The Australian government is on notice

The initiator of the petition against Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her impending trip to Israel, Ned Curthoys, sent the following letter to her today:

Dear Julia Gillard,

The following is a petition that I’m presenting to you on behalf of some 180 concerned Australians, many of them eminent names in their chosen fields, who would prefer it if you refrained from leading the Australia-Israel exchange delegation this month. They see this trip as a poorly timed public-relations exercise for the Israeli government that can only reaffirm your internationally anomalous disregard for the Palestinians during the Gaza crisis of December-January, when you refused to call for a cease-fire or acknowledge the disproportionate nature of Israel’s response, its initial breach of the cease-fire with Hamas on November 4 2008, or the devastating nature of Israel’s (with Egypt’s complicity) economic blockade of the Gaza Strip which constitutes collective punishment, continuing to deprive Palestinians of basic medicines, hospital equipment, adequate electricity supplies, food stuff, and gas for cooking.

I note that your latest comments in defence of the trip stress Israel’s diversity, but does Israel’s continual demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, denial of Palestinian building permits in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and zoning of ”˜Jewish only’ residential eras in East Jerusalem, speak well of this diversity and inclusivity? How inclusive can a nation be, that, unlike Australia, restricts its right of return to Jews and their spouses while ignoring the plight of Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes in 1948 and 1967? What is the relevance of this diversity if the grand narrative of Israel since 1948 is the uninterrupted theft of Palestinian land, a process that actually intensified during the Oslo Peace process of the 1990s and has been guaranteed by the present government? Will you be talking to Israel Jewish anthropologist Jeff Halper of the Committee against House Demolitions about the true purpose of the almost daily demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank? Will you visit Hebron where some 180. 000 Palestinians face constant violence and disruptive military curfews because of the presence of hundreds of Jewish religious settlers protected by the Israeli Defence Force? Are you thinking of visiting the Gaza Strip to see how Palestinians are rebuilding their lives or to listen to their traumatic testimony?

If you speak with Netanyahu and government officials will you solemnly nod and sympathize with the generosity of an offer for a ”˜Palestinian state’ that is demilitarized and cannot control its own airspace or external trading relationships, that cannot have East Jerusalem as its capital, and that must recognize and affirm the Jewish character of Israel despite some 20 percent of the population being Palestinian and Bedouin and despite the Jewish character of Israel being the very rationale for refusing Palestinians the right to return to their ancestral lands? Will you be asking discerning questions of Netanyahu’s offer? Please keep me informed of your travels and transform it into something worthwhile, a fact-finding mission, a conversation with Israelis and Palestinians of all political persuasions as conducted by brave journalists such as Antony Loewenstein, a tour of the some 500 military checkpoints that disrupt and degrade the lives of West Bank Palestinians, perhaps then you’ll have your mind opened to the devastating nature of the apartheid system governing the lives of Palestinians like Desmond Tutu, and Jimmy Carter before you. It’s still my hope that you will be mentioned in the same breath as statespeople like these.

On behalf of supporters of Palestinian human-rights everywhere,

Yours sincerely,

Ned Curthoys