Thursday, November 3, 2016

Israel No Model for Aboriginal People - A response to Stan Grant.

Dear friends,
I have been snowed under with work and study, so apologies for posting this a little late. Please find below my article published last month by Red Flag. This article deals with the issue of whether Israel should be held up as a model when it comes to the struggle of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia.

The article was prompted by Australia's public broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in September treating us us to the spectacle of Andrew Bolt, a man widely known for his racially discriminatory commentary on Aboriginal issues, discussing whether or not Indigenous Australians should be recognised in Australia's Constitution.The program Recognition: Yes or No?, which screened on 20 September saw Bolt, along with Aboriginal Federal Labour MP Linda Burney, meeting with a range of politicians and community members to debate the issue. 

Among those to appear on the show was Aboriginal journalist, Stan Grant. While attempting to rebutt Bolt's dismissal of Aboriginal identity, Grant decided to illustrate his comment about the resilience of Aboriginal identity in the aftermath of European colonisation by citing Israel as an example of a united, cohesive and equal society, saying: "I have been to Israel and I have seen the sense of Jewish belonging whether you are an Ethiopian Jew or a Russian Jew or an American Jew, with a whole range of ethnicities and everything else around it that coalesce around a sense of belonging and kinship." Grant concluded that in a hundred years, despite other influences, Aboriginal identity would remain strong and viable.

While Grant is right about Aboriginal Identity, he is wrong about Israel. I have also included after my article, another article which appeared in the Fairfax Press in response to Grant's comments by Palestinian writer, Inais Iqtait.

In solidarity, Kim


Israel no model for Aboriginal people
Stan Grant speaking at a Recognise meeting in Cootamandra NSW earlier this year PHOTO: Adam Yip

Aboriginal journalist Stan Grant told the ABC’s Recognition: Yes or No? program on 20 September: “I have been to Israel and I have seen the sense of Jewish belonging, whether you are an Ethiopian Jew or a Russian Jew or an American Jew, with a whole range of ethnicities and everything else around it that coalesce around a sense of belonging and kinship”

Grant was attempting to highlight the resilience of Aboriginal identity in the aftermath of European colonisation. But this praise for Israel shockingly ignored the Palestinian people and the fact that, like Australia, Israel is a settler colonial society in which the indigenous population has endured invasion, colonisation and dispossession.

Israel, far from being a society that embraces all ethnicities, is an apartheid state.

It isn’t as if Grant isn’t aware of this, having reported on the Palestine-Israel conflict at different times during his career. And it isn’t as if he doesn’t understand what settler colonialism entails. In October last year, he eloquently spoke about the impact of settler colonialism on Aboriginal Australia, noting: “The Australian Dream is rooted in racism. It is the very foundation of the dream. It was there at the birth of the nation. It is there in terra nullius. An empty land. A land for the taking”.

The history of Israel is no different, its establishment being rooted in the racist dispossession of the Palestinian Arab population. Like Australia, Palestine was also deemed an “empty land” by the Zionists who founded Israel, proclaiming it to be “a land without people, for a people without land”.

The similarities between Australia and Israel should come as no surprise. Settler colonial societies are a distinct type of imperialist formation, which are premised on the racist elimination of the indigenous population through various means, including ethnic cleansing, genocide and/or assimilation.

All settler colonial states are characterised by massive inequalities that often are codified in law and built structurally into the economic, social and political system, ensuring that the settler population is legally, socially and politically privileged over the indigenous population.
In Australia, Indigenous people continue to be the most disadvantaged group in the country, including in health, education and employment. Indigenous people also have the highest rates of incarceration, making up one-quarter of the prison population, despite being less than 3 percent of the total population.

Palestinians similarly face structural racism, oppression and disadvantage. Four million Palestinians currently live under Israel’s brutal military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Five million live in exile due to Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948.

In addition, 1.5 million Palestinians living inside Israel, despite being citizens, face daily discrimination and apartheid. According to Adalah – the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel – more than 50 discriminatory laws have been enacted since 1948 in relation to political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, criminal procedures, employment, property and family matters, such as marriage and family reunification.

