At National Conference, the ALP has the chance to recognise Palestine as a state

Aug 16, 2023
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - MAY 15, 2018: Israeli police troops patrolling in Jerusalem Nakba Day.

The 1948 Palestinian catastrophe, known to Palestinians as the Naqba, saw 750,000 of their predecessors driven from their lands, over 500 villages and towns destroyed, the extent of the killings, destruction and dispossession denied and no-one held accountable. How should Australia respond?

Powerful countries’ collusion with decades of Israeli governments’ racist based cruelties towards Palestinians has ensured a 2023 repetition of the ethnic cleansing of 1948, but within the Australian Labor Party there’s a sniff of a chance that history may begin to be accepted and current Israeli cruelties opposed. Nothing is guaranteed. Don’t hold your breath.

In the House of Representatives, the Leader of the Opposition responded to the Prime Minister’s acknowledgement that Palestinian lands are occupied and Israeli settlements illegal, by accusing the Labor government of hanging out to dry Australia’s most reliable partner in the Middle East. Determined to support Israel, Peter Dutton appears to deny the Naqba, maintains indifference to current cruelties and assumes that rules of international law are of no consequence.

At the national conference in Brisbane, the Labor Party has the chance to recognise Palestine as a state, to do more than merely accept that Israeli settlements are illegal. Acceptance of history will be crucial. A long overdue refusal to deny the Palestinian Catastrophe should affect Australia’s response, not just the ALP’s.

The nature of Catastrophe

In The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, judged by diverse commentators as a dazzling feat of ground-breaking research, Ilan Pappe describes how from October 1948 to the summer of 1949, thousands of Palestinians were killed, ruthlessly and savagely by Israeli troops of all backgrounds, ranks and ages, no Israelis were ever tried for war crimes in spite of overwhelming evidence.

Pappe adds that in 1948, no one could fail to spot the hordes of Palestinians streaming north from their homes, ‘the ragged women and children conspicuously dominant in these human convoys: the young men gone – executed, arrested or missing.’

Unless denial ceases, the catastrophe continues. Two million Gazans survive in an open-air prison. Palestinians on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem are hemmed in by blockades, walls, checkpoints and by settlements which encircle towns and villages. The experience of entrapment is compounded by barbaric punishments such as demolishing the homes of offenders and brutalising whole communities.

A report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs (OCHA) records that in the last fifty years, over 800,000 Palestinians including children as young as 12, have been arrested and detained under authoritarian rules, enacted, enforced and adjudicated by the Israeli military.

In the last six months, OCHA reports 174 Palestinians, including 25 children, have been killed, 6,336 injured. Largely in retaliation to attacks by settlers, 23 Israelis, including 4 children and 15 settlers, have been killed, and 143 injured.

Israeli/settler denial of atrocities continues. Palestinians are claimed to have been killed only when Israel soldiers acted in self defence, or that the dead must have been at fault. Maher Mughrabi, features editor of The Age, recorded that when Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem based reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead, she and her colleagues were described by an Israeli spokesperson as ‘armed with cameras.’

Ethnic cleansing and Western collusion

In his July 13 description of Israel’s justice system as ’rotten and racist’, Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy details the repetition of the ethnic cleansing of 1948. Who knows? Who cares?

After settlers had driven a Palestian family from their East Jerusalem home, Levy asks, ‘What is it like to enter, just like in 1948, in the homes of the evicted, with the pots still simmering on the burners and the clothes in the closets? How does it feel to invade someone else’s home? And what is it like to see policemen dragging an old man out of his home to clear out the plundered property for you?’

On August 10, Israeli Human Rights Information Centre B’Tselem documents Israeli settlers’ killings of Palestinians, pogroms against them and expulsion from their lands. In a Bedouin community east of Ramallah, as the tactic to precede eviction, settlers had walked around people’s homes, arrived late at night on horseback and in tractors, taken over the community’s fields and prevented farmers from grazing their flocks. B’Tselem shows how intimidation and eviction is facilitated by Israeli policy of banning the supply of water, electricity and roads to these communities.

In the current Israeli government, extremists are in power, an achievement made possible by decades of unconditional western support for Israeli apartheid and occupation, by collusion with repression and dehumanisation camouflaged by leaders who speak of ‘an international rules-based order.’

Regarding the Palestinian catastrophe, an Australian government and Australian institutions, legal, educational, trade union, business and media, face a moral, political and truth telling challenge: to recognise that the inhumanities of 1948 persist into 2023.

It will take principle and courage for delegates to an ALP conference to no longer be intimidated by a powerful lobby and their age-old Murdoch media supporters.

One significant Labor leader, former foreign Minister Bob Carr, does have the guts to tell the Palestinian story and to prompt conversations about a future justice in contrast to denial of an illegal and violent past.

On September 5, @6pm in The Great Hall of Sydney University, Bob Carr will address ‘The Palestinian Catastrophe, How Should Australia Respond?’  You can register for the event here.

Common decency let alone adherence to the rules of international law demands a courageous response. No more denial, only the relieving, healing power of acknowledging history’s truths, thereby determining an end to massive cruelties to a powerless people.

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