Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA) is a not for profit incorporated association based in South Australia. It is run professionally by a voluntary Executive Committee and volunteers. It was established in 2004, by Paul Heywood-Smith QC and others.

AFOPA’s primary concerns in respect to Palestine are:

  1.  the current humanitarian crises that exists in Palestine as a result of the Palestinian disposition of land and the provision of humanitarian support; and
  2. consistent with the position of the United Nations, support for a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict based on 1967 borders; it calls for Palestinian people to have the right to self-determination by recognition of the Palestinian State. This is fundamental to the achievements of social and economic freedom, and equality before the law.Australia is one of a few countries (along with Israel, the United States and Canada) that does not recognise the Palestinian State. AFOPA advocates for a change in this position. Australia’s recognition is required to contribute to the peace process. A Roy Morgan poll this year showed that 73 per cent of Australians support recognising Palestinian statehood.

This is a speech I gave to the annual dinner of AFOPA in Adelaide on 4 November 2017.

It sounds pathetic: I just did not know.

I did not know what was being done to Palestinians.

I was vaguely aware of troubles in Israel, of course. I was vaguely aware of reports of Palestinian youths causing trouble, throwing stones at Israeli settlers. I was vaguely aware that Israelis who were attacked would strike back. And of course, like most people, I was aware that the State of Israel was established as a homeland for the Jews who are one of the most persecuted races in all of history.

But I did not realise how shockingly the human rights of Palestinians are being violated.

It’s 69 year since al-Nakba, the great catastrophe: when more than 800,000 Palestinians were driven out of their homes; 500 villages were destroyed; 15,000 Palestinians were killed.

It’s 100 years since the Balfour Declaration. The Balfour Declaration originated in a letter written by Lord Balfour on 2 November 1917: 2 days after the famous charge of the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade.

Back then, the Palestinians fought alongside the British. They didn’t get much gratitude: the Balfour Declaration included this paragraph:

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

As it turned out, the rights of Palestinians have been comprehensively trashed.

And when Malcolm Turnbull went to Beersheba recently to celebrate the famous battle, no Palestinian leader was invited to attend.

The abuses of the human rights of Palestinians are getting worse. In particular, Palestinian children are grossly mistreated, despite the provisions of various international human rights conventions to which Israel is a party.

Palestinian children as young as 12 are being:

  • Arrested in their homes, at night, between 10pm and 5 am
  • Taken away, blindfolded, hooded, their hands tied
  • They are often placed on the floor of the van that takes them away, and they are taken by long, slow routes, so they often spend hours on the floor in the back of the van
  • They are physically abused: head-butted, kicked, tasered, dragged across the ground
  • They are strip-searched and threatened

They are interrogated without being told they are entitled to have their parents present; without being told they are entitled to have a lawyer present; without any warning that they have the right to remain silent. One Palestinian child reports: “The interrogator told me I had the right to remain silent and to consult a lawyer. I told him I wasn’t going to say anything before I was allowed to speak to a lawyer. He became angry and slapped me when I said this.”

Some Palestinian children have been held in solitary confinement for weeks on end.

And beyond all this, there is the Israeli Defence Force’s use of administrative detention: detention without charge, without trial; sometimes for months, often based on secret evidence.

John Lyons recently published a piece in the Weekend Australian. It includes this paragraph:

“Twice a week they had children’s days when children as young as 12 faced the army judges. I caught a glimpse of four young boys, in brown prison overalls, shuffling across the courtyard. They were handcuffed and shackled at the feet. I thought: if the 1nost powerful army in the Middle East thinks it’s acceptable to treat children like this, then something has gone badly wrong…”

Israel has been warned that these things are a gross violation of international human rights norms. Its response has been to suppress information about what it is doing.  But it has not improved its behaviour.

The legal rights of Palestinian children are not the same as the legal rights of Israeli children. Palestinian children are treated as legally responsible when they are 12; Israeli children are not legally responsible until they are 14.  Israeli children are taken to a civil court; Palestinian children are taken to a military court. Israeli children are treated properly if they come into contact with the criminal justice system; Palestinian children are not.

Israel is making the same tragic mistake Australia makes in relation to boat people. It seems to have forgotten completely the most fundamental point: these are human beings.

Anyone who criticises Israel’s conduct can expect a fierce response. John Lyons writes about it. Anthony Loewenstein has experienced it, and so have I.

I do not wish to deflect attention from the mistreatment of Palestinians for one moment, but it is worth noticing that we have a parallel set of events in Australia.

Australian Aborigines know what it is like to have your land taken; they know what it is like to be kept out of privileged areas; they know what it is like to be given a different, and inferior, legal status; they know what it is like for their children to be taken, mistreated, turned into aliens in their own land.

As I learned what was being done to Palestinian children, I had a recurring vision of the Aboriginal children in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.

And Australia has a terrible record for mistreatment of children whose parents brought them to Australia as boat people: they get locked up indefinitely, in what the legal system regards as…yes…”administrative detention”. No charge, no trial. Just like we say to justify the indefinite detention of boat people, who come to Australia seeking a safe place to live.

It is eminently appropriate that AFOPA was founded in South Australia. South Australia leads this country in many things, not least in its advocacy for decent treatment of boat people. And South Australia is the only State where an Aboriginal man, who was taken from his parents when he was 13 months old, was accepted by a Court to have been taken unlawfully, and to have suffered harm as a result.

South Australians seem to understand human rights. Please support the work of AFOPA: keep reminding our politicians that what is being done to Palestinians is utterly unacceptable; donate to charities which concern themselves with human rights: especially Military Court Watch, which is doing remarkable work reporting the atrocious treatment of Palestinians. And hit social media: make sure Australians learn the truth about what is happening. After all, if our political “leaders” hide from the truth, let’s use the new democracy of social media to remind them.

Arundhati Roy, the Indian writer who is famous here for writing “The God of Small Things”, is more famous in her home country for her constant campaigning against the needless creation of dams which serve no useful purpose but which displace small farm holders in the valleys above and below the dams.  Arundhati Roy, in one of her essays a couple of years ago, said that “a thing once seen cannot be unseen.  And when you have seen a great moral wrong, to remain silent is as much a political statement as to act against it.”

So: now you know what is being done to the Palestinians.  Now is the time to speak against it.