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Speech: Wael Zuaiter and non violent activism

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 13 Oct 2016

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (19:34): Peter Manning, one of Australia's most distinguished journalists, has written a stunning book,Janet Venn-Brown: A Life in Art. The centrepiece is a moving love story, but this is a love story shattered by Mossad, the Israeli secret police.

Janet, a dedicated Australian artist, from the early 1960s was living in Rome. She met a young Palestinian who had a passion for music, language, and life. After an eight-year love affair, Janet and Wael planned to marry. Wael intended to travel to Australia to meet with Janet's family. On an otherwise uneventful night in October 1972, their plans met a violent end. Regarded as a soft target for walking around unarmed and in the open, Wael was shot 12 times on the doorstep to his home by a team of Mossad agents. Wael's death was the first in a string of murders carried out by Mossad agents in revenge for the killing of 11 Israeli athletes in Munich. It was years before it came to light that there was no evidence that Wael was either directly or indirectly involved in the Munich attack. The tragic reality in 1972 and now is that an innocent man was gunned down in cold blood.

Wael Zuaiter was born in Nablus in 1934 and experienced first-hand the violence of the ethnic cleansing of his country. He grew up hearing about the massacres of Palestinians. He witnessed the long lines of Palestinian refugees driven from their lands. He attended funerals of loved ones. In his early teenage years, he began his life as a Palestinian in exile. But for all this, Wael was committed to non-violent struggle.

Wael is remembered as a passionate and gentle man, as an artist and intellectual. In the years prior to his murder, he was connecting with many of Italy's and Europe's great thinkers of the time, raising awareness of Palestinian identity. He was fast becoming a significant advocate for non-violent campaigning for the Palestinian cause. It was for this reason that his fiancee, Janet, believes he was killed. Speaking to a Rome based reporter, Janet said:

He was much more dangerous than a terrorist. For the Israelis, a cultivated Palestinian was much more dangerous.

Forty four years have passed since Wa'el was killed, and nonviolent activism supporting Palestinian rights continues to be suppressed. I congratulate Peter Manning for writing Janet Venn-Brown: A Life in Art. He has documented a little known but most significant chapter in Australian history, which is also illustrated most beautifully with Janet's paintings.

The importance of Wa'el's work is underlined by the numerous United Nations resolutions on Palestine passed since he was murdered. These resolutions require Israel to abide by the tenets of international law. But for Palestinians any feelings of hope for justice and peace are being crushed under the weight of a military occupation, a stifling blockade and mounting violations of international humanitarian law. Israel's expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied territory, including the adoption of rogue settler outposts, continues with little more than token censure from international governments—and nothing from Australia. Responding to the deafening silence from world leaders, international humanists are responding to the crisis with nonviolent methods designed to raise awareness of the struggle for Palestinian human rights—nonviolent methods that follow the spirit of Wa'el's work.

Many Australians play a key role in this growing international movement. In the past few weeks an Australian woman, Madeline Habib, captained the Women's Boat to Gaza, the Zaytouna-Oliva. On 5 October, with 13 women aboard, Zaytouna-Oliva was some 40 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza when it was surrounded by the Israeli Navy. Well within international waters, the boat was intercepted by the Israeli forces and the women were effectively kidnapped and then taken to an Israeli port. The women came from 12 different countries. They included New Zealand Greens MP Marmara Davidson and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire. The boat carried no aid, no weapons and no products that were deemed contraband by Israel. This small vessel of 13 peaceful women prompted an aggressive response from one of the strongest military powers in the world. The women did not physically resist. There was no exchange of fire and no-one was injured. But still the women were taken against their will to a destination not of their choosing. Their act of nonviolence was met with violence. I congratulate Ms Habib and all on the Women's Boat to Gaza.

Yesterday I joined with other senators and MPs and Palestinian Ambassador Izzat Salah Abdulhadi to welcome John Salisbury when he completed his Walk for Palestine, which he started in Sydney on 2 October. John did a similar walk in 2015. He was inspired by Dr Marcelo Svirsky, who did the same Walk for Palestine in 2014. John has been collecting signatures on a petition calling on the Australia government to recognise Palestine. Maria Vamvakinou and Anne Aly received the petition from John and will present it shortly in the House of Representatives. John asked us a most relevant question: 'With over 130 countries formally recognising Palestine, why not Australia?' John's walk is another fine example of nonviolent action for Palestine.

Such actions are growing across the world. Following in the footsteps of the boycott of apartheid South Africa, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement is now an international nonviolent mass movement for Palestine. This is a movement based on the rules of international law that gives people the ability to act where governments do not. Whilst countries such as Sweden and Ireland have recognised the legitimacy of BDS and defend the advocacy of 'boycotts as free speech', there have been movements in France and recently in New York to repress the BDS movement. In response, Gideon Levy, an Israeli journalist and author, has written:

The struggle against the movement to boycott Israel has sunk to a new low—criminalization. From now on, it's not just a propaganda campaign against BDS ... not the usual victim-like behaviour, not the colonialist fibs about boycotts harming Palestinian labourers. It's not even the demonization, which includes accusing anyone who dares support the boycott of anti-Semitism, the mother of all accusations. No, from now on the boycott is a crime. It's a crime to boycott the criminal.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has commended New York Mayor Andrew Cuomo on his 'leadership' in boycotting the boycotters. The Australia Jewish News reported in June this year that Premier Andrews hinted at the potential of a similar political response in Australia. Whilst BDS has received repeated censure from political leaders in Australia and abroad, no condemnation has been made of the legal segregation that exists within Israel. With over 50 laws that directly discriminate against Palestinians because of race and religion, the comparison with South African Apartheid is not far fetched. Yet the attacks against this nonviolent response to violence continue.

I congratulate the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network for their work in challenging the dominant narrative that influences the Australian media and successive governments' policy by providing accurate information concerning the Palestinian people and their rights—about the continued occupation of Palestinian land, the ongoing illegal expansion of settlements, the incarceration of children by the Israeli military and the crisis of Gaza, which the United Nations has declared will be uninhabitable in less than four years.

After nearly 70 years of misinformation and violence, and after decades of suppression, the need for nonviolent advocacy and activism for Palestine is stronger than ever. Nonviolent protest is a core policy of human rights activism. If nonviolent activism is not supported, the question then is: what option is left?

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