Monthly Archives: July 2014

What Israel Says…

Responses used by Israeli officialdom each time the state is exposed as having acted in violation of international law, or inhumanely, or immorally, or with extremely poor judgement.

1. Israel does not comment on security matters.
2. Israel denies it violated international law.
3. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.
4. Hamas are terrorists.
5. The IDF is the most moral army in the world.
6. Israel has acted decisively to discipline the IDF member/Israeli citizen.
7. Arabs in Israel have more rights than in any Arab country.
8. Israel is under existential threat.
9. Israel has a right to defend itself.
10. Israel has a right to exist.
11. Israel is surrounded by enemies.
12. Israel wants peace.
13. Israel has no (viable) partner in peace.
14. Iran wants nuclear weapons.
15. There are other, worse human rights violations around the world.

These responses have been successful in maintaining the position of Israel as the Jewish state, and its influence in the world. This is so regardless of the passionately debated and ultimately repetitive reasons put forward by Israel for its military campaigns. None of the major world players, from the Middle East Quartet to the United Nations Security Council, has ever halted or prevented Israeli military action. The ‘Middle East Quartet’, by the way, is basically everyone: its membership is the USA, Russia and the EU and the UN itself.


Dispossession: Here, and in Palestine

This essay begins with a personal reflection on peace studies and activism in Australia. I then introduce two native title cases, in Queensland, Australia and Beersheba, Israel, contextualised from colonial conditions to post-colonial developments. The substantive section presents formal legal processes as opportunities for ‘negative’ peace, by overturning entrenched injustice, while recognising that cultural and structural violence remain. Subsequent social developments are presented as an ongoing process towards reconciliation, a strategy for ‘positive’ peace with justice, and an alternative to military aggression and violent resistance. The conclusion identifies two critical components for sustainable peace: overturning long-held and unjust legal precedent, and the value of international reputation to nation states.

On 27 May 2000, an estimated two hundred thousand people walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The event was Corroboree 2000, dated to the anniversary of the most popular referendum in Australian history, which removed formal discrimination against ‘the Aboriginal race’ from the constitution (1967). On Valentines Day 2003, many thousands gathered at Town Hall to protest an illegal invasion. There was no Gough Whitlam for us, and Australia followed the USA into Iraq.

In May 2008 Ali Abunimah, author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian impasse (2006), visited Sydney. His book tour coincided with the 60th commemoration of al-Nakba, (the Catastrophe), the foundation of Israel. Six months later Israel attacked Gaza by air, land and sea. I knew little about Israel or Palestine, and was appalled by my ignorance, at protesting Australian involvement in the Iraq invasion, never noticing the vast apparatus supporting western attacks in the Middle East, despite the nightly news remit. I became aware of a violent occupation, Indigenous marginalisation, and complex colonial histories.

Once again we gathered at Sydney Town Hall, this time a mere 5000 people, receiving scant media attention. Aboriginal and Iraqi lives, having finally mustered mainstream support, mattered more, it seemed, than Gazans (see Lynch and McGoldrick 2005). As West Wing character Toby Ziegler – the ‘melancholic Jew’ – put it, ‘Palestinians are the Jews of the Arab world’ (2004). One event was for positive peace, a landmark day in the reconciliation process, between Australia’s First Peoples and the inherited privilege of colonial power. The other two were calls to negative peace, to stop military attacks on Iraq and Gaza (Galtung 1996).

In his guest lecture for this unit, Charles Webel presented empirical evidence that legal and policing responses have greater long-term effect than military intervention (see Johnstone 2005). I found this evidence compelling. The Australian response to the Bali bombings (12 October 2002) was to send doctors and investigators. We saw the accused in court, and maintained diplomatic relations with Indonesia, our Muslim-majority neighbour. The USA response to the 11 September 2001 attacks was to send its military might, with international support, to retaliate against Kabul. The legal and policing strategies had demonstrably better outcomes for peace. As a peace student and activist (Rees and Blanchard 1999), I am interested in the strata of interested groups that are essential to sustainable peace-building (Lederach 1999), within a global human rights framework (Abbott et al 2006).

