I spent time last week here in Sydney with visiting American Jewish writer and activist Anna Baltzer, a passionate advocate for the Palestinian cause; quiet, determined and strongly calling for BDS and a one-state solution.
She was interviewed tonight on ABC PM Radio:
MARK COLVIN: It’s only weeks since the launch of the latest round of talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but they already seem stalled. Israel’s decision to resume full-fledged settlement building in the West Bank brought them to a near halt.
Now the Palestinians have said they’re considering sidestepping Israel by seeking UN Security Council recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.
Anna Baltzer is a Jewish American who argues for the Palestinian side of the debate. She’s touring Australia at the moment, speaking at the ANU this evening and addressing Federal MPs tomorrow.
I asked her first whether Israel would ever be able to negotiate with people and states that don’t recognise its right to exist.
ANNA BALTZER: The question about recognising Israel’s right to exist is a very interesting one and one that is oftentimes not given too much context. So, like I said, Israel is not the state of the people who have lived there for generations but very exclusively of the Jewish people, including even me, even if I never go there. But not of Palestinians, most of whom have been removed from the area.
So when you ask a Palestinian person, do you recognise the right for there to be a state on your historic homeland that explicitly excludes you and your children and your people for eternity simply because of your ethnic and religious background? You know if they say I don’t think there’s a right for that, that’s not anti-Semitism.
You know, did the Aboriginals recognise the right for there to be a state that should exclude them? You know they recognised that there was a state created and it should include them, rightfully so, and this question as to Palestinians is really pushing them into a corner and asking them to, not only, you know, see that Israel is discriminating against them but that they’re supposed to recognise Israel’s right to do it.
MARK COLVIN: Israelis believe that the wall has prevented the endless cycle of suicide bombs. Has the wall actually been a positive force?
ANNA BALTZER: I would argue no. It is true that there are fewer suicide bombs now than they were prior to the wall’s construction but that has to do a lot with other factors and one of those main factors is that the construction of the wall correlated with a decision on the part of Hamas, a strategic one, they were transforming from a paramilitary organisation to a political one to prepare for elections and eventually went back to violence.
With the removal of settlers from the Gaza strip, Israel was able to actually seal up the Gaza strip and that is actually where the majority of suicide bombs originated. And so what we’ve seen today is that violent resistance has simply transformed. Now from the Gaza strip instead of suicide bombs, they’re rocket attacks.
The wall around Gaza precisely proves the point that when you sort of choke people more and more and tighten that noose it does not end violence. You really have to look at the roots of the violence to move forward. The wall is a very short-sighted type of institution and it’s very porous. You can get from one end to another.
One anecdote people find interesting is a friend of mine who lives in a refugee camp near Bethlehem and every morning she wakes up at 3.30 in the morning. She goes to the first road block, has to get out of the car, walk around, take a taxi to the next one, walk around, take a settler bus into west Jerusalem where she works a full day as a nurse in a hospital. Does the same thing on the way home.
So she gets through easily. You know she has to change her headscarf from looking like a Muslim to looking like a settler. But if you want to get through, you can get through. It doesn’t prevent the most determined people. It’s simply prevents daily life from being able to go on as usual: people getting to school, hospitals, jobs.
MARK COLVIN: Some people say that if the Palestinian resistance transferred itself into a completely non-violent mode then things would change really radically. What do you think?
ANNA BALTZER: First of all the vast majority of Palestinian resistance is non-violent and it’s good that people are increasingly aware of it and historically speaking has been as well. There’s, you know, civil rights marches, people marching to the wall bearing witness, protesting, carrying freedom signs. It’s actually quite extraordinary to see.
MARK COLVIN: But every time a bunch of teenagers on one of those marches picks up stones and starts throwing them at troops that non-violent image is undermined, isn’t it?
ANNA BALTZER: Absolutely. And of course there is still violence on the part of Palestinians but it is not true, I think, to say that absent that violence you would see something different. Hamas, for example, held to the ceasefire until Israel refused to renew it and that led up to the Operation Cast Lead in late 2008.
There have been multiple chances that Israel has had but those have not been taken advantage of because frankly given my government’s unconditional support of Israel and as well as by the way Australia’s support of Israel. We see, for example, in the newspaper today discussion about Australian parliamentarians being funded in trips to Israel, that sort of allegiance that leaves no room really for the Palestinian narrative and Palestinian human rights.
As long as that happens we’re not going to see the real, really addressing the roots of the violence there today.
MARK COLVIN: So looking forward for the next few years you’re not very hopeful?
ANNA BALTZER: Actually I am hopeful. I am just not hopeful that it will come through the current negotiations where, you know, it’s like a prisoner negotiating with a prison guard, is what we see today. I don’t think that’s going to bear much fruition of peace.
However, if we look at historic models and what’s happening today with the segregated roads in the West Bank and all of different kinds of segregation is that we see a real link to apartheid South Africa and what happened there.
And likewise the struggle against it where people around the world said, you know, if our governments are not going to take a strong stand on this issue and stop the, pouring money into what’s happening, we as citizens of the world are not going to profit off of this anymore as individuals and institutions.
And thus began a campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions which has grown rapidly today, but towards apartheid Israel, to say that until Israel complies with international law we’re not going to treat it like a normal country anymore.
MARK COLVIN: The American-Israeli Palestinian activist, Anna Baltzer, speaking from Canberra.