Around this time last year I wrote three articles about the situation in Australia regarding Israel and Palestine. Given recent events, I think it useful to update what has been happening more recently ‘Down Under.’
Last year Israeli academic, Dr Marcelo Svirsky, led a protest walk from Sydney to Canberra. The walk was designed to draw attention to the injustice suffered by Palestinians and upon arrival at Parliament House a petition was presented to Federal Parliament asking for a BDS to be implemented against Israel. Last year, I joined Marcelo for the last two days of his walk. All elected representatives shunned our arrival in Canberra, although one MP, Mellissa Parke (ALP Freemantle), subsequently spoke in favour of the petition in the House of Representatives. Shortly afterwards, former Foreign Minister Bob Carr announced he was forming a “Labor Friends of Palestine ” group.
Fast forward 12 months and another three hundred and thirty kilometer walk was embarked upon, this time instigated by me and once again designed to highlight the injustice of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. I carried with me another petition to Federal Parliament. This year the petition was to ask our elected officials to formally recognise the state of Palestine. This seemed apt because of events that had taken place within the Australian Labor Party.
Whist our current Australian Government retains a very pro-Israel Middle East position (voting against the raising of the Palestinian flag at The UN recently), the opposition Labor Party has been pivoting slightly away from its past unequivocal and unconditional support of Israel. The influence of Bob Carr as a persuasive elder statesman seems to be having an effect. At the July 2015 triennial Labor Party Conference, the issue of Palestinian recognition was hotly debated. Sections of the party proposed a motion that endorsed immediate recognition. Previously dominant pro-Israel factions fought back furiously and managed to water down the final wording of the resolution but the dam was starting to leak. As the Shadow Finance spokesman Tony Burke said, ‘It is the case that any Australian Government, in international form, must have a position on these issues. And it is important that when Australia takes those positions it does so in a way that speaks the truth about the situation there.’ Tony Burke’s speech can be viewed here:
The Recognise Palestine Walk that I spearheaded this year left The Opera House in Sydney on the 4th October. The project generated significant support. An article on the walk appeared in our national newspaper The Australian.
We also managed to garner over 1100 signatures. The Australian Parliament does not, at present, accept cyberspace petitions. So each signature had to be collected by hand, usually after a verbal explanation of the aim of the document.
Upon arriving at Parliament House on the 13th of October we were very pleased to be met by six MP’s: Melissa Parke (ALP); Maria Vamvakinou (ALP); Laurie Ferguson (ALP); Craig Laundy (LP); Adam Bandt (Greens); and Lee Rhiannon (Greens).
Co-convener of the Parliamentary Friends of Palestine, Maria Vamvakinou MP, was also gracious enough to make a speech in Parliament affirming the aims of the walk on the 15th of October. Her speech can be read here.
Adam Bandt, Greens MP, also made a speech in Parliament referencing the walk that can be viewed here.
For those interested, glimpses of the 2015 protest walk can be viewed on the event’s Facebook page: Recognise Palestine Walk 2015.
As a way of drawing attention to the plight of the long-suffering Palestinians the walk proved very effective. It built upon a notable shift in the Labor Party policy. A Morgan Poll in 2014 revealed that 57 % of respondents thought Australia should vote “yes” to Palestinian recognition as an independent Member State of the United Nations. My vox pops experience this year concurs with these figures. We can only hope this momentum is maintained and built upon. Surely the moral and intellectual arguments supporting occupation into the foreseeable future cannot be sustained.