December marks the first anniversary of the Israeli invasion of Gaza which brought devastation to a civilian population already suffering from years of deprivation and hardship. On December 31 I and 14 other Australians will join more than 1,000 people - doctors, lawyers, diplomats, priests, imams, rabbis, students and members of parliaments - from more than 40 countries, to march with 50,000 Palestinians in a non-violent march from Northern Gaza to the Erez/Israeli border.
On the Israeli side of the Erez border Palestinians and Israelis will also be rallying to urge the Israeli government to open the border.
Friends have asked me why I am going.
First, I am going in order to publicise the Israeli bombardment that targeted schools, hospitals, homes, poultry farms, and infrastructure such as Gaza’s sewage plant. This has been well-documented by Justice Richard Goldstone who led the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict. His report established that the bombardment and invasion not only resulted in the deaths of more than 1,400 Palestinian men, women and children but destroyed much of the civilian infrastructure of Gaza.
The current cruel embargo by Israel has prevented much humanitarian relief, including medicines and education materials from entering Gaza, as well as most building materials vital for reconstruction.
However, there is a more personal reason why I am going. My parents came to Australia in 1939 as Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Germany. My mother’s parents were not so lucky and were killed before they could escape. My father was proud to serve in the Australian Army in gratitude for the new life they were given.
Soon after the war, my parents began to find other ways to express this gratitude. They did so by taking an active interest in issues of injustice. They soon became involved in the fight for human rights by Australian Aborigines. My mother was active in efforts to improve access to education by Aboriginal children. They both worked hard for the 1967 referendum together with people like Faith Bandler and her late husband Hans, also a refugee from Nazi Germany.
After he retired, my father worked as a volunteer for Amnesty International for more than 20 years as a continuing expression of his commitment to human rights.
My parents always taught us that human rights needed to be fought for and protected and when they finally went to Israel, they returned with great misgivings about the way Palestinians had been alienated from their land. They felt that the situation there had parallels both with Aboriginal Australians and with black South Africans.
Indeed, I recall talking with my father, before he died last year, of the irony that I had a “right of return” to Israel (despite never having been there) although many Palestinians expelled from their homeland in 1948 and now living generation after generation in refugee camps in countries surrounding Israel, had no such “right of return”. Indeed my parents were always horrified, as was I, that in the past we could if necessary have fled Australia and settled with full citizenship in South Africa because of our white skin, and that in South Africa we would have immediately had more rights than the indigenous population.
Thankfully, this is no longer the case.
For years the world watched in horror as sectarian and racist violence destroyed the lives of people in South Africa, Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine. Almost miraculously, South Africa and Northern Ireland have shown the world that peace can be achieved through inclusion and reconciliation. It is now Israel’s turn to achieve this destiny. The lesson of the holocaust is not that ethnic, racial and religious persecution should never again happen to the Jewish people. Rather, it is that religious and racial persecution should never again happen to any people, whether they are Jewish, Muslim, or Christian (or indeed whether they believe in a religion or not), or whether they are Tamils, Gypsies (Romani), Tibetans or Hutus.
I see my going to Gaza as an expression of my rejection of aliya, the mythical “right” believed in by Zionists that Jews have a right to “return” and take possession of Israel. A new future is needed. It is only when an Israeli and/or Palestinian state (or states) provides full democratic rights to all present (and former) residents - whether Jew, Palestinian (Muslim and Christian), whether believer or non-believer - can there be peace.