Dispossession in Australia and Israel

The breakthrough Australian native title case Mabo v State of Queensland (No. 2) (1992) (Mabo) overturned 224 years of legal fiction (terra nullius, below) after Aboriginal dispossession began with the 1770 landing of James Cook (Mabo per Deane and Gaudron JJ at IP3; Bird Rose 2001). The el-Okbi (also al-Uqbi) test case is on foot 62 years after the creation of Israel. In raw chronological terms, Israeli courts could recognise native title in the next 140 years and still be ‘ahead’ of us. Australia is no post-colonial utopia, but does have conditions that can produce a coherent body of native title jurisprudence with little social unrest. Both cases exist amid on-going direct and indirect (structural, cultural) violence (Galtung 1996).

Wars are fought over territory, both land and psychological territory – the ‘battle for hearts and minds’ (Esposito and Mogahed 2007). The UN Partition Plan (29 Nov 1947) was in existence when the state of Israel was declared. But the Arab and Jewish sides held entrenched, values-based positions. Force prevailed over UN covenant, and the conflict has continued ever since, supporting the thesis that military build-up exacerbates and prolongs conflict (Burton 1990; Lynch 2010).

In Australia, there has been debate over the existence or extent of frontier wars (Reynolds 1982 and 2001; Windschuttle 2002). Massacres are evidenced by later analyses (Elder 2003) and oral histories. For example, the Darug people hold an annual ceremony to honour the warrior Yarramundi and the battle of Richmond Hill (1795). In 1994 I was deeply moved to hear eye-witness testimony from a Warlpiri elder at the Coniston massacre site (NT 1922). The Myall Creek massacre (NSW 1838) is commemorated annually by descendants of murderers and survivors.

These occasions provide a reconciliatory space (Lederach 2001) for shared reflections on past direct violence and contemporary cultural violence (Galtung 1996). Novelist Kim Scott (2010) has observed that periods of peaceful co-existence in Noongar country can largely be attributed to the adaptive and hospitable traditions of the locals. A visual example is Cathy Freeman’s twin identities, holding two flags, aloft and entwined, neither uppermost (Sydney Olympics, 25 September 2000), a courageous act given she was threatened with disqualification after the same display at the Commonwealth Games (1998).

The second image shows three flags configured for the Parliamentary Apology to the Stolen Generations (13 February 2008).

The word ‘reconciliation’ implicitly references an earlier policy, contained in Letters Patent signed by King George III and carried by Captain (Governor) Phillip aboard his flagship Sirius, into Warrane (Sydney Cove) on 26 January 1788. The royal orders were to ‘open an intercourse with the natives, and to conciliate their affections’ (HRNSW 1892), an order executed by, among other things, abducting the young Bennelong (Smith 2010).

This language is echoed in by British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour (Balfour Declaration 2 November 1917): ‘nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…’ This document, and the UN Partition Plan, is furnished as evidence in the el-Okbi case.

The loudest echo of terra nullius, or ‘land of no-one’, is mythology, not doctrine: a land without people for a people without land. This sentiment cannot be legally overturned, because it is not law, an apt opening for trans-disciplinary analysis. Journalist-historian Tom Segev draws the obvious implications from the el-Okbi case, asking ‘Who owns this country?’ (2010).

Two cases

Eddie Koiki Mabo’s posthumous achievement was a strong judicial outcome, one that may not have come about under a different High Court (see Pierce 2006). It was decided by the superior court of record, that is, after abolition of Privy Council appeals (1986, see Gleeson 2007). Only one in seven judges dissented.

Nuri el-Okbi is a Bedouin man from the Negev (Naqab) in southern Israel. His claim is currently before Justice Sarah Dovrat of the Be’er Sheva (Beersheba) District Court. As a non-Hebrew speaker, my account relies on English-language media rather than court documents. I acknowledge that the two sources are inherently different. For the overall purpose of this essay (below), I note that old and new media are the major source of global news in wealthy, influential countries and create public perception feedback loops (Lynch and McGoldrick 2005) as well as potentially shaping individual reactions (McGoldrick 2008).

The complex circumstances surrounding Mr. el-Okbi and Mr. Mabo’s claims stretch back to their ancient living cultures through contested English imperial policy. Courts are not designed to hear from internal, stateless, yet coherent nations, peoples with neither territorial title nor sovereignty. Tribal identities (e.g. Warlpiri, Dhunghutti) and regional groupings (Koori, Anangu) are now better known, in Australia, although I cannot say whether this has been influenced by native title claims. Similarly, the state-lessness of Palestinians affects their legal standing. ‘Palestine’ does not appear in any modern atlas, yet governments all over the world know where Palestine is, and that its location is a problem.

