Beverley O’Connor interviewed radical Palestinian British activist Ghada Karmi who was attending the Melbourne Writers’ Festival.
Karmi backed the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) call for the Palestinian flag to be raised at the United Nations, because “the Palestinians for so long have been left out of everything. And Israel’s done its best, let’s face it, to erase them, their memory, everything about them.”
That’s a stretch, considering how the Palestinians are the only people with a whole UN department dedicated to their wellbeing and more UN General Assembly resolutions passed on their behalf each year than for any other people.
She said “reconciliation” is only possible if Israel says, “we will give you back your land, we are not going to colonise anymore, we want to settle down and live in peace.”
You mean like Israel’s three peace offers since 2000 of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza?
No – that’s not what she meant. Although she didn’t say it, Karmi advocates a one-state solution and the so-called “right of return” to Israel for all Palestinians. In the past, she has also expressed the hope that this will lead to most Israeli Jews leaving.
Karmi also rejected comparing the world’s current refugee crisis to the Palestinians’ situation because “their countries still exist… so that if the political situation changes… they can go back… How is it acceptable that people have been out of their country for 67 years and millions in refugee camps?”
It’s a pity Karmi wasn’t asked why the Palestinians rejected the UN Partition Plan in 1947, instead backing the Arab invasion in 1948 which caused many Palestinians to become refugees. Or why after nearly seven decades many Palestinians are still forced to live in refugee camps, rather than be granted citizenship in the Arab countries where many of them were born. ABC TV News24 “World” (Aug. 28).
ABC TV host Leigh Sales asked Israeli TV writer Gideon Raff, co-creator of hit US TV series “Homeland” and also attending the Writers’ Festival, to comment on the fact “Israel is a country that a lot of people around the world who’ve never been to Israel have an opinion about” and whether “people understand the reality of life in Israel very well?”
Raff said, “Absolutely not. I think first of all, there’s a lot of judgment about Israel. Some of it is right and some of it isn’t… Even just to see the sheer size of the place… because it’s… on everybody’s headline all the time, people think that it’s a huge country, but the truth is that it’s a very small country and we live together, Arabs and Jews and secular Jews and Orthodox and Ethiopians and Russians and it’s such a mix of tribes. And on one hand such an amazing democracy with freedom of speech respected more than even in the United States. And on the other hand, there’s stuff that our government does that you can be critical of, of course. But I think it’s probably one of the… least understood places on Earth,” ABC TV “7.30” (Aug. 27).
Meanwhile, Pakistani-British Marxist activist and author Tariq Ali, also appearing at the Writers’ Festival, lauded former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s “achievements” and managed to blame Israel as the primary cause in his downfall.
Ali talked up the “the social gains made in Iraq during Saddam’s period… education, health, women’s rights… Baghdad University had more women teaching… than there are women teaching at Princeton today… these gains have all been lost by this crazy war. There is no rational logic for that war, except the maintenance of American power and probably Israeli pressure put on the United States to destroy larger countries who have independent armies.”
This is nonsense. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a ruthless police state that brooked no dissent, and murdered tens of thousands.
Meanwhile, according to senior US State Department official Lawrence Wilkerson, in early 2002, “the Israelis were telling us Iraq is not the enemy – Iran is the enemy” and that “if you are going to destabilise the balance of power, do it against the main enemy,” ABC TV “Q&A” (Aug. 31).
A Palestinian right to flip-flop
A report by Middle East correspondent Jamie Walker noted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ call “for the UN to put pressure on Israel to allow Palestinian refugees uprooted… in Syria to seek sanctuary in the occupied West Bank territories and Gaza.”
Wow, Abbas has certainly changed his tune and not for the first time.
In January 2013, Abbas rejected an UN-brokered deal whereby Israel agreed to let Palestinian refugees in Syria be resettled in the Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank on condition they renounce any plans to later claim a supposed “right of return” to Israel.
At the time Abbas said, “we rejected that and said it’s better to die in Syria than give up their right of return.”
This was itself a backflip. In 2012 Abbas sparked controversy when he said, “it is my right to see Safed [the Israeli city where he was born], but not to live there.”
He later backtracked, claiming that, “talking about Safed is a personal position and does not mean giving up the right of return.”
Abbas’ “personal position” morphed again, when in November 2014 he said “there are six million refugees who wish to return, and by the way, I am one of them.”
Unfortunately, Walker’s piece did not note any of these flip-flops, nor Israel’s earlier backing for helping Palestinian refugees in Syria resettle, Australian (Sept. 8).
Seeing eye to eye
ABC Radio host Tom Switzer asked visiting analyst Sadanand Dhume to explain the apparent contradiction in the fact that Narendra Modi will become the first Indian prime minster to visit Israel, yet India “accords high priority to relations with Israel’s nemesis Iran.”
