Only a Jew of Uri Avnery’s credentials could get away with comparing the US Congress to the German Reichstag under the Nazis! Perhaps he’s being tongue-in-cheek? Even so, the comparison is chilling.
In truth, if you watch the video of Netanyahu’s speech with the sound muted and just follow the interaction between audience and speaker it is quite scary! As Avnery points out, politicians in Israel’s Knesset would never fawn over their Prime Minister the way US members of Congress do! Of course this makes the speech in Congress all the more valuable for Netanyahu’s target audience – the voters back home. Even so, the tens of thousands of Israelis who subsequently rallied in opposition to Netanyahu and his anti-Palestinian militancy suggests that the strategy didn’t work.
One thing that hadn’t occurred to me until I read Avnery’s commentary was that the vacuous nature of Netanyahu’s speech may have been due to drastic last-minute revisions in the prepared text! Perhaps he realised that the leaked Mossad cable – revealing Israel’s official intelligence assessment that Iran is not building a nuclear weapon – could not be ignored? It is hard to work up a head of steam in fear-mongering when everybody knows that what you’re saying has been flatly contradicted by your own intelligence community!
I hope and pray that these are Netanyahu’s final days and that someone with a heart for peace will take the helm in Israel soon, before it is all too late!
by Uri Avnery
SUDDENLY IT reminded me of something.
I was watching The Speech by Binyamin Netanyahu before the Congress of the United States. Row upon row of men in suits (and the occasional woman), jumping up and down, up and down, applauding wildly, shouting approval.
It was the shouting that did it. Where had I heard that before?
And then it came back to me. It was another parliament in the mid-1930s. The Leader was speaking. Rows upon rows of Reichstag members were listening raptly. Every few minutes they jumped up and shouted their approval.
Of course, the Congress of the United States of America is no Reichstag. Members wear dark suits, not brown shirts. They do not shout “Heil” but something unintelligible. Yet the sound of the shouting had the same effect. Rather shocking.
But then I returned to the present. The sight was not frightening, but ridiculous. Here were the members of the most powerful parliament in the world behaving like a bunch of nincompoops.
Nothing like this could have happened in the Knesset. I do not have a very high opinion of our parliament, despite having been a member, but compared to this assembly, the Knesset is the fulfillment of Plato’s dream.
ABBA EBAN once compared a speech by Menachem Begin to a French souffle cake: a lot of air and very little dough.
The same could be said about The Speech.
What did it contain? The Holocaust, of course, with that moral impostor, Elie Wiesel, sitting in the gallery right next to the beaming Sarah’le, who visibly relished her husband’s triumph. (A few days before, she had shouted at the wife of a mayor in Israel: “Your man does not reach the ankles of my man!”)
The Speech mentioned the Book of Esther, about the salvation of the Persian Jews from the evil Persian minister Haman, who intended to wipe them out. No one knows how this dubious composition came to be included in the Bible. God is not mentioned in it, it has nothing to do with the Holy Land, and Esther herself is more of a prostitute than a heroine. The book ends with the mass murder committed by the Jews against the Persians.
The Speech, like all speeches by Netanyahu, contained much about the suffering of the Jews throughout the ages, and the intentions of the evil Iranians, the New Nazis, to annihilate us. But this will not happen, because this time we have Binyamin Netanyahu to protect us. And the US Republicans, of course.
It was a good speech. One cannot make a bad speech when hundreds of admirers hang on every word and applaud every second. But it will not make an anthology of the world’s Greatest Speeches.
Netanyahu considers himself a second Churchill. And indeed, Churchill was the only foreign leader before Netanyahu to speak to both houses of Congress a third time. But Churchill came to cement his alliance with the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who played a big part in the British war effort, while Netanyahu has come to spit in the face of the present president.
WHAT DID the speech not contain?
Not a word about Palestine and the Palestinians. Not a word about peace, the two-state solution, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem. Not a word about apartheid, the occupation, the settlements. Not a word about Israel’s own nuclear capabilities.
Not a word, of course, about the idea of a nuclear-weapon–free region, with mutual inspection.
