By Emily Gian
Yesterday, I accidentally found myself caught up right in the middle of the Run for Palestinian Human Rights event.
Yes, me. A proud Zionist.
I was just trying to find a parking spot outside the Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne on a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning when I saw small groups of people in matching t-shirts. I caught a glimpse of what looked like a Palestinian flag draped around a girl’s shoulders and joked to my friend, “what if we’ve turned up to an anti-Israel rally by mistake?”
I continued searching for a spot and caught another glimpse of the t-shirt and realised it read “Run for Palestinian Human Rights”.
So it was not a joke. We were there in the middle of pro-Palestinian event. I found my parking spot at last and we proceeded to walk to the entrance of the gardens with our kids holding our hands. We were walking the path with the walkers, all of them just continuing on their way.
One guy turned around to us and said, “oh are you joining us on our walk for Palestinian Human Rights?”
I had to think for a moment.
All of us care about human rights and want the human rights of all people to be protected and upheld. There is without a doubt, a crisis for the people living in Palestinian territories under the administration of the Palestinian Authority and in Gaza where Hamas still prevails despite the recent “unity” deal. Life is not easy for the people, not the least because their human rights are being violated on a day-to-day basis by a leadership that cares more about destroying Israel than creating a better life for their own people.
This was a nice, friendly looking event and I was not really looking for a confrontation on such a beautiful Sunday morning and in front of my kids.
“Uhhh, not quite,” I replied.
He looked over at my kids and back at me and smiled, “why, are you Israeli or something?”
I am not. But did it matter? Did I need to explain?
“Something like that,” I smiled back at him and, added, “Am Yisrael Chai (the nation of Israel lives)”, not knowing why I added that last part.
“Hey that’s ok!” he replied. “We’re all entitled to our views.”
“Yes, and we all want everyone to be afforded their human rights, we can agree on that brother,” I said as I shook his hand and walked off.
My friend turned to me. “Well that didn’t escalate the way I thought it would have.”
Working in Israel advocacy, I feel as though I live and breathe the conflict and have been ever since I started in 2001, incidentally after I had spent time in Israel at the height of the Second Intifada. But what could I have possibly said at that moment?
That I think that if people truly cared about the Palestinian people then they needed to stop placing the blame for their situation solely on Israel?
It was only later that I discovered that this event was an initiative of “Australians for Palestine” and “Australian Friends of Palestine”. A simple search of the former’s website uncovers that this group supports the anti-Semitic BDS movement, rails against the occupation, accuses Israel of practising “apartheid” and committing various crimes.
It seems to me that if these people really cared about human rights they should be getting to the root cause of the problem which includes a refusal on the part of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and the BDS groups to even recognise what Israel is and that “the other” also have the normal human right to go about their everyday lives with security and without the fear attack or the incitement to violence which are part and parcel of life in the region.
That they should be aware that the groups behind such campaigns simply exacerbate matters rather than help because they draw the people in the region further away from each other in opposing the “normalisation” of their relationships with each other?
That they should care more about the double war crimes committed every time a rocket is fired from a heavily populated civilian area in Gaza to a heavily populated civilian area in Israel?
Do they ever wonder what a peaceful Palestine would look like, and where would Israel fit into the picture of their Palestinian state?
I read an article late last week about how Palestinians had been trying to get FIFA to sanction Israel for having soccer teams that play over the Green Line in the West Bank. The request was rejected and FIFA President Gianni Infantino apparently sent a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, saying his organization was tired of being pulled into internal political matters. “We are not the playground of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
It made me think about all of the other arenas this is happening in. On an international political stage through the UN – with attempts to infiltrate different groups, then use that position to delegitimise Israel. The way resolutions are being passed that deny Israel’s claim on its holiest of places or how groups within our own country are trying put pressure on state governments and ultimately the Federal government to recognise Palestine in the absence of a political solution to the conflict.
The way forward is not by seeking to dehumanise one side with, for example, the same old tired lines about the Israeli “siege”, false comparisons with Apartheid or accusations against Israel of everything they can think of while ignoring the real rocket attacks, terror tunnels and incitement against Jews but forgetting the hundreds of trucks laden with goods for the people that enter each day from Israel.
The only way forward is through diplomacy, through both two sides involving themselves in mutual recognition and direct negotiations. The way to achieve a Palestinian state – one that exists side by side, in peace, with an Israeli state – is through dialogue.
It is certainly not through boycotts, bullying and censorship as Aussie musician Nick Cave noted at the weekend during his visit to Israel.
“It suddenly became very important to make a stand, to me, against those people who are trying to shut down musicians, to bully musicians, to censor musicians and to silence musicians.” He continued, “At the end of the day, there are two reasons why I’m here: one is that I love Israel and I love Israeli people, and two is to make a principled stand against anyone who tries to censor and silence musicians. So really, you could say, in a way, that the BDS made me play Israel.”
Yet the walkers and the runners pounded on with idea of Australians valuing their own freedoms which are not afforded to those in Gaza and in the West Bank, when the truth is, that many Palestinians are being held hostage by their own leaders and have been for a very long time.
Let’s run for Human Rights. Let’s run for global Human Rights. But let’s be honest about it, and in the meantime, start to care about what is actually going on there.
Emily Gian is the Media & Advocacy Director for the Zionist Federation of Australia.