Australia must support Palestinians not back Israel’s killing

The al-Nakba commemoration march in Melbourne on May 15. Photo Charandev Singh

Australia is continuing to avoid any possibility that it might stand up for Palestinian sovereignty and human rights with its behaviour at the United Nations.

One of only two nations to vote against a motion (which passed 29–2, with 14 abstentions) to hold an inquiry into Israeli actions in Gaza in recent weeks, Australia's politicians have responded in mixed ways to the bloodshed and death toll in Gaza. While the monumental horror of recent weeks seems to have subsided, or at least disappeared from mainstream media, Israel even now is continuing to shell Gaza and block Gazan fishing boats from going to work.

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese has called for the Malcolm Turnbull government to explain why Australia voted against an independent inquiry which, given the damage done to Israel's reputation by its violent response to unarmed protests, would surely benefit Israelis and Palestinians. He added concerns about the expansion of Israel's illegal settlements, saying that it undermines the two-state solution.

Albanese gave no hint whether the precedent set by the passing of a motion to recognise the state of Palestine at the NSW Labor conference will be echoed at the national conference, but repeated his personal call for a two-state solution along "recognised" borders.

Greens politicians have once again spoken most strongly against the violent treatment of Palestinians, with MP Adam Bandt and leader Richard Di Natale calling for an end to the siege of Gaza and for Australia to recognise Palestine and Palestinians' right to return home.

Senator Lee Rhiannon also put her name to a video produced by young Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) members that condemns Israel's violence and calls for solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Sadly, there have been no official calls to end arms sales and collaborations in research and development between the two countries. Unlike Ireland and South Africa, Australia has no plans to halt diplomatic cooperation with Israel.

What some are now calling the Trump massacre, in which 62 Palestinians were murdered, could still be a turning point in terms of how the international community calls Israel to account for its actions, if it is called to account. The deaths of 62 unarmed Palestinians is not a great way for Israel to advance the argument that it has the right to defend itself and secure its borders against terrorists, infiltrators and the so-called "demographic threat" of the Palestinian population.

"Reputational damage" to Israel is not enough without the economic and political consequences of an enthusiastic and wide-ranging Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Britain, for example, has Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn calling for arms sales to Israel to be examined (unlike any Australian politicians).

Outside the grim workings of the arms market, the BDS movement is growing and recent victories like art director Thiago Rodriguez pulling out of any Israeli sponsored show and musician Gilberto Gil refusing to perform there, are great steps forward. Artistic support for a boycott of Israel is a big growth area for BDS and performers like Wolf Alice, Shame and Portishead are lending their support to #ArtistsForPalestine.

Having used big events like the recent Giro D'Italia and the Eurovision Song Contest as cover for its atrocities, Israel is looking forward to a proposed friendly football match against Argentina on June 9. The BDS movement is looking to change that with a targeted campaign, including writing to major stars like Lionel Messi, who also serves as a brand ambassador for an Israeli start up.

Israel tried to smear Palestinians' reputations by claiming that participants in the Great March were Hamas operatives, or had been pressured by Hamas into carrying out a "dead baby" strategy to win international sympathy.

The great march was not Hamas promoting a "dead baby" strategy. It was initiated by the people of Gaza who belong to different associations and political parties. Many were members of no particular body at all.

Even if there is proof that a dead, unarmed Palestinian was a member of Hamas, it in no way justifies that death. The Hamas bogeyman scares people into parroting the usual mainstream line when it comes to Palestine and has become an all-purpose smear to limit politicians' engagement with the Palestinian cause. Israel has been around for 70 years, Hamas has been around for 30.

There have been so many extraordinary images of the Great March that we should be reminded that this is not a competition for photojournalists seeking prestige, but the pictorial representation of a people struggling to go home.

People will remember the fierce, legless, stone throwing, wheelchair man Fadi Abu Salah. People will remember the piles of tyres the Palestinians burned so that drones delivering tear gas might be thrown off track and to limit the view of snipers. And they will remember 14-year-old Wesal Sheikh Khalil — the girl in the blue hijab and jeans, whose death was commemorated by First Dog on the Moon and eulogised by the Guardian.

Anyone who pleads for Palestinian restraint and encourages Palestinians to negotiate for an amicable, two-state solution while also advocating for Israel's right to defend itself and secure its borders, is really missing the point of al-Nakba commemorations and marches.

Israel takes such measured tones as permission to continue building illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land; to deny Palestinians the right to return home; to continue the blockade of Gaza; to continue restricting Palestinian movement with its system of permits and checkpoints; to continue shooting and teargassing unarmed civilians; to continue its illegal annexation of more and more of the West Bank.

It would take a brave politician here to call for action that might make Israel as interested in genuine negotiations as we have tried to force the Palestinians to be.

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