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Black Australia to Palestine: solidarity in decolonial struggle

Tensions are high in Palestine as Palestinians coordinate to resist Israeli land theft and planned ethnic cleansing. If you have seen the viral conversation between settler Yakoub and native Mona El Kurd, you would have heard the 23 year old Palestinian woman asking the Israeli settler from New York why he has moved into her home in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah “why are you stealing my home?”, to which he responds in his American accent “if I don’t steal it someone else is gonna steal it”, freeing himself from any moral demands. A viral moment that has spotlighted the present-day Palestinian experience of having to maintain restraint while dealing with unfair colonial mindsets. 

The fight for Djab Wurrung has felt similarly agonising in taking on Victorian state plans that override Indigenous consent, as Sissy Austin explains “the fight continues this week with the three day Supreme Court trial. Over the last three years, there have been mediations, court hearings and requests for compromise. These compromises consist of the Victorian State Government attempting to force Djab Wurrung Peoples to allow for the destruction of country. Compromises cannot be made. The elements of country cannot be placed in hierarchical order, they never have and never will never be”. 

Free Palestine protest in Narrm, 22nd May 2021

In the past two weeks Israel has arrested over 2000 Palestinians and killed more than 250 civilians. As local Palestinians demand a cut to military ties with Israel, the Dan Andrews government is continuing its partnership with Elbit Systems of Australia, a major Israeli arms manufacturer, in the establishment of a research centre in Melbourne. According to BDS Australia, “With this deal, the Victorian Labor government is collaborating with a company which is directly linked to the Israeli government which has been shown to be practicing apartheid and which has been continually condemned in the UN and internationally for its ongoing breaches of human rights and international law”. From Djab Wurrung to Al Quds (Jerusalem) we see a consistency in our government’s disregard for Indigenous rights and growing consciousness to these ties that facilitate our oppressions. 

Noura Erakat, Palestinian American associate professor and activist joining a solidarity contingent at Djab Wurrung embassy in 2018 during her tour in Australia

Beneath the status quo friendship between Australia and Israel, Black Australians and Palestinians are linked through a shared history of struggle against settler colonialism, genocide and oppression. Both lands were colonised by the British, and the legitimacy of both states – Australia and Israel – are recognised under international law while colonisation is simultaneously not regarded as a crime. 

British in Palestine, 1936

Unlike invasion and settlement of this land (‘Australia’), the British colonised Palestine administratively and militarily but did not settle their own citizens there. Rather, the British facilitated the settler-colonisation of Palestine through the Zionist movement by allowing primarily European Jews from across continental Europe to ‘settle’ the British-ruled Mandate Palestine (1917-1948). At the same time as Terra Nullius was operating in the Australian context and Australia was implementing structures of apartheid, in 1948 the state of Israel was established upon the myth that Palestine was ‘a land without a people’ to be settled by ‘a people without a land’. Today, Palestinians are described as wild beasts by Israel’s current Prime Minister and are troped as a ‘demographic threat’. 

Together, Black Australians and Palestineans share a history and reality of erasure that has lasted far beyond the anticolonial era of the early last century, when most colonised peoples gained independence from colonial powers. Both Black Australia and Palestine are yet to experience liberation in self-determination, governance, and sovereignty. Australia is yet to have a treaty with its Indigenous Peoples nor does it formally recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sovereignties over land and waters. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples advocate for their sovereignty irregardless, as explained by Tanganekald, Meintangk Boandik Professor of Law Irene Watson: “Our First Nations laws, presence and connections created a set of unbreakable responsibilities and relationships to our lands which predates British common law conceptions of real property, and the common law of Australia. We have never relinquished, ceded or surrendered responsibility or ownership, and such actions are not within our ontologies and laws…Since the invasion of our lands by the British Empire the First Nations of Australia have asked the question: by what lawful authority do you come to our lands? What authorises your efforts to dispossess us of our ancient connections to them? To this day these questions remain unanswered.” 

In comparison, there have been decades of negotiations for the recognition of a Palestinian state yet most Palestinians remain noncitizens with little progress on civil rights. As Palestinian Australian academic Lana Tatour explains: “Israel exercises sovereignty over the whole of historical Palestine and it governs the entire population in this territory, Palestinian and Jew alike. And yet Israel operates multiple regimes of citizenship, rights and control. While the Jewish population enjoys political and civil rights, the vast majority of Palestinians are denied those same rights….. It should be apparent that a state that removes Palestinians from their homes in order to build settlements for Jews is a settler-colonial state. A state that denies political and civil rights to Arabs because they are Arabs is a racial state. A state that shoots unarmed civilian protesters who are under illegal and inhumane siege is a criminal state.”

Palestinian loss of land.

There is no end in sight to these modern-day forms of colonial violence inflicted upon our peoples by these two liberal democratic states, Australia and Israel. Grief, sorrow and anger bind us together as we face the attempted elimination of our Peoples. Together, we understand the role that racism has played in both our histories and current contexts. Though the nature of settler colonialism may be different, the experience of denial and subjugation resonates sharply across the checkpoints in the West Bank and the prisons, gaols, watch houses, and remand and detention centres across Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people remain in a struggle against violent systems of institutional racism and neglect – earlier this year there were seven deaths in custody in less than two months, and over many years there have been multiple deaths in other institutions such as the health system. Overseas, Palestinian people are currently rising up against being forcibly dispossessed from their homes that are being granted to Israelis in colonial court rooms. 

