Only on Palestine, words speak louder than actions

Jun 13, 2024
Fight with words social issue concept as a person screaming with bullets flying out of the mouth as a metaphor for strong communication and aggressive shouting with 3D illustration elements.

“When will you finish them?” These aren’t words you normally hear while waiting in line for a coffee in the Sydney CBD.

They are words that you might find a former presidential aspirant and US ambassador to the UN writing on the side of an artillery shell during a visit to Israel. Clearly the cafe owner, seeing a map of Palestine on my top, had assumed I was an Israeli. “I am on the side you’d like finished,” I replied, to his evident surprise.

Usually I am also wearing my keffiyeh, and “free Palestine” is what I often get from smiling strangers in the streets of Sydney and Melbourne, not genocidal statements like this one.

Maybe Laura Tingle is right – anti-Palestinian racism is indisputably on the rise, fuelled by hawkish media bent on stretching the definition of antisemitism and offering unyielding support for Israel in total disregard of international law, and a spineless first-term Labor government unable or unwilling to acknowledge overwhelming public sentiment in support of the rights of Palestinians.

Nikki Haley’s graffiti was deemed “controversial”. But it is actions that matter, not words. The real outrage should be reserved for events that occurred either side of her media stunt: the Rafah massacre where the displaced were burnt alive in their tents by Israeli shelling, and the brutal attacks in Jabalia and the West Bank killing scores of innocent lives and leaving colossal destruction.

Australian politicians are obsessed with words, not actions. Penny Wong had to “reiterate to the government of Israel, this cannot continue”. But where were the sanctions, the actions that should follow such a warning? Labor and the Liberals uniting on their attacks on the Greens this week is telling.

The recent revelation that the former head of Mossad threatened Fatou Bensouda, the former chief prosecutor of ICC and her family to stop her investigations into war crimes by Israeli leaders lays bare what Israel really is, a rogue state, using fake internet accounts to try and keep even its closest ally onside.

The recent rulings of international institutions, to which Australia is a signatory, are unambiguous. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Israel must immediately halt its military offensive in Rafah, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants against Israel’s prime minister, his defence minister and three Hamas leaders. None of this has persuaded our government to turn words into actions in the diplomatic and political sphere.

The words that did turn into actions were instead aimed at those protesting in the streets, demanding an end to the bombing and the annihilation of civilian life in Gaza.

As “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” echoes the world over, our Senate condemned it. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said it was “very violent” and those chanting it “would not be able to find the Jordan River on a map”, expressing deep concern for the “feelings” of some, but neither the PM nor the senators voting for the motion even once condemned the actual war crimes in Gaza and the mounting human toll, nearly half of whom are children.

The prime minister is also wrong on another thing. This chant has more to do with history than geography.

In 76 years, Palestinians turned into a collection of identities, with varying geographies, rights and labels. My own family is typical: Jerusalemites, West Bankers, Palestinians who are citizens of Israel, refugees, Gazans, and those like me in the diaspora.

This fragmentation and exile from our homeland is twinned with the creation and existence of the state that dictated it. When he denies Palestinians their legal and human rights in their own land, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not inventing something new; he is carrying on the tradition of his Zionist forebears. Israel is a state like no other, where people of the Jewish faith anywhere possess superior rights to those of Palestinians of any faith.

A free Palestine from the river to the sea is a call for peace and equal rights for all, an end to the fragmentation of our families and people, an end to the ongoing Nakba, apartheid and to a fictitious peace project promising an illusory “ two-state solution”.

Western countries’ recognition of Palestine offers little, coming as it does after decades of silence on the occupation and oppression, and many months of failing to exercise material diplomatic or trade pressure to compel Israel to end its genocidal actions. The world must stop insulting us with this two-state drivel. We seek freedom, not polished apartheid.

Former Socceroo and human rights advocate Craig Foster is championing calls to expel Israel from FIFA, university students persist in challenging their institutions’ complicity and celebrities are being boycotted for their silence on Palestine. We have artists for Palestine, teachers for Palestine, mums for Palestine and countless allies from every suburb and community.

The world can no longer unsee us. Palestine is everywhere.

But the price is so excruciatingly high. The slaughter of tens of thousands of people, of the young future of our people, is gut-wrenching and eternally traumatising. Rafah became the latest scene of atrocity, an exhausted and starving population in a “safe zone” that turned into one of savagery and death.

Today we feel powerless, angry and deflated at one moment as the war crimes pile up, and energised, inspired and resolute the next, as decent politicians break ranks, courageous students lead the struggle, and our social circles and feeds go viral with stories of resilience and solidarity.

Children in Gaza are asking Olive Kids to support them in resuming their education. They lack food and functioning schools but are hungry for learning and hope. They no longer demand ceasefires, the world’s charity, tokenistic UN resolutions, or millions of likes on AI-generated images. They demand their future and freedom.

We shall not stop chanting from the river to the sea – we won’t let them down.

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