I do not automatically conflate Bedouin and Palestinian identities, but I do contend that the el-Okbi case has implications in the Palestinian occupied territories of East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank. As well as Segev’s extrapolation, this contention rests on the ‘transcend’ peace-building approach (Galtung 2000). It also refers with ‘pragmatic optimism’, and Gandhian inspiration (Barasch and Webel 2002), to Eddie Mabo’s persistent, non-violent action for significant change. Additionally, complexity theory (Opotow 2000) and its uptake of fractal analysis (Mandelbrot 1982, see also Urry 2002; Hodge 2007) are invoked. Fractals re-iterate across scales, like a leaf, branch, and tree. It is an especially useful point of entry here because Palestinian dispossession is on-going and repeated, as through house demolitions (Halper 2008). The el-Okbi experience re-iterates from family to tribe, forced relocation, and demolition of Bedouin villages.

The process model shows Mabo stemmed from earlier developments, such as the Northern Territory Land Rights Act 1976 (Cth) and Milirrpum v Nabalco (1971). This important case recognised the coherence and continuing practice of Aboriginal law, but encountered the problem of inalienability, as elders testified that they belong to the land rather than the other way around. It was also subject to Privy Council precedent (Re Southern Rhodesia [1919] AC 233). In Mabo, Justice Brennan said (at 16):

In discharging its duty to declare the common law of Australia, this Court is
not free to adopt rules that accord with contemporary notions of justice and
human rights if their adoption would fracture the skeleton of principle which gives the body of our law its shape and internal consistency… Although this Court is free to depart from English precedent which was earlier followed as stating the common law of this country, it cannot do so where the departure would fracture what I have called the skeleton of principle.

Further steps toward reconciliation occurred because Mabo was decided in an atmosphere of political good will. Reconciliation was official policy under the Hawke-Keating governments (1983-1996). Prime Minister Keating led the negotiations that codified Mabo into the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth). He lent political and cultural support by recognising past wrongs:

We simply cannot sweep injustice aside. Even if our own conscience allowed us to, I am sure, that in due course, the world and the people of our region would not. There should be no mistake about this – our success in resolving these issues will have a significant bearing on our standing in the world.

Together, the words of Justice Brennan and Paul Keating offer possible strategies for Israel. Could similar conditions support recognition of Bedouin title? This would not in itself guarantee justice or peace, even in a narrow, local sense. The Howard Coalition government (1996-2007) replaced reconciliation with ‘practical reconciliation’. Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer famously promised ‘bucket-loads of extinguishment’ after Wik Peoples v Queensland (1996) found that native title was not necessarily extinguished by pastoral leases. This rural conservative leader seemed to be saying that the land had not been taken comprehensively enough the first time, that despite a High Court judgement embedded in common law principle, the Australian government should re-dispossess Aboriginal people, a familiar pattern. Indigenous peoples, expecting the certainty and permanence promised by legal process, instead find political will (and the trump card of legislation over the common law) deliver no such thing.

Internal inconsistencies and human rights violations are affecting Israel’s international standing (Chomsky 2010) where the Ministry for Public Diplomacy and the Diaspora expends considerable resources on Hasbara, the official defence of Israeli aggression, like extra-judicial killings. These mixed and layered messages add validity to the use of media sources here. Media influence is exercised through framing (Hall 2003), through frequency and prominence, like the saturation coverage of 9/11, and when high-profile columnists and editorials weigh in on one side or another. Defenders of Israel frequently claim to be disadvantaged by such pieces (Regev 2010; Dershowitz 2010).

Public opinion influences government policy, but Palestinian statehood claims tend to be ‘outsourced’ to multi-level diplomacy (Diamond and McDonald 1996) such as proximity talks brokered by the USA. Like other nations, US domestic politics constrain progress – the old adage that ‘all politics is local’ (O’Neill 1994).

Recent coverage of the el-Oqbi claim (Cook 01 September 2010; Segev 08 September 2010) report that he says his family was ‘tricked’ into moving from their lands in 1951 to temporarily allow for military exercises. An Australian parallel might be seen at the nuclear test site Maralinga, where the military purpose was real, but the people were not notified before exposure to lethal radiation (Jamieson and Rankin 2008).

