Israel/Palestine: my personal experience and conversion

Jun 11, 2024
Israel and Palestine - National flag on Brick wall

I am 93 years old and come from a large Jewish family; My mother’s mother being one of 13 children I had dozens of Jewish uncles and cousins while growing up and through my maternal connection claim Jewishness. Being old enough my memory covers the whole history of the formation of modern Israel and the Palestinian State.

Listening to the BBC News each evening during WWII and aware of the terrible holocaust I was overjoyed when Israel as a separate and new state was created in 1948.

I became a doctor and then a medical researcher for over 20 years. In 1968 on study leave I visited a number of researchers around the world working on related projects and spent two weeks in Israel, my colleague living in Tel Aviv. Her husband, a lecturer in psychology at the university described himself as a ‘l’ liberal and in many discussions called into question the way Israel was treating the Palestinians. Many of the guides in Jerusalem were Palestinians so moving around as a tourist I heard accounts different from my beliefs about Israel. I began to realise there was a bigger picture.

In 1987, I became an Australian Democrat Senator for South Australia and in 1989 was a member of a Parliamentary Delegation to Middle East countries: Syria, Jordan, Israel (including Gaza) and Egypt. The delegation’s task was to report on a number of aspects of the situation in this region.

Parliamentary delegations meet with people in the highest office: prime ministers, other senior ministers in governments, army leaders as well as leaders of opposing organisations such as Palestinians living and working in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Among the senior Israeli leaders with whom we had discussion I found an alarming attitude to which others writing in P&I have drawn attention; ‘We are God’s chosen people’ and ‘We are the people who suffered the holocaust’ therefore ‘We have special rights which preclude us from criticism over how we deal with a Palestinian state and the Palestinian people’.

This attitude/belief was not confined to senior people but was widely shared. The delegation travelled to Gaza in a minibus clearly labelled UN where we met with the mayor of a southern region of Gaza. We also visited a maternity clinic.

This clinic was made of concrete blocks, a dirt floor, no windows, just gaps in the concrete blocks and was on one side of a large open gravel covered space with a high school surrounded by a high galvanised fence on the opposite side. The UN bus stood outside the clinic. While the delegation was in the clinic with a number of women (patients) Israeli soldiers came up to the holes in the walls a fired tear gas shells into the clinic. Many of the women were very distressed having experienced this happening previously. We all left the building and then noticed the Israeli soldiers throwing stones over the high fence into the school, in my view, provoking the students to respond. We also visited a UN hospital in Gaza where a UN doctor showed us a number of Palestinian patients including one late teenage man who had been thrown from a high roof by Israelis and had multiple fractures. The attitude ‘We are God’s chosen’ and ‘We are the holocaust survivors’ and therefore we can do what we like to Palestinians permeated Israel from top to bottom.

The impression I formed then, and which has been confirmed by subsequent events is that there was and is a deep, shared psychosocial illness infecting Israel but not Jews more generally.

I am not condoning the actions of Hamas on October 7. Violence is not a solution to complex, long standing political and social problems but the long history of Israel’s disregard for UN resolutions on Palestine and Israeli treatment of Palestinians provides an explanation as to why this situation came to the boil.

The delegation returned to Australia and several in the delegation were invited to speak to a Zionist meeting in Melbourne. I am ashamed to say that the other MPs who spoke told the audience what it wanted to hear. I told the audience of my first-hand experience. There were mutters of Kristallnacht and some walked out, the Chair closed the meeting without thanking the speakers. As I walked away along a corridor at Monash University a young male student ran after me to thank me for what I had said.

Let’s not confuse and generalise the attitude I and others have identified as underlying the conflict between Israel and Palestine with being anti-Semitic. This blurring of a clear boundary has been used inappropriately and misleadingly by many. There are so many Jews in Israel and across the world who don’t share this view and who cry for the destruction that the country, Israel, has wreaked across UN designated Palestine and the Palestinian people.

But there is another element in this conflict which is virtually ignored and not surprisingly because it is never given the importance it deserves in other widely discussed matters. I refer to population size, growth and environmental sustainability.

When I visited Gaza in 1989 the population was about 700,000. It is now over 2 million and with a high population growth rate (2.28%, 2024, doubling time 31 years) is still growing strongly. Gaza is a narrow strip of coastal sand dune with little water and little good soil. Those who still espouse a two-state solution ignore the fact that there is absolutely no way the Gazan population could survive sustainably on that narrow coastal strip. Meanwhile, Israel, not to be overrun by Palestinian numbers seeks to build its own population (population growth rate 1.49%, doubling time 47 years) and like Gaza is heavily dependent on foreign financial support.

This gross mismatch between population size/growth rate and sustainability is shared with all the surrounding countries, especially Egypt. There is therefore no solution along Israeli’s suggested line to shift the Gazan population elsewhere. Indeed, there is no solution as long as the world pursues the impossibility of economic growth rather than a sustainable future within the bounds of a finite planet. In the meantime, the human slaughter in Gaza and the enormous waste of resources on armaments to further that genocide could be stopped by refusing any more aid to Israel.

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