Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 May 2021


Middle East

8:49 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on Al Nakba, and Senator Urquhart puts her name to these remarks. May 15 marks the day in 1948 which the Palestinians call 'Al Nakba', meaning 'the catastrophe', after which the state of Israel was founded. The Israelis call it the War of Independence. Tragically, leading up to Al Nakba this year, we have seen the worst violence in many years erupt in Jerusalem. Some 300 Palestinians and 17 Israeli police were reportedly injured in fighting around Haram al-Sharif, or the Temple Mount. The violence has continued despite calls by the UN requesting that Israeli authorities exercise maximum restraint and respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Tragically, children, along with adults, have lost their lives, and more than 15 other children have been injured.

This violence has erupted because Israel will not halt forced evictions from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Palestinians have lived in this neighbourhood for generations, in homes specifically built for them by the UN. If the forced evictions go ahead, Palestinians will once again be forced from their homes to be replaced by Israeli settlers. Of course, the latest attempt by Israel reflects a larger reality. During the 1948 war, more than half of the Palestinian population was driven from, or fled from, their ancestral homes. Seventy-three years after Nakba, life for Palestinians remains poor. Some 5.6 million Palestinians remain refugees. Many live in substandard refugee camps in neighbouring Middle Eastern countries. Palestinians make up 21 per cent of the global refugee population. Other Palestinians live inside what is now Israel. They live as second-class citizens, with 65 laws discriminating against them and in favour of Israelis. In neighbouring West Bank, Palestinians live under a military occupation with grim effects on life and the economy. Israel has fragmented the West Bank into disconnected segments of land between which movement is restricted and controlled by military checkpoints. Just 50 kilometres south, two million Palestinians live in Gaza—an isolated enclave, cut off from Israel and the West Bank. The situation there is dire, with a lack of basic infrastructure. Ninety-six per cent of the water is undrinkable. There's irregular electricity and a blockade which significantly restricts movement of people and goods. Five years ago, the UN indicated Gaza would be unliveable by 2020, and it certainly is, but people have no choice but to stay there.

Hanna is a Western Australian constituent whose story I'm honoured to share. His grandfather was a saddler in Jaffa in mandate Palestine. When cars arrived, he transformed his business into a bus factory, importing chassis from Germany and building coaches—the first in the Middle East. Business was excellent. He bought more land and built a new house for his young family. However, in 1948 he was forced from his village, leaving every single thing behind, like thousands of Palestinians who were pushed into neighbouring countries. Hanna tells me his grandfather was 63 years old when he was given a special permit to visit his old town. This was in 1973. He knocked at the door of his old home, and a Polish woman opened the door. 'I know who you are,' she said. 'I found old photos of you in the house, but the government gave me this house.' His proud grandfather was in tears as he told of this experience. 'They stole everything: our properties, furniture, wall paintings, photos, businesses, money, memories, our livelihoods, our lives,' he said. The next day, penniless in exile, a fatal heart attack finished his story. Hanna's family eventually arrived in Australia. Having an Australian passport enabled Hanna to travel back to his home town of Jaffa—now part of Israel. But, despite the detailed information given to him by his mother, he couldn't find his grandfather's house because names have been changed and the landscape has changed.

The international community must take action to challenge Israel on these policies to better prepare the ground for a future just solution for all Palestinians and Israel. Towards that end, I'm proud that Labor sees the recognition of Palestine as an important priority.