Indeed, there was no concrete proposal at all. After denouncing the bad deal in the making, and hinting that Barack Obama and John Kerry are dupes and idiots, he offered no alternative.
Why? I assume that the original text of The Speech contained a lot. Devastating new sanctions against Iran. A demand for the total demolition of all Iranian nuclear installations. And in the inevitable end: a US-Israeli military attack.
All this was left out. He was warned by the Obama people in no uncertain terms that disclosure of details of the negotiations would be considered as a betrayal of confidence. He was warned by his Republican hosts that the American public was in no mood to hear about yet another war.
What was left? A dreary recounting of the well-known facts about the negotiations. It was the only tedious part of the speech. For minutes no one jumped up, nobody shouted approval. Elie Wiesel was shown sleeping. The most important person in the hall, Sheldon Adelson, the owner of the Congress republicans and of Netanyahu, was not shown at all. But he was there, keeping close watch on his servants.
BY THE way, whatever happened to Netanyahu’s war?
Remember when the Israel Defense Forces were about to bomb Iran to smithereens? When the US military might was about to “take out” all Iranian nuclear installations?
Readers of this column might also remember that years ago I assured them that there would be no war. No ifs, no buts. No half-open back door for a retreat. I asserted that there would be no war, period.
Much later, all Israeli former military and intelligence chiefs spoke out against the war. The army Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, who finished his term this week, has disclosed that no draft operation order for attacking Iran’s nuclear capabilities was ever drawn up.
Why? Because such an operation could lead to a world-wide catastrophe. Iran would immediately close the Strait of Hormuz, just a few dozen miles wide, through which some 35% of the world’s sea-borne oil must pass. It would mean an immediate world-wide economic breakdown.
To open the Strait and keep it open, a large part of Iran would have to be occupied in a land war, boots on the ground. Even Republicans shiver at the thought.
Israeli military capabilities fall far short of such an adventure. And, of course, Israel cannot dream of starting a war without express American consent.
That is reality. Not speechifying. Even American senators are capable of seeing the difference.
THE CENTERPIECE of The Speech was the demonization of Iran. Iran is evil incarnate. It leaders are subhuman monsters. All over the world, Iranian terrorists are at work planning monstrous outrages. They are building intercontinental ballistic missiles to destroy the US. Immediately after obtaining nuclear warheads – now or in ten years – they will annihilate Israel.
In reality, Israel’s second-strike capability, based on the submarines supplied by Germany, would annihilate Iran within minutes. One of the most ancient civilizations in world history would come to an abrupt end. The ayatollahs would have to been clinically insane to do such a thing.
Netanyahu pretends to believe they are. Yet for years now, Israel has been conducting an amiable arbitration with the Iranian government about the Eilat-Ashkelon oil pipeline across Israel built by an Iranian-Israeli consortium. Before the Islamic revolution, Iran was Israel’s stoutest ally in the region. Well after the revolution, Israel supplied Iran with arms in order to fight against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (the famous Irangate affair). And if one goes back to Esther and her sexual effort to save the Jews, why not mention Cyrus the Great, who allowed the Judean captives to return to Jerusalem?
Judging by its behavior, the present Iranian leadership has lost some of its initial religious fervor. It is behaving (not always speaking) in a very rational way, conducting tough negotiations as one would expect from Persians, aware of their immense cultural heritage, even more ancient than Judaism. Netanyahu is right in saying that one should not trust them with closed eyes, but his demonization is ridiculous.
Within the wider context, Israel and Iran are already indirect allies. For both, the Islamic State (ISIS) is the mortal enemy. To my mind, ISIS is far more dangerous to Israel, in the long run, than Iran. I imagine that for Tehran, ISIS is a far more dangerous enemy than Israel.
(The only memorable sentence in The Speech was “the enemy of my enemy is my enemy”.)
If the worst comes to the worst, Iran will have its bomb in the end. So what?
I may be an arrogant Israeli, but I refuse to be afraid. I live a mile from the Israeli army high command in the center of Tel Aviv, and in a nuclear exchange I would evaporate. Yet I feel quite safe.
