On July 15, former NSW Greens MP Sylvia Hale and I used the freedom from deportation awarded us by an Israeli court to good effect. We joined the largest rally for some years in support of a Palestinian state ahead of the expected United Nations vote in September.
We carried a green and yellow banner saying, “Aussies say end blockade of Palestine”. The rally and march, with drumming circles and flowers was organized by a coalition of groups called Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity.
We ran into Australian activists Sol Salbe of Australian Jewish Democratic Society, Melbourne, and Annie Pfingst, formerly of Women in Black and Jews against the Occupation Sydney.
The rally marched from the Jaffa Gate of the Old City to Sheikh Jarrah where fanatical settlers, backed by state and local authorities, are dispossessing Palestinians of their homes.
For over a year now, there have been weekly marches to Sheikh Jarrah in solidarity with the Palestinians there. Israeli courts have upheld the demands of the Israeli settlers on the grounds that they had ownership papers from pre-1948. During the 1948 war, the area was occupied by Jordan, which allocated these homes to the current Palestinian inhabitants.
This issue has drawn in liberal Zionists because this ruling is blatantly discriminatory. Palestinians have their ownership rights universally denied despite holding ownership papers for many years, even centuries previously.
This is the core issue of the Palestinian right of return. Maybe for some liberal Zionists it could mean a precedent that would overturn the denial of Palestinian right of return and pre-1948 property rights.
This would be a threat to the Jewish majority in Israel. This underlies much liberal Zionist concern about ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
This rally was remarkable in a number of ways.
First, it was the biggest rally of the Israeli left for some time. Second, young people were definitely in the majority, as they have been in the Sheikh Jarrah campaign. Third, the March was billed as an Arab-Jewish solidarity march.
Sol Salbe told us that while Palestinians and Jews had marched together, it has been 20 years since this shared solidarity has been so explicitly embraced. However, Palestinians appeared to be only about 20% of the march. Restrictions on movement from the West Bank would certainly have been a factor.
Fourth, there were remarkably few Israeli flags in evidence or blue colours as a reference to Israeli nationalism. For example, the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity colours are red and white and black.
In my experience, critics of Israel have had to fall over themselves in stating their devotion to Israel and establishing their Zionist credentials. The lack of defensive nationalism at this rally was both interesting and very significant.
It means despite the rabid right-wing direction of the country, the Israeli left, while very small, feels no need to justify its Zionist credentials in its affirmation of international law and Palestinian rights.
At the same time, this march was well within the framework of a Jewish state privileging Jews, so it is certainly ambiguous.
The question of the UN vote in September on recognition of the State of Palestine alongside Israel presents the Palestinian movement with some difficulty because it endorses a two state solution without addressing the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
So, a bit like the Oslo Accords nearly 20 years ago, there is a question as to whether recognition for the state of Palestine strengthens the struggle.
If it provides a new platform for struggle, as in a number of ways it could, it must be supported if only as a mechanism and not an end in itself.
At this time with the Arab world in ferment, we must embrace what Howard Zinn called the “optimism of uncertainty”. Where the future is uncertain, there is always room for hope.
[Vivienne Porzsolt is a member of Socialist Alliance and Jews Against the Occupation Sydney. She, Hale and two other Australians were on the Tahrir, a ship in the Freedom Flotilla 2, which attempted to sail to Gaza but was stopped by Greek coastguards. Porzsolt and Hale flew to Tel Aviv, where they were detained for stating their intention to visit Palestine, but released after a court ruling.]