What do Israel and Australia have in common?

Australia’s crimes during its colonial history resemble those of Israel.

Australia's indigenous peoples have struggled for decades for rights to their land [Reuters]

“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 US, Australia, and Canada to Israel?

Think about it. All are ex-British colonies and like Israel, have a dark history of atrocities committed against their respective indigenous peoples and all continue to treat them as third class citizens.

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

The tragic past and near narratives of the suffering of unspeakable colonial atrocities against Indigenous Palestinians and Indigenous Australians bear close resemblance and are written in blood and great injustice.

Just as Israel’s Independence Day and the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe) have a bloody symbiosis, Australia Day or Invasion Day, on the January 26th, is celebrated or mourned according to the victors or the vanquished.

Both Israeli and British colonists took the “terra nullius” (“empty land”) to justify their brutal occupations and wholesale land theft of Palestine and Australia. Israel boasts it made the desert bloom even though for centuries Palestine traded in olives, oil, quinces, pinenuts, figs, carob, cotton, dates, indigo, artichokes, citrus fruit, almonds, mint sumach and much more. In Australia, the Aborigines maintained their food supply with a sophisticated fire management system of the land.

101 East – Australia’s Lost Generation

A history of colonialism

The island, named Australia by British invaders and colonists, was home to about a million peoples of, at least, 200 nations that traced their ancestry back 60 millennia along spiritual songlines of the land to the Dreaming – to Creation.

The imperial wars and massacres (guns vs spears) such as those at Hawksbury, Nepean Richmond Hill, Risdon Cove, Appin, Bathurst, Port Phillip, Swan River (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 Kimberely were resisted by Aboriginal warriors like Pemulwuy, Winradyne, Multuggerah, Yagan, and Jandamarra. These wars, along with starvation and Western diseases decimated the dispossessed Aboriginal population to about 70,000 by 1920.

By then this war was replaced by the more covert cultural war  through the government policy of assimilation intended to annihilate indigenous identity by cruelly and systematically destroying connections to family, the tribe and ancestral lands.

Australia’s First Peoples were marginalised onto reservations and missions, restricted entry into white towns, exploited as unpaid slave labour, their indigenous languages and sacred rituals forbidden, and mixed blood children (The Stolen Generations) were forcibly kidnapped from their parents for resocialisation – ie to be made “white”.

Assimilation is where Australia, USA and Canada differ with Israel. The assimilation of Palestinians for Israel is an anathema. The Zionist goal is a pure Jewish state, rid of all Palestinians from the river to the sea. The whole of historic Palestine, home to the Chosen People is a goal pursued with, ironically, an ideological fervour. Ergo, Israel perpetrates brutal atrocities and a relentless push of Palestinians over the exile cliff.

Until the 1967 referendum in Australia, Aborigines were 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.”

Sound familiar? Israel’s apartheid policies similarly impact on Palestinians. Israel has passed racist laws that impose severe movement restrictions dividing families, preventing family reunification and obstructing the marriage 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 Palestinians the shared and cherished moments we enjoy freely is immeasurable: Grandparents have never seen their grandchildren who may live 5 kilometres away; adult children are denied the right to be with a dying parent; births, weddings and funerals are overshadowed by painful absences.

Witness – Aurukun: Mining for a future

Lessons from the past unlearned 

The Native Title Act, 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.

It was initiated by the Howard government in 2007 and maintained by successive governments including that of Kevin Rudd who made the historic apology to the Stolen Generations even though indigenous communities were suffering the humiliation of quarantined welfare payments and struggled to survive in third world conditions.

The Intervention 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.”

As the Prawer Plan was debated in the Israeli Knesset, the sound of the Australian government salivating with envy must have been deafening while imagining the power to evict, from their ancestral lands, 40,000 pesky Bedouins hindering Israel’s land expansion or the power to simply bulldoze Palestinian villages to build settlements for Zionist colonists.

Notorious for her death stare, Julie “Medusa” Bishop, the Australian Foreign Minister, on January 15, speaking for her government, with colonial panache dismissed Israeli settlements as war crimes with this vacuous statement,

“I would like to see which international law has declared them illegal.”

Not a good look coming from the FM of a nation privileged to have a seat on the UN Security Council, when even the gardener at Parliament House has heard of the Geneva Conventions.

Like its mate, the rogue state of Israel, Australia doesn’t give a toss for honouring its obligations under international law.

It tossed aside its obligations to the Refugee Conventions with its inhumane offshore asylum seeker policy, forcing asylum seeker boats back to Indonesia and with its refusal to compensate people who have been held for prolonged periods in mandatory detention. It “breached its international anti-race discrimination obligations by continuing for almost three years its intervention policies with indigenous communities of the Northern Territory”.

It continues to tolerate the high instance of Aboriginal deaths in custody. It has breached the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in the matter of Guantanamo inmate, David Hicks. It has not resolved allegations that Australian intelligence officers were complicit in the torture of Mamdouh Habib when he was held in Pakistan, Egypt, and Guantanamo Bay. It has passed the Queensland anti-bikie laws which fail to meet international fair trial standards.

Then there is the present case in the International Court of Justice against Australia spying on Timor-Leste during the oil and gas treaty negotiations in an alleged attempt to rip off the poorest nation in Asia.

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

Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001.