By Jennifer Thompson
SYDNEY — The 50th anniversary of the UN General Assembly's partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states was marked here with a public forum on November 29 which linked the dispossession of Palestinians and Aboriginal Australians.
The 1947 UN vote for partition was achieved with heavy US pressure on the smaller nations and the support of the Soviet Union. An Arab proposal to ask the International Court of Justice whether the UN could partition a country against the wishes of the majority of its inhabitants was narrowly defeated.
Chairing the anniversary forum, titled "The politics of dispossession", ABC and community radio writer Stafford Sander drew the link between the colonial justifications for Aboriginal and Palestinian dispossession: terra nullius in the first case and "a land without a people for a people without a land" in the second.
The forum launched a petition calling on the Australian government to support Palestinian refugees' right of return and to pressure Israel to obey other UN resolutions, particularly withdrawal from the occupied territories.
Palestinian academic, Rami Meo, pointed out that little has changed about the status of Palestinian refugees between 1948 and 1997.
In December 1948, following the war prompted by the imposition of a colonial settler state, and Israel's establishment, the UN General Assembly established the Conciliation Commission for Palestine to deliberate the status of Palestinian refugees. As a result of the 1948 war and the 1967 war (when Israel's army and settlers occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, along with Syria's Golan Heights and Egypt's Sinai), more than three million Palestinian refugees now reside in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and other Arab countries.
Problems like repatriation, resettlement, socioeconomic rehabilitation and the reunion of broken families, said Meo, are still the central concerns of the Refugee Working Group meetings that were generated by the Middle East peace process.
Marie Bashir, director of the Central Area Health Service in Sydney, spoke about the conditions facing the refugees, learnt first hand on a visit to Sabra, Shatila and Burj al-Barajneh refugee camps in Beirut in March.
She gave a wrenching description of physical and intellectual malnutrition, lack of education and health services, lack of sewerage systems and terrible poverty resulting from barriers to employment in host countries. Bashir praised the work of the Women's Humanitarian organisation of Burj al-Barajneh, which is supported by the ACTU's aid organisation, APHEDA.
Dany Celermajer, from a Jewish-Australian family which survived the Nazi holocaust, spoke about the human rights of Palestinians, saying that many holocaust survivors had reinterpreted the moral dictum, "this must never happen again", to be "this must never happen again, to us". She described her equal horror at the violations of Aboriginal rights, and the violations of Palestinian human rights committed in the name of Jews rejecting the Zionist label of a "self-hating Jew". Israel, she said, could not legitimately be described as a part of the international community of nations.
To obtain a copy of the petition, phone the Committee for the Day of Solidarity with Palestinians on (02) 9264 9343.