Al Quds Day 2017

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Saturday, June 24th, 2017, outside the State Library of Victoria. It was good to be back with my friends from the Al Quds association of Melbourne, and it was a privilege to be invited to address the gathering.

Sisters and brothers, we stand here today at a significant point in the history of our planet and in the history of the Palestinian people in particular.

2017 marks one hundred years since the Balfour Declaration – that document that set the world on a trajectory towards the establishment of the State of Israel in Palestine, and so initiated the most defining human struggle of our generation.

2017 further marks the 50th anniversary of the six-day war of 1967 – an event that took the dispossession of the Palestinian people, experienced in an Nakba in 1948, on to a whole new level. As a result of that short war, the State of Israel took control of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, and life has never been the same in any of those places since!

We are probably aware that the people of Gaza are currently under threat of having all their electricity cut off! That is true, but we are talking about a city that already only gets electricity for about four hours per day!

More than that, half the population of Gaza is currently food-insecure, the unemployment rate is one of the highest in the world, and, according to UN estimates, if nothing changes, Gaza could be completely uninhabitable by 2020!

These figures give us just a small taste of what life is like for the millions who live under Israeli rule as second-class citizens due to their ethnicity. The depth of the humiliation and deprivation is without modern parallel, and the longevity of this occupation is mind-blowing!

I cannot imagine that when Ayatollah Khamenei inaugurated Al Quds Day in 1979 that he thought for a moment that the Palestinian question would still remain unresolved some thirty-eight years later! It shames the whole of humanity that this injustice has been allowed to continue for so long, and we may be tempted to despair, until we see the flip-side of this tragedy. For the flip site to this 100 years of imperial dominance and fifty years of military occupation is 50 years of active resistance, and 100 years of refusing to bow to the dictates of power!

The endurance of the Palestinian people is simply amazing when you think about it. The great Israeli activist, Uri Avnery, said that the Zionist plan to uproot the Palestinian people and claim the land for a single race is based on a lie – a lie that considers Palestinian people to be less than human, such that if you kick them enough they will (like dogs) simply limp away with their tails between their legs!

Fifty years of military occupation has shown this to be a lie! Fifty years of violence, discrimination, deprivations, housing demolitions, targeted assassinations, and endless checkpoints and harassment have shown that the strength and resilience of the Palestinian people cannot be underestimated. After fifty years of violence, the Palestinian people continue to stand tall, continue to maintain their dignity and continuing to resist – the recent hunger-strike, led by Marwan BarghoutiMarwan Barghouti, being the latest great act of non-violent defiance!

The resilience of the Palestinian people in the face of oppression is indeed a source of inspiration, and I believe that the rest of the world is finally starting to wake up.

There was a time when, to many in this country at least, Palestine was thought of as just another Middle-Eastern issue – certainly only as an Arab issue, and truly only as an issue for Muslim people. That time has passed.

I was greatly encouraged to read this week a coalition of Palestinian Christian organisations reaching out to their sisters and brothers around the world through a letter to the World Council of Churches – an organisation that includes 348 member churches from more than 110 countries, representing over 500 million Christians.

The letter expresses the urgent need for Christians everywhere to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people – “We are on the verge of a catastrophic collapse. The current status-quo is unsustainable. This could be our last chance to achieve a just peace”.

The appeal has not fallen on deaf ears, and so it seems that the World Council of Churches may indeed now follow the lead taken by a number of church bodies in the United States and adopt the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) program – that great non-violent Palestinian initiative that hits the machinery of Occupation where it hurts  – in the hip-pocket.

There is much to grieve in the last fifty years of Occupation, but the resilience of the Palestinian people is, I believe, finally leading to a universal awakening. People around the world are waking up to the lies that they are being fed by their governments and by the ever-compliant mainline media.

The recent election result in Britain, the Brexit vote, and even the result of the last election in the USA are all clear indicators that people are fed up with the lies, even if they aren’t quite sure at this stage what to do about them yet!

People everywhere are recognising though that the emperor has no clothes and that the imperial narrative that generates endless cycles of war around our planet is without foundation. At the heart of that narrative is the web of lies that maintains the Palestinian Occupation – claiming eternal victimhood for the State of Israel, and depicting the Palestinian people as sub-human, angry militants.

All this is starting to unravel, and we stand here today as a testimony to that unravelling. We come together today as a mixed multitude, representing various different ethnic groups, language groups, and countries of origin. We come together as a mixture of Muslims and Christians and, I suspect, any number of other faith traditions. In our diversity we represent peoples across the world, and yet we are unified in our love for God, our passion for justice, and hence in our solidarity with the Palestinian people.

We do not accept the lies. We will not accept the endless humiliation and subjugation of the Palestinian people. At this crucial point in human history we take our stand in solidarity with the oppressed in Palestine and around the world.

Not long now, sisters and brothers! Liberation is coming! God has heard the cries of the oppressed. A new day will dawn and justice will come – enshallah, very soon.

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