The United States has been exposed for decades (and still is) to thousands of Russian nuclear bombs, which could eradicate millions within minutes. They feel safe under the umbrella of the “balance of terror”. Between us and Iran, in the worst situation, the same balance would come into effect.
WHAT IS Netanyahu’s alternative to Obama’s policy? As Obama was quick to point out, he offered none.
The best possible deal will be struck. The danger will be postponed for ten years or more. And, as Chaim Weizmann once said: “The future will come and take care of the future.”
Within these ten years, many things will happen. Regimes will change, enmities will turn into alliances and vice versa. Anything is possible.
Even – God and the Israeli voters willing – peace between Israel and Palestine, which would take the sting out of Israeli-Muslim relations.
For more wisdom from Uri Avnery visit the Gush-Shalom website.
The unbelievable has happened! The Prime Minister of Israel is on his way to the US to deliver a speech to Congress, and scores of Congressmen and Congresswomen are announcing that they have better things to do than attend the speech!
The vice-President led the boycott, followed by Earl Blumenauer of Oregan, and after that the flood-gates started to open! Admittedly, all the boycotters are Democrats, and their public statements suggest that it’s their loyalty to the President and opposition to the political manoeuvrings of the House Speaker that are motivating them to join the boycott. Even so, such a move would have been unthinkable a few years ago!
Who can forget Netanyahu’s address to Congress where he received 29 standing ovations – more than any US President has ever received. That was in 2011 – only four years ago! Have things really changed that much in four years? In truth, things have changed drastically in the last few years, and it’s not that Congress has wised up. It’s the American people who have wised up, and Congress can’t remain oblivious to the voice of the people forever!
In 2012 Norman Finkelstein published “Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel is Coming to an End”. In it he pointed to enormous shifts in public opinion amongst American Jews who were showing ever-increasing disinterest in the foreign state that claimed their allegiance. Surely the best example of this was the influence the Israeli Prime Minister had on the voting patterns of American Jews in 2012 when he voiced unequivocal support for Obama’s Republican rival. Netanyahu’s interventions apparently made no difference whatsoever!
And what’s true for American Jews is a reflection of the changing tide across the rest of the country. There are exceptions, of course. The Christian right seems to be clinging on as the last bastion of American Zionism. Conversely though, according to the survey referred to in the article below, only 16% of African Americans think their representative should attend the Israeli Prime Minister’s address!
Of course there’s a massive gap between boycotting a talk and seeing the end of the Palestinian Occupation. Even so, it’s a step in the right direction, and we all know that Israel can only ignore world opinion about its treatment of the Palestinian people so long as it has the world’s great super-power unequivocally behind it. But that unequivocal support is equivocating!
The 24 Democrats Who Have Refused to Attend Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress
Their constituents agree.
By Zaid Jilani
When House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) decided to invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a Joint Session of Congress on Iran in early March, he probably thought it’d go a lot like it did in 2011. That year, Netanyahu received 29 standing ovations – more than President Obama got during his State of the Union that year.
But Obama turned the tables on Netanyahu, refusing to meet with him just two weeks before the Israeli elections. He also announced that his vice president, Joe Biden, would not attend the address.
Shortly after Obama’s objection, Democratic Members of Congress started to announce that they wouldn’t attend the speech, either. The first was Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who wrote in a January 29th Huffington Post column that he will “not participate in a calculated slight from the speaker and the House leadership to attack necessary diplomacy.”
Following Blumenauer’s dissent, a steady string of Democratic Caucus members, mostly in the House but in the Senate as well began to announce that they would not attend the speech. Buoyed by poll numbers showing that many of their constituents agree – a plurality of Americans believe Netanyahu’s speech to be “inappropriate” and only 16 percent of African Americans in particular want to see their Member of Congress attend – more and more members are announcing their refusals to attend nearly every day.
To see the list of 21 House Democrats and three Senate Democratic Caucus members who are so far refusing to attend the speech, see Alternet
The war on the ground in Gaza is one of blood and fire. The war we see here from the comfort of our living-rooms is one of propaganda and lies. The contrast is indeed stark and yet they are equally a part of the same war, and one cannot go on without the other.
