When a 'custodian of freedom' is
the perpetrator of ethnic cleansing

by Bouthaina Shaaban

The Arab American News

28 March 2008

A few weeks after newly elected Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, apologized to the Aborigines, the indigenous inhabitants of Australia, Rudd was party to a motion in Parliament describing Israel as a "robust democracy" and a "custodian of freedom" in a region abounding in autocracies and theocracies.

Opposition Liberal party leader Brendan Nelson said that in a region "characterized more by theocracies and autocracies, Israel is the custodian of the most powerful of human emotions — that is hopeful belief in the freedom of man, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly."

All this was expressed in the aftermath of Israel killing over 130 Palestinians in Gaza, 39 of them children and 12 women, and the rest young  men in their twenties aspiring to live in peace and dignity on their own land. The question that came to mind upon reading the disappointing news of the motion in the Australian Parliament was whether Kevin Rudd and his colleagues want to wait for 200 years to apologize to the Palestinians as they apologized to the Aborigines,  when it becomes too late and almost of no value to a people and culture who have been almost completely destroyed. If the world expressed its absolute shame in the way the "stolen generations" were treated in Australia, it should be more ashamed of the "slaughtered generation" in Palestine that is being collectively punished and ethnically cleansed by the most abhorrent racist policies adopted by any state in the world, including the past apartheid regime in South African.

To Kevin Rudd and Brendan Nelson, I would like to say that Gaza is not on the moon; it is only a few miles from Jerusalem and you may easily visit or send a camera and a journalist to take pictures of what is happening to the Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis, and to see for yourselves, what kind of "custodian of freedom" you are supporting. A million and a half Palestinians are imprisoned in a big jail called Gaza, after they were transferred from southern Palestine. The small West Bank has over 400 check points and a tall apartheid wall that prevents children from going to schools and farmers from reaching their lands, and in the case of Qalqilia, prevents the sun from reaching the windows of houses. Palestinians in Gaza are killed by Israeli missiles, tanks and fire, whether they are men tending their cattle or women making their bread at home, or children playing football, or simply attending schools.

These immoral, illegal and inhumane crimes perpetrated by Israeli forces against the Palestinians on a daily basis prompted Ilan Pappe, the Israeli historian from Haifa university (who was later virtually expelled, and is now a professor at Exeter University, England) to say "I don't think there is one moral person in the world who supports what Israel stands for," (Yedioth Ahranot, March 16, 2008). I am sure the Australian Parliament, which  lauded Israel and congratulated it on its 60th anniversary, is aware that the president of the Palestinian Parliament, Aziz al Douek, and 15 of his colleagues who were democratically elected in elections described by former President Jimmy Carter as democratic and transparent, have been imprisoned and tortured in Israeli jails for the last two years.  Yet no parliament in the world has put forward a motion demanding their release or threatened to boycott their jailors (the Israelis) if they do not release them. This moral support given to the racist, criminal policies of  Israel against the Arabs is, partly responsible for the crimes perpetrated.

The balance of military power is by far in Israel's favor, and the only hope for the Palestinians is to have the moral and political support of peoples of the world who gave us all hope when they mounted pressure on the apartheid regime of South Africa until they brought it to an end. The very same effort is badly needed today to free the Palestinian people from the last occupation of the twenty first century. Let's again listen to the best expert on Palestinian-Israeli affairs, Professor Ilan Pappe: "I believe that things would change only if Israel receives a strong message that as long as occupation continues it would not be a legitimate member of the international community, and that until then its academics, doctors and authors would not be welcome. A similar boycott was imposed on South Africa. It took 21 years, but it eventually led to the end of apartheid." (Yedioth Ahranot, March 16, 2008).

Much sooner than 21 years, the Australian people will be ashamed of the motion passed by the Australian Parliament. 



Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban is minister of expatriates in Syria.





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