This article is based on a speech at a Palestine solidarity rally in Melbourne on 15 October.
For the past week there’s been a stench, a smell, that’s been impossible to get rid of.
I’m not talking about the beautiful smells of cooking food, of the sea breeze on a summer’s day in Gaza, so movingly described by Samah Sabawi in her article in the Age on Saturday.
I’m not even talking about the smells that have replaced all that in Gaza today. The smell of death. The smell of fear. The smell of white phosphorus and concrete dust from exploded buildings.
I’m talking about the appalling, god-awful stench of hypocrisy and complicity of the Australian government.
One example of this: a week ago on Radio National, Australia’s foreign minister, Penny Wong, was interviewed—just after Israel had cut off water, had cut off electricity, had cut off fuel, had cut off every item of food from entering the Gaza Strip.
Penny Wong was asked about Australia’s attitude to this. Her answer was that Gaza was a long way away, and that it was difficult to tell; that it’s “very difficult from over here to make judgments”.
She was asked about the same subject over the weekend. This is after a week in which more than 2,000 Palestinians had been slaughtered. Homes and streets and blocks and whole neighbourhoods had been obliterated. Twenty-seven ambulances had been shot up, and 15 hospitals had been attacked with bombs or white phosphorous.
Penny Wong was asked about it again and she muttered something, murmured something, about “international law”, like it was supposed to mean something.
Penny Wong and the Australian government seem stuck for words. So let’s give them some words.
Words like “obscene”.
Words like “horrific”.
Words like “war crime”.
And there’s a couple of other words that have been said already by others speaking today. One of them is “catastrophe”. Because there’s a whole gleeful wing of the Israeli political and military establishment that are keen on reenacting the Nakba.
And not just “keen on it”. Not just talking about it like it’s some theoretical thing. But enacting it—dropping leaflets on Gaza City telling a million people to move or die. And then taking pleasure, smirking through interviews, like the former Israeli foreign minister last week on Al Jazeera, gleefully talking about driving the Palestinians out of Gaza and into the Sinai desert.
And Penny Wong is somehow lost for words, and it’s a long way away. While Israel is raining down 6,000 bombs in a week on an area smaller than Hume City Council in Melbourne’s north, Penny Wong is stuck for words.
The other word that she doesn’t want to talk about, that Labor never wants to mention in this country or in Palestine, is “genocide”. Because what is happening in Gaza is the destruction of the means of life calculated to physically prevent a people from surviving—the Palestinian people—and that is the dictionary definition of genocide. That is what the Israeli government is doing and that is what the Australian government can’t even bring itself to say.
But there’s another word which I want to talk about. That word is “solidarity”.
Many people are here today because of ties of family or community, ties of kin or faith.
I’m not one of those people. I stand with Palestine for three reasons. I stand with Palestine because I cannot sit by while the obscenity that is happening in Gaza continues to unfold.
And I stand with Palestine because I know that the struggle for the liberation of Palestine is tied up with the struggle for liberation of people all around the world.
Martin Luther King once observed: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Israel keeps on demonstrating this; companies like Elbit Systems keep on demonstrating this. These companies market their products as “battlefield tested”—on the people of Palestine.
Their systems of surveillance, coercion, control and lethal force are marketed around the world—to armies, to authoritarian regimes, to police forces in the US—and here in Australia, where the Australian Federal Police is just one of the major contracts that Elbit has landed in recent years (and where the Victorian Labor government boasts of being “proud” to help expand Elbit’s bloody “footprint” in this country).
So if we care about freedom in this country or anywhere else, we have to care about freedom in Palestine.
Just one more connection to make: the connection to empire. If you’ve been paying attention in Australia, you know that we might not be able to fund hospital, we might not be able to fund social services, but the government says it intends to find $368 billion over the next decade to fund nuclear powered submarines—nuclear powered death machines.
The existence of Israel is because a bunch of imperialists decided that redrawing lines on the map of the Middle East was in their interests, in their quest for oil and power. And those lines are about to be re-drawn, potentially in the Middle East and around the world. The Australian ruling class, through its AUKUS deal, is preparing for that, along with its partners in the UK and the US. What’s happening in Palestine today is one part of those preparations.
So if we want a world without war; if we want a world without the preparation for war; if we want a world without racism and without oppression—and without the stench of death and fear and hypocrisy and complicity—we have to stand with the Palestinians.
Penny Wong can’t find the words, and says it’s a long way away, that it’s very difficult. But we know that the struggle for a free Palestine is right here. And it starts with us. And it starts with us coming back time after time after time after time while the destruction continues in Gaza and far beyond.
We have to keep saying—and demonstrating—that we stand with Palestine: that “in our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians!”
All the speeches from Sunday’s rally can be viewed on the Victorian Socialists livestream.
Jerome Small's speech can be viewed on YouTube.
PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Hrkac