If we are going to stop the war on the ground, the great task before us comfortable onlookers is to dismantle the edifice of lies that sustains public support for the slaughter. I’ve included below two good examples of anti-propaganda warfare.
The first is a video that shows the senior Israeli propaganda spokesperson, Mark Regev, doing what he does best – defending the indefensible by blaming the victims. Subtitles have been added to translate Regev’s obfuscation into something more resembling the truth.
The second is an article from Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi – a leading figure in Palestinian civil society and a long-time advocate for the non-violent Palestinian protest movement. It speaks for itself.
Debunked: The Mendacious Propaganda Israel is Pushing to Justify Its War On Gaza
by Mustafa Barghouthi
It is time to clarify the real facts on the aggression the Israelis started on the Palestinians. Unfortunately, the Israeli narrative has dominated in the global media. It’s very important to uncover the Israeli narrative and bring facts to the public’s attention. The world needs to differentiate between myths and truth.
The first and very important point is that it was Israel which initiated this war and not the Palestinians.
This is very different from what is presented in most of the media and it’s completely wrong to accept the Israeli narrative here. Israelis claim that Israel was subjected to rocket shooting from Gaza to which Israel responded by airstrikes. This is not true. The reality is that Israel initiated airstrikes on Gaza, several times, and assassinated people in Gaza, trying to provoke a reaction until they got rockets being shot at Israel. And then, it was spun in the media as Israel defending itself.
The second point is that this war started not in Gaza but in the West Bank, when the Israeli army, without providing a single proof that Palestinians were responsible for the disappearance and subsequent death of three settlers, started a collective punishment campaign all over the West Bank. One of the results of that campaign was the arrest of more than 1,000 Palestinians, including huge numbers of Palestinian members of Parliament, bringing the number of Palestinian parliamentarians in Israeli jails to 34. During that campaign moreover, Israel invaded more than 3,000 houses, destroyed many of them, stole money from people and destroyed furniture. Israeli forces initiated wide-ranging violence against Palestinians and started using high-velocity bullets and gun shots against peaceful demonstrators who were protesting against the kidnapping of Muhammad Abu Khdeir who was tortured and burned alive by Israeli settlers. This led to a very serious escalation all over the West Bank.
The third point is that this war in not on Hamas only, it is a war on all Palestinians. It is a war on Palestinians in Gaza, it is a war on Palestinians in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem and on the Palestinians in general. It is very important to mention that most of the people who suffer from the Israeli aggressions are civilians. At the time of writing this article, on the 26th of July, at least 1,000 Palestinians have been killed, 90% of whom were civilians. Among them, are more than 208 children. Over 6000 people have been injured, 31% of whom were children. Whole families have been eliminated. Just this morning, 20 members from the same family, including 11 children, were killed in their sleep as the building they had found refuge in only the day before was leveled. We are talking about more than 30 families that have been scratched out of the civil record because the whole extended family was eliminated, the father, the mother, the grand-parents, the grand-children, everybody. This kind of extermination of people, this level of attack is nothing less than a massacre, a genocide that is conducted by Israel.
To add insult to injury, Israel has forced hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes, forcing them to leave by bombarding them. No less than 13,000 homes were completely or partially destroyed, thousands of people have lost everything, their clothes, a lifetime of belongings and memories and now, hundreds of thousands of people are refugees once more, many living in schools, with nothing. If the war ends, when they come back, they will come back to nothing, only rubble. Entire neighborhoods like Shujaeya were completely eliminated within 24 hours. Even hospitals were attacked. So far, the Israeli army has attacked seven hospitals, 13 ambulances and two Medical Relief centers, among other clinics. In several cases, they have injured and killed medical workers and/or patients. They also attacked a care facility for disabled people, killing two disabled women in the process. On another occasion, a disabled young man, deaf and unable to speak, did not understand what was going on until he was directly hit and paralyzed from the waist down, adding yet another disability to his life. The most touching and heart-wrenching words I have heard were those of a man who was speaking to two of his children in the hospital, killed by Israeli airstrike: “Forgive me my children, I could not protect you.”
