Saturday, July 2nd, 2016: It was again my privilege to be invited to speak at an Al Quds Day event, this time in the grounds of the Kingsgrove Mosque.
I was surprised to receive applause about half-way through my brief address and I wasn’t sure at first what prompted it. It was afterwards that a Palestinian man came up to me and said “you said what we needed to hear. You told us not to forget Palestine. We are afraid that the world is forgetting us”.
Indeed the man’s plea makes sense. When there is so much trouble at home and abroad to absorb our energies, it is easy to forget the ongoing trauma of the Palestinian Occupation. The longer it goes on the more we are tempted to normalise it! In truth, we must never forget Palestine!
The video below covers the first half of my address. Please see the transcript below for the complete version.
Al Quds Day 2016
As most of you would know, I returned not long ago from Syria – my fifth visit there in the last four years. One of the great tragedies of Syria (and there are many tragedies associated with that great land at the moment) is that the violence and injustice being visited upon the Syrian people is so extreme that it can easily absorb all of our time and emotional energy and so distract us from other tragedies in our world that also deserve our prayers and our attention.
It’s not only Syria, of course. When we think of the suffering of the people of Yemen, and also of Iraq and Libya and the suffering of so many of our sisters and brothers around the world, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and have no space in our hearts left for the people of Palestine. After all, there’s only so many people you can pray for at any one time!
I recognise in myself that I have fallen victim to this. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I am president of Friends of Sabeel, Australia – the Australian church’s attempt at Palestinian Liberation Theology. I am supposed to be a recognisable face in the Palestinian struggle for justice and freedom, and yet I find the concerns of the Palestinian people have taken a back seat for me as my energies have been absorbed by other concerns that seem even more pressing!
The truth is that there is no more pressing need in our world than that of justice for the Palestinian people, for in truth, all these global tragedies we grieve are connected. As my friend, Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal (former Bishop of Jerusalem, himself a Palestinian) said “the road to world peace goes through Jerusalem”.
I believe this is true. I don’t mean that if we solve the Palestinian issue that all the other pieces of the puzzle will suddenly, magically fall into place, but I do believe that unless we put an end to the abuse and discrimination and disenfranchisement experienced by the Palestinian people, these other issues we struggle with will never be solved!
This year has been another hard year for the Palestinian people and, as I say, it has been a difficult year for all of us whose hearts yearn for Palestine. The problem has been further exacerbated too lately by initiatives taken within the Islamic world to divide the ummah over their attitude to Israel.
The Saudis have made a number of statements in recent months that seem to endorse the Israeli government and would thus encourage Muslims everywhere to accept the Palestinian Occupation as normal!
I don’t know whether the long term effect of this will be more love for the Israeli government or more hatred for the house of Saud. I suspect the latter. Either way though, I am tempted to say “welcome to the club”. The Christian community has been similarly afflicted for many years by prominent voices urging the faithful around the world to turn a blind eye to the abuse of the Palestinian people!
The other things I say is “thank God or Al Quds Day!”, and I mean that. In spite of the clamour of voices urging us to forget Palestine – voices coming through the media, through our political leaders, and (as I say) even from within the ranks of the faithful, on Al Quds Day we cannot forget Palestine!
The suffering of the Palestinian people is real and it is ongoing, and it cries out to Heaven for redress! God knows that the barriers to justice and freedom seem as intractable now as they ever have been, if not more intractable! Even so, we must do what we can and we must not give up! We must pray, and we must speak out, and we must take action wherever we can to uphold the dignity and humanity of the Palestinian people.
We may fear that our efforts will never amount to much. Even so, I am always encouraged in this regard by the comparison Jesus made between the Kingdom of Heaven and the yeast that’s sprinkled into dough to make bread.
Jesus told them still another parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A woman takes some yeast and mixes it with a bushel of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.” (Matthew 13:33)
The yeast seems insignificant when mixed in with the dough, and it is virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the lump. Even so, we know full well that when the time comes, these small flakes of yeast become the agents of extraordinary transformation! This is our hope too – that even though our collective effort seems small, that God will work through us and through all who remember Palestine today to bring about extraordinary and genuine transformation.
Thank God for Al Quds Day. Thank God for the ongoing strength and resilience of the people of Palestine. Thank God for the privilege of being able to participate in the process of transformation towards 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”.
He was never going to please everybody in his visit to the vortex of the world’s spiritual turbulence. Even so, the Pontiff’s visit to Palestine and Israel was a miraculous balance of grace and prophetic energy!
He went with a promise that his tour of the Holy Land would be of a strictly religious nature. Even so, Zionists had plenty to criticise him for:
- The Pope flew directly from Jordan to Bethlehem, thus by-passing Palestine’s Israeli gate-keepers.
- He refused to speak of Israel as a ‘state of the Jewish people‘ (despite promptings from Mr Netanyahu)
- He did refer to the ‘State of Palestine’, confirming the Vatican’s recognition of Palestinian as an independent state.
Even so, the Pope did not openly advocate the Palestinian cause but rather directed all his energies towards emphasising inclusiveness:
- He travelled everywhere with his Jewish and Muslim companions – Rabbi Abraham Skorka and and Sheikh Omar Abboud.
- he spoke of Jerusalem as the birthplace of the three great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).
- He stopped and prayed at a graffitied section of the so-called ‘Apartheid Wall’ that separates Israel and Palestine.
- He likewise stopped and prayed at the so-called ‘Wailing Wall’ in Jerusalem – inserting into the wall a prayer for peace between Christian, Muslims and Jews
The Pope’s coup de gras though came when he invited both the Palestinian and Israeli Presidents – Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres, respectively – to join him at his home in the Vatican to pray for peace between Israel and Palestine.
This was a political master-stroke as neither of the two men could respectfully decline such an offer. At the same time, who knows whether this might not give birth to a genuine peace-process, mediated over by a far more honest broker than the heavily compromised Americans!
With this bold initiative the Roman Pontiff managed to harness leaders of both countries and take them to neutral soil where they will have the opportunity to listen to the Almighty as well as each other!
Was this a piece of subtle political maneuvering or simply the prayerful offer of a pious man. In truth it was both, for prayer and politics cannot be easily separated. Both are concerned with the welfare of people, and so both are the business of the church!
It’s disappointing that Pope Francis has had to put on record that his visit to Palestine and Israel next week (in that order) is for religious purposes only – disappointing but totally understandable.
In point of fact religion and politics can never be easily separated. Politics is about people, and so you can no more separate religion and politics than you can religion and people, and there is no doubt that Francis’ visit has the potential to have an enormous impact on the political situation across the Levant.
Even so, Francis is not being dishonest. As he spells out, his primary goal is meet with his ‘brother’, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I. What could be more religious than healing a one thousand year old schism in the church. Of course, renewed fellowship between the Catholic and Orthodox wings of the church will have ramifications that touch every level of society but that doesn’t make the meeting any less religious!
The same can be said of the priority Francis has given to Palestine over Israel in his itinerary (see here). Is the fact that he is going straight to Bethlehem from Jordan and not going via Jerusalem (let alone Tel Aviv) a de facto recognition of the State of Palestine on the part of the Vatican?
Certainly many will see it that way, and many Palestinians will gain new strength and hope from such recognition, but it is hard to accept that Francis is doing anything more than his religious duty in dispensing comfort and hope. 🙂
TEXT IN ENGLISH: