I’m in Occupied East Jerusalem on my fourth visit to Palestine. This time I’m a volunteer at the Alrowwad Theatre and Culture Centre in the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, to which I’ll travel tomorrow.
Getting here wasn’t easy. Well, the flights from Wagga via Sydney, Dubai and Amman were fine, as was the 30-minute drive from Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport to the Allenby Bridge across the so-called River Jordan. I say ‘so-called’ because there’s no water in the Jordan, it having been pumped dry by the illegally occupying Israelis.
The problem was the four hour(!) interrogation by the Israeli border force, including a session with the Israeli army. They really don’t like international peace volunteers, figuring we will expose their cruel inhumane and largely quite illegal tactics as they continue to defiantly occupy the Palestinian Territories.
Anyway, after this harrowing experience, when I did feel that this time they would really not let me in, I made my way up to East Jerusalem for a day’s rest before travelling on to Bethlehem. In theory that town is in Area A of the State of Palestine, which means that it has full Palestinian sovereignty, and no Israeli presence at all. And pigs might fly – the Israeli army (full title Israeli Defence Force, acronym IDF) comes in and out at will. Last week it raided the Aida Camp, killing two Palestinian civilians.
IDF is of course a euphemism, for it is nothing more than a brutal army of aggression, hell-bent on fulfilling the Greater Israel policy of the extreme Zionists in power in Israel.
Despite being jet-lagged and emotionally knocked about by the IDF’s interrogations I’ve just had a great day in (illegally occupied) East Jerusalem. I love this place and lament what it could be like without the Israeli presence, which means that it is very neglected and run-down. Despite that it is a vibrant community, jammed packed with places of historic and cultural significance.
Highlights for me today were the Old City, including revisiting the Dome of the Rock, both a real pleasure by being there early in the morning, the Educational Bookshop in Saladin Street and its sister shop at the American Colony Hotel, and, a new one for me, the Palestine Heritage Museum.
This museum, funded by the EU, is a modern place in an old building, well curated and a fascinating educational and cultural experience. Having found it on my fourth visit to this city I’ll need to visit it again and again on future visits.
My next entry to this journal-blog will be during my settling in to Bethlehem.
One step forward, two steps back for LGBTIQ rights
Just over a week ago I was privileged to attend one of the most moving experiences of my life, the NSW Parliament’s Apology for the violent treatment meted out to the marchers in the first Mardi Gras parade in 1978.
I was one of them, and have marched every year since, a total after last Saturday’s march of 38. My ambition is to make it to the 50th march in twelve years’ time. I’ll be 82 then, but plan to do it, by wheelchair if needs be.
The Apology was of course long overdue, but nonetheless very welcome. Not only was it important to hear MPs from the Liberal, Labor and Greens, as well as one Independent, say how sorry they were that the state’s upholders of law and order behaved in the appalling way they did, but all also expressed their thanks to us. Not just for braving the forces of darkness, but for initiating the legal and social changes we set in train. It was this that moved me to tears.
However, I was soon brought back to reality when Greens MP for Newtown Jenny Leong reminded the House and the audience that the police also needed to apologise for their quite unprovoked brutality. Her call was answered in part last Friday when Superintendent Tony Crandell apologised on behalf of the NSW Police, though Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione still remains silent.
If the apology was one step forward what has happened since represents two steps backwards. These negative developments began with Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi calling for the abolition of the Safe School program, designed to safeguard vulnerable children, including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) ones, from harassment and bullying.
Bernardi’s call to take vulnerable children back to the horrors of the dark ages has been picked up and amplified by other troglodytes, including that troublesome back-bencher Tony Abbott. “It’s not an anti-bullying program,” Mr Abbott said. “It’s a social engineering program. Its funding should be terminated” he told News Corp.
To add to the back-stepping, debate flared on ABC TV’s Q&A program last week over claims that same-sex marriage would lead to a new “stolen generation” by panellist Lyle Shelton, the managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, who said same-sex marriage would see babies taken from their mother’s breast. However, the Christian Lobby is merely an extreme right wing propaganda machine, thankfully not representing any of the recognised churches.
