Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1183, (6 - 12 February 2014)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1183, (6 - 12 February 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Colonial partners in Israel’s crimes

Australia, like other former British colonies, has long been complicit in imperialist and racist crimes, writes Vacy Vlazna from Sydney

Al-Ahram Weekly

“Imperialism after all is an act of geographical violence” — Edward Said


Is it just me, or do you also see a thread of colonial superiority and racism binding the US, Australia and Canada to Israel? Think about it. All are ex-British colonies, and, like Israel, all have a shameful history of genocide committed against their respective indigenous peoples and all continue to treat their first peoples as third-class citizens.

I can’t speak for the US and Canada, but, apart from realpolitik and the arms trade, an underlying colonial arrogance goes a long way to explaining why my own “civilised” and “democratic” Australian government is complicit in granting Israel impunity to perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity against generations of Palestinian families on a daily basis.

The tragic past and more recent narratives of the suffering of unspeakable colonial atrocities against the Palestinians and the indigenous Australians bear a close resemblance and are written in blood and great injustice. Just as Israel’s Independence Day and the Palestinian Nakba Day (in remembrance of deportation and dispossession) have a bloody symbiosis, so Australia Day or Invasion Day on 26 January is celebrated or mourned according to whether one is a member of the victors or the vanquished.

Both the Israeli and British colonists took the terra nullius doctrine — or “empty land” approach — to justify their brutal occupation and wholesale land theft of Palestine and Australia. Israel boasts that it has made the desert bloom, though for centuries Palestinians traded in olives, oil, quinces, pine-nuts, figs, carob, cotton, dates, indigo, artichokes, citrus fruit, almonds, mint and much more. In Australia, the Aborigines maintained their food supply through the sophisticated management of the land with fire.

Their island, named Australia by the British invaders and colonists, was home to almost a million people from at least 200 nations that traced their ancestry back 60 millennia along spiritual songlines to the land of the Dreaming, or, in other words, to its creation.

The imperialist and genocidal wars and massacres (guns vs spears) such as those at Hawksbury, Nepean Richmond Hill, Risdon Cove, Appin, Bathurst, Port Phillip, Swan River (the Battle of Pinjarra), Gravesend, Vinegar Hill, Myall Creek, Kinroy, Rufus R, Long Lagoon, Dawson River, Kalkadoon, Cape Grim, the Black War, McKinley River, and West Kimberly were resisted by Aboriginal warriors like Pemulwuy, Winradyne, Multuggerah, Yagan and Jandamarra. However, they also had starvation and western diseases to cope with, and these had decimated the dispossessed Aboriginal population to about 70,000 by 1920.

Violent genocide was also replaced by more covert cultural genocide, or the genocide of indigeneity, through the Australian government’s policy of assimilation that was intended to eradicate indigenous identity by cruelly and systematically destroying connections to family, tribes and ancestral lands. Australia’s first peoples were marginalised onto reservations and missions as a result, and they were restricted entry into white towns and exploited as unpaid slave labour. Their indigenous languages and sacred rituals were forbidden, and mixed blood children (the Stolen Generations) were forcibly kidnapped from their parents for re-socialisation – in other words to be made white.

Assimilation is where Australia, the USA and Canada differ from Israel. The assimilation of the Palestinians is an anathema for Israel. The Zionist goal is a purely Jewish state and one that is rid of all the Palestinians from the Jordan River to the sea. The whole of historic Palestine is a goal pursued with, ironically, an ideological fervour akin to Hitler’s  Germanisation aspirations. Israel is perpetrating a brutal, slow-motion genocide that is designed to push the Palestinians off the cliff of exile.

Until the 1967 referendum on the subject in Australia, the Aborigines were considered to be government property. “The right to choose a marriage partner, to be legally responsible for one’s own children, to move about the state and to socialise with non-Aboriginal Australians were just some of the rights which Aboriginal people did not have,” one commentator writes.

Sounds familiar? Israel’s apartheid policies similarly impact on the Palestinians. Israel has passed racist laws that impose severe movement restrictions that divide families, prevent family reunification and obstruct the marriages of couples who come from different zones. At least a third of Gazans have relatives in Israel and the West Bank. The personal pain of such enforced separations, which deny the Palestinians the shared and cherished moments others enjoy, is immeasurable. Grandparents have never seen their grandchildren who may live just five kilometres away, adult children are denied the right to be with a dying parent, and births, weddings and funerals are overshadowed by painful absences.

The Australian Native Title Act of 1993 finally acknowledged that some indigenous Australians “have rights and interests to their land that come from their traditional laws and customs.” But as mining boomed on resource-rich indigenous lands, corporate colonialism reared its greedy head, undermining this landmark act with the Northern Territory Intervention.

This was initiated by the Howard government in 2007 and maintained by successive governments including that of former prime minister Kevin Rudd, who made a historic apology to the Stolen Generations even though the indigenous communities were suffering the humiliation of quarantined welfare payments and struggling to survive in miserable conditions. It was imposed “on the pretext that paedophile gangs were operating in indigenous settlements. Troops were sent in, townships were compulsorily acquired and native title legislation ignored. Yet no prosecution for child abuse resulted, and studies concluded that there was no evidence of any systematic child abuse,” writes Australian journalist Marcus Waters.

As the Prawer Plan that would destroy Bedouin communities in Israel was debated in the Israeli Knesset, the sound of the Australian government salivating with envy must have been deafening as it imagined having the power to evict 40,000 pesky Bedouins hindering Israel’s land expansion from their ancestral lands, or the power to bulldoze Palestinian villages to build settlements for Zionist settlers.

On January 15, Julie Bishop, the Australian foreign minister, dismissed the idea that Israeli settlements were war crimes by vacuously stating that “I would like to see which international law has declared them illegal.” This was not a good sign from the foreign minister of a nation privileged enough to have a seat on the UN Security Council and when even the gardener at Parliament House in Canberra has heard of the Geneva Conventions.

However, Australia apparently does not care about honouring international law, since it has tossed aside its obligations under the Refugee Conventions through its inhumane offshore asylum-seeker policy, forcing asylum-seeker boats back to Indonesia, refusing to compensate people who have been held for prolonged  periods in mandatory detention, and breaching its international anti-racial discrimination obligations by continuing for almost three years its intervention policies with indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

 The high numbers of Aboriginal deaths in custody, the breaching of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in the matter of Australian Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks, the unresolved allegations that Australian intelligence officers were complicit in the torture of Mamdouh Habib when he was held in Pakistan and at Guantanamo Bay, and the Queensland laws that fail to meet international fair-trial standards are all instances of Australia ignoring international law.

However, colonial terrorism, disguised as civilised democracy, is not only perpetrated by the hollow men and women in authority. They are the people for whom you and I vote, and without us they are powerless. Until our moral conscience and our intelligence and compassion determine how we vote, we too are their accomplices.


The writer is coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters, a rights group, and was an advisor during the second round of the Acheh peace talks in Helsinki in 2005.

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