At a time when Australian Christians have been celebrating Christmas and the New Year and Australian Jews marking the Festival of Light, Hanukkah, it is perhaps timely — particularly when Israel faces, relentless terrorist attacks and rocket attacks, boycott, divestment and sanctions threats and the ongoing threat of unilateral statehood declarations by the Palestinian Authority — to address Israel and the Zionist vision from an Australian perspective.
Imagine, if you will, that after the arrival of the first fleet and European settlement in Australia the Aborigines, the indigenous people of Australia, after the failure of their struggle to maintain their lands and freedoms were rounded up and expelled from Australia.
Such an event may well seem implausible and even ridiculous but a campaign of this sort could be seen as being simply and extension of the infamous “Black Line” in Tasmania in 1830 when an attempt was allegedly made to round up and eradicate the Aboriginal population of Tasmania. Bear with me and further imagine that the expelled Aboriginal population were then dispersed around our region and eventually around the world forming a substantial Aboriginal diaspora.
Given the love that Aborigines have for this land and the centrality of the land in their religion, culture and sense of identity it is surely not hard to imagine that the Aborigines in the diaspora would maintain their love of their native land, would maintain their religion, their languages and cultures and would pray for the day that they could return to the land that they loved.
Imagine that in the fullness of time these diaspora Aborigines did somehow succeed in returning to their native land — the land that they had continued to hold close to their hearts, their hopes and longings — and, through a near miraculous effort, managed to re-establish an independent Aboriginal homeland on part of the land that was once theirs.
Ask yourself: would such a return, such a rebirth, be a colonial enterprise? Would it be an oppression of the European settler community?
Like most Australians I recognise the ancient and special relationship that Australia’s indigenous people have with the land and because of this recognition I support Aboriginal Land Rights. For exactly the same reason — an ancient and special relationship with the land — I unreservedly support and celebrate the State of Israel.
The oft repeated and currently fashionable claim that Israel is some sort of “colonial project” is as wrongheaded as an allegation that the struggle for Aboriginal land rights is a “colonial project” waged by Aboriginals and their supporters.
The Jewish people have the deepest imaginable claims to the land of Israel. After thousands of years in the land which is now Israel they were defeated, displaced and dispersed by the Romans. During some two thousand years of exile from their homeland — an exile which often saw them facing the most vile and brutal persecutions because of their religious commitment — the Jewish people maintained a total commitment to the land of Israel, to Judaism and to the Hebrew language, they continued to weep over the destruction of their temple and their displacement from the land that they loved.
Down through the ages, wherever they were living, they continued to wish each other ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ and never at any time lost their love for and commitment to the land of Israel.
Jews were actually a majority in the land until the fifth century. Jews have continued to live in the land throughout the whole period of dispersion, have tried to return to it, even just to be buried there because of its ‘sacredness’. Jews who live outside of Israel are buried with soil from the Land of Israel if at all possible.
Modern Zionism saw Jews returning to the land that was central to their religion and to their identity as Jews, they returned as sons and daughters returning home, not as colonial aggressors.
The rebirth of Israel as a modern democratic nation is one of the great epic and inspirational love stories in world history. It is a rebirth that was sanctioned by the world community through the United Nations and widely celebrated. To describe Israel as a ‘colonial project’ is to either misread or to falsify history.
When in 1947 the international community through the UN established the state of Israel in the ancient Jewish homeland, the Jewish community accepted, indeed celebrated, the UN partition plan which created two sovereign states; Israel and Palestine.
As soon as Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948 Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon (with assistance from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Libya) launched an attack. Israel faced an invasion which Abd al-Ahlman Azzah Pasha, the Arab League’s secretary-general, publicly stated was designed as ‘a war of extermination and momentous massacre’, an invasion which he said would ‘sweep them [the Jews] into the sea’.
Fortunately Israel was able to withstand this self-proclaimed genocidal assault by its neighbours. At the end of the fighting the Jordanians occupied the West Bank and the Egyptians occupied the Gaza Strip. Both preferred to incorporate these lands into their own territory rather than establishing a Palestinian state as mandated by the UN.
The root of the continuing strife in Israel/Palestine can be traced to the refusal of the Arab nations to accept the UN Partition.
The attempted invasion of Israel — a direct flouting of International law — in 1948 was the first of a number of full-scale acts of war on Israel, most notably in 1967 and 1973, and almost constant terrorist attacks.
Clearly Israel as a sovereign nation had and has every right to defend itself. Israel does not reject Palestinian rights as an indigenous people and has accepted and tenaciously attempted to establish a “Two Nation” resolution to the ongoing conflict; a resolution which would enable Israel and Palestine to exist side by side within accepted and secure borders.
To date such a solution has proven impossible to implement because Palestinians through their political organisations have refused to accept Israel’s right to exist. The election in Gaza which saw Hamas, an Islamic extremist organisation unambiguously and publicly dedicated to the complete destruction of Israel and the Israeli people highlights this position.
As long as the Palestinians and their supporters continue to rewrite history, and continue to reject the right of Israel to exist, we shall never see a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Israel has repeatedly shown that it is prepared to make a just peace with the Palestinians; tragically it has been unable to find partners for peace amongst the leaders of the Palestinian people.