Petition delivered to Julia Gillard

June 18, 2009 by Henry Benjamin
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A petition protesting her visit to Israel was delivered by email yesterday to  Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard shortly before her departure.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard

Organised by Canberra academic Dr Ned Curthoys, the petition was signed by almost 200 signatories, mostly academics and numbering several Jews among them, notably Antony Lowenstein and actor Miriam Margolyes.

Curthoys told J-Wire: “I went through the list to check there was no-one involved who had a known ant-Semitic bias. Of course, I did not expect the petition to bring any bearing into the decision as to whether or not she would make the trip. We just wanted her to know how we felt about it.”

The petition read:

Dear Julia Gillard,

The following is a petition that I’m presenting to you on behalf of some 180 concerned Australians, many of them eminent names in their chosen fields, who would prefer it if you refrained from leading the Australia-Israel exchange delegation this month. They see this trip as a poorly timed public-relations exercise for the Israeli government that can only reaffirm your internationally anomalous disregard for the Palestinians during the Gaza crisis of December-January, when you refused to call for a cease-fire or acknowledge the disproportionate nature of Israel’s response, its initial breach of the cease-fire with Hamas on November 4 2008, or the devastating nature of Israel’s (with Egypt’s complicity) economic blockade of the Gaza Strip which constitutes collective punishment, continuing to deprive Palestinians of basic medicines, hospital equipment, adequate electricity supplies, food stuff, and gas for cooking.

I note that your latest comments in defence of the trip stress Israel’s diversity, but does Israel’s continual demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, denial of Palestinian building permits in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and zoning of ‘Jewish only’ residential eras in East Jerusalem, speak well of this diversity and inclusivity? How inclusive can a nation be, that, unlike Australia, restricts its right of return to Jews and their spouses while ignoring the plight of Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes in 1948 and 1967? What is the relevance of this diversity if the grand narrative of Israel since 1948 is the uninterrupted theft of Palestinian land, a process that actually intensified during the Oslo Peace process of the 1990s and has been guaranteed by the present government? Will you be talking to Israel Jewish anthropologist Jeff Halper of the Committee against House Demolitions about the true purpose of the almost daily demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank? Will you visit Hebron where some 180. 000 Palestinians face constant violence and disruptive military curfews because of the presence of hundreds of Jewish religious settlers protected by the Israeli Defence Force? Are you thinking of visiting the Gaza Strip to see how Palestinians are rebuilding their lives or to listen to their traumatic testimony?

If you speak with Netanyahu and government officials will you solemnly nod and sympathize with the generosity of an offer for a ‘Palestinian state’ that is demilitarized and cannot control its own airspace or external trading relationships, that cannot have East Jerusalem as its capital, and that must recognize and affirm the Jewish character of Israel despite some 20 percent of the population being Palestinian and Bedouin and despite the Jewish character of Israel being the very rationale for refusing Palestinians the right to return to their ancestral lands? Will you be asking discerning questions of Netanyahu’s offer? Please keep me informed of your travels and transform it into something worthwhile, a fact-finding mission, a conversation with Israelis and Palestinians of all political persuasions as conducted by brave journalists such as Antony Loewenstein, a tour of the some 500 military checkpoints that disrupt and degrade the lives of West Bank Palestinians, perhaps then you’ll have your mind opened to the devastating nature of the apartheid system governing the lives of Palestinians like Desmond Tutu, and Jimmy Carter before you. It’s still my hope that you will be mentioned in the same breath as statespeople like these.

On behalf of supporters of Palestinian human-rights everywhere,

Yours sincerely,

Ned Curthoys

Deputy Prime Minister Gillard will meet with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in Washington before heading to Israel where she will meet with President Shimon Peres and Defence Minister Ehud Barak. Organised by the Australia-Israel Cultural Exchange, the visit will also include meetings with the Palestinians in Ramallah.

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