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Jun 27, 2013 | Ahron Shapiro

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A kerfuffle raised by Australian Palestinian activists over Australia Post’s recent joint issue stamp with Israel offers a teachable moment about the nature of Palestinian activism Down Under.

The incident offers yet more evidence that there is nothing pro-peace about these activists, who often claim to be acting in support of Palestinian self-determination, but place far more importance on fulfilling their fantasy of delegitimising Israel and erasing the country politically in a way their armed comrades in the Middle East have never succeeded in doing so on a battlefield.

According to a story on News Limited‘s dedicated website news.com.au:

“Just the other day I needed a postage stamp,” Australian Palestinian activist Sonja Karkar wrote on her blog, “I duly handed over my 60 cents at an Australia Post outlet and received far more than I bargained for – nothing less, would you believe, than a dollop of Israeli propaganda.”

The issue? The stamps feature World War I near the town of Beersheba where Australian soldiers fought the Turkish.

But Ms Karkar says the stamp… is tied to Israel when Beersheba was a Palestinian town in 1917. The state of Israel did not exist until 1948.

“This is a really disturbing and incorrect remark,” she said. “It is insulting to the memory of Palestinians who were terrorised into leaving their city Beersheba when the newly-created Israel captured it in 1948 and who have never been allowed to return to their homes.”

Actually, it was not a “Palestinian” town in 1917, in so much as there was certainly no State of Palestine in 1917. It was a provincial town under the control of the Ottoman Empire and had been so for hundreds of years. That’s whom the Australians were fighting. The Ottomans.

Of course, Beersheba has been part of Israel since the 1949 armistice following the defeat of the invading Egyptian army in the Negev in Israel’s defensive War of Independence and was unquestionably part of the sovereign State of Israel in those “pre-1967 borders”.

It’s absurd for these activists to say that because Israel hadn’t been established as a country in 1917, that Israel is not entitled to jointly issue a stamp commemorating an event that happened within its recognised boundaries before statehood.

Was there a protest in 1973 when the US produced a stamp commemorating the 1773 Boston Tea Party? There was no United States back then. Of course there was no objection.

Nor was there an outcry in 2010 when Australia and Papua New Guinea issued joint stamps commemorating the Kokoda campaign of 1942. PNG didn’t exist as a state during World War II.

Australians for Palestine can’t even claim that Australia Post didn’t fact-check its stamp or its press release, which were reviewed by the renowned Australian historian Peter Stanley, a prolific author of no less than 24 books.

Nor can they say that the stamp somehow ignores Beersheba’s Arabic heritage. The Arabic name for the city appears on the stamps, transliterated to English.

Let’s not beat around the bush. What the Australian pro-Palestinian activists are really objecting to here is Australia Post’s temerity in collaborating on projects with Israel, full stop. It’s all about BDS, but they didn’t want to say so outright for tactical reasons, so they came up with other pretexts for their complaint.

Don’t fool yourself, though – such extremists would object to any stamp issued with the image of any location in Israel – Tel Aviv, Rehovot, you name it. As their good friend and 2011 guest lecturer Israeli anti-Zionist activist Miko Peled candidly told Radio New Zealand‘s Kim Hill during his recent visit to Auckland on June 22 when she asked about his views on Israel’s settlements on the West Bank:

There is no legal building anywhere in Israel. All of Israel is Occupied Palestine and all Israeli cities are illegal settlements.

Now, you won’t often hear Australian pro-Palestinian activists put their objections in those stark, uncompromising words to the local media, because they realise it would be overplaying their hand and would have risked the editor spiking the story entirely as being just too over the top.

Instead, the activists chose to grasp at thin reeds, like the date issue, and somehow conflated the Palestinian refugee issue with the 1917 Light Horse charge.

The charge, of course, predated the refugee issue. So the Palestinian activists actually fall victim to their own criticism. It would be hypocritical indeed to object to Israel commemorating a historic event that happened in Beersheba before statehood, and then go ahead and claim offence over issues that also had not occurred at the time of the WWI charge.

This became apparent to many Australians who commented online over this non-story. As Queenslander and Facebook user Paul Hannah lamented on Australia Post’s Facebook page, “It seems we can’t commemorate anything that happened where something else bad happened years later”.

When an Australia Post representative replied to his post with an apology in case “anyone was offended”, Hannah shot back “don’t be so quick to apologise”. While making clear he had nothing against Palestinians, he wrote “What is disrespectful [about the protest] is the dishonour shown to the memory of [the Aussie diggers].

The activists’ tie-in between Beersheba and the Palestinian refugee issue was particularly disingenuous, given that they conveniently ignore the fact that in the past, Israeli governments have negotiated with the Palestinians on the refugee issue in good faith, and have continued to push for talks to reach a compromise over this and other final status issues in the interests of peace.

This blog could choose to descend into an argument with these pro-Palestinian activists over the circumstances of the Israeli capture of Beersheba, and enter into a debate over Israel’s legitimacy in the city. To do so, however, would be doing Israel a great disservice, because Beersheba, Israel’s seventh largest city with a population of almost 200,000 people, is so obviously an indivisible part of the country – a fact recognised by everyone except those adopting the extreme and maximalist Palestinian position, anithetical to peace, which does not accept Israel’s right to exist in any part of the Holy Land whatsoever.

It is therefore disappointing that a news organisation took the bait and allowed what amounts to an extremist challenge to Israel’s very legitimacy within its pre-1967 boundaries to become a mainstream news story.

Ahron Shapiro

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