From The Australian, by Gemma Tognini
Belal was barely out of his teens when he met his first Israeli Jew. He’s sitting in an old plastic chair in the centre of a dusty, shaded courtyard at a community centre in the West Bank, not far from the Gush Etzion interchange. The sounds of an early Israeli summer and traffic from the nearby highway hum gently under the sound of his voice.
This quiet and considered young Palestinian who studied accounting at university explains how he went from being raised in an environment of conflict and suspicion to being part of a powerful grassroots partnership between Jews and Palestinians that is determined to pursue peace.
Called Roots, its members refuse to accept the conflict that surrounds them or the false narratives that feed it. In their own words, they challenge assumptions that communities in Israel and the disputed territories hold about one another, building trust and creating a new model for change, from the bottom up. In many ways, the group is the everyday face of the Abraham Accords.
The assumptions Belal spoke of are, in reality, centuries in the making. They are steeped in history, conflict and, of course, at various times occupation by peoples near and foreign. It makes sense to me, in many ways, that the issues in the broader Middle East remain as fraught today as they have been for thousands of years.
But what doesn’t make sense to me is how it’s become cool to hate Israel. When did this happen? Thinking back, I can’t recall this narrative being present during my own education and time at university, and I was in an arts faculty.
Today, though, being anti-Israel has almost become a celebrity cause du jour among certain sections of the media, academia and the political far left.
This hatred, this anti-Israel sentiment, is impossible to miss. The most recent case, courtesy of our government, was the decision to revert to describing East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza as “occupied Palestinian territories”. Going by the government’s logic, if we’re to revert to the pre-1967 status quo then Jordan gets the West Bank and Egypt can swan back into Gaza. It is embarrassing in its -historical illiteracy.
So, too, is the decision not to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Can you imagine if a foreign entity said to the Australian government, look, we don’t believe Canberra should be recognised as Australia’s capital city (not an unreasonable view, to be honest). From now on, we are going to recognise Melbourne. It’s ludicrous, obviously, but here’s Australia deigning to tell Israel where it’s capital should be.
Some of you will assume I’m suggesting Israel and it’s current Knesset are beyond reproach. Far from it. Having recently spent time in Israel I saw and heard first hand what Israelis think of this government. Israelis of all faiths and backgrounds are making their ¬voices heard democratically, and in growing number.
What I am challenging here is the hypocrisy of a viewpoint that conveniently ignores the obvious, as well as the entrenched ideological groupthink that has spread unchallenged through government, academia and sections of the media.
For example, the federal government’s decision was welcomed warmly by the Palestinian Authority. This is the same authority that spends $300m annually on various payments and financial incentives for suicide bombers, terrorists and their families under the so-called Pay for Slay policy.
This institutionalised commitment to violent acts of terror is conveniently ignored by government and academia. When has our government challenged this abhorrent practice? They defend it with their silence. What a terrible sin of omission.
Not two months ago, I, along with others, walked the streets of the Am’ari Refugee Camp in Ramallah, which was built in 1947 under Jordanian occupation. Guided by a local Fatah leader, I wondered where the hell have the UN billions gone? Not to the families in that camp, I promise you.
Ah, it’s so inconvenient, isn’t it, when the reality is all manner of conflicted? When a position can’t be sustained by anything other than ideology? Perhaps that’s the real disease of our age. We can no longer interrogate, analyse, approach an issue, any issue, with sober-minded judgment.
I wonder did it become fashionable to hate Israel around the same time as it became fashionable to assert that gender is but a social construct?
Academia is culpable in this mess. Australian universities were once places where young minds were sharpened by the contest of ideas. Would that they still were.
In June, University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott publicly condemned that college’s student council for anti-Semitic language and behaviour. The student council had passed a motion endorsing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel (more on this in a second) and denouncing the “Israeli … system of militarised apartheid and ethnic cleansing”. Ethnic cleansing? The shame of them, using that phrase in this context. The embarrassing intellectual failure.
But back to the BDS movement. For context, BDS aims to penalise Israel financially via a worldwide boycott of Israeli products, businesses and services. It has been exposed, in layman’s terms, as a spectacular own goal.
Just one recent example, an analysis by global business publication Forbes, found that BDS has a negligible impact on Israel. It’s hurting Palestinians badly, though. What a shocking plot twist. It quoted global analysts Moody’s as saying the BDS movement completely ignores economic data, as well as a trove of evidence that trade between conflicted parties reduces the chance of war and conflict. Well done, ideologues. Well done indeed.
These territories have been disputed since the burning bush. You don’t have to be a person of faith to acknowledge biblical history and, moreover, every group of people involved in this conflict believes it.
But for people like Belal? Unlike most of the actors in this play, he and fellow members of Roots are not interested in power or ¬control, just the same kind of life we enjoy here in Australia. One of peace.