“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …”
Thus Dickens begins ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. The cities he had in mind were London and Paris, and yet his words form a fitting introduction to the story of Jerusalem and Ramallah in 2014.
It is the worst of times!
As I write, the IDF is tightening its military grip on the West Bank and enacting raids and arrests on a scale not seen since the Second Intifada! Meanwhile settlements continue to flourish, Gazans struggle to find fresh water, Australia abandons all pretence of concern, and the negotiating table is empty.
In the corridors of power – in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Washington and Canberra – it is the worst of times for our Palestinian sisters and brothers. But this is not the whole story! Tectonic shifts have been taking place at the grass-roots, and what’s more the church is at the very heart of the shift!
The accomplishment of Pope Francis in bringing Abbas and Peres together for prayer in Vatican City was nothing short of miraculous! Who would have thought that such a thing could happen?!
The tangible effects of the Pope’s initiative might not yet be obvious but what Francis has done is to help accelerate a paradigm shift in the way the world is dealing with the Palestinian Occupation. Israeli and Palestinian peace is no longer simply a political issue. It is also a spiritual issue and a human issue, and as such it is something for which we all need to take responsibility!
The quest for justice and peace in Palestinian is becoming a truly democratic struggle, as seen in the ever-growing ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign’ (BDS). The BDS again moves the struggle for justice beyond the realm of professional politicians to a place where every business, every household and every individual can play a role in defunding the Palestinian Occupation!
And so it should not surprise us to see these two forces converge – spiritual leadership and BDS – with the United Methodists of America last week divesting from companies fuelling the Palestinian Occupation and with the Presbyterian Church of the USA about to follow in their wake!
It is the worst of times for political settlements being established from the top down, and yet the death of the American-led ‘peace process’ has opened up the way for ordinary people, and for the church in particular, to take the cause of Palestinian peace into their own hands!
In Biblical Greek the word ‘kairos’ means ‘time’ but not in the sense of clock-time. It means an opportune time – a God-given moment that needs to be taken hold of and taken full advantage of. Now is such a kairos in the struggle for Palestinian justice. Now is the time to act, now is the time to pray, now is the time for us to organise our churches to act and pray and to shout out to the world that our Palestinian sisters and brothers have suffered long enough!
If we – the Church of Jesus Christ – take hold of this time and work hand-in-hand with other grass-roots groups of concerned people around the world, I do believe this could turn out to be the best of times for Palestine, and a decisive turning point in the global struggle for justice and peace.
It’s almost enough to restore your faith in the political process! Independent Senator Nick Xenophon slams the Australian government over its semantic shenanigans – re-categorising the ‘Occupied Territories’ in Palestine as ‘Disputed Territories’.
Certainly Australia’s record of support for Palestine has never been much better than dismal, but under the Abbott government it has reached new lows!
It is a shame that it takes an independent senator to tell the truth in Parliament. The major parties wouldn’t dare speak the truth if it meant offending the Zionist lobby.
I guess that’s no basis for a restoration of faith in our system but it does remind me that an inspired individual can still rise above the system and that gives me hope. 🙂
Xenophon Smashes Brandis-Abbott Spin On Occupied Palestine
Brandis digs himself a hole on Israel, so Abbott hands him a shovel. Chris Graham reports on the ensuing stunning rebuke by Nick Xenophon.
Independent federal Senator Nick Xenophon has delivered a comprehensive – and at times stunning – dismantling of the Abbott Government’s apparent decision to no longer refer to areas of Palestine as “occupied” by Israel, describing the Commonwealth’s actions as “factually untrue, legally ignorant and most unhelpful”.
Senator Xenophon, an independent from South Australia, delivered the speech to the federal Senate yesterday evening. It followed Attorney General George Brandis ‘freestyling’ during a Senate Estimates hearing on June 5 over disputed territories in the Middle East.
Brandis’ latest brain snap was sparked by a late night question from Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, to the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Peter Varghese: “Why did the Australian ambassador to Israel attend a meeting in occupied East Jerusalem with the Israeli minister for housing and construction, the same minister who is forecasting a 50 per cent increase in settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories in the next five years?”