As a result of the case, (Cook 2010), ‘the authorities have sped up plans’ for the Jewish National Fund (JNF) to plant a ‘peace forest’ over Mr. el-Oqbi’s land. This claim is highly credible, in light of the internecine conflict over pine and olive groves, or ‘planted flags’ (Braverman 2009). It echoes the ‘bucketloads of extinguishment’ desire to strengthen the colonial claim through evidence, in the dominant tradition, of ownership (such as cultivation, see Vattel 1758). Such ‘ownership acts’ contrast with nomadic ties to land, such as seasonal travel patterns and sustainable land use.

The problem of nomadic lifestyles and recognition of property title was overcome in Australia by Mabo because the Meriam Islanders had cultivated plots stretching back generations. The contained island environment meant their traditional ties were more recognisable, while its status as Crown land meant recognition affected the rest of Australia. Similarly, in Israel, el-Oqbi has particularly strong support for his claim to 205 acres (820 dunams) among ‘outstanding [Bedouin] claims to over 80,000 hectares of ancestral property’ (Cook 2010). He holds documentation proving cultivation, yields and tithes paid to British and Ottoman authorities.

Unsurprisingly, the situation is clouded by conflicting colonial orders. One 1921 ordinance exempted Bedouin from registering their land, while another contained a clause allowing ‘a two-month extension for Bedouin to register their lands’ (Dead ‏(Mewat‏) Lands Ordinance 1921). Colonial indecision around governance of the Bedouin probably stemmed from conflicting promises to ‘Arabist’ and Zionist interests during World War One, including the Balfour Declaration (Schneer 2010). Empires that lay claim to more land and people than they can govern tend to founder, resulting in patchwork power-wielding that in retrospect seems doomed to cause on-going unfulfilled human needs (Burton 1990). Nevertheless, the instruments carry legal weight in accordance with their historical legitimacy.

For the defence, Professor Ruth Kark argues that the land passed to Israel on its creation and is held in trust for world Jewry. The Bedouin are the ‘trespassers’ or ‘invaders’. Kark claims that these founding tenets of Israel as the Jewish state are supported by UN resolutions, which in turn referenced Balfour, neither of which actually went to plan.

The available proof that the JNF bought land from the Bedouin indicates prior ownership and transfer of title. Purchase is a more legitimate argument than the wider assertion that no Bedouin could accrue title because of nomadic lifestyle factors. But the potential precedent is a legal and cultural concern for Israel. If its claim is founded on purchase, then land taken by armed force (or where ownership is not verifiable by transaction) might default to Bedouin ownership rather than be held in trust for world Jewry. Segev (2010) makes the obvious connection beyond the Negev: ‘…[they] are arguing over the justness of Zionism’.

One of the hardest pieces of evidence is a signed 1948 treaty ‘between 16 Bedouin tribes, including the Okbi, and the new Israeli army, pledging loyalty in return for a guarantee that they could continue living on their lands’ (Cook 2010). This army-loyalty nexus is heart-sinking, on many levels. As a distant observer who advocates co-existence and reconciliation, I want to link the el-Okbi case to Segev’s words on the justness of Zionism and a deeply militarised Israeli society.

The Question of Israel

Australia and Israel have a relatively large tracts of desert land at their heart, sparsely populated with first peoples who remain closely connected to traditional culture. In each case the Indigenous have been bribed or forced into government settlements, like Papunya (Central Australia) and Hura (the Negev). These ‘remote communities’ or ‘townships’ have little to offer other than sedentary, marginalized lives of unemployment, poverty and despair. Basic human needs are denied at every level. Utilities are utterly inadequate. Australian housing policy is less brutal than unannounced Israeli bulldozers, but Aboriginal housing is repeatedly promised and either not delivered or so unsatisfactory that demolition soon follows.

Despite the ancient living cultures of Aboriginal Australians and the Bedouin, the modern states of Australia and Israel are Euro-centrically viewed as ‘young’ countries (Daley 2009). I strongly disagree with this characterisation. Israel is not some spoilt teenage son defying big General USA. It is a highly militarized nuclear state with ancient ties to, and place-based feuds in, the territory it controls in the Middle East. Australia and Israel are wealthy, advanced nations with coherent bodies of law and a shared foundational legal ethic, incorruptible judiciaries, and robust electoral process. Neither is a dictatorship, nor lacking the intellectual and cultural capital to understand international obligations.

I pause here to try and think laterally about law and peace. In Australia, the state has fought Aboriginal rights every step, from Queensland against Mabo, to the federal Coalition government against stolen generations claimants, to Labor ‘ruling out’ attaching compensation for harm caused to the Apology.