Another backward step is a leaked pamphlet, prepared and funded by Chris Miles, a former Liberal MP, set to feature in the upcoming plebiscite against same-sex marriage. It claims that children of gay and lesbian parents are more prone to “abuse and neglect” and more likely to be unemployed, and to abuse drugs and suffer depression.
Mr Miles cites a report to congress by the US Department of Health and Human Services as the source for this claim. This is at best arrant nonsense, totally at odds with what research tells us, and at worst it is a blatant lie.
So not surprisingly, the Australian Greens have warned that the pamphlet is a window into the campaign being planned by opponents of marriage equality, in preparation for a plebiscite on the issue.
“This flyer is the latest example of this ugly campaign against equality,” Greens marriage equality and sexuality spokesperson Senator Robert Simms said.
The pamphlet is an indication of the depths to which the opponents of same-sex marriage will sink. It reminds me that Prime Minister Turnbull’s championing of the plebiscite is the price he had to pay for the support of right wing Liberals in toppling Tony Abbott. A cruel irony, given that Mr Turnbull is a supporter of marriage equality and the parliamentary numbers indicate that a free vote in both houses would result in the Marriage Act being amended to include same-sex couples.
Great response to my Daily Advertiser column on our treatment of refugees, & my interview about the Balding killer’s inhumane sentence, though the right wing ‘string ’em up’ revenge brigade was predictably very negative. Odd really, given that most of them would probably claim to be Christians, a religion with tenets of redemption and mercy. Go figure. Also in the past week I’ve started to put my next trip to Palestine into place, though best not to elaborate until its locked in.
Here’s last week’s DA column:
Refugee treatment based on legislated lies
Last week a majority of the High Court ruled that Australia’s offshore detention regime at Nauru and Manus Island is legal, by a majority of six to one. Perhaps that is so, if a decision based on interpretation of our constitution and laws passed by Parliament is the sole criteria for determining legality, but even so I favour the dissenting voice of Justice Michelle Gordon, who argued that “The relevant section of the Migration Act is invalid”.
However, and very sadly, the majority rules, but that does not make their decision morally or ethically right. Their decision cannot be justified for either adults or children, though some media commentators such as the Sydney Moring Herald editorial (4 February) argue, wrongly to my mind, that “The Herald accepts it can be justified for adults, but there is no moral justification for punishing children for the “sins” of their parents”. Well yes, but of what sins are these particular parents guilty? None, of course.
This appalling situation is best summed up by esteemed commentator Waleed Aly, who asked, late last week, “How long can we keep lying to ourselves? The history of asylum seeker policy in Australia will be remembered as a story of how successive governments legislated their lies to justify a world of make-believe borders and imaginary compliance” (SMH 5 February).
The test case was run by the Human Rights Law Centre on behalf of a Bangladeshi national who was sent by the Australian government as an “unauthorised maritime arrival” to Nauru, then brought to Australia in August 2014 for medical treatment along with her baby daughter.
The baby is one of 37 facing immediate deportation from the Wickham Point detention facility near Darwin to Nauru as a result of the decision. The Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has made clear his determination to enforce a “robust” approach.
True, the federal government in response to widespread outrage has belatedly worked to reduce the number of children held in detention, from nearly 1000 in mid-2014 to 174 at the end of last November. Of those still in detention 104 were held in closed immigration detention facilities in Australia and 70 in the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru. A further 331 children were in community detention in Australia.
On Nauru they face rat infestations, extreme heat, poor access to water, insufficient health screening, the threat of sexual assaults and prolonged uncertainty about the future. Not surprisingly the coincidentally new Human Rights Commission inquiry report found that “children on Nauru are suffering from extreme levels of physical, emotional, psychological and developmental distress”.
As Professor George Williams notes, there is now no need for asylum seekers to be treated fairly with prompt assessment of claims, and the law allows Australia to wash its hands of such matters by sending them to Nauru.
