‘Why I’m now a friend of Palestine rather than Israel’

12 Nov

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Bob Carr: former NSW premier and foreign minister: Why I’m now a friend of Palestine rather than Israel

By Bob Carr, Opinion, The Australian: 8 November, 2014

PENNANT Hills Golf Club in Sydney is an unusual place for an epiphany on the changes in Israel. Still, it was there I met a Christian volunteer who went to the occupied territories to escort Palestinian children to school, to protect them from verbal and physical ­violence by Israeli settlers.

Violence against Arab kids? Christian volunteers to protect them? From Jewish settlers?

None of this was around in 1977 when I rented a room in Sydney Trades Hall and called on Bob Hawke, ACTU president, to help me launch Labor Friends of Israel.

In 1977 the Israeli occupation was 10 years old. There were 25,000 settlers. It was easy to believe the Israelis were holding the West Bank only as a bargaining chip. Arabs were terrorists.

Now the occupation has lasted 47 years. There are 500,000 settlers. Up to 60 per cent of the Israeli cabinet is on record as opposing a two-state solution. Palestinians have been part of a peace process for 25 years.

Israel has gone from secular to religious. The ultra-Orthodox and religious Zionists hold 30 of the 120 seats in the Knesset. It has gone from cosmopolitan to chauvinist, with some ministers ­espousing a brand of radical ­nationalism like that of France’s Le Pen or Austria’s Jorg Haider.

“The symbol of Israel used to be the kibbutz,” says a friend in the British Labour Party. “It’s now the settlement.” They have doubled in the past 54 months alone. The ­Atlantic reported the Obama ­administration is deeply offended at how the Israelis use settlements to wreck any peace deal. Settlers won’t move. The Israeli government won’t force them. So an ­indefinite occupation morphs into the extremists’ goal of a Greater Israel.

With one catch. It will have two classes of citizen.

“A term used about another country on another continent”, Ehud Barak told me when I as foreign minister discussed this very dilemma. The word is apartheid, of course, used by another former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and the only word that can be applied if, within one nation, there is one set of laws for one race and an inferior set for the other — the other being the majority.

Barack Obama says that if settlement expansion keeps growing he can’t manage the fallout for Israel. That fallout has begun, with Sweden joining 138 nations that have already recognised Palestine and Britain’s House of Commons endorsing recognition. In the British debate, Richard Ottaway, a Conservative and long-term supporter of Israel, ­declared, “If they are losing ­people like me, they will be losing a lot of people.”

He and others in centrist politics have been sickened by religious fanatics standing on seized Palestinian land declaring that God gave them Judea and Samaria, and the Arabs are inferior anyway. Sickened by the routine violence of the settlers, serious enough to warrant front-page treatment in that voice of the US foreign policy establishment, Foreign Affairs: settlers smashing the windows of Palestinian flats to drive families out, uprooting the date and olive trees on Palestinian farms, spraying graffiti on ­churches and mosques.

In 1977 the Palestine Liberation Organisation was blowing up planes. Now for 25 years Palestinians have been committed to a neg­otiated solution, most recently to a demilitarised state with the presence of a US-led NATO force on the West Bank and East ­Jerusalem.

In 1977 when we launched Labor Friends of Israel we knew, to our disgrace, none of their narrative. Now Israeli historians — this is a measure of Israel’s openness — have gone to the archives of their army to tell the full story of how massacres were used during the foundation of Israel in 1948 to drive out 700,000 Palestinians. The credibility of historian Benny Morris is confirmed when he declares he agreed with the policy and thinks David Ben-Gurion should have gone further until there were no Palestinians left.

Where do Palestinians stand now? Gideon Levy wrote in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that it leaves them living with mass arrests (760 in a recent sweep, 260 of them children) expulsions, demolitions. A former head of Shin Bet (Israel’s ASIO) said in the 2012 documentary The Gatekeepers that his paratrooper son invaded Nablus two or three times. He asked, “Did this bring us victory? I don’t think so.”

This week 100 ex-generals, senior police and a former head of Mossad issued a letter urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to negotiate with “moderate Arab states and with the Palestinians (in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as one)”. They know a two-state solution will not be perfect but preferable.

Permanent occupation means Israelis get cast as Afrikaners and the world will recognise Palestine and isolate Israel.

After all, the alternative would be unthinkable: to accept colonial rule with one religious and racial group enjoying the vote, the majority denied it.

From the writers of The West Wing came this. Discussing Gaza and the West Bank, a White House adviser says to another, “Revolutionaries will outlast and out-die occupiers every time.” No other colonial rule has survived, let alone with rich settlers on fortified hilltops with Los Angeles lawns, the wretched huddled in the gullies, their 12-year-old kids subject to military arrest and ­detention.

We have politely pitched the case for Palestinian statehood as creating security for Israel. But in view of the settlements and settler violence, I now pitch the case in terms of the rights of the Palestinian people, recognised in international law and every draft peace statement supported by the world for a quarter of a century.

Palestinians must commit to non-violent resistance, not a third intifada. They must build international support. They must engage with the righteous Jews who condemn the takeover of Zionism by the fanatics.

Forty years ago I signed up to be president of Labor Friends of Israel; I still count myself a friend of the liberals in that country but it serves the cause of a just peace better by me this week becoming patron of Labor Friends of Palestine.

Bob Carr is a former NSW premier and foreign minister. This is part of an address he gave to the Australian Friends of Palestine Association in Adelaide last night

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