There are multiple distinguishing circumstances hampering a comparison of possible strategies for peace with justice around dispossession in Australia and Israel. I suggest, however, that any alternative approach in the region is worth examining:

There is no more important, yet no more intractable, international question than how to secure peaceful co-existence between Jew and Arab in a ‘holy land’ divided between the focused power of the state of Israel and the ramshackle ‘authority’ of Palestine (Robertson 2006: 171).

What would happen if, say, an IDF commando, under investigation over extra-judicial killings, stood up and said ‘Guilty, on the grounds that following orders is no excuse’? As Robertson would attest, this principle was formulated at Nuremburg, the birthplace of modern human rights and our understanding of crimes against humanity, genocides committed not by one state against another but by a sovereign leader against his citizens.

I tried to imagine that Queensland had not fought Mabo, or the Commonwealth against Kruger, Cubillo, or Gunner, and instead turned the financial and legal resources to a just-peace process based on principles of transformative justice. Imagine an Israel that assessed Mr. el-Okbi’s evidence, advanced the view that its courts constitute fair and just process, and decided to put the resources into a settlement recognising all the parties involved – Bedouin, the JNF, the state of Israel, Jewish Israelis residing in the Negev. Could peace, law, culture and the communities they describe and define, and intersect across, co-exist like this?

A key difference is the Westminster tradition of separation of church and state, constitutionally enshrined in Australia as in the USA, our most powerful ally and the chief military sponsor of Israel (Sharp 2009). Yet Israel simultaneously claims to be a democracy and to be home to 7 million people, the Jewish Diaspora, who are neither residents nor nationals. The question of identity is fundamental to the question of Israel. The complexity of Jewishness, encompassing religion, culture and ethnicity, defies comparison, yet informs every analysis. Jewish identity is conflated with the state apparatus, from constitutional proclamation as the Jewish homeland, to the problematic discrimination perpetuated by the Law of Return (1950) and Citizenship Law (1952).

Israel has possibly the most intense social contract between any state and its nationals, in the form of two to three compulsory years (for women and men respectively) in the armed forces for Jewish Israelis (but not Arab-Palestinian-Bedouin Israelis). Israel defines itself as in a permanent state of self-defence: the IDF mission is to ‘…To protect the inhabitants of Israel and to combat all forms of terrorism which threaten the daily life [my emphasis].’ Self defence of course is a legal defence to murder.

Shahak (1994) forensically demonstrates the links between orthodox Judaism and Israeli violence. One example he gives is rabbinical advice to IDF members who question the morality of directives to treat all Arabs as an existential threat. On Shahak’s reading, rabbinical law extends to distinguishing murder of a fellow Jew from murder of a non-Jew.

The Israeli Ministry for Public Diplomacy and the Diaspora expends considerable resources on Hasbara, the official public relations policy of defending Israeli aggression, like extra-judicial killings. But internal inconsistencies and human rights violations are affecting Israel’s international standing (Chomsky 2010). Public opinion and political will – more so than international standing – influence the extent to which governments implement policies that could deliver peace with justice. Palestinian claims to statehood and territory are always met by ineffective multi-level diplomacy (Diamond and McDonald 1996) such as proximity talks brokered by the USA, which is constrained by the old adage ‘all politics is local’ (O’Neill 1994).

Israel is unlikely to ever uncouple itself from its Jewish identity, and there is no evidence that it will cede an independent state to Palestinians from the territory it now occupies, or commit to any retreat from wielding military power, even in the medium term. Overtly recognising special, or exceptional circumstances for Israel in an open, sensitive and honest way seems the only way to accommodate the manifest history and trauma of persecution that at least two Jewish writers have characterised as collective mental illness: Jewish ‘paranoia’ and ‘Israeli insanity’ (Arbarbanel 2009; Finkelstein 2010).

Chomsky points to international complicity in Israel’s ‘moral degeneration and probable ultimate destruction’, citing politicide, ‘murder of a nation – at our hands’ (2010: 18). We remain incapable of facing collective guilt regarding a mythological ‘chosen people’ with collective action. Jewish exceptionalism, with its combined overtones of chosen-ness and anti-semitism, is simultaneously (and typically) both a sui generis and typical problem, that binds and traps supporters and detractors. Yet a failed Jewish state would destabilize the entire Christian west with the weight of history and religion, weaponry and shame.