In response to his first question since yesterday’s High Court decision directed to him in Question Time by Greens MP Adam Bandt, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull refused to commit to not sending these children currently living in Australia to Nauru.
Greens Immigration spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said: “When it comes to people seeking asylum, we need to create a fair and efficient system that will bring them here safely so that they can be integrated into the community.”
Indeed, all asylum seekers, including of course, parents with children, should be subject to community detention, not imprisonment in detention centres.
All the end of/new year and my 70th birthday stuff is all over now, thank goodness, and Peter is back to health, if clearly older now, so time to get blogging again. I’ll be busy this year with the Greens, Palestine, and various volunteer activities, including the Multicultural Council, and so on, as well as my weekly column in the Wagga Daily Advertiser. This week’s was all about how we have very little to celebrate on Australia Day, especially as it is held on 26 January, which correctly should be known as ‘Invasion Day’. Very please to see Jenny Leong, Greens MP for Newtown, taking part in the march of that name in Sydney, and Greens Senator from NSW Lee Rhiannon doing good media on the issue. Good on ’em!
Here’s my Daily Advertiser column in full, which was published on the day itself:
Reflections on Australia Day
Today marks another Australia day, and as ever it gives me cause for reflection, though perhaps sometimes not quite in the way the powers that be might like.
26th January marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Feet of British convict ships at Port Jackson, and the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of what was then known as New Holland, which, despite British claims to the contrary, was not unoccupied territory, or ‘Terra Nullius’, to use the Latin term favoured by the British.
And indeed, the impact of the establishment of the British convict settlement was most obviously on the land’s first people, something most politicians and their parties manage to ignore, though thankfully not all, for as Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon said last week, “On Jan 26 thousands of Australians will remember the Frontier Wars when this land’s First Peoples fought against British colonisation. Tragically their struggle continues”,
Not surprisingly then, to many 26th January is ‘Invasion Day’, ‘Settlement Day’ or the ‘Day of Mourning”. Here’s what Aboriginal poet and Bayili woman Zelda Quakawoot said “Historically the 26th of January has always been marked as our Day of Mourning. There is so much turmoil about Australian pride on this day. Not all Australians feel that sense of pride.”
Yet she also wrote, “Aboriginal people did not and have never said ‘no’ to anyone entering this country, whether it was for trade or refuge. History tells us this through the Maccassans from Indonesia, who travelled quite regularly to the northern parts of Australia for trepang, and traded other goods and services many hundreds of years before Captain Cook landed.”
Lest readers think the world has moved on from such blatant grabs of other peoples’ territory, in the mid-twentieth century the Zionists argued, and still do, that they could seize the territory of the Palestinians on the grounds of it being “A land without a people, for a people without a land” to create the state of Israel.
Though the official rhetoric about the settlement at Sydney Cove likes to tell us convicts were transported for relatively trivial domestic criminal activity, the reality is that a great many of the convict population was made up of political prisoners, initially Irish Catholics, followed by campaigners against the social and political injustices of the industrial revolution.
Sydney was in fact a British gulag, and soon came to be ruled by the ‘Three Gs’, of guns, grog, and gambling. This isn’t much to celebrate, but on the other hand it would also be accurate to say that not much has changed.
Australia Day celebrations, at least according to the official line, reflect our diverse society, and are marked by community and family events, official community awards, and citizenship ceremonies welcoming new immigrants into the Australian community.
True enough, but even as we are welcoming new citizens, the day is often marked by outright hostility to them, as demonstrated by the Cronulla Riots, and repeated chants of ‘Go back to where you came from’. Even last year’s announcement that we would take a paltry 12,000 of the more than three million Syrian refugees was vocally opposed by some. Not much of a welcome really, quite putting our National Anthem to shame.
Given all this, it is therefore fitting to give the final word to rugby star and social activist David Pocock, who has urged the nation to take stock of its shortcomings on January 26, during his first speech as the ACT’s Australia Day ambassador (ABC Online).
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.
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?