The Australian media’s silence on Palestine is deafening.

Sarah Jacob in conversation with Randa Abdel-Fattah
woman looking out at city

More than 900 academics and artists have signed a letter to the Australian government, expressing concern over its decision to vote against the UNHRC’s resolution condemning Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank. Australia was one of only two states to do so. The statement also calls for solidarity from the broader public to ‘support the Palestinian people in their struggle for self-determination’. Writer and academic Randa Abdel-Fattah was one of the authors of this statement.

SJ: How did this letter come about?

RAF: I was on Twitter in the lead up to the original date for the annexation plans to be implemented [July 1] and saw news of the killing of the cousin of a prominent Palestinian negotiator and activist. I was feeling very down about how silent certain voices continue to be when it comes to Palestine. It was such a clear gap in some people’s human rights activism. So I thought, what’s something that I can do to be proactive? I spoke to Sara Saleh – we do a lot of campaigning together – and we discussed putting together a statement and asking for signatures. Because Australia voted against the motion, it’s clearly linked to and anchored to Australia: so often the media will dismiss our struggle for justice for Palestine as an overseas issue.

Randa Abdel-Fattah

SJ: To date, the letter has not been published by any mainstream media outlet in Australia — were you given a reason why when the statement was rejected for publication by any of these organisations?

RAF: It never actually occurred to us that it wouldn’t get published [in the mainstream media]. As familiar as we are with the silencing of Palestinian voices, we thought that the strength of this statement, and the names attached to it, would overcome any of those usual obstacles. There was a lot of back and forth with some editors, who either gave weak excuses or stonewalled us, or completely ignored us. An online publication told us that they didn’t have capacity to run it, another told us to link it to an Australian issue, but most ignored us. I sent direct messages to some editors, who follow me on Twitter: I saw that they had read them. Some of those editors were people that we have good working relationships with, so it’s just on this issue that they have been silent.

We’ve now started a fundraising campaign, so that if we can’t get the letter published, we will buy ad space to publish it. Overnight we raised $7,000 of the $12,000 we need. So there’s been a huge show of support for our campaign to have this statement published. It’s very frustrating though, that we have resort to paying for our voices to be heard.

“What’s worrying about the annexation plan is that it’s just another way that Israel, rubber stamped by the United States and Australia, continues to flout international law.”

SJ: For those who are not familiar with the situation in the West Bank, why do you believe that annexation is a bad idea and what is likely to happen if it goes ahead?

RAF: This plan will just formalise the status quo, what has been happening on the ground anyway. The settlements are illegal under international law, and [Israel] has taken massive chunks of the West Bank, making an independent, contiguous Palestinian state impossible. Israel routinely demolishes Palestinian homes, appropriates their land, in order to build its settlements, build the illegal separation wall, erect its huge network of checkpoint infrastructure. What’s worrying about the annexation plan is that it’s just another way that Israel, rubber-stamped by the United States and Australia, continues to flout international law. It undermines the legitimacy of international law. [Formal annexation] will intensify and accelerate what is already happening.

SJ: Writer Samah Sabawi said last week that she believes the annexation will bring an end to any hope of a two-state solution. Is that your assessment also? 

RAF: The irony about all of the annexation plan is that even some liberal Zionists are now admitting what Palestinians have been saying for years: that a two-state solution is impossible. The two-state solution has long been dead. Israel has created facts on the ground that have made the rhetoric and reality of this unviable. It is an empty promise. It’s something that both sides of Australian politics constantly refer to as “the vision”, knowing full well that what is on the ground makes a sovereign Palestinian state impossible. So in that sense, annexation plans have eliminated the disingenuous claim that a two-state solution is the way forward.

“The only way we can effect change is to follow the model which brought down apartheid in South Africa. So if there are governments claiming they support Palestinians now, they need to heed the BDS call.”

SJ: Some nations supportive of Israel have also expressed concern about the annexation. Given there is so much disquiet about these plans, do you think the international community could prevent them going ahead, and what might that look like?

RAF: Palestinians recognised in 2005 that, although they had international law on their side, there’s been nothing to change what’s happening on the ground. So they called for the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement. And that, I believe, is the way forward. The only way we can effect change is to follow the model which brought down apartheid in South Africa. So if there are governments claiming they support Palestinians now, they need to heed the BDS call.

SJ: Stories on human rights violations against Palestinians are not often reported in the mainstream media in Australia. Why do you think this issue isn’t breaking through?

RAF: We’ve had some huge breakthroughs in the public’s understanding – we’ve seen this from public surveys – and I think it’s due to social media. Because you can actually see in real-time what’s happening to Palestinians. I’ve been an activist for about 20 years now, and I remember, pre-social media, having a say in the media was mainly through a letter to the editor. There was no way around establishment media. Now we have social media to say, “This is what’s happening in Gaza, or follow this Twitter account and you’ll see what’s happening in real-time.”

“… when you’re living in a settler colony, which already is in denial about its settler-colonial origins, there is a shared ideological foundation between both our nations. Which means that understanding who we are as a nation is critical to understanding this sympathy for Israel.”

But when it comes to the mainstream media, there are a couple of factors at play. There is a very organised and powerful Zionist lobby, and we know this from the attacks we receive, and from people in the media who have told us that, when they publish something, they come under pressure. We know that the claim of anti-Semitism against Palestinian activists and their supporters can demolish people’s lives and careers – we’ve seen that here, in the UK, Europe, America. So a lot of people are very supportive but just don’t want to have to experience that backlash. And when you’re living in a settler colony, which already is in denial about its settler-colonial origins, there is a shared ideological foundation between both our nations. Which means that understanding who we are as a nation is critical to understanding this sympathy for Israel.

SJ: Are you able to give us a glimpse of what daily life is like for Palestinians living in the West Bank? 

RAF: Palestinians are trying to live an ordinary life under extraordinary circumstances. So having to manage school attendance and your employment around checkpoints, around the whims of soldiers as to whether you can reach your destination. You are under military occupation and subject to military law: you know that you will be treated differently in the eyes of the law. It’s a situation where your freedoms and basic rights are constantly violated as you try to lead some semblance of a normal life.

I went to Palestine 10 years ago and I saw the separation wall in the West Bank. I saw the roads that snake through the West Bank, that are reserved for Jewish settlers and international visitors. I saw the apartheid reality.

Header photo: Photo RNW/Flickr

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