughout the world as a way of achieving a just peace

Here one of the most important bodies to back it is the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN), a national-level advocacy organisation representing a range of Palestine solidarity organisations, religious organisations, trade unions, peace groups and individuals, which at its 2015 AGM agreed to endorse and advocate a policy of BDS of Israeli and international institutions complicit in violations of human rights and international law in Israel and Palestine.

The recognition of Palestinian statehood is another point of contention, as it is something else denied Palestinians by the Israeli government. The 1993 Oslo Accords established the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) as a self-governing interim administration in the Palestinian Territories designed as a precursor to a fully independent Palestinian state, which has become known as the ‘Two State Solution’.

1993 was quite a while ago. The failure of the two-state solution due to Israel’s continuing intransigence create a volatile mix of frustration, despair and anger on the part of the Palestinians.

Recognition of this state of affairs prompted the 2015 National Conference of the Australian Greens to pass a policy which “seeks to further develop the current Australian Greens Palestine policy by formally recognising the State of Palestine”. It seeks a two-state solution based on the 4 June 1967 borders (immediately before the Six Day War), with Jerusalem as the shared capital and with both states living peacefully side by side.  

This is the first Australian political party to do so. The Coalition is silent on the matter, and the Labor Party’s attitude is a ‘Clayton’s’ policy (the policy you have when you are not having a policy), as it only commits a future ALP government to ‘discuss’ taking certain steps towards the recognition of the State of Palestine if ‘there is no progress in the next round of the peace process.’  Go figure.


Greens recognise the State of Palestine and much more this week

The past week has been very productive, and in a positive way too. Our Greens for Palestine (known as G4P)a Greens NSW working Group, proposal that the Aust Greens recognise the State of Palestine passed at National Conference last weekend.

I also sent out invitations and booked the table for G4P’s end of year lunch on 21 November.

Locally I’m working on a public community screening of ‘This Changes Everything’ for 28 November as a prelude to the People’s Climate Change rally the following day.

And this week my column in the ‘Daily Advertiser’ was on rebutting suggestions the GST be raised to 15%. The full text follows below:

GST increase will hit lower income households hardest

Last week national political and economic news was full of stories about taxation reform. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says they must be fair and broad and not focused on single issues such as the GST.

Despite these denials some informed commentators, such as the Sydney Morning Herald’s Ross Gittings, are convinced that “It’s a sure bet Turnbull will raise the GST” to 15%.

The Grattan Institute estimates that a GST rise from 10 to 15 per cent would raise an additional $30 billion a year in revenue.

There has naturally enough there has been a storm of opposition. Bill Shorten declared that Labor is “resolutely’’ opposed to raising or broadening the GST but committed to closing tax loopholes exploited by high-­income earners.

Greens Treasury spokesperson Adam Bandt MP added “There are better ways to raise revenue, such as removing unfair tax breaks for big polluters and the very wealthy.” To which I would add abolishing negative gearing.

Greens NSW MP Dr Kaye pointed out that “The GST is a flat tax that proportionately collects more from those who can least afford to pay.”

Interestingly, Malcolm Turnbull’s plans are also facing a pushback from his own side, with some Liberal MPs ignoring social justice issues, saying that any change to the GST must be accompanied by cuts to personal or business taxes.

Senator Bernardi even jumped on his personal extreme right-wing hobby horse when he said, “There should be a flat rate of tax. Personal income tax that would not exceed 35 per cent. We need to have a higher tax-free threshold.” The mind boggles.

However, locally it was pleasing to see member for Riverina Michael McCormack say that extending the GST to apply to fresh food would only serve to discourage consumers from eating healthily. “We need to encourage people to eat fresh fruit and fresh vegetables.” (DA 5 November).

Inadvertently Mr McCormack also revealed a possible hidden agenda underlying his dietary concerns, which is that the inclusion of food would hit his power base in the MIA hard, when he added that “Producers have a difficult time enough as it is.”

