If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, Friends of Palestine (WA — FOPWA) must be doing something right: Friends of Israel (WA) was launched on August 8.
The group’s website is a mix of nationalism and barely concealed racism. “Israel is in the front lines of the global battle between those who love life and those who glorify death”, it says.
The launch took place at the Victory Life Centre, a fundamentalist Christian church, in Osborne Park, Perth.
Despite the groundswell of people criticising Israel’s ongoing illegal occupation of Palestine, and the human rights abuses associated with it, the list of speakers and supporters at the launch was telling: federal opposition foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop, foreign minister Stephen Smith, and WA Labor opposition leader Eric Ripper, among many others.
FOPWA wrote to these politicians, telling them unconditional support of Israel is no longer uncontroversial. Responses to our letter were varied: State senator Glenn Sterle called and lectured us, we had a meeting with Bishop’s advisor, and others indicated they had open minds and were willing to attend FOPWA events to hear another perspective.
FOPWA had a dignified presence at the Friends of Israel launch, ensuring nobody there could ignore the silenced Palestinian voice.
Some of us wore tape over our mouths to visually represent this. Our signs read "Friends don't let friends...”, the sentence finishing with various Israeli crimes: occupy; imprison children; kill peace activists; steal passports; starve Gaza.
More than 1000 people attended the launch, mainly from the church.
It was advertised as a public event, but a FOPWA member was initially ejected from the venue. After negotiations with state security, two members were allowed to observe proceedings. They reported a startling absence of the words “Palestinian”, “occupation”, “West Bank” or “Gaza”.
Smith made mention of a "peace process", but otherwise there was no mention of peace.
Attendees mostly hurried past us, reading our signs despite themselves. But a couple took time to talk. One woman bemoaned Israel's actions in Gaza, then sadly said "but I'm a Christian, so I have to support Israel".
As a young Palestinian family joined us, they were taunted with “Is it terrorist shopping day out?”
FOPWA won't stop spreading the message of justice until such views are relegated to history, and Palestinians have justice and human rights.
[Sarah Haynes is co-convenor of Friends of Palestine WA. The next FOPWA event will be a screening of Hope in a Slingshot, 4pm, September 12. FTI, 92 Adelaide St, Fremantle. See FOPWA.org.]