About 150 people filled the St Kilda Town Hall on April 7 for a public meeting with visiting Israeli journalist, Amira Hass. Hass is a veteran Israeli columnist and reporter, lives in the West Bank among Palestinians and works for Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The Australian Jewish Democratic Society organised the forum.
Hass spoke about Israeli governments deliberately rejecting the Palestinian offer in the 90s to have a state on just 23% of historical Palestine. Accepting the offer would have meant recognising Palestinians as equal and ending the colonialist project of Israel and ending the privileges of Jewish Israelis, a task Israel’s rulers were not prepared to undertake.
The inbuilt racism of Israeli society can be seen from the fact that more than 18,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria are trapped in Syria and cannot return to the place where they have roots.
Yet anyone in Australia who is Jewish can become a citizen of Israel within days, have complete freedom of movement and pass on these rights to relatives anywhere in the world.
Any Jew anywhere in the world has greater rights in Israel than any Palestinian. While this reality is unquestionable to many Jewish people, reality does not make it just, Hass said.
Palestinians recognised that Israeli society was there to stay and were prepared for a compromise, however, ever since the beginning of the peace talks, Israel did everything possible to foil the formation of a Palestinian state.
In 1991, Israeli settlements were enclaves in Palestinian territories. Parallel to the peace talks Israel flooded the territories with settlements. After the 1993 Oslo peace accord, Israel built exclusive roads to the settlements.
During the five-year interim period after Oslo, Israel built the infrastructure for perpetuating military occupation.
Before Oslo, Gaza and the West Bank were seen as one unit. However in 1991 Israel disconnected Gaza from the West Bank by introducing a system of passes for Palestinians to travel between the two places.
For 20 years, Palestinians were one people and Israel stopped this connection. It is this isolation that is serving as a breeding ground for Hamas to flourish.
Since 2007, Gaza has become a vast prison, freedom of movement, re-union with family, the opportunity to study and work are denied to Gaza, on top of the wars and killings by the Israeli military.
In the West Bank, Palestinian society has been reduced to Islands in the middle of Jewish settlements, backed by the Israeli military. While Palestinian space is being shrunk, their travel time has doubled and tripled.
Hass said that as a Jew, she could drive from Ramallah to Jerusalem in 30 minutes. For nearly all Palestinians travel to Jerusalem is impossible. Within Israel, the situation of Palestinian communities is similar. Many nomadic Palestinian villages are not officially recognised and their territories are being shrunk.
This system is a compromise solution to the aim of total dispossession Palestinians, as that is not possible in today’s world.
The denial of freedom to mobility, violence from settlers and the military and robbing of resources, are to perpetuate the privileges of a settler colonial society. For instance 80 % of water from West Bank aquifers is stolen by Israel, while Gaza is isolated from the water grid.
"Jews all over the world have to play a greater role to prevent the brutalization of both Israel and Palestine", Hass said. The talk was followed by questions, where some proposed a campaign of civil disobedience in Israel.
A lone speaker accused Hass of lack of nuance and painting a black and white picture of Palestine and speaking like a religious fundamentalist. Hass’s response, reminding him of the observations she had made in her speech drew spontaneous applause from the gathering.