Dhume described India’s relationship with Israel as one of “deep affinity and also shared interests.”
By contrast, he said, the “Indian relationship with Iran is one of necessity” because “India has no ability to transit to central Asia or Afghanistan because of its bad relations with Pakistan… therefore it needs Iran if it wants to have any kind of trade relationship or any other kind of relationship with the countries of central Asia.”
Significantly, he noted, India has voted twice against Iran at the IAEA and cut its Iranian oil imports from 20% of total oil imports down to 5%.
“So in many ways the relationship with Iran is a relationship that India must maintain but it doesn’t carry the same kind of enthusiasm or the same kind of symbolic importance as the relationship with Israel,” ABC Radio National “Between the Lines” (Aug. 20).
Two views on Gaza
Former Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who was feted internationally for his attempts to modernise the Palestinian economy and rid the PA of corruption, sidestepped some curly questions on ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (Sept. 7).
Asked by James Carleton whether conditions in Gaza can improve as long as “your opponents Hamas continue to rule?”, Fayyad evaded the question by saying, “it must change in the direction of an inclusive representation framework for the Palestinians,” to which Carleton asked, “so, Hamas has to democratise before Israel can relax the borders?”
Fayyad said he doubted whether improvements in the economic situation in Gaza were dependent on “wait[ing] for… Israel to relax the restrictions… let me remind you that to varying degrees Gaza has been under… siege since the mid-90s, before Hamas took over… in 2007.”
Asked if “Egypt should lift its blockade of Gaza. Israel gets all the blame for the starving and suffering in Gaza but Egypt rarely gets the attention,” Fayyad again dodged the issue, saying simply that “movement across Rafah [the Egypt-Gaza] crossing should become normal.”
Surprisingly, given the obsessions of elements in the Labor party, issues such as unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state and settlements were not discussed.
Meanwhile, Bassem Eid, co-founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group and recent visitor to Australia, blamed “the dictatorship [of] Hamas… for… people living among the rubble” and the “Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority for not addressing the issues Palestinians care about. The PA is instead promoting hatred against Israel [and] pretending that Israel stands in the way of a Palestinian state.”
Concluding, Eid wrote that “if we… became independent today under the current leadership, our lives would become worse rather than better,” Herald Sun (Sept. 4).
Iran deal debunking
Federal MP Michael Danby questioned US President Barack Obama’s assertion that delays in inspections under the Iran nuclear deal are not a problem because any move by Iran “towards weaponisation will leave traces.” Danby countered, “Highly enriched uranium will leave traces, but not other giveaways of intended military use, such as neutron initiators, warhead designs and trial models of key components of a bomb”.
Danby also slammed US Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement that the International Atomic Energy Agency will allow the Iranians themselves to collect samples with regard to the “nuclear triggers tested at the Parchin military complex… As Senator Tom Cotton said, this is like a football drug cheat being allowed to send their own urine sample back to the NFL,” Australian (Aug. 17).
Worried that the P5+1 deal with Iran has overshadowed the regime’s human rights record, academic Fariborz Moshirian highlighted the situation for the country’s “beleaguered” 300,000 Baha’i.
“In a calculated attack… the authorities have been closing Baha’i businesses… individuals recognised as Baha’i are now often subjected to denial of business licences and there are persistent official efforts to severely restrict any further attempts by them to gain employment.”
Baha’i shopkeepers who have closed their businesses on holy days have been “threatened with revocation of their business licences should they continue to close their stores for the purpose of observing anything other than nationally recognised holidays, despite the fact there is no law requiring them to do so.”
He also noted, “Persecution permeates the education system. Baha’i students are denied entry to universities,” Australian (Aug. 31).
Writer Ida Lichter also highlighted the deterioration in Iranian human rights; “Under so-called reformist President Hasan Rowhani… Executions have risen to two per day, political prisoners have almost doubled, reformist publications have been closed down, and jailed journalists beaten. A government official has reportedly acknowledged that hundreds of teachers are being held in prison. Homosexuality is still a capital offence, and political parties are banned. Christians are battling a crackdown, and persecution of Bahais continues, with discrimination in education, employment, and the jailing of community leaders.”
Dogs are also persecuted; “their owners branded ‘morally depraved’. Considered unclean, a public health hazard and an objectionable aspect of Westernisation… last November, a draft bill called for 74 lashes and fines for [dog] owners,” Australian (Aug. 31).
NSW Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff called for “serious…reform” following the failure of the NSW Police to prosecute Ismail Wahwah, spiritual leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir, for racially vilifying Jews.
