I have been coming to Australia, particularly to Perth, Western Australia, for the last 43 years. My wife, Sandra was born here and now our daughter and her family live here.
When I first arrived in December 1976 Perth reminded me of Haifa, in Palestine. There are the eucalyptus trees dotted everywhere, there is the warm blue expanse of the Indian Ocean and there are, of course, the hills surrounding Perth. The comparison between Australia and Palestine does not stop there. There is another parallel.
Australia was founded 230-odd years ago when the British first discovered it, colonised it and shipped their criminal classes, along with other unwanted fodder of Britain to these shores. Of course, as in Palestine, the British did not bother to consider the indigenous population of Australia, the original owners of this land, known as the Aborigines. With a culture spanning back over 60,000 years they did not matter at all and did not come into the equation. Once discovered the land had to be settled, the indigenous people removed and natural treasure and resources extracted to be used solely for the benefit of Britain and for the white colonists who lived here. Sounds familiar? This is exactly what the Zionist movement had in mind for Palestine over a century ago.
Today the story is different. Australia is a multi-cultural society and when you walk down any street the colours are those of the rainbow, all milling around in seemingly perfect harmony. I say ‘seemingly’ because every now and then you hear a horrific pronouncement from one of the white politicians about the immigrant Muslim Arabs, the Chines or the indigenous Aboriginal people. However, the year I first arrived, 1976 was also the year of the Aboriginal Land Reform Act, designed to give Aboriginal people some rights to land ownership. It took years to implement but it was a start. Forty years on the Aboriginal people are now known as The First Nation. They are included in some circles of power, and most importantly they have a share of the bounty (budget) allocated to their welfare and development. As I said, it’s a small beginning but there is a lot more to be done. You cannot solve 230 years of oppression and neglect by simply throwing money at it. Green shoots of hope? Perhaps. It remains to be seen.
Throughout its short history, Australia, like the USA and Canada, has always sided with Israel against us, the Palestinians. The reason why is amply illustrated above. When white Australian politicians look at Israel they see a mirror image of themselves. Australia was one of the countries which voted for the UN partition plan for Palestine in 1947, lead by Herb Vere (Doc) Evatt, Minister for External Affairs and Attorney General 1941 – 1949. In fact, Doctor Evatt cast the deciding vote which tipped the balance in Israel’s favour.
This support is still going on and, if anything, is getting stronger. Newly appointed Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, yet to face the Australian electorate, decided to follow President Trump’s lead and recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the Australia embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Furthermore, again dutifully following the lead of Mr Trump, Scott Morrison accused the UN of being biased against Israel. His defence secretary, Ms Maryse Paine was close behind, condemning the recent UN Human Rights Council report on Israeli possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Palestine, calling it unbalanced and biased.
Having said all this you might think that there is no hope for us Palestinians in the Australian corridors of power. I must say I was of this school of thought until a few years ago when I discovered that there are a growing number of civil society organisations dotted around the country who are true and active supporters of Palestine and our host cause.
Last Monday, March 4th it was Labour Day here in Australia. It was also the launch day of Labour Friends of Palestine within Labour Party in Parliament. I was invited to attend and I am happy to report that the three Australian speakers, the former Federal Labour Member for Fremantle, Melissa Parke, current Labour Member For Fremantle, Josh Wilson MP and Senator Sue Lines all spoke passionately about their various experiences in the occupied territories and pledged to continue to work for a just solution in the land of our forefathers. They also pledged that when Labour is voted into government in the next general elections they will do their utmost to recognise the State of Palestine. Ladies and Gentleman, I salute you.
Green shoots of hope indeed.
Jafar M Ramini is a Palestinian writer and political analyst, based in London, presently in Perth, Western Australia. He was born in Jenin in 1943 and was five years old when he and his family had to flee the terror of the Urgun and Stern gangs. Justice for the people of Palestine is a life-long commitment.