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).