A far flung fight for justice in Palestine
Even before Palestine was “officially” partitioned by the November 1947 vote of the UN General Assembly, Zionist forces on the ground were on the offensive and, consequently, creating refugees. It could be no other way, given their ideologically driven desire to seize Palestinian land and reserve it solely for Jewish use. Palestinians out and Jews in became the equation that has dominated the conflict ever since. And, of course, from the beginning, the Zionists had the military power to make the equation play out. The result was millions of displaced Palestinians.
Most of these refugees stayed in the Middle East, as can be seen by the multitude of refugee camps that still dot the landscape in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The Zionists often point a finger at these camps as evidence of the cruelty of Arab regimes, most of which refuse to absorb Palestinian refugees. Simultaneously, they praise Israel’s active absorption of Jewish refugees. But making this comparison displays faulty logic.The refugee policies of some Arab regimes, cruel or otherwise, is different in kind from the ethnic cleansing of millions of Palestinians by Zionists.
Given the situation in those camps, tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees eventually moved out of the Middle East and scattered around the Western world. In this way the consequences of Israel’s conquests were exported and the Palestinian plight made physically real to the West. Thus, no one should be surprised that the struggle for justice for the Palestinians, and therefore opposition to Israeli practices, is to be found in far-flung corners of the globe.
Australia and the Palestinian cause
Take, for instance, Australia, more than half a world away from the Palestinian homeland. I recently boarded a very large airplane and spent 17 hours flying from Philadelphia to Sydney, Australia. After that I spent three weeks on a lecture tour addressing both university and public audiences on the Middle East in general and the Palestine-Israel conflict in particular.
Of the 23 million people living in Australia, over a quarter million are from Arabic-speaking lands. Newer Arab immigrants have been arriving ever since the US invasion of Iraq and the region’s subsequent ongoing chaos. As these newcomers enter the Australian milieu, their memories, and their grievances, came with them. Soon the injustices they suffered became a concern for Australians who encounter them and are sensitive to the issues of human and civil rights as well as violations of international law. The result has been the rapid growth of pro-Palestinian organisations in many Australian cities.
The cities I visited and groups I addressed were located in Adelaide, Canberra and Byron Bay. (Active pro-Palestinian groups are also to be found in Sydney and Melbourne). All the groups I encountered, such as the Australian Friends of Palestine, are involved in both educational and protest work. Demonstrations against Israeli policies and for the boycott of Israeli products go hand-in-hand with pamphleteering and the sponsorship of lectures and discussions. And, as is the case in the US and Europe, Australian doctors travel regularly to the occupied Palestinian territories – lands impoverished by their occupier in violation of international law – to deliver charitable medical care. These activities show high levels of energy and determination on the part of those supportive of justice for the Palestinians. They will be on the scene in Australia as long as Israeli injustice persists.
Within the Australian universities, one also sees an active interest and concern about Palestine, which often goes along with concern for the social and legal well-being of Australia’s Arab and Muslim citizens and residents. There is a sense that the Zionist representatives of a people who suffered horribly during World War II have betrayed the moral lessons of that experience by adopting the practice of colonial conquest. At the same time, the Zionists impose on the West a skewed picture of the Middle East. As a result, one debated question is which model should guide Australia’s domestic and foreign policies: the one reflecting its own tradition of civil liberties as a Western nation, or the fear-driven model presented by Israel that depicts every Palestinian, and indeed every Arab, as a potential terrorist.
Not all Australians are concerned about injustice in the Middle East and how its violent consequences may impact civil rights in the West. Australia’s present prime minister, Tony Abbott (head of a badly misnamed Liberal Party), is a strong supporter of Israel. That means he accepts the Israeli vision of the West beset by Middle Eastern terrorists. Indeed, Mr Abbott has told the citizens of Australia that such terrorists are “coming after us”.
Such scare tactics both exaggerate the threat from the Middle East while creating a counter threat to the rights of Australians. This is because fear can lead to government undermining an entire population’s liberties in the name of security.
On a more positive note, the Australian Labour Party (APL) has recently adopted a resolution calling for the creation of a Palestinian state using the 1967 ceasefire line as an Israeli-Palestinian border. There is much still wanting in the APL position, but its recognition of the need for at least a modicum of justice for the Palestinians is certainly preferable to aping the Israeli position. Moreover, the APL might become ever more supportive of the Palestinians as Israel predictably continues its barbarian ways.
Australian public opinion also appears to be growing more critical of Israel (a general Western trend). If this trend continues, it too could be used to put pressure on Australian politicians to act in a more pro-Palestinian way.
The scattering of Palestinian refugees throughout the Western world has challenged the image Israel presents of itself as a modern, civilised nation living according to ethical Western values. Joined now by increasing numbers of people who have visited Palestine to see conditions for themselves, the refugees are providing an alternate picture and message. As a result, it is ever more difficult for those responsible for the victimisation of Palestinians to silence their grievances. Simultaneously, the true nature of Zionist Israel is increasingly highlighted and its isolation becomes a greater possibility. The situation in Australia shows this process in action.