This feeling of helplessness is overwhelming because thousands and thousands of people today in Gaza, thousands of mothers and fathers are unable to protect their children. Many have seen their children killed; some have seen their children decapitated by Israeli shrapnel.
The next point I want to make is related to the claim that Israel has the right to defend itself. The most insulting thing here is that many of the world’s leaders like Angela Merkel of Germany and Barack Obama of the United States are speaking of Israel’s right to defend itself, while no single word is said of the Palestinians’ right to defend themselves, although the Palestinians are the oppressed ones, the underdogs in this struggle. The Palestinians are the ones whose land has been occupied for 47 years, who have been forced into displacement and refugee status since 1948, who are suffering from a system of apartheid, discrimination and segregation created by the Israeli occupation. Yet, not a single word has been uttered about our right to defend ourselves.
In reality, what we see from the Israeli narrative is nothing but a consistent effort to dehumanize Palestinians, as if Palestinians are not equal human beings, as if Palestinian life is not important, as if Palestinian life is worth nothing, as if it is okay that over 1,000 Palestinians are killed and 6000 are injured. Meanwhile, all anybody is talking about is the psychological impact on the Israeli population of the fear, although so far projectiles fired out of Gaza have killed just two civilians. Up until now, 42 Israelis were killed, 40 of whom were soldiers. These are soldiers who were killed inside Gaza while they were invading Gaza and attacking people in an act of aggression. We don’t want anybody to die, whether Israeli or Palestinian. But to say that Palestinians are the aggressors in this situation is very wrong and totally unacceptable.
The asymmetry in the current situation is also a very important point to clarify. We are talking here about the Israeli army which is probably the fourth most powerful army in the world, attacking civilians in one of the most crowded areas of the world, with 1.8 million people living in less than 140 square miles, about 12,000 people per square mile on “normal” days, but nearly double that number these days, as Israel has declared 44% of Gaza unsafe and hammered in the message by bombings homes. These 1.8 million people have been attacked by a powerful air force, very powerful ships, and artillery, while these people have only very primitive means to defend themselves. Even the rockets that were thrown at Israel – and we don’t want these rockets to be thrown – are almost invariably nothing but a psychological instrument. This has been frightening Israelis, it is true, but these projectiles have caused harm exceedingly rarely. The harm is happening almost entirely on one side, the Palestinian side. There is no way anyone can compare the two, this sophisticated army and the Palestinian people. The asymmetry is clear and yet, Israeli forces are consistently using indiscriminate and disproportional force against the Palestinian population.
One element that is almost always ignored is the issue of the siege of Gaza. The siege on Gaza has been ongoing for eight years and it has caused the most dramatic humanitarian crisis not only in this region but probably worldwide. We are talking about 1.8 million people besieged by sea, by air and by land. Israel is controlling all passages, it is controlling the sky and it is controlling the sea. Fishermen are not allowed to fish deeper than three miles into the sea; they haven’t been allowed to sail at all for the past three weeks. Almost nobody can get in or out, even to go to the hospital or receive medical treatment. The one entrance to Egypt is also closed from the Egyptian side. This siege has caused very serious problems. Gaza lacks construction materials. Gaza does not have access to clean water; 90% of the water in Gaza is not fit for drinking because it is either salinated or polluted. More than 300,000 people have lost all water supply because the water pipes were destroyed by Israeli shelling and when workers tried to repair them, they were shot at by the Israeli military.
Electricity is an enormous problem in Gaza too. Most of the time, most people do not have electricity for more than six to eight hours a day. Today, more than one third of the population does not have any electricity at all because Israel bombarded the only electricity plant in Gaza. Because of the siege, 90% of educated young people are unemployed. Because of the siege, the level of poverty is very high in Gaza, a fact compounded by the high prices of basic products which have to come from Israel. This is an unacceptable situation. A siege like that is considered an act of aggression. It is very important to remind world politicians of the fact that, in 1967, Israel declared that it had the right to attack Egypt, Syria, Jordan and the Palestinian people and occupy all of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the whole of Sinai just because the Egyptian army closed the passage to Eilat, a small port in the southern part of Israel. Israel still had full access to the Mediterranean Sea, yet they considered this an act of aggression that gave them the right to conduct one of the worst wars in the Middle East. That is why we say that a ceasefire is not enough; it is very important to also lift the siege on Gaza, because the siege itself is an act of aggression.
