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Speech: The man who walked for Palestine

Yesterday I met with John Salisbury, who walked from Sydney to Canbera to protest injustices in Palestine. The situation in Palestine is worsening, and Australia must call for the seige of Gaza to be lifted, and for Israeli authorities cease the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied territories.

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (19:48):

Yesterday I met John Salisbury. John is a retired restaurateur. He arrived in Canberra after leaving the Sydney Opera House on 4 October and walking to Canberra. He walked all that way for Palestine. He is a very interesting man. John has taken a very commendable stand. I found him fascinating to talk to. He has never been to Palestine and never been to Israel. He is not Palestinian and he is not Israeli. He had a very clear message-that is, he is calling on the movement to end Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories, the 'cause of our time'.

He was supported by the Greens, and a number of Labor MPs supported his work as well. This was something John spoke very passionately about when we met with a group of his supporters on the lawns outside Parliament House. Many commented how now over 130 countries recognise Palestine. These were some of John's words:

"In the past 12 months, France, Sweden and the Vatican have joined international community recognising Palestine.
Australia's position is embarrassing, deeply embarrassing, and we should not be complicit on the periphery to expropriating land based on religious entitlement."

I do commend and congratulate John Salisbury. His walk actually traced the footsteps of Marcelo Svirsky, an Israeli-Australian academic, who, last year, conducted a similar walk from Sydney through Wollongong and Moss Vale. Yesterday he walked alone from Bungendore to Canberra. It was a fantastic effort. Along the way he would often stop to collect signatures for the petition, give out materials, talk to people and get a fantastic reception to the work that he is doing. It is not surprising he gained such a good reception and such a strong response. The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network in conjunction with Ray Morgan research found 57 per cent of Australian respondents thought that Australia should vote 'yes' in the UN to recognising Palestine. Just eight per cent thought that Australia should vote against.

Mr Marcelo Svirsky was there when John Salisbury arrived in Canberra yesterday. He also, on his walk, spoke out about his support for Palestinian self-determination.

Our foreign affairs spokesman, Scott Ludlam, has also taken this issue up very strongly. With the current outbreak of violence in the Middle East, in the Palestine-Israel area, it is certainly an issue that we need to add our voice to in order to end the suffering and to end the occupation. Senator Ludlam has called on the Australian government to break its silence and help de-escalate the spiral of violence in Israel, in occupied East Jerusalem and in the Gaza Strip.

I was in the Gaza Strip in early 2013. Since then there has been extreme bombing activities, and now we are seeing more attacks. It is hard to believe the situation would get worse but that is what appears to be happening. In reading what is happening in Ramallah, what struck me was how young the men and women are who are collecting stones and throwing them at the Israelis. These young people are making it quite clear that they will not tolerate occupation, that it must end. The world must hear that and we can start by recognising Palestine.

As my colleague Senator Ludlam has also said, until the siege of Gaza is lifted and the Israeli authorities cease the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied territories, pressure will continue to boil over into violence. There is no military solution to the security needs of Israelis and Palestinians. An end to this conflict requires a diplomatic solution. That was certainly the message that John Salisbury reiterated when he arrived yesterday. Many of his supporters had a similar message, and it is one we need to hear loud and clear.


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