Varghese never got to answer. Brandis interrupted him and decided, on the fly, to single-handedly rewrite Australian Government policy on Israel-Palestine.
“The Australian government does not refer to East Jerusalem by the descriptor ‘occupied East Jerusalem’. We speak of East Jerusalem,” Brandis replied.
The following morning, Brandis poured fuel on a growing fire by reading from a written statement: “The description of East Jerusalem as ‘occupied …’ is freighted with pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott tried to dig his party out of the hole, referring Brandis’ comments as a “terminological clarification”, but in the process introducing the phrase “disputed territories”.
The ‘policy on the fly’ approach to Middle East relations, not surprisingly, sparked widespread outrage, with Arab threats of sanctions worth $2 billion against Australia’s live cattle trade, and more internal party rumblings at yet another stuff up from senior Liberals.
Yesterday evening, Xenophon set the record straight with a point-by-point decimation of Abbott’s and Brandis’ and claims, which he described as “false and actually most unhelpful to the process of achieving a lasting peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict”.
“According to the 1949 Geneva conventions and the 1907 Hague regulations, territory is considered occupied when it comes under the actual authority of the invading military.
“There are certain objective tests.
“One – has the occupying power substituted its own authority for that of the occupied authorities? Yes. It is a matter of fact that Israel’s authority prevails in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
“Two – Have the enemy forces been defeated, regardless of whether sporadic local resistance continues? Yes. It is a matter of fact that Israel defeated its military adversaries in the June 1967 war.
“Three – Does the occupying power have a sufficient force present to make its authority felt? Yes. It is a fact that Israel has sufficient force to make its authority felt.
“Four – Has an administration been established over the territory? Yes. It is a fact — a poignant fact — that even the Palestinian leaders who wish to enter or leave the occupied Palestinian territories cannot do so without permission from Israel. Even the Palestinian president cannot go to the United Nations in New York, or indeed to anywhere else in the world, without permission from Israel.
“Five – Has the occupying power issued and enforced directions to the civilian population? Yes. It is a fact that Israel has issued and enforced such directions.
“Indeed, Israel’s highest court — the High Court of Justice — stated in paragraph 23 of its verdict in the case of Beit Sourik Village Council v The Government of Israel on 30 June 2004 that ‘Israel holds the area in belligerent occupation’.
“I concede that here the word ‘occupied’ is ‘freighted with implications’, but to say they are pejorative is factually untrue and legally ignorant.”
Senator Xenophon also pointed to a landmark opinion handed down by the International Court of Justice in 2004 around the illegal establishment of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and the construction of a wall by Israel to separate it from parts of Palestine, and to regulate the movements of Palestinians.
That judgment repeatedly refers to ‘occupied’ territory in East Jerusalem.
“Australia is quite happy to accept the wisdom of the International Court of Justice when it comes to whales,” Xenophon said, “but not, it seems, the Palestinians.”
“We already know, thanks to the so-called Palestine Papers — which are the biggest leak of secret documents in the history of the Middle East conflict — that a solution is already available.
“The Palestinian negotiating team in 2008 offered a formula where Israel would annex 1.9 per cent of the West Bank in the context of a land swap, allowing Israel to retain within its borders 63 per cent of the illegal settler population.
“We also know, according to the same leaks, that Israel’s negotiating team turned down this offer.
“Australia, by adopting these rejectionist statements, has given comfort to the extremists and has weakened the position of the moderate and reasonable Israelis and Palestinians.
“We should instead encourage our great friend Israel to accept the generous offer made in 2008 so that we can have a real, lasting and durable peace in the Middle East.
“The statement made by the Australian government on 5 June this year is not only wrong; it is factually untrue, legally ignorant and most unhelpful.”
For his part, Brandis reportedly blamed the ‘misunderstanding’ on “journalist-led confusion of an innocuous statement”.