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‘Staying neutral means standing on the side of the oppressor’: Forum urges support for Palestine and challenges Israeli apartheid

Panelists discussed the ongoing occupation of Palestine by Israel as one entrenched in colonialism built on the exploitation of Palestinians, and the journey to ‘Free Palestine!’

Students for Palestine (SFP) held a forum to discuss the liberation of Palestine and called for an end to Israeli colonisation on Wednesday afternoon. SFP President Owen Marsden-Readford chaired the discussion, introducing SFP as an activist group that “builds solidarity with Palestine and against the complicity of the Australian government and political establishment with Israeli apartheid”. 

Students for Palestine member Ban Hasanin condemned the “criminality of the State of Israel”, which was responsible for the arrest of Ahmad Manasra at age thirteen, without an adult or lawyer present and had been detained since 2015. 

Mansara had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and is “suffering from psychotic delusions, severely depressed with suicidal thoughts”, according to Hasanin. Last week,  Mansara’s (now 20 years old) appeal to be released from prison was rejected. where Israel maintained the classification of detainee held for “terrorism”. Under Israeli law, those convicted of counterterrorism are refused early release. Amendments to the Counter-Terrorism Law (2016) barring early release for individuals convicted of terrorist crimes were introduced in 2018, two years after Mansara’s arrest. Advocates have criticised the retroactive application of the law to Mansara, where his case is “yet another morally and legally unjustifiable consequence of the law”. His health condition was also considered “not dangerous enough for his release.” 

Hasanin echoed the words of Manasra’s family who described this case as a form of “slow execution”, and criticised the “systematic targeting of Palestinian children” which has occurred since Al Nakba (the destruction of Palestine in 1948 that led to the permanent displacement of most Palestinians). 

She also criticised the neutral language used by mainstream media outlets, describing them as “incredibly deceptive in the way they refer to the colonisation of Palestine and the subjugation of Palestinians under the conditions of occupation”. Hasanin referenced words used by the media including “clash” and “conflict”, which absolves Israel of responsibility and presents “two sides fighting” when it was “just a case of colonialism and dispossession”.

“One can’t claim to condemn violence but remain silent about the atrocities of ethnic cleansing. A nation’s self-determination cannot come at the cost of another nation’s dispossession and expulsion,” Hasanin declared. 

Chair of USyd’s Department of Peace and Conflict Studies (DPACS) Associate Professor Jake Lynch denounced USyd’s institutional links with Israeli higher education, with reference to two fellowship schemes: The Technion Exchange Scholarship and the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund. 

Professor Lynch called both fellowship schemes “significant” regarding USyd’s contribution to “legitimising Israeli colonialism, occupation and apartheid”. He stated that Technion University was “notorious for developing D-9 remote-controlled bulldozers” which is known for “demolishing Palestinian homes”. 

Technion University also houses the Samuel Neaman Institute, which was commissioned by the Israeli foreign affairs ministry to write a research report on public diplomacy. One of the report’s recommendations involved “cosying up with beneficial partners, including universities”. 

“Universities are seen as a vehicle for Israeli public diplomacy with the strategic aim of reducing international pressure for change and institutional links to universities should be seen as complicit in that project,” Prof Lynch said. 

“They’re [fellowships] intended to use the good name of academic research as an elaborate blind for what they really are, which is embedding complicity linked to Israel and Australia on so many levels, that it becomes unthinkable to unplug and impose sanctions on Israel’s attacks against Palestinians,” he added. 

Global Solidarity Officer Jasmine Al-Rawi described the fight for Palestine liberation as a “fight against racism, oppression and the continual fight for justice of Indigenous people”.  

“In Gaza, people measure their age by how many wars they’ve witnessed; there are no jobs, there’s no freedom of movement and there are no prospects. Electricity is rationed, the water is contaminated and there will be no consequences for Israel,” Al-Rawi said. 

She described the absolution of responsibility by Israel supported by “imperialist backers, including Australia”, referencing universities which “parrot every line from those at the top of society because their interests align in profiting off their ties with Israel”.  

Al-Rawi spoke of Israel Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s exchange with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese last month where he thanked Albanese for his “commitment to the State of Israel and fight against antisemitism and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement”. 

“This ambivalence to ethnic cleansing puts them in a good spot to share in the spoils of the oil rich Middle East, along with the US who make sure to preserve millions every year to keep Israel one of the most militarised states in the world,” Al-Rawi said. 

“Our universities are so indebted to the State of Israel that they have denounced student solidarity to Palestine at every instinct,” she said. 

Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott penned a letter to the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBD) in June this year, denouncing the USyd SRC for showing solidarity with Palestine in June, stating that the University did not consider the BDS policy “appropriate”. 

“We need more activists for Palestine if we’re going to cut against the hegemonic, ideological, and economic influence the Zionists have over every institution in society. One thing we should have is an uncompromising commitment to a free Palestine,” Al-Rawi said. 

Students for Palestine will be hosting a speakout outside Fisher library next Wednesday, 14 September to protest the University’s ties to Israeli Apartheid, especially Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson who is the Chairperson of weapon manufacturer Thales Australia.