The Jerusalem Peace Prize, awarded this year on 4th November in Melbourne, is an initiative of Australians for Palestine and the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network.
The Award recognises the inspirational and extraordinary contribution of an Australian recipient seeking justice for Palestinians. This year it was awarded to former MHR for Fremantle, the Honourable Melissa Parke.
The event took place at the Melbourne Town Hall, and was sponsored by the City of Melbourne. Attire was formal, and the event was in the form of a dinner, with exceptional catering, as can be attested to by your reporter, who was present with his wife, Edie Bransbury, Chairperson of the Australian Friends of Palestine Association, (AFOPA).
MC for the evening, Nasser Mashni, introduced the first recipient of the award, in 2018, namely regular P&I contributor, Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees, to present the award to Melissa Parke.
Stuart noted that Melissa “easily meets the criteria for the award … courageous in her advocacy of the human rights of the Palestinian people”, and inter alia “always displaying the philosophy, language and practice of non-violence”. He described Melissa as “a human rights lawyer but always in places seldom chosen as a holiday destination: Kosovo, Gaza, Lebanon and more recently as a member of a UN expert panel investigating human rights abuses in the war in Yemen”. As Labor MHR for Fremantle Melissa used her position to support the human rights of Palestinians, provoking vitriol from the Zionist lobby.
Melissa began by acknowledging the presence of a number of prominent guests, namely Nasser and Stuart, then federal parliamentarians Maria Vamvakinou, Julian Hill and Jessica Walsh, state parliamentarians Shaoquett Moselmane (NSW) Bronwyn Halfpenny (Vic.) and former MPs Alan Griffin, Lee Rhiannon and Jean McLean. She also acknowledged Bishop George Browning, Dr. Peter Slezak, Dr. Bassam Dally, the Reverend Tim Costello and Adel Salman, President of the Islamic Council of Victoria.
Melissa then gave a remarkable speech which only reinforced the appropriateness of the award. I cannot do full justice to it in this article, but I shall give something of the flavour.
She addressed indigenous peoples of the world including of course our own aboriginal people, and noted their “kinship with other peoples of the world who have suffered loss of their lands, oppression, discrimination and stigmatisation, including the Palestinian people”.
Melissa compared the current response of the West to what is happening in Ukraine with the total lack of response of the West to what is and has been happening in Palestine. She noted the “collective willful blindness to the findings from the world’s pre-eminent human rights organisations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch” to the effect that Israel is an apartheid state. Then she sought to address the question: “why?”.
After recounting her own UN experience in Gaza, and that of colleagues in the West Bank, she focused on the daily killings of Palestinian civilians simply going about their work, and administrative detention without trial or due process. She addressed gratuitous settler violence, house demolitions, and the growth of illegal West Bank settlements. This merely touches upon the in-depth description of the injustice that has been perpetrated over 50 plus years.
Melissa then turned to the topic of the way she had been attacked for her own speaking out, particularly by the media. She recounted how she had been forced to withdraw as a candidate from the 2019 Federal election and how she had been attacked in the media for speaking of the injustices committed by Israelis against Palestinians. She then related how she had successfully taken legal action against the West Australian and Herald Sun newspapers in particular, obtaining apologies and retractions.
As to the answer to the question, ‘why?’, Melissa emphasised the unconditional support of the US with its Security Council permanent member veto and its constant injection of funds, together with “anti-Palestinian racism that pervades both American politics and organised American Jewish life” (citing prominent academic Peter Beinart). She then drew attention to the “way the Palestinians are rendered voiceless … via Israel’s active Zionist lobby that engages in misinformation and propaganda in the mainstream media on and in political circles …, and that smears those who criticise Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as anti-semitic”.
A very important analysis of the issues surrounding the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism followed, together with Melissa’s concerns as to its mis-use.
Melissa approached the conclusion of her admirable overview with a reference to the current International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into the situation in Palestine, and to the recent UN Human Rights Commission Inquiry with its finding that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory is unlawful.
Melissa ended with a call for Australia to “stand up for the international rule of law as strongly on Palestine as they have for Ukraine”.
Readers who would like to inform themselves of the full speech will be able to view the video, which will be available at www.apan.org.au/jpp. shortly.
Nasser Mashni then brought the formal proceedings of the evening to an end with special thanks to many in attendance and with particular thanks to Sonja Karkar and John Karkar, APAN’s patron.