Side by side: Don Dale prison and Israeli checkpoint

In Palestine, the violent dehumanising of Palestinian people is similar in ideological underpinning to Australia’s early colonial frontier, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were dehumanised based on race and treated brutally. Such dehumanising of a People based on race (or ethnicity or religion) is undertaken with intent to ensure the “elimination of the native” and with the express purpose of propagating non-Indigenous claims to sovereignty, internationally endorsed nation-states, and false notions of benevolent or benign societies. This dehumanisation paves the way for entrenched systems of racist oppression that perform a trick of smoke and mirrors, giving the illusion that victims of settler colonialism harm themselves through poor health, crime, terrorism, unemployment and a lack of education and civility. 

Yet beyond the grief, sorrow and anger, we organise with determination and hope for our futures. Almost 10 years ago we both came together as Muslims, one Black and one Palestinian, and have stayed working together in solidarity as we organise locally against a racism that sees the ongoing dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples from their lands while ensuring the disenfranchisement of ‘foreign’ Muslims from the modern nation-state of White Australia. Islam’s conceptions of duty and justice form a framework for our mutual sense of responsibility to work in solidarity with one another; Allah asks us to ”be persistently standing firm in justice”. Given that the structures which ensure the subjugation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples also mainstream and officialise anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism which targets migrant communities, we find clarity in the idea that there is no liberation without the fall of white supremacy. 

Side by side: resisting land theft

 

 

 

 

 

As the news of Palestinians having their homes taken from them by Israeli settlers in Sheikh Jarrah broke around the world, it sparked a fire both in Palestine and overseas. Just as we see modern iterations of racism here in Australia as part of this country’s settler colonial project, so too do we see the racism against Palestinians as part of Israel’s settler colonialism, and as part of a wider Othering of Muslims and Arabs globally. 

As repression in Sheikh Jarrah, storming of Al Aqsa mosque and the siege on Gaza continues despite a ceasefire, we note a change in the discourse related to Palestine locally, visible in the mass protests across the nation; in ‘Melbourne’ attended by 15,000 people. In pro-Palestinian discourse in ‘Australia’ there is more emphasis of the nature of Israel’s racist regime, a perspective strengthened by the recently released Human Rights Watch report that found that Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution. We are seeing interconnections made between Black and Palestinian struggles drawing on a history of Aboriginal solidarity with South Africans in the anti-Apartheid movement. 

Last Saturday in ‘Sydney’, FISTT (Fighting In Solidarity Towards Treaties) and Palestine Action Group Sydney organised a unique joint ‘Gadigal Land to Gaza’ protest marking both the occasion of last June’s 2020 Black Lives Matter uprising and the Naksa: “Now, on the weekend on which both these dates fall, we are calling for the First Nations community, the Palestinian community, and all supporters of justice to rally at Town Hall as a show of solidarity and shared outrage.”

We find these developments encouraging and empowering – they demonstrate growing migrant political consciousness, contrasting previous years where Australian flags were flown at Palestine rallies in an assertion of Australian Palestinian identity. Similarly, we are heartened by Black Australia’s consciousness of the connections between Israeli and Australian state violence. In a gesture of radical love and solidarity, the family of Wayne Fella Morrison included justice for Palestine in a recent Media Release marking one year to the police murder of George Floyd, as the coronial inquest into Fella’s death continues: “Speaking to the interconnections of state violence targeting First Nations peoples across the globe, Fella’s family also call for justice for Palestine, and stand in solidarity for justice for the lives of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces”. 

Tribute coinciding with Israeli military attack on Gaza and one year commemoration of murder of George Floyd

However, we remain hesitant regarding the exceptionalisation of Israeli crimes against humanity, and the equalising of both struggles within movement discourse without a reckoning related to the position that Palestinians hold as ‘Indigenous there, settlers here’. We are often disappointed at limited migrant participation in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander actions, particularly of communities that are staunchly pro-Palestine yet do not feel moved to stand with Black Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not living in large diaspora communities within Israel, whereas Palestinians are part of the Australian settler nation-state as Australian citizens, bringing reciprocity and mutuality into question. Similarly, we note with disappointment the ‘both sides’ and pro-Israeli discourse that has peppered commentary within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander discussion. Although it is a minority opinion, such discourse indicates a willingness to accept the modern nation-state in its totality as a mechanism for erasing Indigenous sovereignties.

We believe that Indigenous sovereignty is the future. We believe that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander laws and lore can and must provide a pathway forward. Palestinians living within diaspora communities in Australia, more so than Palestinians in Palestine, must help envision and support a future decolonised Australia, moving beyond the notion of reciprocal solidarity. These truths, these dynamics, need thorough and long consideration for the future of local and global decolonial struggle. 

 

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