Palestinian BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) is a non-violent movement to secure Palestine’s right to independence. Fittingly, in the spirit of Gandhian satyagraha, on the International Day of Non-Violence (2 October), Israeli academic and refusenik, Dr Marcelo Svirsky reached his goal – the Australian Parliament – to hand over petitions signed by Australians asking the government to endorse BDS.
Marcelo’s BDS mission to walk over 300 kms from Sydney to Canberra, the seat of Australian government, was not for the faint-hearted. Paced over 10 days, Marcelo set off from the iconic Sydney Opera House, and headed southward along the coast then crossed inland toward the west.
The terrain covered an arduous series of rolling elevations through the Australian bush and rural areas in weather ranging from from -1 degrees to 30 degrees on varied rainy, windy and sun-bright spring days.
The long walk itself was aimed to promote BDS. The sign “BOYCOTT ISRAEL BDS Sydney to Canberra” attached to Marcelo’s backpack attracted supportive responses from motorists while evening meetings in welcoming rural towns drew interest and commitment to support BDS.
On some days, Marcelo enjoyed the companionship of young Palestinian,Tareq Halawa, Diane Dounes, Noel Ferguson from the Southern Highlands Palestinian Support Group took part in the trek for a day and later Tarek and also John Salisbury from Melbourne joined Marcelo for the final two days. They were met on the edge of Canberra by Prof. Stuart Rees, Paul Duffil, Br John Walker and Gazan student Shamikh Badra and onward the band of brothers strode to Capital Hill, where Marcelo delivered the petitions which will be presented to the parliament on the 27th October.
Originally the petitions were collected online with the view they would be presented to parliament by independent Senator Nick Xenophon and Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, but both dropped the BDS ball. No, not ‘ball’ hot potato is more to the point. BDS has been made dangerously toxic by the Zionist stranglehold over the Australian government.
Former Foreign Minister, Bob Carr in his recently released political diary raises the spectre of the ‘extraordinary influence’ of the Israel Lobby that has reached an ‘unhealthy level’ through ‘party donations and a program of giving trips to MPs and journalists to Israel’.
Carr is right. Given not one Australian politician was willing, dared, to present the petitions, in effect, the Israel Lobby owns the once-but-no-longer-democratic-sovereign Australian parliament.
One whiff of BDS and the Israel Lobby’s attack dogs are set loose. Michael Danby, MP, dubbed by activists the Minister for Israel, dutifully snarled in a scurrilous piece smearing Marcelo’s intrepid effort with lies, misinformation and the inevitable bogus pièce de victime- ‘the real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel’. In juxtaposition to the principles of justice that motivate Marcelo’s acton, Danby’s mendacity comes across petulant and mean-spirited.
Marcelo is no Quixote tilting pointlessly at political windmills. He asserts he is not naive and doesn’t expect the Australian government to instantly endorse BDS. He hopes that his action will initiate political debate on BDS at an official level and contribute to a future process whereby the government readdresses its obligations to uphold Palestinian political and human rights,
“Let us remember that this is just one action in the sea of so many meaningful BDS activities in Australia and around the world. Ours is more focused on helping our politicians to find the moral compass they need to align Australia with international law and justice in regards to Palestine.”
How do we take the measure of this man from Israel who mounted a heroic quest for the rights and freedom of the people of Palestine? Marcelo’s walk is a metaphor of his character. His physical strength is reference to his intellectual and moral integrity.
It takes great inner strength to be a dissident in Israel where, from birth, every child is programmed to fear and hate the enemy – the Palestinians. Every generation of children, since 1948, has been bred for the glorified compulsory military service after which they are assigned to the military reserve force until the age of 40. Hence, apart from a minority of mainly Haredim Jews, Israel is a nation of soldiers.
It takes even greater inner strength to be an Israeli refusenik: a soldier of conscience who, like Marcelo, refuses to participate in a belligerent and cruel occupation that daily perpetrates inhumane suffering on Palestinians. In her foreword to Refusenik, Susan Sontag describes the risks of such dissent-
“It is hard to defy the wisdom of the tribe: the wisdom that values the lives of members of the tribe above all others. It will always be unpopular – it will always be deemed unpatriotic – to say that the lives of the members of the other tribe are as valuable as one’s own.”
And Marcelo has paid the pariah price (the isolation, the emotional punishment, the humiliation, the scorn of family, friends and nation) for breaking with the Israeli mindset by protecting and honouring the Palestinian tribe. The Other. The indigenous people of Palestine.
Marcelo’s respect for the universality of the individual and the collective is fundamental to who he is. This quality bestowed a spiritual dimension to his BDS mission when he asked ‘permission from the [indigenous] Land Councils of La Perouse, Tharaval, Illawarra, Pejar and Njambri to walk on their land’.(Stuart Rees)
Beneath the veneer of colonial/ modern Australia, the 500 First Peoples Nations exist indelibly in the songlines of the Dreamtime. The narratives of the colonial occupations of Australia and Palestine begin with the denial of the existence of the indigenous people and their ancestral belonging to the land.
In 1992, Australia issued a judgement that overturned Terra Nullius ( land belonging to no one) and at public functions and in schools, Australians now perform an acknowledgement of country, for example,
[I]n Sydney, around the CBD, eastern suburbs and inner west, the greeting would be: “I would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people, who are the traditional custodians of this land. I would also like to pay respect to the elders, both past and present, of the Eora nation and extend that respect to other Aboriginals present.” Sydney Morning Herald, January 1, 2005
Israel, in contrast, perpetuates the Zionist lie that Palestine was ‘an empty land’ and Palestinians are an ‘invented people’.
Marcelo’s moral vision is not limited to transforming Australian politics. His recently published ‘After Israel’ offers a path to peace for fellow Israelis through the social eradication of Zionism and militarism:
‘After Israel is a secular book. It refuses to accept Zionism as a religious dogma; this excellent book rather dares to read Zionism as an episode in the history of Palestine, and of the two peoples that live there. This is neither an apocalypse nor a prophecy. It is a daring political and cultural analysis of the processes undermining the current Israeli regime that are at work today.’ Ariella Azoulay
The savage horror of Israeli war crimes in Gaza was wreaked for 51 days in full view of the unconscionable inertia of the US, UN, UK, China, Russia, Canada, Australia. The people of Palestine cannot trust in world powers to bring about peace, but they can trust people power; they can trust the hundreds and thousands of people who took to the streets in protest and solidarity, they can trust in the inexorable buildup of BDS, they can trust a lone man who joined them on their long walk to freedom.
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.