As mentioned, Australia took 224 years to admit that terra nullius was a legal fiction designed to legitimize the dispossession of traditional owners. Attending an Australian massacre commemoration with living witnesses instills the same horror as watching the 2008-09 Gaza massacre (Why weren’t we told? Who is to blame?). To match our desultory record, Israel could host a 2164 commemoration of the last recorded Gaza massacre in 2092.

Killed by Israel in Gaza

Today I read through a list of names, ages and circumstances. It was the Palestinians killed by Israel in its latest attack on Gaza. What we call ‘casualties’ are named here as ‘martyrs’.

The link came via social media. I judge social media links by the credibility of the source, and the content of the material. This link came via a trusted source; and its detail looked a lot like truth. I read on.

Although stomach turning, it felt like it would be a betrayal of the children of Gaza not to read through to the end. With every name and age recorded, I thought of my own children at that age, or of an aunty or other relative of the same generation as those killed. The post is heralded with the statement ‘Because they are people, not numbers’. This crucial fact is actively obscured by the monstering of Palestinians in Israel and much of the West.

Three years ago, I reached the appalling conclusion that Israel does not want peace. The obstructionist recalcitrance of the state in the face of any and every potential solution is rehearsed and successful. Since 1947 Israel has yielded nothing but the Sinai (over 40 years ago) and withdrawal from Gaza in 2005: and still points to these as evidence that Israel does indeed seek a resolution. Yet Gaza remains an ‘open-air prison’ and much of the Sinai remains a lawless no-go zone. Egypt is second only to Israel in its receipt of US ‘military aid’ – money and equipment for which to kill and torture people – Egypt gets US$2 billion per year to Israel’s $3 billion plus. This largely explains the geo-political status of the Sinai; its terrain explains the rest. The Sinai is not evidence of an Israel yearning for peace and resolution.

Meanwhile, the hideous and illegal separation wall marches over Palestinian villages and farmland and the Israeli military continue to bulldoze Palestinian homes in both east Jerusalem and the West Bank. Both areas are internationally recognised as the location for a reinstated Palestine. There is no indication that Israel will ever conform to international law; and ample counter-evidence. Galetz (Army Radio) refers to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria, staking a chosen-people Old Testament-based claim to the land, which in any case is occupied by Israeli extremists who commandeer scarce resources, like water, backed by the force of Israeli troops.

It is impossible to run through all the arguments and evidence I found of Israeli expansionism and exceptionalism and the ‘Holocaust Holocaust Holocaust’ refrain captured so tellingly by Howard Jacobson in his award-winning novel The Finkler Question . Instead I am reproducing here two of the most appalling extracts I unearthed after a Palestinian-Australian friend told me that Israel fines a soldier 100 shekels (AUS$25) for killing a Palestinian child. I remember dropping my head and taking a deep breath before I could re-establish eye contact. He said ‘and they call us the barbarians’. It was such a small detail, yet so shockingly amoral, as to hit harder than the footage of bombs and planes. I was reminded of that conversation, over five years ago now, as I read through the lists and lists of dead in Gaza today. The work of Guardian reporter Chris Urquart and the tireless Electronic Intifada verify his account. Links below.

After Moshe returned to his paratroop unit, he said there were several incidents when children and teenagers were killed after bullets aimed at their legs hit their chests. The attitude was, he said, “so kids got killed. For a soldier it means nothing. An officer can get a 100 or 200 shekel [£12.50-£25] fine for such a thing.”

– Urquhart, C. (2005) Israeli Soldiers Tell of Indiscriminate Killings by Army and a Culture of Impunity: Whistleblowers’ testimony shows desire for revenge on Palestinians. The Guardian, 06 September, 2005:

“So usually an officer gets fined 100 shekels for killing a child…”

– Kole (2004) Interview: What the IDF is doing in Nablus. Live from Palestine, 7 September 2004, Nablus, occupied Palestine:

Meet Jesse. She writes what she really thinks too

The posts below are from my friend Jesse’s facebook page. Jesse and I met when our sons became mates at the local public high school for bright young things. Our lives are wildly different, our views astonishingly similar. Her daily rants comprise some of the most coherent criticism of this federal government anywhere – many provisoed with claims of incoherence. So I invited Jesse to share my little corner of the web and put some of those colourful comparisons on the record.
Editorial errors are mine, all thoughts her own etc etc …Oh, and I assumed the misspelling of *asterics* below was a self-deprecating joke, coz posting to the world is scarey stuff.