However, despite such political posturing, what really counts is research showing the changes would hit low-income households hard but its negative effects would go almost unnoticed by those at the top end of town. Offsetting the tax hike with lower marginal income tax would only make the disparity between rich and poor worse.

The analysis by the respected National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) shows the current 10 per cent GST consumes 13.4 per cent of disposable income for those in the bottom fifth of households, but that would rise to more than 20 per cent if the rate were lifted to 15 per cent.

NATSEM’s modelling of the impact of the Abbott government’s two budgets showed that budget consolidation was made at the expense of the less well-off. Surely Messrs Turnbull and Morrison are wise enough not to repeat the Abbott/Hockey unfair policies?

Of course, the government is quick to assure us that this is not the case, and that any changes would be fair, with special emphasis that any GST increase would be compensated by tax cuts. But how do you cut taxes for pensioners and others on fixed low non-taxable incomes?

Dr Finkel’s ill-advised advocacy of nuclear power

My column in this week’s Daily Advertiser was on newly appointed Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel’s ill-advised advocacy of nuclear power, as follows:

Nuclear power belongs to the 1950s and let’s leave it there

Last week Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced Monash University Chancellor Dr Alan Finkel as the successful applicant for the prestigious position of Chief Scientist. Dr Finkel will replace Professor Ian Chubb in January 2016.

Particularly encouraging was Dr Finkel’s announcement that a future Australia will be fuelled without coal, oil or natural gas, but instead by zero emissions electricity. However, when he spelled out what these zero emission energy sources would be many of us were very concerned, for he argued that the alternatives should include nuclear energy

At the announcement Mr Turnbull added fuel to the fire, as it were, for although he stressed the improving economic viability of solar energy he also defended the coal industry against a push for a moratorium on new Australian coal mines.

“It would make not the blindest bit of difference to global emissions,” he said. “If Australia stopped exporting coal, the countries to which we export they would simply buy it from somewhere else.”

Predictably the fossil fuel industries jumped on the words of Dr Finkel and Mr Turnbull with glee. A BHP Billiton spokesman, for example, said the group believes fossil fuels “will remain an important part of the global energy mix and note comments from Dr Finkel that significant changes in energy demand and supply will not happen overnight.”

The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association’s chief, Malcolm Roberts, also pointed to the time involved in eliminating the electricity sector’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Both executives said coal and gas would still be needed in a world where electricity supplies relied on nuclear, renewables and battery storage.

Regrettably the support Messrs Finkel and Turnbull have received from the coal and nuclear industries shows once again that the fossil fuel industry will do anything to muddy the waters around renewables. Attempting to divert the conversation to nuclear is the desperate act of an industry scrambling to remain relevant as the world leaves them behind.

But thankfully Sixty-one prominent Australians, including rugby star David Pocock, have signed an open letter calling Mr Turnbull to ban new coal mines and push for an international ban on coal.

Politically the Finkel/Turnbull comments have also been greeted with the mixed feelings they deserve. For example, Greens Science spokesperson Adam Bandt MP today welcomed the appointment of Dr Alan Finkel as Chief Scientist and encouraged Dr Finkel to continue to champion renewable energy through his new position.

“The Greens welcome Dr Alan Finkel’s appointment as Chief Scientist as a boost to our national discussion about how to electrify Australia,” Mr Bandt said. “Although we differ with him about nuclear power, we hope Dr Finkel’s appointment represents a new scientific consensus that coal’s days are numbered.”

Australian energy production and exports should focus on the opportunities of the 21st century, not the failures of the 20th century, Australian Greens Deputy Leader and spokesperson for nuclear issues Senator Scott Ludlam said. With a disappointed sense of déjà vu I am not sure how many times this argument needs to be had, but the answers are the same as they’ve been for decades: nuclear power is too slow and too costly to make any useful contribution to Australia’s energy mix, to say nothing of the toxicity of the waste (which is now coming back to haunt Mr Turnbull), and the inextricable connection to the weapons industry, and of course the potential for disasters such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. And let’s not forget that Australian uranium was in the reactors at Fukushima.

