Drop rose-coloured views to lift Gaza peace hopes

My following article appears in today’s Canberra Times newspaper:

Hussam Abuayish lives in Gaza’s Johrel-Deik district near the Israeli border. With yellow teeth and nervous demeanour, the 24-year-old told me in July of an Israeli missile that landed near his family home a month before. His sister died and he remains in pain because of the shrapnel in his spine. The Israeli and Egyptian-imposed siege on the Gaza Strip means he is unlikely to get permission to find better medical care in another country. He is trapped in his own land.

”I’m not against Jews,” he stressed. ”I’m against an occupying Israel.” The self-described Jewish state has maintained a land, sea and air blockade on the area since 2006; 1.5million Gazans are suffering because Israel and the West refuse to accept the election of Hamas when the favoured (and corrupt) party, Fatah, lost.

The threat of Hamas is not, as we are constantly told in the Western media, because they are militant, uncompromising and anti-Semitic, but because they are willing to negotiate with Israel, and have stated so constantly since 2006. Senior Hamas ministers told me in Gaza that they are keen to end the occupation and engage on equal terms with Israel. Pragmatism is on and terrorism is (mostly) out. As former United States president Jimmy Carter recently told Al-Jazeera, the democratically elected Islamist party must be included in any peace negotiations.

The facts on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza rampaging Jewish settlers, an Israeli army that protects them, expanding illegal colonies, Jewish-only roads and errant Israeli missiles on villages have led leading black South African leaders to suggest that it is an apartheid far worse than anything they ever experienced.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu told Israeli daily Haaretz in August that a global boycott movement against apartheid South Africa ”gave hope to our people that the world cared. That this was a form of identification.” He has urged similar action against Israel because of the failure of the political and media elites to resolve the conflict.

Amid this misery are US President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The US has stressed that a two-state solution is their desired goal and much of the Western world, including Australia, has echoed this mission. But how? Israel refuses to completely cease settlement construction in the West Bank, Hamas is excluded and Netanyahu said again last week that Jerusalem would never be divided, precluding East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital.

Furthermore, Abbas and Fatah are actively colluding with Israel to manage the occupation. Obama continues the training of Palestinian troops to ensure West Bank ”security”, men accused by human rights groups of killing and torturing political opponents. It is why a leading Jewish Israeli academic, Neve Gordon, called for a boycott of his own country recently, such was his despair at the status-quo. I heard constantly throughout my visit to the region that only massive outside pressure will lead to compromise on all sides but the occupying power, Israel, must be controlled.

The Australian Government has taken a typically hands-off approach to the region. A recent Roy Morgan poll found growing support for the Palestinians and opposition to the January Gaza war, positions simply ignored by the Rudd ministry. More Jews are starting to break ranks, unwilling to be associated with an occupying nation.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s recent visit to Israel (and a few meetings in Palestine) was systematic of the rot. She told The Australian Jewish News in August that her trip ”reinforced in me that the judgments we made [to back the Gaza war] were the right judgments. We, as a nation, have always been very strong on supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and to seek security in the region.”

In fact, as I saw with my own eyes, the Gaza war destroyed the civilian infrastructure, emboldened Hamas and further isolated Israel in the international community.

Australia under Kevin Rudd imagines a thriving Israeli democracy that simply doesn’t exist.

Millions of Arabs feel disenfranchised and excluded from the state. Rampant discrimination and occupation define the country’s relationship with its soon-to-be majority Palestinian brothers and sisters.

An independent foreign policy towards the conflict would involve removing the rose-coloured glasses towards Israeli actions, recognising the Palestinian right to exist and refusing to accept subsidised Zionist lobby trips to the region. What if politicians and corporate journalists initiated their own investigations in Palestine and saw Israeli occupation troops beating Palestinians on their own land, as I did recently? Another routine day in the occupied territories.

Peace between Israel and the Palestinians is our goal, but it must not proscribe to preconceived ideas of nationhood. The only way to ensure justice is not to normalise relations with a country that racially divides its indigenous population.

Occupation must come with a price.

Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney journalist and author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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