June 25, 7.26am
My cup of incoherent rage runneth over. And I have an all-day school related thingy, so I have to be pleasant to people, of all things, all squeezed into a mini bus and carted around. And everywhere we go, they will serve instant coffee, or brown and water, as it is known here, and I will smile and nod pleasantly. And every time they mention funding I will, literally, bite my tongue, and then I will come home and I will rant and flail my arms wildly.

June 27, 5.35am
Slashing dementia support and the severe behaviour supplement. Oh, ffs. Enough is enough. Even if you’re demented enough to think the aged, disabled and vulnerable are unworthy, do you really think slashing funding will reduce dementia numbers? This is just gonna reduce the standard of living for those people. In fact for a money saving budget ,it seems to be just take money from people like me and give it people who already have more, cos otherwise you’ll be rewarding me for having a disabled person to care for.

June 27, 7.01am
Once again, oh, FFS! And who will be the social and cultural contributors of the future? The pigs at the trough? And how about, NO, I will not view the aged as a burden. A long life is a gift, not a profit making opportunity.

June 27, 7.51am
Kinda waiting for someone to try and tell me that most old people are really just “economic geriatrics”, you know they either chose to get old, did it themselves by living too long, or are just faking it for the benefits. Everyone knows it’s irresponsible to live a long time if you can’t afford to. I’m sure it’ll be some drivel like that, and I’m looking forward to a good laugh

June 27, 8.21am
The kind of circular logic I find myself dealing with
Me: The vulnerable in Australia could benefit immensely from more resources.
Them: There’s millions of people in the third world who’d love to be in your shoes, you know?
Me: You’re right, let’s help them.
Them: But they’re different and they only want a hand out, and they should fix their own problems instead of looking to us. What about Australia’s poor and vulnerable, huh?
Me: Ok, lets prioritise that then.
Them: There’s millions of people in the third world who’d love to be in your shoes, you know?

June 29, 10.09am
Go to shop for bacon, saw the headline “disabling rorters” and felt humiliated, and then angry. Got home, saw the banana tree lost a branch. Must have missed the power line by a hairs breath

June 30 5.42am
Ok, so you want to make welfare less attractive so people will get off it and work? I get that. So limiting what people on welfare can spend their money on will get them a job? Here’s how this will actually work. Anyone who can get a job will, and those with disabilities and mental health issues will still have disabilities and mental health issues. They’ll just have them with less autonomy. See, long term, this doesn’t affect the people who are “rorters”. It just condemns the most needy in our society to the punishment meant for a mostly imaginary bludger. Slow round of applause, ffs

June 30, 7.10pm
Read all 176 pages of the welfare review recommendations. I think whoever sees “perverse incentives” everywhere is kind of perverse, and overly suspicious

1 July, 2.11pm (by PM)
So, I have attempted to write something. It’s been years since I wrote anything other than status updates and the occasional angry letter, so it might be all rambly and disjointed, I don’t know. And I don’t know how to get it from my iPad to anything so I’m just gonna cut and paste and out it after this nice row of asterics.


Winter is here. The Abbott government slash and burn, sure to create a winter of discontent. Its newest weapon is a welfare review containing sweeping recommendations to overhaul a welfare system that has managed to be the best targeted welfare system in the world, while spending less than other comparable nations. The poor feel the cold, and the days are short. Twelve months ago, an Australian who had fallen upon hard times – who life had sucker-punched with illness, disability, family breakdown, unemployment, the travails of age, or what-have-you – could feel confident of the safety net that would catch them before their body hit the ground. A safety net that would support them until they got back on their feet, in a society which accepted that some wouldn’t rise up in glory, and that the safety net would be a lifetime measure for those that needed it.

That confidence is gone, and in its place is trepidation and outright fear.

Left vs right has become a demented and wicked game: of leaner vs lifter, bludgers vs taxpayers, the righteous vs the rorter. It is played on a multi sided board by people who continue to be well-paid even when they play badly. Some never lose the game. I am one of the pawns on this ideological chessboard, being swept out of the game by a bishop from the other side. The game could be won or lost without me, and there are richer prizes to be taken than a lowly pawn, but ALL the pawns are about to be taken, and if you are poor (sick, studying, unemployed, old) then I’m sorry to tell you, but you too are a pawn.