Today the Palestinians have been demanding to have a ceasefire. But Israel is refusing. Three or four efforts were made to have at least a humanitarian ceasefire, so that the Palestinians could take out all the bodies of those who were killed and who are buried under the rubble in Shujaeya and other places like Khuzaa. It is heartbreaking to note that there are many injured people there probably, who still cannot get access to medical care and who will die, bleeding out slowly or from their wounds, because no full ceasefire was allowed to take place and no medical teams were allowed to reach them. As a matter of fact, Israel has attacked not only hospitals, schools, mosques and houses, but also attacked first aid teams and ambulances as well as killing three first responders. They burned down two ambulances trying to reach injured people in Shujaeya. They destroyed many clinics and many first aid providers were shot and injured. This is an act of ethnic cleansing, an act of genocide and a massive act of terror against the Palestinian population.
Dehumanizing Palestinians will never negate the facts. And it is important to clarify all of them. This war was started by Israel. It is even debatable whether it can be called a war, as a war suggests a fight between two equal sides. In reality it is not a war, it is an act of aggression from an occupying power which is trying to solve the problem of occupation by increasing the occupation. In this attack, Israel was the initiator and the victims are mainly the Palestinians.
Now the killing has extended again to the West Bank, where Israel has resumed shooting peaceful demonstrators with high-velocity bullets. For years, the world has been urging us to organize big peaceful marches with thousands of people. This is exactly what we did in Ramallah on the 24th of July when more than 25,000 marched peacefully to Jerusalem protesting the massacre in Gaza, demanding the end of aggression and demanding access to Jerusalem to go pray in Al Aqsa on the holiest of all nights for Muslim Palestinians. Before we reached the checkpoint, which was heavily manned, the Israeli army started to shoot people. Snipers shot demonstrators with high-velocity bullets in a scene reminiscent of what the apartheid police did to the peaceful protestors in Soweto in the 1970s. During the night, 211 Palestinians were shot with high-velocity bullets. During the course of four hours, six of them lost an eye, six others were injured critically and one lost his life. The very next day, the Israeli army, using live fire, killed nine Palestinians who were demonstrating peacefully in Hebron, Nablus, Bethlehem and Jenin. Approximately 60 people were injured. The list goes on.
The people who are being killed in the West Bank are not Hamas and are not in Gaza. They are not shooting rockets at Israel, they do not have any weapons to defend themselves. Yet they are killed repeatedly by an Israeli army which considers itself above international law thanks to the silence and complicity of many Western leaders. UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, does not have the courage to hold Israel accountable, even when a UN school serving as a shelter in Beit Hanoun is attacked by the Israeli army, killing 16 women and children and injuring 200 others.
Finally, one has to remember that this stage of terrible violence has repeatedly happened over the last 66 years. The root of the problem is Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, settlement building and the forcing of hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes. This is the longest occupation in modern history and has endured for 47 years. This is an occupation that has transformed into a system of apartheid and discrimination. Without solving this, without ending the occupation and the apartheid system, there will be no peace, let alone stability or normal life. When we struggle as Palestinians for our freedom, it is not only about our future, but also about the future of Israelis. Because Israelis will never be free themselves as long as we are not free. It is time to see that extremists in Israel, who have benefited from all these wars, are using Palestinian lives and neighbourhoods as a testing area for their weapons, so that Israel can still continue selling weapons worldwide, becoming the third largest military exporter in the world. This has to stop.
Occupation must stop and this asymmetry must be addressed; impunity and reality must be exposed. It is time to tell Israel “enough is enough”; it is time to say to the world “please see the reality, look at the facts.” Citizens from all the countries in the world, be it the United States, Germany, or France are entitled to know the truth and your media are not telling you the truth. Your media, for the most part, are overwhelmed with the Israeli narrative. This has to be corrected.
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”.