When I was about nine or 10 years old, I saw a clip on the evening news about the second intifada. I had no idea what it was but I knew one thing; they were Arabs. As a mixed-race Australian-Egyptian, I was born an identity crisis but something about this clip had me wandering down the hallway in search of dad to ask him some questions. Who were they? Why were they fighting? And stones? Don’t they have guns? Do we know them?
My dad, a man deeply invested in Middle Eastern politics, was so excited by my interest that he sat me down and explained the conflict to me from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire to 1948 to 2000-and-whatever-the-year-was-that-year. I don’t remember any of it, I just remember being really, really, really shocked. My whole little, innocent world came crashing down beneath the weight of incomprehensible political realities and dad’s unmistaken passion for this topic.
I’ve spent a lot of time plumbing the complexities and intersections of my identity as a Muslim-Australian-Egyptian woman. However, it was on a trip to Palestine and Israel that I had a realisation that forever shifted my perceptions. For days, all I could think was, “I am an Israeli.” My mother’s ancestors came to Australia in the mid-1800s and settled in country Victoria; they’ve a road named after them and more than a few headstones at the local cemetery. My great-grandfather recalled a time when local Aboriginal men were rounded up and shot behind cattle sheds. I’ve searched for verification but I can only conclude it further proves the countless uncounted deaths that have occurred over the centuries, unrecorded by White settlers and local law enforcement. The local population there are the Gundjitmara peoples. The Convincing Ground massacres in 1833 was one of the first recorded massacres in which up to 200 Gundjitmara peoples were unjustly slain. Without this legacy of white settlement, my mother would have never been a naive 21 year old Australian woman who fell in love with an Egyptian sailor at the port of Portland, Victoria.
Pro-Palestinian activism maintains a consistent presence in the lives of many Australians, irrespective of religion or ethnicity. Palestine has transcended physicality and become a universalising cause to be adopted by any progressive seeking to take the side of the oppressed. Co-opted by political movements and politicians, the range of semiotic meanings ascribed to the tiny sliver of land by the Red Sea is nearly innumerable. The images birthed in Palestine are instantly recognisable, from Rachel Corrie, to pictures of young men throwing stones to plumes of tear gas, IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) uniforms, flattened concrete houses, uprooted olive trees, and the Golden Mosque of Jerusalem upon its contested ground of the Temple Mount. People get excited about volunteering in the West Bank, attending fundraising events, wearing a keffiyeh, eating knafeh and purchasing ‘Free Palestine’ woven bangles. It shocks us, awes us, moves us, and we cry over the deaths of Gazan children and the ongoing suffering caused by blockades, water-shortages, health-care limitations, checkpoints and settler violence. We want to support Israel and the right to a safe homeland for Jewish people, but we can’t abide by the violence.
And I ask, why?
Is not the violence enacted upon the Indigenous people of our country also worthy of our concern? When do we question Australia’s presence on this land by posting petitions about BDS (Boycott, Divest & Sanction) for the Australian government over its treatment of Aboriginal people? From the unreconciled horrors of the Frontier Wars, the presence of Stolen Generation deniers like Andrew Bolt in the public space, to the Intervention and ongoing acceptance of racism evinced by the recent Adam Goodes situation; we are so quick to condemn others before facing our own horrific settler-colonial history.
Israel is not an anomaly; it was just late to the settler-colonial party. We’re witnessing the horror of settler-colonialism in real-time, with all the politics and awareness of the violence it needs to survive. That’s why your Palestinian activism, as a citizen of Australia, is meaningless without a commitment to allyship and support of Aboriginal peoples. Whether you are a white-Australian, or a recent migrant, you benefit from the structures built by a settler-colony at the suffering of its Indigenous population. And if you choose to condemn the violence of the state of Israel, the violence of the state of Australia deserves your condemnation.
Naturally, complex nuances exist and Australia and Israel possess unique and divergent histories. Yet, on an overarching scale viewed through the lens of settler-colonialism, it becomes a case of dizzying similarities. Consider some of the parallels; Gaza is an open-air prison, and so were the reserves where Aboriginal peoples experienced restricted movements along with food rationing and minimum calorie intakes. We might not have used phosphorous acid, but we used starvation and smallpox; we might not have built checkpoints or an apartheid wall but we share a history of segregation and vicious settlers who enacted violence upon Indigenous groups in the vicinity of settler towns. In various forms, economic disparities and disadvantage continue alongside disproportionate incarceration and deaths in custody.
It’s not easy; as I wade through my own feeling of complicity, I find guilt does nothing but centre myself in an issue that isn’t about me. The type of activism needed in Australia is diametrically different to what is needed in Palestine. In Australia, we need to be working toward a decolonisation of our mind and our culture; just like our Israeli counterparts, we won’t be leaving to give back this land to Indigenous peoples anytime soon. And this is where we completely diverge: the settler-colonial project in Australia is a sophisticated and entrenched system that has morphed beyond the crude violence of its early years, a violence which Israel is still grappling with as it seeks to expand and entrench itself across historical Judea and Samaria.
Thus, the 20 million or so of us Australians who exist with citizenship and without Indigenous heritage, it becomes imperative that we work toward supporting the efforts for recognition, safety and self-determination of Aboriginal people beyond tokenistic gestures undermined by paternalistic policies and police brutality. If we can be a shining example of the success of settler-colonialism (along with our cousins, America and Canada), then would it be not be too much to consider that we can, one day, become a success of modern decolonisation?
So, if you consider yourself an ally of Palestine, passionate about Middle Eastern politics and history or an avid reader of Ilan Pappe and Edward Said; if you’re studying Arabic or Hebrew, reading Benny Morris, taking the subject ‘the Arab-Israeli Conflict’ or watching Paradise Now and thinking of going to Palestine, but have never taken a subject from the Koori studies department or interacted with your local Indigenous community, then consider something; consider the reason we are able to attend The University of Sydney. A university built upon the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation.