Speech by Nick Xenophon, Australian Senate on Israel/Palestine.

This speech shows that Australian politicians are beginning to speak out on Palestinian rights, while at the same time, making it clear that they cannot be considered ‘anti-Israel’ (thus taking care of the Lobby).
Xenophon offers his thanks to a delegation drawn from AJDS, Israel (Sahar Vardi and Micha Kurz) and Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network.  Some of us can find common cause around certain issues. One of the things that became very clear to me–and this is a shock to the system–that there is bipartisan support for Palestinian rights and an end of the Occupation  (and yes, Israel) among a group of politicians in Canberra.  They are also frankly pissed off that the Israeli government thinks it can bulldoze an Australian foreign aid project in the village of Susiya on the West Bank and this message is going to be conveyed to Bob Carr nd others who can use four letter words to relevant Israeli representatives.
However, conservatives and others cannot attach their significant political influence to what they regard as destructive BDS tactics (in particular total boycott stuff and the games around Max Brenner) which are tied up with local political identity and grandstanding internationalist politics rather than political realism. Perhaps in fact, ‘we’ have paid too little attention to working with sympathetic politicians who can influence the Israeli government,  via  strong recognised, and legitimate political means when they are empowered by alternate voices that aren’t scared of ‘the Lobby’.  There is a traditional antipathy in protest movements to working with ‘the other side’– that is the conservative side of politics–but in this case, there is an opportunity.  We need to be clear however–from all the parties there is agreement that Israel is not the worst state on earth–some of the politicians we talked to have deep knowledge of oppression and genocide in different countries and Israel is comparatively low-ranking, dreadful as the situation is.  The advocacy that is provided therefore needs to be knowledgeable and reasonable or else it can sound silly and it gives the Lobby ammo. the Lobby is myopic, well-resourced, and very active, but it is recognized that Australia does have influence.
There is a possibility of developing a strong rights based agenda– that can take up issues such as the right of return and reconciliation.  However,  is also clear that talk of ‘one state’ as a dogmatic solution is off the agenda for them, much as  the call for the replacement of a troubled ethnocratic state engaged in a colonial enterprise  by an idealistic forced marriage of people who mostly  don’t like each other  is appealing to some in civil society advocacy.  There is a lot of water to go under the bridge yet, and perhaps, just perhaps, we can work out another more productive way to conflict resolution.
Thus Xenophon’s speech below.
Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (19:03) [ 23 August 2012] :  I rise  to  speak  tonight  about  the  ongoing  conflict between  Israel  and  Palestine.  If  this  were  a  simple issue  with  a  straightforward  answer,  I  would  not  be discussing  it.  And  Mr  President,  I  wish that were  the case. The human cost of this conflict has been horrific. As  well  as  creating  millions  of  refugees,  many thousands of people have been killed and injured.
According  to  the  United  Nations  Relief  and  Works Agency, as of January this year there are more than one million registered refugees in the Gaza Strip and there are more  than  700,000  in the  West  Bank.  Registered refugees  in  surrounding  Jordan,  Lebanon  and  Syria totalled close to three million. According to the United Nations,  since  2007  when  the  blockade  in  Gaza intensified,  Israeli  forces  have  killed  more  than  2,000 Palestinians  and  injured  almost  8,000.  More  than  a quarter of these were women and children. During the same  period,  more  than  170  Palestinian  civilians  have died  working  in  the  tunnels  between  Gaza  and  Egypt and more than 300 have been injured. Attacks launched from Gaza have killed 37 Israelis and injured 380.
This  week,  I  met  a group  of  people  who  have  a passionate interest in this issue. They were able to give me  some  insight  about  what  it  is  like  to  live  in  these areas.  Jessica  Morrison,  the  Australian  Palestine Advocacy  Network’s executive  officer,  told  me  about her  visit  to  Jerusalem  in  January  last  year  and  her dismay  when  she  came  face  to  face  with  the  Israel separation  barrier. In  some  places,  this  wall,  which surrounds  the  West  Bank, is  eight  metres  high.  I  urge the chamber to consider for a moment the Berlin Wall. At its highest, the Berlin Wall was 3.6 metres tall. We are talking about a concrete barrier all around the West Bank which in  some  places  is  twice  as  high  as  the Berlin Wall. It is indeed hard to imagine. Ms Morrison explained  to  me  her  absolute  dismay  when  she  came face to face with this wall and the emotional turmoil it stirred up in her. She told me:
“The concrete towered over my head. I just wept. It represents the biggest failure of humanity.”
This  week I  also  met  Micha  Kurz,  a  bright  young Israeli man advocating for a solution to the conflict. As part of his compulsory service with the Israeli army, he manned checkpoints. He told me:
“Israelis stand at checkpoints and decide if Palestinians get to go to school or work that day, whether or not they will get to cross through to go to the shop or see their family.”
It did not sit well with him. He and a group of friends founded  an  organisation  they  called  Breaking  the Silence.  It  aims  to  give  Israeli  army  veterans  a  voice and  to  create  an  understanding  of  the  realities  of controlling a civilian population.
Sahar  Vardi,  a  22-year-old  Israeli  woman, was  also kind  enough  to  meet  with  me  this  week.  Ms  Vardi spent  two  months  in  prison  and  three  months  in detention for refusing to complete compulsory military service. She said she felt too strongly against what the Israeli  army  was  doing  to  participate  in  it. Ms  Vardi was  born  and  raised  in  Jerusalem  and  became  an activist when she was just 13.