Alhadeff recounted the allegations against Wahwah, which included “accusing Jews of corrupting the world and describing them [as] ‘the most evil creature of Allah’ and threatening ‘the ember of jihad against the Jews will continue to burn … There is only one solution for this cancerous tumour: it must be uprooted and thrown back to where it came from.’ Wahwah insists he was referring only to Israel; his words and numerous references to ‘Jews’ unmask this claim.”
According to Alhadeff, since 1989 the Anti-Discrimination Board has referred 12 cases to the Department of Public Prosecutions but “not one has been prosecuted, let alone convicted. A parliamentary enquiry… made 15 recommendations for reform; none has been implemented… The failure to prosecute Wahwah tells all 200 ethnic groups in NSW that the law is unable to protect any person of ethnic background,” Daily Telegraph (Sept. 3).
Samah time blues
According to pro-Palestinian activist Samah Sabawi, “the Jewish claim to Palestine is derived from religious connections, stories from the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) as well as recent habitation of land. The Palestinian claim is far more concrete; it is based on the Palestinian people’s continuous habitation and uninterrupted contact with their land.”
She quoted from a 2000 “study by a group of Israeli and US scientists… [which] found that Muslim Arabs in Palestine and Israel ‘descended from local inhabitants, mainly Christians and Jews, who had converted after the Islamic conquest in the seventh century AD’. So while the Zionist narrative tells the story of Jews returning, Palestinian history and DNA tells a story of a people who remained throughout the centuries, adopting Judaism, later Christianity and finally Islam.”
This is a misrepresentation of the study she cites. What that study actually showed was that Jews and Palestinians share some common genetic markers when compared to Europeans, “suggesting a relatively recent common ancestry.” All this indicates is that both groups are indigenous to the same region – the Middle East – which is hardly surprising.
Sabawi’s tactic is common in anti-Israel circles – question the existence of a Jewish people and suggest Zionists are interlopers whose claims are based upon religious fables, while Palestinians are completely indigenous. It is a major barrier to a peace based on the rights of both peoples.
In fact, it is widely accepted that the people now called Palestinians are mostly descended from a wide variety of Arabic-speaking people who moved into the land from other areas subsequent to the Arab conquest in the seventh century – with a sizeable proportion arriving in the 20th century. Moreover, even the Koran acknowledges that Palestine is the land of the Jewish people. Finally, there has been a continuous Jewish presence in the area throughout the centuries, as well as an Arab one, ABC “The Drum” (Sept. 3).
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman showed yet again why he is not to be taken too seriously, writing, “Here’s my bet about the future of Sunni, Shiite, Arab, Turkish, Kurdish and Israeli relations: If they don’t end their long-running conflicts, Mother Nature is going to destroy them all long before they destroy one another.”
Friedman cited a raft of potential environmental catastrophes facing the region, focusing on water shortages in Iran and Syria. However, he didn’t cite any specific example from Israel and with good reason.
Israel is recognised as a world-leading innovator in maximising water usage through researching, developing and applying cutting edge technology.
The country currently recycles 85% of its wastewater and estimates that by 2020 recycled water will meet 50% of its agricultural needs. This technology, plus water-saving breakthroughs and cutting-edge large-scale desalination, means Israel has today largely solved its water scarcity problem.
Israel is also a world leader in solar technology, Age (Aug. 23).
Jesus the Jew in Jerusalem
In contrast to ABC producer Cathy Peters’ recent deplorable two-part radio documentary that tried to discredit any connection between Jews and Jerusalem, Geraldine Doogue presented a more reasonable view on an ABC TV “Compass” (August 16) episode called “Discovering Jesus the Jew”, that demonstrated the essentially Jewish history of Jerusalem.
Doogue explained her “personal quest… after my visit to Jerusalem” to “sort out” the Jewish roots of “my Catholic… faith… After all Jesus, his mother Mary… Peter and Paul… were all orthodox practising Jews… Ignore the Jewishness of Jesus and you miss a lot about his real message.”
In Jerusalem, interfaith activist Rabbi David Rosen explained how “if you don’t know Judaism, you don’t really know Jesus… You read your New Testament and you think there’s an argument between some people who are Christians and some people who are Jews and you don’t understand that they are all Jews in an internal debate.”
Jerusalem-based vicar David Neuhaus said, “the Christian is called to live as an imitator of Christ… and Jews and Judaism are a key to that knowledge of Jesus.”
In contrast to Peters’ programs, which featured “Breaking the Silence” founder Micha Kurz implying that Jewish religious customs are the real cause of Jewish fears of antisemitism, Doogue pondered, “Where [does] the prejudice and suspicion that Jews are often subjected to come… from? Was it fanned by the bible stories I listened to?”
This article is featured in this month’s Australia/Israel Review, which can be downloaded as a free App: see here for more details.