Lee Rhiannon: Why I support Palestine

Issue 
Sydney Nakba rally, May 15. Photo: Jarek Gasiorek

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon was one of the invited speakers at the annual Nakba rally, in Sydney on May 15, organised by the Palestine Action Group.

The next day the Daily Telegraph ran an almost full-page story, under the headline “Taxpayers funding Greens' Israel blitz”, alleging Senator Rhiannon had misused her parliamentary allowance by photocopying the poster advertising the rally.

That story did not mention the rally, or the speakers, who included Dr Peter Slezak, a member of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network which has just signed on to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

Below are excerpts from Senator Rhiannon's speech to the rally.

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Today we are marking 68 years since the Nakba — an Arabic word meaning “catastrophe” — which refers to events that culminated in the creation of the state of Israel on Palestinian land in May 1948.

Palestine was not an empty land: it was a heavily populated country of towns, cities and farming villages. Roughly 70% of the population was ethnically cleansed in a deliberate campaign to make room for the new state.

Palestinians were killed, marched out of their villages at gunpoint and terrorised by massacres and bombings into seeking refuge in other parts of Palestine, or in neighbouring countries.

About 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes in 1948. Today, along with their descendants, 5 million Palestinians are living in refugee camps, under occupation or in the diaspora.

Israel has created a “law of return” providing citizenship and settlement support for any person of any nationality who can claim Jewish heritage. No Palestinian refugee has been allowed to return home.

The Nakba is not simply an historic event: it continues to affect all Palestinians. Palestinian land continues to be appropriated by Israel to make way for its ever-expanding settlements that are illegal under international law.

Palestinians in the West Bank are enduring the longest military occupation in modern history. The villages have been separated as a result of Israeli settlements, the “security” wall and Israeli-only roads. Palestinians living in the West Bank are controlled by curfews, home invasions and checkpoints. Daily movement in the territory is highly restricted.

More than 660 Palestinians — including members of the Legislative Assembly, artists, scientists and activists — are currently held in administrative detention in Israeli military prisons. Hundreds of children are also held in Israeli prisons. Some as young as 12 have been arrested and charged under military laws.

About 80% of the inhabitants of Gaza are the refugees or their descendants from the 1948 Nakba. Gaza is fast becoming uninhabitable. Recently, the head of the Palestinian Water Authority reported that the water in the aquifer will be unfit for human consumption by the end of this year.

Gaza has been under siege for almost nine years: this significantly limits much-needed resources entering the strip. The borders have been sealed by Israel since 2007, with the help of Egypt.

In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees are living in overpopulated camps with restricted rights and limited access to services. Many of those fleeing the war in Syria are Palestinian refugees, again finding themselves in war and leaving their homes to find safety.

Palestinians of the diaspora live with an inherited trauma of dispossession. They continue the fight for recognition, freedom and justice.

International law and United Nations resolutions recognise the right of return for refugees. UN resolution 198 specifically relates to the right of Palestinians to return to their homes.

The Geneva Convention and subsequent international laws were written after the horrors of World War II to prevent the very brutalities that were committed against the Palestinian people during the Nakba.

Israel has a responsibility to compensate the Palestinians. To deny this history and the continued violation of human rights is unacceptable.

Since its creation, successive Australian governments have supported the state of Israel and all of its aggressions. This support has increased steadily over the years and today we have a government that is pro-Israel to the point of blatantly ignoring international agreements and laws.

The Liberal-National Coalition has questioned whether Palestinian territories are “occupied” and whether or not building settlements is illegal. Even the United States recognises the occupation of the Palestinian territories and criticises — albeit ineffectively — the expansion of the Israeli settlements.

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