Grant’s whitewashing of Israeli apartheid, while shocking, is unsurprising. While he has often been an eloquent advocate for Aboriginal people, Grant has also promoted himself as a diplomat and pragmatist who seeks “equilibrium and balance” so that Australia can “come together”.

In doing so, he has repeatedly tried to find some sort of mythical common ground between Aboriginal people and their oppressors. Such diplomacy does not eradicate racism. It gives it comfort.

Similarly, by holding Israel up as a beacon of cohesion and inclusivity, Grant is giving comfort to an apartheid regime, deliberately whitewashing its settler colonial history and disappearing the Palestinians.

Rather than Indigenous people lauding Israel, as Grant wants us to do, we need to recognise that the Palestinian people’s history is our history and vice versa. By standing in solidarity with the Palestinians and recognising our commonalities, we will not only strengthen both our struggles. We will also take both our people one step closer to winning justice, human rights and self-determination.

Kim Bullimore is a Murri activist. She has been active in the struggle for Aboriginal rights for over two decades and has been active in the Palestine solidarity movement for more than 15 years, including living and working in the occupied Palestinian territories


For God's sake, give Palestinians a fair go

During Tuesday night's ABC show Recognition: Yes or No? Stan Grant weighed in on his Aboriginal identity after 200 years of European settlement, citing Israel as an example Australia could follow for its cohesion and equal society. Israel, being itself a European settlement, was absolutely the last example expected for supporting the rights of Aboriginals' recognition in Australia.

He said: "I have been to Israel and I have seen the sense of Jewish belonging whether you are an Ethiopian Jew or a Russian Jew or an American Jew, with a whole range of ethnicities and everything else around it that coalesce around a sense of belonging and kinship."

 Palestinian youths in Bethlehem list the names of the children killed in Israel's Operation Protective Edge military assault on the Gaza Strip in July 2014. Photo: AFP
Grant astonishingly fails to mention my people, the Palestinian people, who have resided under Israeli occupation or tutelage since (similar to Australia) mainly Europeans established a state on their lands 68 years ago. The use of Israel as an example for a place where "a whole range of ethnicities and everything else around it that coalesce around a sense of belonging and kinship" is flawed and simply unfactual.

In the words of former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Theodor Or, Palestinians in Israel face a structural and systematic discrimination with the Israeli state not doing "enough to grant equality" for its Arab citizens. We haven't even mentioned the 4 million Palestinians living under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza for 49 years ongoing, or the other 4 million Palestinian refugees who were displaced in 1948.

Palestinians have lived under constant colonisation, dispossession and suffering from an illegal occupation that erodes their human, economic, and existential rights. Some 225,000 children in Gaza today require psychosocial support due to the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza in 2014; over 48,488 Palestinian structures have been demolished; and over 800,000 trees have been uprooted in the West Bank and Gaza. Is this a model Australia wants to replicate?

In an earlier speech Grant delivered at the IQ2 Racism Debate last year he called for Australians to acknowledge the two centuries of "dispossession, injustice and suffering". I find this statement to be strikingly similar to the Palestinians' plight for recognition, equality, justice, and statehood.

Suffice to say I find the irony in yesterday's comments painfully obvious. My 19-year-old sister, a future architecture engineer, was complaining to me yesterday about a 45-minute wait at an Israeli military checkpoint to her university in Ramallah. The military was chocking morning Palestinian traffic to let Israeli settlers reach Jerusalem without delay, with no regards to the native population of the West Bank and their livelihoods. This system, that increasingly resembles an apartheid, has to be internationally condemned and de-structured, not subtly praised.

Palestinians have been under a constant wave of colonisation, eroding their existence from the land they have proudly resided for thousands of years. Just like Grant is rightly proud of his ancestry that might run tens of thousands of years deep, I, too, am proud of my ancestry in Palestine. We both have suffered colonisation, marginalisation, and discrimination – most Palestinians still do – and we all ought to stand for equality and justice for their cause.

Anas Iqtait is a research Scholar at the Australian National University.

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