Sue Bolton: Why I moved a Palestine solidarity motion on Moreland council

Melbourne rally in solidarity with Palestine on May 23. Photo: Chloe DS

I moved a straightforward motion of solidarity with Palestine at the June 9 Moreland council meeting. It was defeated on the casting vote of Labor Mayor Annalivia Carli-Hannan after the usual narrow arguments were trotted out.

The motion (see below) noted that this is “is not a conflict between equals but the extension of an occupation”. It condemned Israel’s violence which has led to the deaths of many Palestinians and a small number of Israelis.

It was also an expression of solidarity with the Palestinian and Arabic communities who have made Moreland their home.

Many Palestinians in Moreland, or their parents or grandparents, were expelled from their homes and forced into exile.

Some who were forced to go to Lebanon were then exiled a second time after the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) bombed the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in 1982.

Then, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) agreed to a United States-brokered agreement that if the PLO withdrew from the camps, Israel would stop bombing them.

Once the PLO pulled out, Palestinian refugees were left unprotected. The IDF stopped bombing, but organised for the ultra-right Falangist forces to enter the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps whereupon around 2000 Palestinian refugees were raped, tortured and slaughtered. This led to another exodus of Palestinian refugees to countries all over the world, including Australia.

My motion also called on the Australian government to end all military ties with the Israeli government, and to stop pursuing a free trade agreement with Israel. It’s not enough to condemn human rights abuses; governments need to take action.

If Moreland Council had passed this motion, it would have been a step forward. Previously, my attempts to move solidarity motions with Palestine — during a previous IDF bombardment of Gaza — I couldn’t get a seconder. This time, the Greens seconded my motion and voted for it.

The usual arguments were put by Labor councillor Lambros Tapinos, including that local government should not take positions on international or human rights issues because they are the responsibility of state or federal governments.

Councils need to stick to “local issues” within their areas of responsibility, such as roads, rates and rubbish.

This argument does not have much credibility

A council that is prepared to stand up for human rights, regardless of where the injustice is taking place, is more likely to treat residents respectfully on local issues. A council that does not care about human rights, here and elsewhere, is more likely to ride roughshod over the concerns of local residents.

Also, trade unions, civil society organisation and local governments have a history of speaking out against human rights’ violations.

Trade unions, churches, civil society organisations and local councils spoke out against the Vietnam War and against apartheid in South Africa.

The former Brunswick Council displayed banners on Brunswick Town Hall opposing the United States’ invasion of Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War.

When Indonesia’s armed forces started slaughtering East Timorese in 1999, the upsurge in Australia promoted many councils to pass motions of support for the East Timorese. Later, 35 local councils established ties with districts in East Timor and help in the newly independent country’s rebuilding.

The Moreland and Hume councils established the Friends of Aileu committee and have regular contact with Aileu’s people and administration.

Responsive local government has sought to relate to social movements and, at various times, declared themselves to be “Nuclear Free” or “Refugee Welcome Zone Councils” or “Climate Emergency Councils”. The former Marrickville Council took a stand opposing coal seam gas.

In Britain in the 1960s, 54 local councils banned goods from South Africa in protest against apartheid. Local councils in Britain, Spain and the Netherlands have adopted motions in support of the Palestinians and the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

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Below is the motion which lost on the casting vote of the Labor mayor.

End violence against Palestinians

That council:

1.  Notes with deep concern the violence in Israel and Palestine, where around 250 Palestinians and some 13 Israelis were killed in recent weeks with Palestinians bearing the brunt of the attacks by the Israeli army in Gaza.

2. Expresses solidarity with Moreland-based Palestinians, whose community in Palestine is facing displacement by recent bombings. We note that this is not a conflict between equals but the extension of an occupation that makes it impossible for Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace and security.

3. Notes that Moreland is home to and welcomes people from diverse backgrounds. We value our residents from the Middle East and to those impacted by this conflict, we offer our solidarity.

4. Writes to the Prime Minister calling on him to:

(a)  End all Australian government military ties with the Israeli government and cease pursuing a free trade agreement with Israel.

(b) Condemn the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian land (West Bank and East Jerusalem).

5. Condemns acts of racism towards Jewish or Palestinian people in our community.

[Sue Bolton is a City of Moreland councillor and a member of Socialist Alliance.]