So how does a 13-year-old girl advocate for peace in a region in such deep turmoil? She said she mainly did it  by  escorting  Palestinian  farmers  to  their  land  which they  otherwise  could  not  reach  because  of  settler violence. You may be wondering the same thing I did: how  on  earth does  a  13-year-old  get  to  do  this?  The answer,  Mr  President,  is  simple—with  words.  Ms Vardi  explained  that  the  presence  of  an  Israeli  who could  speak  with  the  Israeli  soldiers  in  Hebrew  to  let them know the farmers had every legal right to access these  lands  they  owned  was  usually  enough.  This demonstrates just how powerful dialogue can be.
It  is  widely  agreed  that  dialogue  is  an  important part—in fact the key part—of finding a lasting solution to  the  Palestine-Israel  conflict.  I  agree  with  Harold Zwier, who  I  met  with  as  well.  Mr  Zwier  works  with the  Australian  Jewish  Democratic  Society  based  in Melbourne. He said to me,  ‘There is a general, though not  universal,  view  that  engaging  with  the  complex issues  which  underlie  the  conflict  means  moving beyond  the  rhetoric,  slogans,  anger,  blame  and propaganda  towards  dialogue.’  Getting  to  that  point  is proving  difficult,  to  say  the  least.  Mr  Zwier  raised legitimate  concerns  about  the  Palestinian  Authority negotiating on behalf of residents of Gaza and the West Bank  for  a  solution  that  the  majority  of  Palestinians would be comfortable with.
There  is  much  discussion  about  the  Israeli settlements. Palestinian advocates understandably want to focus on the fact that these settlements are illegal. I believe  that  the  most  important  thing  to  focus  on, however,  is  the  consequences  these  settlements  are having.  Most  significantly,  these  settlements  are undermining the possibility of working towards a two-state  solution.  In  the  words  of  UK  Foreign  Secretary William  Hague,  ‘It  makes  it  increasingly  difficult  for Israel’s  international  friends  to  defend  the  Israeli government’s  actions’.  The  Australian  government  is  a friend to Israel and will always be a friend to Israel, as will the Australian people. But sometimes friends need to tell each other the truth. I note that Senator Carr, the Foreign  Minister,  made  this  point  today  in  question time, and I agree with him. I like to think that all of us could  agree  with  him.  In  response  to  a  series  of questions he said:
I underline this point: you will not have a secure peace in the  Middle  East,  you  will  not  have  security  for  the state  of Israel  and  you  will  not  have  an  end  to  the  accumulated decades  of  suffering  while  keeping  the  people  of  Palestine trapped in poverty and without schools and without medical aid. We all want a two-state solution, and this is part of that. “
That  related  to  AusAID  assisting  in  terms  of  schools, in terms of medical aid, in terms of lifting those people of  Palestine  out  of  their  extreme  poverty.  The  truth  in my mind is that the creation of new settlements and the expansion  of  existing  settlements  is  preventing  any possibility of working towards a solution. It is time for a  settlement  freeze.  The  complex  issue  of  settlements for  me  was  best  summed  up  by  Reverend  Jim  Barr, who was also part of the group I met. He is president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network and he said, ‘If  Israel  won’t  dismantle  the  settlements,  the settlements will ultimately dismantle Israel.’
This  issue  is  so  complex  and  multifaceted  it  is impossible  to  break  it  down  into  all  its  parts  tonight, but I do also want to touch on demolition orders. I am talking  about  the  government  of  Israel  demolishing Palestinian  homes  and  property.  According  to  the United  Nations,  in  2011  more  than  1,000 Palestinians—at  least  half  of  them  children—were displaced because of these demolitions. In 2011, Israeli forces  destroyed  222  Palestinian  owned  homes,  two classrooms  and  two  mosques.  And  I  am  advised  that there  are  currently  demolition  orders  on  nine  villages in the area of the South Mount Hebron hills, including Susiya.  I  am  told  one  of  these  villages  is  home  to  an Australian  government  funded  clinic.  I  believe  these demolitions  have  to  stop.  However,  what  I  have  real reservations  about  is  boycotts.  I  think  they  distract from  the  real  issues,  and  I  note  a  report  in  the Australian  yesterday  on  the  front  page  about  anti-Semitic anger and hatred. I repudiate that completely. I think we need to move away from a dialogue that leads to  anger  and  hatred  and  stirs  up  sentiment  on  both sides.  That  is  negative  and  destructive.  Boycotting Israeli  chocolate  shop  Max  Brenner,  I  believe  in  my mind,  does  not  achieve  anything  useful.  It  just  creates more  anger  and  more  hatred  and  it  simply  distracts from the real issues.
There  are  lots  of  different  possibilities  to  moving forward  on  this  issue.  I  was  very  impressed  with  the group  of  people  I  met  with  earlier  this  week.  I  feel there are some important first steps after speaking with them. I believe the wall needs to fall, just as the Berlin Wall  did  over  20  years  ago.  I  believe  that  new settlements  have  to  stop.  And,  most  importantly, dialogue  has  to  start. Quite frankly,  it  is  impossible  to articulate the complexity of this conflict in such a short time,  but  the  key is  we  must  not  give  up.  People  like Micha Kurz, Sahar Vardi, Harold Zwier, Reverend Jim Barr  and  Jessica  Morrison  must  not  give  up.  And  the Australian government must not give up on playing its part to working towards a lasting peaceful solution.

Larry Stillman