Australia bars Palestinian prisoner of conscience

13 Apr

Bassem Tamimi was called a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International and a human rights defender by the EU, but now Australia won’t let him in. [Photo: Oren Ziv ActiveStills]

By Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 10 April 2017

The Australian government has revoked the visa of a Palestinian who at one time was declared to be a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International.

In 2012, Amnesty said that Bassem Tamimi was being detained by Israel “solely for his role in organizing peaceful protests against the encroachment onto Palestinian lands by Israeli settlers.”

On Friday, Tamimi was notified by Australia’s immigration department that his visa was being revoked, just a day before he was due to fly out for a speaking tour hosted by Palestine solidarity groups across the country.

Tamimi was informed in a letter that the department “recently became aware of information that indicates there is a risk that members of the public will react adversely to your presence in Australia regarding your views of the ongoing political tensions in the Middle East.”

The visa had been granted just days earlier, on 4 April. As a result of the revocation, Tamimi is also subject to exclusion from Australia for three years.

On Monday, an immigration lawyer lodged an appeal on Tamimi’s behalf, organizers told The Electronic Intifada.

Reprisals

Tamimi was due to speak at the annual Marxism conference in Melbourne before traveling to other cities.

The immigration department letter does not specify the nature of the “information” that prompted the visa revocation.

Tamimi is from the occupied West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, whose residents have faced harsh reprisals for their persistent unarmed resistance to Israel’s theft of their land.

When Tamimi was convicted by an Israeli military court for his activism in 2012, the European Union designated him a “human rights defender.”

As a result of global attention to their struggle, the people of Nabi Saleh, including the Tamimi family, have been the subject of smears by anti-Palestinian activists demonizing them. Australia’s main Israel lobby group AIJAC has also previously disseminated attacks on the Tamimi family.

In January, the US suspended a visa for Tamimi’s teenage daughter Ahed, preventing her from taking part in a speaking tour.

Blatant discrimination

Organizers of Tamimi’s tour in Australia have called the visa revocation “an act of extreme censorship.”

Lee Rhiannon, a federal senator from the Australian Green Party, called on immigration minister Peter Dutton to reinstate the visa.

“If Minister Dutton does not reverse his decision it will be seen as [an] act to deliberately stop voices for Palestinian justice [from being] heard in Australia,” Rhiannon added.

Almost 2,000 people have signed a petition calling the bar on Tamimi “a blatant case of discrimination,” especially in light of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s warm welcome for his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu in February.

A year ago, this writer faced unusual delays obtaining a visa to Australia to participate in the Marxism conference and speak in other cities. That prompted an outcry and accusations from Australian activists that the delay was politically motivated. The visa was eventually granted only hours ahead of scheduled travel.

Like Israel

Australia’s policy of barring Palestinians based on their views aligns the country even more closely with Israel, which earlier this year passed legislation barring entry to advocates of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) measures against the state.

On Monday, Israel barred entry to Anuar Majluf, the head of the Palestine Federation of Chile. The South American nation has one of the world’s biggest Palestinian diaspora communities.

“After a long and conclusive research that the ministry has conducted, it was determined that Majluf is one of the most prominent activists against Israel in Chile over the years,” Israel’s strategic affairs ministry told media.

“The right direction”

If the motive for preventing Tamimi from traveling to Australia was to reduce attention on Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights, it has already backfired.

The government’s action in canceling the visa has garnered negative attention in numerous outlets, including The Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian.

Even Australia’s national public broadcaster ABC suggested that barring Tamimi may be “an example of curbing freedom of speech.”

“I want to tell all the people of Australia that we are people of peace, that we have chosen to fight this occupation with nonviolence,” Tamimi told The Electronic Intifada from Amman, Jordan. “I want to tell the Australian people that they should distinguish between the victim and the criminal – which is the occupation.”

It appears that this message is already getting through, with a recent survey showing that more Australians sympathize with the Palestinians than with Israel.

Tamimi said he believes that pro-Israel groups are working all over the world to prevent Palestinians from speaking out about Israel’s rights violations.

“As long as our enemy is shaken by what we are doing, it’s a sign that we are working in the right direction,” he said.

3 Responses to “Australia bars Palestinian prisoner of conscience”

  1. philipmcfedries April 13, 2017 at 11:45 am #

    How about inviting Sabastiya Archbishop Atallah Hanna, of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem to Australasia for a speaking tour. It might be easier to get him under the Zionist radar than Bassim Tamimi. I believe many NZ churches et al would support something like this. There is a shift occurring in evangelical churches towards support for Palestinian rights – some have a long way to go but it is happening. Something like this could help the shift along…

    Regards

    Philip McFedries Member Papanui Baptist Church Christchurch.

    • Gareth William Smith April 13, 2017 at 5:26 pm #

      Why don’t we invite the Archbishop and Bassam Tamimi together and make it really difficult for the government to say yes to one and no to the other?

  2. Gareth Smith April 13, 2017 at 2:49 pm #

    BYRON FRIENDS OF PALESTINE

    We write on behalf of Byron Friends of Palestine to express our outrage over the cancellation of Bassam Tamimi’s visa whose initial visa application was declined. It is unbelievable that he was referred to the Israeli authorities instead. This is tantamount to a Jew in the Third Reich being told to approach the Nazis for a visa! His brother, Moustafa, was killed by the Israeli military during a peaceful protest at their village of Nabi Saleh and he himself has been imprisoned and tortured for simply protesting against Israel’s land grabbing and settler led destruction of crops and violent intimidation of both adults and children. According to the ABC, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection states that: ”The department has recently been made aware of information that indicates there is a risk that members of the public will react adversely to Mr Tamimi’s presence in Australia regarding his views of the ongoing political tensions in the Middle East,”. What about the adverse reaction from those of us who support Bassam Tamimi and who are outrage by his retraction of visa and denial of free speech?

    Al Jazeera’s sting operation using hidden video footage thwarted an Israeli plan to “take down” British Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan (http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.763778). However, the powerful Israeli lobby is active in Australia and stoops to similar dirty tricks finding encouragement from the Turnbull government which bends over backwards to accomodate them. As a result our Australian values of free speech and fair play are compromised with impunity. When are you going to reign in these supporters of Israeli apartheid Mr Turnbull, Mr Shorten?

    On 22 May 2012 the European Union issued the following statement: “The High Representative is very concerned by the conviction of Bassem Tamimi in an Israeli military court on 20 May 2012 on charges of taking part in illegal demonstrations and of soliciting protesters to throw stones. The EU considers Bassem Tamimi to be a ‘human rights defender’ committed to non-violent protest against the expansion of an Israeli settlement on lands belonging to his West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. The EU attended all court hearings in his case and is concerned at the use of evidence based on the testimony of a minor who was interrogated in violation of his rights. The EU believes that everyone should be able to exercise their legitimate right to protest in a nonviolent manner.”

    Bassam Tamimi_representing oppressed Palestinians living under Israel’s brutal apartheid regime is denied freedom of speech in Australia while his oppressor, Benjamin Netanyahu, is ecstatically greeted by the Turnbull government and, shamefully, by many members of the Australian Labor Party, the Greens and Independents.

    Reinstate Mr Tamimi’s visa, Mr Dutton, Mr Turnbull.

    Shame on you, Mr Dutton and Mr Turnbull, for kotowing to the Israeli lobby.

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