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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5603

Mrs IRWIN (7:45 PM) —Like millions of people around the world I watched with horror the actions of the Israeli armed forces in their assault on the freedom flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. The predictable response from the Israeli propaganda machine portrayed the murder of nine peace activists as yet another act of self-defence. While the Secretary-General of the United Nations has called for an independent international inquiry, the United States and Australia are again happy to leave the inquiry in the hands of Israeli authorities. And even if there were any adverse findings we could expect the matter to be brushed aside like the damning Goldstone report into Israel’s war on Gaza in 2009.

This reminds me very much of those apologists for Stalinism who were blind to the human rights abuses of that brutal regime. They would justify any atrocity by saying that it was in defence of socialism and begin each statement with words like ‘you have to realise that more than 20 million Russians were killed in the great patriotic war’. But that is exactly how Western leaders excuse the gross abuses of human rights committed in the name of self-defence by the state of Israel. Are they blind to the evidence presented by United Nations agencies, by Amnesty International or by the Red Cross, none of which could remotely be described as terrorist organisations? And are they also blind to the damage done to their standing in the world community by their unquestioning defence of Israel?

My own awakening to the reality of life in the illegally occupied territories came in a visit in 2000. I mention just one incident that has left a lasting impact on me. We were walking through the streets of East Jerusalem when we were confronted with a group of teenage Israeli youths each carrying a submachine gun slung over their shoulder and with a ‘go ahead, make my day’ look in their eyes. The group came across an old woman sitting in her doorway selling her homemade cheeses from a large platter. To my amazement, one of the youths kicked the platter down the alley spilling the cheeses into the ground. I will never forget the tearful expression on that old woman’s face or the mocking laugh of the youths as they swaggered off down the street.

While this was hardly a gross abuse of human rights, it is part of everyday life in the illegally occupied territories. When taken together with the abduction, imprisonment and torture of more than 10,000 Palestinians, including children and a number of members of the Palestinian Legislative Assembly, the reality of life under the jackboot of Israeli occupation can be felt. And to that can be added the bombing of schools, hospitals and United Nations stores during Israel’s war on Gaza and so many other documented cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity. These are not the acts of a civilised nation.

Yet, like the Stalinists of old, some world leaders continue to deny the reality, or, worse, defend it in the name of Israel’s right of self-defence. But while nations’ leaders fail to act, responsible citizens throughout the world are beginning to take action. The worldwide campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against products and services originating in whole or in part in the occupied territories is gaining momentum. I am pleased to see unions in Australia, including state branches of the CFMEU and the Australian Services Union, joining this movement. Churches, universities and trade unions are refusing to invest in enterprises conducting business in or involved in construction in the occupied territories. Unions in Europe have applied international law forbidding the economic exploitation of illegally occupied territory and have embargoed goods made in the West Bank. Faced with the refusal by Israeli authorities to allow academic freedom in the occupied territories, many universities have broken contact with Israeli institutions with ties in the West Bank.

When governments refuse to act in the name of civilised society to prevent gross abuses of human rights, we as individuals have a duty to act. The campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions deserves the full support of every thinking and caring Australian.