As a young person, I never dreamed of a life on welfare. Who does? I thought I’d do everything. Travel the world as journalist, design fabulous things, buy a house and car, have a family. I thought I’d get to choose. I took off from the start line at a great pace. I worked, I studied, I paid my taxes. Then life came swinging with that sucker punch. My second born son has severe autism with an accompanying intellectual deficit. He has never gained speech or significant self-care skills. I was out of the race. I needed that safety net, and unless we figure out how to rewire brains and fix brain damage, I’m going to need it for life, and for my son’s life.

To Abbott and co, I’m your classic “leaner”. I am that person living off honest, hardworking taxpayers. Maybe you saw me, lighting a cigarette outside Centrelink, with what looked like a strong, able bodied young man who needs a good hair cut. Maybe you made some assumptions about us. In fact I’m pretty sure you did. If not me, then someone like me. Maybe it was a young woman, talking on her iPhone while running fingers topped with false talons through multi-coloured hair, with a couple of kids making *too much* noise. You decided she was one of those women with children to multiple fathers, spending your hard-earned income tax on the latest thing, while the kids run wild.

An alternative explanation never even occurs. Like her mum recently had a stroke and will be requiring care, and so she’s there to find out what support is available, while talking on the phone she bought with money she earned as a nail technician, and her kids are overtired because Centrelink is taking much longer than she imagined. Our right to assume the worst trumps all. These faulty assumptions are leading to a rationale of believing the poor are poor because they make bad decisions. They are re not poor because they drink or smoke. Those things may contribute to – or relieve – their situation. But these are definitely not the root cause of the myriad problems that contribute to an individual being in a state of poverty.

The causes are as individual as the people. There is no one size fits all solution to poverty, and if you think there is, you have never been poor and you are part of the problem. Check your privilege, please. The Abbott government budget and proposed welfare reforms have taken the safety net and replaced it with uncertainty.
I don’t know for sure whether my situation will be better after these reforms, or worse, but if it is worse, I question how it is ‘reform’. If those challenged by disability and those who care for them have a lower standard of living, have less autonomy, fewer choices and even less freedom than before, how is that reform in anything but a Dickensian subplot? And what part of “no changes to pensions” – an on-the-record, rolled-gold, pre-election promise – is covered in sweeping welfare reforms? I would venture that reassessing thousands of people dependent on the Disability Support Pension is a change to pensions, particularly for those who will be forced off the DSP and on to Newstart, to look for a job that likely isn’t there, and if it was, that person would not end up as the one employed anyway.

And if that person is under thirty? I never thought I’d pity the young, but now I do. A young person on DSP who is reassessed as capable of ‘participation’ and moved onto Newstart could find themselves with nothing, for six months, and face unnecessarily punitive measures, like income management and work-for-the-dole once they finally qualify for an allowance. Has the impact on the labour market even been assessed? What business would not choose free labour over paying wages? I can not convey the emotion the young must be feeling, the bridge to their future blown away just as they’re about to step onto it, their choices suddenly narrowed and for many, disappeared. Where is the generation that never worked to justify this madness? Shouldn’t we be presented with evidence of a problem before taking steps to rectify said problem?

The figures show Australians’ dependence on welfare has been steadily falling. The mainstream media says dragons are spending all the tax payer money. Which is weird, because there are no dragons, and for PAYE earners it became government money as soon as it was earned. Only the very rich see most of it. Everyone else sees numbers scribbled somewhere – on a payslip, at the end of a docket – but letting you think it is still your money after it’s gone is a clever trick. One that’s designed to reassure you, as you voluntarily condemn part of your society as unworthy, into thinking you are doing the right thing. It’s not the right thing. How can judging people without facts ever be right? How can condemning those different to you ever be right? How can forcing the young to starve be right? How can working the elderly to death be right? How can there be “market incompatible people” instead of a people incompatible market? How can a person on Newstart with a partial or episodic disability have a perverse incentive to get a disability pension? How can getting appropriate support be a “perverse incentive”? Surely a job agency would have an equally perverse incentive to NOT find employment for all clients?

I see a perverse incentive for the demonisation of the vulnerable. By the media who make money from headlines of human misery; and by a government that gains power by wooing the hatred and selfishness lurking in empty hearts. I could present the Opposition as an unemployed government. Should they lose all benefits for six months? Obviously not, an opposition is part of the parliamentary system, and essential to democracy. A young person who loses a job, much like an opposition loses the job of governing, is part of our society, and as such that persons well-being is essential for our democracy too. I’d like to knock the board over and see the game start again. Fellow pawns, tell them, game over.