Janet Parker is a long-term activist with Refugee Rights Action Network WA and founder of the Perth-based network Jews for a Free Palestine. She is also a founding member of Socialist Alliance. She delivered this speech at a protest for Palestine, in Boorloo/Perth on November 26.
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My Mum, Dorothy Parker, was born in 1929 in a tiny town in the region of Bessarabia, which is now part of Ukraine. She spent her first three years in area known as a Pale of Settlement: it was established in the late 18th century to corral Jews into a defined area.
Jews couldn’t live outside specified areas, were restricted in their occupations and study. They were also subject to pogroms where many were killed, and their properties looted and razed.
My mother’s family moved to northern Italy in search of a better life when she was just three. But, in 1938, they faced Mussolini’s racial laws. My mother was expelled from her government school and, like all Jews, the family was stripped of their citizenship.
Jews wondered if things could get worse.
They did, as the Nazis would later occupy this part of Italy. But my grandparents didn’t wait to find out, getting out while they could. They ended up in Singapore. But with the Japanese army closing in, they had to move again.
My Mum was evacuated to Western Australia, separated from her parents for the next five years. She ended up with Jewish family friends living in the Wheatbelt town of Corrigin, while her parents were sent to Colombo.
Hers, like so many, is the refugee story: it’s a tale of war, dislocation, separation and limitation. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
I won’t attempt to draw more parallels between her experience and that of the Palestinians. In so many ways, my mother led a life more privileged than those in the West Bank and Gaza today.
But it is a human tragedy beyond words that people who experienced this and so much more in the death camps in Europe, people who were made refugees in an environment of hate and fear, could then be used by Western governments to displace and traumatise another people.
My Mum could never support the dispossession of the Palestinians, but it caused her a lot of pain to criticise Israel and its actions.
People of her generation, refugees like her, had ended up there. If fate had been different she could have become an Israeli.
It’s worth remembering that immediately after the war the West did not welcome Jewish refugees with open arms. Australia, for example, imposed a quota of only 5000 a year. Jewish refugees were pushed towards Palestine.
But the story of Jewish persecution can never justify the ongoing dispossession and persecution of the Palestinians.
The Palestinians were not responsible for antisemitism in Europe, let alone the Holocaust, and they should not be made to wear the burden of Western guilt.
Israel’s creation as a Jewish state on Palestinian land was always going to require violent dispossession. This conflict is not about religion — it’s about land. Like Australia, Israel is a colonial-settler state.
Western leaders, including in the United States, Australia and Britain continue their mantra that to even criticise Israeli actions, actions that now meet the definition of genocide, is somehow antisemitic.
This is both nonsense and galling from politicians who are responsible for some of the most appalling and racist treatment of Indigenous people and refugees.
There have always been Jews, both secular and religious, who have rejected Israel’s claim to speak for all of us. In fact, I’m just one of an ever-increasing number of Jews saying that it’s not antisemitism — it’s a demand for justice; there can be no peace without justice.
We see it for what it is.
It’s not just a war between Israel and Hamas, and the violence didn’t start on October 7. It’s a terrible 75-year process, in which Palestinians have had their homes, their farms and their hopes for the future violently taken from them, and been turned into refugees and second-class citizens in their own land.
We see its devastating impact unfold on our screens every minute, every hour, every day.
It is an awful truth that much of Israeli society is supporting the call to destroy Gaza — to turn it into a “parking lot” and send it “back to the stone age”.
It is nothing short of horrifying and I extend my love and respect to Palestinians here today in the knowledge that you have family and friends in the midst of this carnage. I can only try to imagine your suffering.
While it may not feel like it at this moment, we know that it’s not impossible for Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace. Jewish, Muslim and Christian Palestinians lived in harmony for nearly two millennia.
Vision of hope and justice
Our vision is one of hope and love. We want all people living in the land of historic Palestine and Israel to have the same dignity and the same rights, regardless of their religion, ethnicity or language — from the river to the sea. Peace means nothing less.
However, for there to be progress towards peace, Israeli society has to make some serious concessions. For there to be peace with justice, Israeli society has to recognise Palestinians as equals.
But Israel is unlikely to make any concessions as long as there is an unconditional pipeline of weapons, money and diplomatic support flowing from the so-called Western democracies. That is where we come in. We have to change that balance of power.
In particular, we have to focus on the Australian government support for the Israeli war machine. In addition to its diplomatic support for Israel, Australia is deeply complicit in Israel’s genocidal attack on Gaza through intelligence feeds from the spy-base at Pine Gap and military exports.
The AUKUS deal was not just about submarines, but tying Australia unconditionally to US foreign policy. This is why Prime Minister Anthony Albanese can’t even utter the words “ceasefire”, let alone call on Israel to respect international law.
A positive truth is that around the globe we’re seeing many more Jews joining and organising protests against the war on Palestine.
These groups include Jewish Voices for Peace, Not in Our Name, “If Not Now”, Jewish Network for Palestine, Loud Jew Collective, Jews against the Occupation and so many more.
In particular, we are seeing a steep decline in unconditional support for Israel among young Jews in the US.
I first got active in the struggle for human rights and justice as a high school student when I joined the anti-Apartheid campaign. Israel has always been dependent on the US for its existence and, back then, the US used Israel as a conduit to send weapons to the South African regime.
The South Africans have never forgotten this history, which is why they have been so strong in their support for the Palestinians. The historic leaders of the anti-Apartheid movement themselves describe Israel as an apartheid regime, a regime even worse than the one they had to endure.
As Nelson Mandela said: “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”.
That means our responsibility is to build an anti-apartheid campaign that is every bit as loud, creative and persistent as the one that existed in the 1980s.
That must be our contribution to peace with justice in Palestine.