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.