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Saturday, 13 December 2014

Labor for Palestine: It's About Time |

Labor for Palestine: It's About Time |

Labor for Palestine: It's About Time

By Stuart Rees

time for the ALP to ask itself serious questions about the situation in
Israel and move to new policy platform, writes Stuart Rees

this week a meeting in was held in western Sydney to discuss whether
the Federal Labor Party should support Palestinians’ rights to

In response to the unspeakable suffering of all Palestinians -
Gazans, West Bankers, Arab citizens of Israel, and the 5 million
refugees still served by the UN Refugee Works Association (UNRWA) - why
would the ALP not take a stand for Palestine?    

But change from adherence to the Israeli narrative to fearless
support for the Palestinian cause may not be easy. Questions to ALP
members, which relate to the identity of a party which claims to promote
social justice, might do the trick. Here are the questions. 

Key Questions

How can you retain self-respect if you appear to collude with Israeli
Government’s occupation of Palestinian lands? Do you have any sense of
disbelief at the displacement and replacement polices which have been
occurring since 1948, or at the blood bath of Operation Cast Lead which
began on December 27, 2008? 

Surely the disproportionate use of force in the 2014 Operation
Protective Edge in Gaza would affect your attitude?In that operation,
over 2000 Palestinians were killed and 11,000 wounded. The non-combatant
ratio of Palestinians to Israelis who lost their lives was
approximately 600:1.

Eighteen thousand housing units were destroyed, 24 medical facilities
damaged and at least 16 health workers killed. Twenty-six schools were
destroyed, 228 were damaged and another 31 schools left to serve as
shelters for displaced people.

Will you acknowledge the unnecessary Israeli deaths but also the
massive imbalance in Israeli/Palestinian casualties, property destroyed
and the means of livelihood lost?

Since 2007, within Israel, at least 402 civilians and 58 security
forces have died as a result of suicide bombing. UN figures also
indicate that in Operation Protective Edge, the number of Palestinian
children killed – approximately 500 – exceeds the total number of
Israelis, civilians and soldiers, killed by Palestinians in rocket
attacks and all other attacks over the past decade.

Far away from the Middle East, Australians may become blasé about
body counts, but how could you not protest the cruelty involved  in
control of the most precious life force – water?

UN figures indicate that Israeli citizens receive 300 cubic meters of
water per year, Palestinians 35-85 cubic metres. Israeli settlers on
the West Bank are allotted 1,500 cubic metres and enjoy green lawns and
swimming pools while Palestinians often get no water at all. Haaretz
journalist Amira Hass warns there’s little point in arguing whether
Israelis’ water consumption is four or only three times that of
Palestinians. Instead she requests, “Open your eyes: the thick pipes of
the Mekorot (Israel’s national water provider) are heading to the Jordan
valley settlements, and a Palestinian tractor next to them transports a
rusty tank of water from afar.”

“In the summer, the faucets run dry in Hebron and never stop flowing in (settlements) Kiryat Arba and Beit Hadassah.”

On 9 February 2014, B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for
Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, reported that “over 90 per
cent of water in the Gaza Strip is unfit for drinking. Wastewater
treatment facilities have been damaged, sewage seeps into ground water
and fills the sea.”

Following massive floods across the Gaza Strip in early November
2014, the head of Gaza’s water authority admitted, “The recent war
destroyed everything in Gaza. Many sewage pipes and water networks are
still buried under the rubble.”

East Jerusalem Violence

The record of suffering grows. How would ALP members respond if they
observed the hopelessness which Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem
feel when faced with attacks from armed settlers?

Admittedly there have been awful tit for tat killings, as in the
recent fatal stabbings in a synagogue. This violence occurs in the
context of incitement from settlement leaders, Jerusalem being cut off
from the West Bank, more evictions, more house demolitions and excessive
police brutality.

Israeli author and human rights activist Jeff Halper calls the
collective punishment involved in the demolition of people’s homes,
‘atavistic revenge.’ He emphasizes that the targeting and punishing of
family members innocent of any crime constitutes a violation of Article
33 of the Geneva Convention relative to the ‘Protection Of Civilian
Persons In Time Of War.’

What do party members know of the civil rights of Palestinians living
on the West Bank and in an East Jerusalem almost completely surrounded
by large Israeli settlements?

Israeli leaders encourage Jews to attempt to worship in Moslem holy
places and have given a green light to settlers to attack Palestinians
and their property. Gershon Baskin writes,
“The only real services that Palestinian neighbourhoods of East
Jerusalem receive are those of Border Police arresting suspects, closing
neighbourhoods as well as house demolitions and taxation.”

He reminds us that 80 per cent of East Jerusalem Palestinians live under the poverty line.

Hate speech in Israel and from leading members of the Knesset is an
almost daily occurrence.  A right wing settlers’ slogan reads, “A Jew is
a blessed soul, an Arab is a son of a whore.”

In response to the current discrimination, hate speech and violence
in East Jerusalem, distinguished Palestinian lawyer Dianna Buttu
comments, “This has been the most dehumanizing ordeal in my experience.
All you hear about is the idea that Palestinians don’t value human life,
‘They have a culture of martyrdom’.”

