Leichhardt Friends of Hebron can be very proud of the Festival of Friendship for Hebron it held over June 25-26.
The event raised more than $5000 for a kindergarten in the impoverished village of Um al Khair in the South Hebron hills. It also won a significant political victory over the ban the previous Leichhardt Council administration placed on a Palestinian photo exhibition two years earlier.
A festival banner was prominently displayed outside as the town hall filled with people at the opening to hear Greens Mayor Jamie Parker and Palestinian ambassador Dr Izzat Abdulhadi. Palestinian writer Randa Abdel Fattah and Palestinian refugee Fathieh Douer also spoke.
The festival could not have taken place without Parker’s support. It was in stark contrast to the weak-kneed actions of the previous administration.
A panel chaired by journalist and author Peter Manning on “Censorship of the Palestinian story: how does it shape Australian understandings?” included Carole Lawson, former convener of Leichhardt Friends of Hebron, Karen Vesk and Alissar Chidiac, formerly of the Powerhouse Museum, and Dr Peter Slezak from Independent Australian Jewish Voices.
Slezak said the concept of “neutrality” was morally nonsensical in the face of human oppression and violation of international law.
He discussed the tendency to self-censorship and the need for institutions like the ABC, the print media and museums to conduct themselves with integrity and not cave in to the pressure exerted by Israeli propagandists.
The festival also featured the Australian premier of the Welcome to Hebron and a presentation by Lisa Arnold of APHEDA Union Aid Abroad on the history of Israel/Palestine. I spoke about my recent work with Israeli peace activists. There were also musical performances and poetry readings.
The festival received overwhelming support from a wide range of people across the community. Several professional artists performed free of charge.
Leichhardt Friends of Hebron was formed in 2007 to engage Leichhardt Municipal Council and the local community to raise awareness of the Palestinian story and provide practical humanitarian support.
The task was complicated by the intervention of the Inner West Chavurah, a local Jewish community group. It opposed the development of a “sister” relationship between Leichhardt and Hebron on the grounds that a public body like a council should not “take sides”.
The group was concerned, as are many Jews, that the campaign would provoke anger against Israel and Jews. However, it is the brutal actions of the State of Israel that are responsible for anger against Israel.
Jews best protect themselves from this hatred by being clear about the human rights issues involved and taking an ethical stand.
Leichhardt Friends of Hebron supports a collaborative approach. Its partner in building the kindergarten in South Hebron is a group of Palestinians and Jewish Israelis working together to support grassroots Palestinian communities under occupation.
This kind of partnership is an example of the kind of fruitful co-existence that could be possible between Palestinians and Jews in Israel/Palestine.
But for this to happen, the current oppressive regime must be abolished. All people concerned with justice and peace should work together to that end.
[Vivienne Porzsolt is a member of Jews Against the Occupation.]