I speak today in support of the motion of the member for Fowler in solidarity with the people of Palestine. Until a number of years ago, I was blissfully unaware of the intricacies of what was going on in that part of the world. I would see the news reports that were coming through about issues in Gaza and the West Bank and would not really take much notice. But, after spending eight days in the West Bank, you cannot unsee what you see. What I saw during those eight days were a people who are under military rule, who are suppressed and who have no rights. In some ways, where it’s espoused that they do have rights, they don’t have rights. Under the Palestinian Authority, which has control over the major cities in the West Bank, the Israeli army can come and go as it pleases under whatever circumstances it wishes.
The debate in this place sometimes becomes, ‘Are you for or against it?’ and, if you’re for Palestine, somehow you’re supposed to be anti-Semitic. I’d like to think that I’ve been around long enough for people to know that I’m not a radical in any event. But when I see an injustice, it needs to be called out. I ask people, ‘How would you manage if you had a business that relied on water supply, like a brewery, but for days on end the water supply gets cut off, because it’s not under your control?’ The electricity supply can be cut off for days on end, because it’s not under your control. You can go away for a weekend and come back and find that someone has moved into your home, and, when you call the police, they arrest you—not the people that are in your home. I saw that with my own eyes in Hebron, where the centre of the town had been overtaken illegally by settlers.
I saw settlements. The image of some temporary buildings on top of a hill in the West Bank does not describe the settlements. There are 620,000 Israelis living illegally in the West Bank. These are cities with shopping centres, swimming pools, movie theatres and substantial, solid homes. These are permanent settlements. The access to the settlements is on roads that only Israeli citizens can use, not Palestinians. How would you like to live in a land where not only is your access cut off by roads that you’re not allowed to use but, at times during the year, military activities mean certain parts of your country are no-go zones? How would you like to be a farmer and know that all the lowlands and the Jericho valley, the highly productive lands, have been taken from your control and you have to eke out a living on a bare, bony ridge?
The policy of the Australian people and our government is to look to a two-state solution. I think that we’re beyond that. I think we have a level of apartheid, with a suppressed people, and the West Bank has been cut up to such an extent that I don’t know how that would work. As the member for Calwell says, I think it’s going to require a lot of effort from the world to actually come up with a solution that’s relevant to now. One of the most tragic things I saw was interviews with university students in Bethlehem; realistically, their future was very bleak.
As the member for Calwell did, I would like to recognise one of my constituents—the mayor of Coonamble, in western New South Wales, Al Karanouh. Al’s family were from Jaffa and in 1948 were moved out, initially to Lebanon and then to the four corners of the globe. He has relatives living all over the globe. One of his family members still carries the key to the house in Jaffa around their neck, as a permanent reminder of what they have lost. Al turned up in Coonamble with basically the clothes on his back. He built a successful business, became the mayor and is driving that community with the same passion as Palestinians are all over the globe. I support the Palestinian people. The globe needs to act. World leaders need to act.