To add to these cruelties a Jewish Nation State Bill is in legal
preparation as the right wing’s one-state solution which would include
the annexation of the territories and the establishment of a Jewish
apartheid State. Israeli journalist Gideon Levy writes that in the
proposed new law, Palestinians will become formally, legally second
class citizens. The architects of this new Israeli state must make sure
at any price that it will not be democratic and egalitarian.

Not Standing Alone

In recognising Palestine as a state, Australian Labor is not being
asked to go it alone, though there would be every reason for taking a
leadership role irrespective of the attitude of other nations.

Several European countries have already taken this stand. The Swedish
Government proposes to extend full diplomatic recognition to the State
of Palestine. By large majorities the Irish Parliament, the British
House of Commons, the Spanish Parliament and the French National
Assembly have voted to recognise the state of Parliament. The motion in
the French Assembly invited “the French Government to recognise the
state of Palestine in order to obtain a definitive settlement of the

Australian state Labor parties have also moved on this issue. A South
Australian Labor resolution mirrors similar statements passed in
Tasmania, NSW and Queensland. The South Australian resolution recognises
peace in the Middle East will only be assured by the foundation of a
Palestinian State based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps and
security guarantees for itself and Israel.

“SA Labor welcomes the decision of the Palestinian Authority to
commit to a demilitarised Palestine with the presence of international
Peace keepers including US forces,” it says.

Will the Labor Party leadership also heed the cues being given by significant Israeli citizens?

In September 2014, 660 Israeli public figures called on the Danish
Parliament to recognise the State of Palestine. “This would be no
anti-Israel act,” they wrote, “it would help Israel’s future.”

In November 2014, 106 ex-Israeli generals, senior police, and former
heads of Mossad urged Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to negotiate with
“moderate Arab states and with Palestinians in the West Bank and the
Gaza Strip”.

Their letter refers to the Saudi backed peace proposal that was
adopted unanimously by the Arab league in 2002. It offered full peace,
diplomatic recognition, and “normal relations” between Arab states and
Israel in return for Israel’s withdrawal to borders based on the
pre-1967 armistice lines, with negotiated land swaps and a ‘just’ and
mutually ‘agreed’ compromise solution to the Palestinian refugee

If Labor supports Palestine, will political leaders be sufficiently
resilient to not bend in the face of the torrent of derision which
always follows anyone who dares to criticise Israeli government

In response to an article of mine explaining why the world wide
Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement was neither racist nor
anti-Semitic, one threatening letter read, “Go hide in a tunnel… or
stick a grenade up your arse like ur crocodile buddies”.

One of those crocodile buddies was presumably Bob Carr who had
identified and condemned the small group of largely Melbourne
businessmen who supported Israel’s fundamentalist position on illegal
colonies and who sought to veto any change in an Australian government’s
attitude towards Israeli policies.

Carr’s criticism prompted the usual howls of derision from the Israel
right or wrong lobby. Melissa Parke MP received similar vitriol when she spoke in the House of Representatives about the merits of the BDS campaign.

Labor politicians who have spoken in support of the rights of
Palestinians know that the criticism they receive is nothing compared to
the violence and humiliation meted out to Palestinians. They should
know that some Israeli leaders are also dismayed by reactions to any
criticism of the policies of their government.

Quoted in The New Yorker,
the current President of Israel Reuven Rivlin said, “It is time to
honestly admit that Israel is sick, and it is our duty to treat this

He also commented, “I must say that I’ve been horrified by this
thuggishness that has permeated the national dialogue…I’m not asking if
we’ve forgotten how to be Jewish but if we’ve forgotten how to be

From Change of Attitude to Policy?

Beyond the symbolic importance of Labor recognising the state of Palestine, how might such a gesture be converted into a policy?

Although one state already exists in Israel/Palestine, and is about
to be consolidated in the Jewish Nation State Bill, the ALP policy still
envisages a two state solution. In which case a diplomatically sound
elaboration of ‘Labor for Palestine’ could be to return to UN Resolution
242 adopted unanimously in 1967.

Commitment to the terms of that resolution would require all the
parties to cease military activities and return to borders existing
before the 1967 war.

The ALP needs to recognise that if they want to remain a friend of a
democratic Israel, let alone find enough vestiges of humanity to support
the Palestinians, they should be urging negotiations under UN auspices
regarding the goals of Resolution 242. Those goals have much in common
with the Arab Peace Plan and with ALP state branch resolutions.

In the process of moving from a change of attitude to the crafting of
a new policy, emotions will come into play. But it should not take much
courage for Federal Labor to at last say, ‘We’ve had enough of cruelty
as a government’s policy. We’ve had enough of indifference to
international law. We object to violence from all sides but we have not
forgotten about justice; and we will not be intimidated by the Israel

In relation to a change of policy towards all Palestinians we want to
re-craft Gough Whitlam’s unforgettable slogan: ‘It’s about time!’’

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