RON WITTON. Zionism and Terra Nullius: a haunting parallel between Israel and Australia

When I was growing up in Sydney in the 1950s, I knew that I came from a Jewish family and I was aware of the little blue and white Jewish National Fund money boxes collecting funds for Israel. Recently I have remembered a phrase from my childhood, “A land without a people for a people without a land” which I had unquestioningly accepted as justification for the establishment of Israel.  

It is only now that I have realized that the phrase bears a haunting resemblance to the notion of terra nullius (“nobody’s land”), the principle that posited that Australia was “a land of no people” and that legally justified British colonisation. This false and destructive principle was, thankfully, overthrown in 1992 by the High Court Mabo case.

There has been no Mabo case for Israel. Palestine, rather than becoming a country where Jews, Christians and Muslims could live together sharing the land as they had in the past, was renamed “Israel” and “given” by the Western imperial powers to the Jews of the world to be their exclusive “homeland”.

The land now referred to as “Palestinian territory” is split between Gaza and the West Bank. The size of Israel is some three times the size of the Palestinian territory, although their populations are approximately the same, about 5 million each.

The Palestinians live under Israeli control with few rights. Moreover, their land is being further colonized through Israel’s illegal “settlements” on the West Bank. Indeed, the more rabid Zionists of Israel continue to dispute the very existence of Palestine by maintaining that the boundaries of Israel should be that of the biblical land of Judea and should extend from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. Further, it is noticeable that the term “Palestinian” is avoided in Israel where Palestinians are referred to as “Arabs”. This terminology has contributed to the Israeli argument that Palestinians do not “deserve” their own land because, as Arabs, they can live anywhere in Israel’s neighboring countries. Disturbingly, this discriminatory terminology was recently adopted by the Australian press when they reported on the recent tragic death in Melbourne of the student, Aiia Maasarwe, who was described as an “Arab-Israeli” rather than as a “Palestinian Israeli”.

It took some time for me to no longer believe in Judaism or indeed in any religion. However, it took quite a bit longer for me to learn of the fundamental injustice perpetrated against the Palestinians by the establishment of Israel.

Jews of the world, including me, continue to have a right to emigrate to Israel, but the over 7 million displaced Palestinian refugees do not have a similar “right of return”. The reason there are so many Palestinian refugees is that of the 900,000 Palestinians resident in Palestine upon the establishment of Israel, over 700,000 fled or were expelled in a process which can only be described as ethnic cleansing. Palestinians were violently removed from their villages and from their land and forced to flee to neighbouring countries where they and their descendants continue to live as stateless refugees. Indeed, many of the funds collected in the Jewish National Fund boxes of my childhood went towards planting forests over the land of former Palestinian villages and farms.

Palestinians have never had a Mabo moment whereby their historical occupancy of the land of Israel has been recognised by Israel and its courts. Of course, Zionists contend that such a judgement is not needed as the Palestinians have been “given” their land, the occupied territories. However, such an argument masks the grim reality of Zionism and the cycle of misinformation and further appropriation continues.

It is time for Australia to take the lead in recognising the only way that peace can come to that part of the world is through the creation of a united or federated land of Israel/Palestine where all people have equal rights. That this is possible was shown by the inspiring cooperation of Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk when they resolved what seemed the insoluble situation of apartheid in South Africa and for which they were awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.

Dr. Ron Witton has taught social sciences in universities in Australia, Fiji and Indonesia. He now works as an Indonesian and Malay translator and interpreter. He has travelled widely overseas including the middle east.

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