Natural Burials, Welcome Walk, Wagga Peace Group, and Recognition of the State of Palestine

It has been a long time since I posted to my blog, but this has been a very productive week, spurring me to action, which I’ll endeavour to continue.
A couple of days ago I selected my Natural Burial site! Not planning to need it any time soon, but good to be buried in an environmentally friendly way: no embalming, in fact no chemicals at all, no coffin, so no chemically treated timber, just an unbleached cotton shroud. And I’ll be only one metre down, so my decomposing body can act as an organic fertiliser!
I’m the first one to select a site at the Natural Burial part of Wagga Council’s lawn cemetery, which was set up after a motion I put to Council five years ago when I was a Councillor that Council approves and provides for natural burials.
And today I’ll be taking part in the Welcome Walk for refugees and asylum seekers. Starting at 11.00 am we’ll be walking from Apex Park around Lake Albert. The weather isn’t very promising but hopefully there’ll be a good crowd.
During the walk and post-walk BBQ, together with Kevin and other Greens, I’ll be collecting names for a new project of mine, to form a Peace Group in Wagga. I’ll post updates on that, and if there is interest, set up a Facebook page.
In my capacity as Convenor of the Greens for Palestine I put a proposal to the Greens NSW that the party recognises the State of Palestine, which was successful, and during the past week our proposal to the Australian Greens National Conference that the Australian Greens do the same was successfully enhanced through negotiations with the offices of Senators Richard Di Natale (Party Room Leader) and Scott Ludlum (Foreign Affairs portfolio) to add their support to it, making it a joint proposal. Fingers crossed it succeeds at the National Conference next weekend.

A rewarding act of cultural solidarity

Leaving Occupied East Jerusalem today to begin my long journey home (via Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Dubai, Sydney airports) after a very stimulating, useful and enjoyable trip, learning Arabic and attending activist talks and events.

Learning colloquial Palestinian Arabic has been a very stimulating act of ‘cultural solidarity’. But a sign that it was probably time to go home was when a waiter said “No worries” after I’d said “Shukran” (thanks) for my coffee. At least he didn’t add “mate” on the end!

In my last week the most interesting and stimulating event was attending a really inspirational book launch by Ilan Pappe of Cherine Hussein’s ‘The Re-Emergence of the Single State Solution’. Its a little ironic that this concept is gaining credibility just as the Pope recognised Palestine as part of the very unjust and most likely doomed ‘two state’ solution.

Water in the Jordan Valley, Hebron, Palestinian cultural initiative, and progress in Arabic

I’ve had a good week in Palestine, including steady progress in learning Arabic at Al Quds Uni, and a trip to Hebron, though that is depressing because of the illegal Israeli settlements in the centre of the city and the number of soldiers deployed to protect them. I also got lost after leaving the Ibrahim Mosque and the Tombs of the Patriarchs and ended up in Israeli Area H2 before getting back to the safety of Palestinian Area H1. Still, it was a salutary lesson pointing out to me relatively painlessly what it must be like for the local Palestinians – as did seeing, once again, the old city retail streets covered with netting and tarps to protect them from rubbish thrown down on them from above by Israeli settlers.

I also attended a lecture at the French Cultural Institute on water in the Jordan Valley, almost all of which is illegally stolen by the Israelis, and used it as the stimulus for my next Op Ed column in the (Wagga) Daily Advertiser.

The next day  saw a very good Arabic movie, ‘Theeb’ at a newly re-opened Palestinian cinema here in Occupied East Jerusalem. It’s good to see an indigenous initiative get up and running, and I hope i) that it succeeds, and ii) the occupying Israelis don’t close it down.

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),



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