Don’t Mention The Wall: Mike Baird Is Sponsoring An Illegal Israeli Occupation

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The NSW Premier’s recent trip to Israel has simply served to strengthen an illegal occupation, writes Kristen Zornada.

Selling your electorate on your investment in oppression is going to require some social media savvy. Perhaps this is why the NSW Liberal party agreed to pay for Premier Mike Baird’s social media advisor to accompany him on a trade delegation to Israel earlier this month.

The official purpose of the trade mission was to create partnerships between NSW and Israel on medicinal cannabis, cyber security and innovation, but also included a trip by the Premier to the West Bank.

The West Bank has been under illegal Israeli occupation since 1967, notwithstanding repeated calls from the UN directing Israel to vacate the Palestinian territories. The Premier did not mention the occupation, though posted a photograph to Facebook of him gazing out over a Palestinian landscape.

The Premier followed up with a photo of his meeting with Bethlehem mayor Vera Baboun. His accompanying Facebook post described Ms Baboun as a “fierce advocate” for her community who was seeking to solve some “very complex problems”. But he did not elaborate on the nature of those problems.

Mike Baird meets the Mayor of Bethlehem, Vera Baboun during his recent trip to Israel.
Mike Baird meets the Mayor of Bethlehem, Vera Baboun during his recent trip to Israel.

Vera Baboun has previously explained the problem: “We are a strangulated city, with no room for expansion due to the settlements and the wall”.

Bethlehem is encircled by illegal Israel settlements. Under international law, it is illegal for an occupying power to transfer its own population to occupied territory. Yet that is exactly what Israel has done by building and expanding settlements like those in Bethlehem.

The Israeli separation barrier, which was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004, runs through the Bethlehem district for 60 kilometres, carving up the land into economically unviable archipelagos. Once a vibrant city where, for thousands of years, Christians, Jews and Muslims came together to trade and worship alongside one other, Bethlehem is now economically depressed.

About 27 per cent of Bethlehem’s population is unemployed and its communities are forcibly segregated from each other by the illegal settlements, unlawful separation barrier and military checkpoints.

Bethlehem is also home to the Aida camp, which has housed generations of Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes since the nakba, catastrophe, in 1948.

The Premier visited Aida and called the situation there “nothing short of heartbreaking”. The post featured a photo of Premier Baird staring at the separation barrier, the relevant section covered with graffiti depicting Israeli soldiers gripping a blindfolded Palestinian man and accompanied by the English writing, “we can’t live, so we wait for death”.

Yet the Premier did not mention the wall or the occupation. Instead, only that Australian aid is “doing great work in helping these kids”.

Aid money is not the only way Australian taxpayer funds are being used in Israel-Palestine. The NSW Government has confirmed that while in Israel, the Premier signed an agreement committing NSW and Israel to invest $2 million into co-operative start-up and innovation projects, including those focused on “agribusiness and water management”.

Israel’s current agribusiness projects include its settlements in the Jordan Valley, where Israel provides settlers with land, water infrastructure, resources, and financial incentives to encourage the growth of agricultural settlements, while confiscating Palestinian land, forcibly displacing Palestinians, restricting their freedom of movement, and precluding them from building in all but about one per cent of the area of the West Bank.

In addition, Israel knows about water management because it controls nearly 80 per cent of the water in the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians with four times less water than Israelis.

Mickae-Baird-Israel-1

To make up the shortfall, Palestinians are forced to buy their own water back from Israel, which Israel sells to Palestinians at a price several times what it charges its illegal settlers, and allows illegal settlers’ sewage to flow into Palestinian areas, which remain dry and arid, while settlers enjoy lush green lawns, swimming pools, and six times more drinking water than Palestinians.

Settlement businesses contribute directly to Israel’s violation of the rights of Palestinians, and many NGOs, like Human Rights Watch, urge states to withhold funding to the Israeli government.

Moreover, the BDS movement – which is gaining global momentum – calls for the boycott of Israeli businesses, products and institutions that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights, with the objective of ending the occupation.

In addition, the UN Human Rights Council recently resolved to create a “blacklist” database of all businesses operating in Israel’s illegal settlements.

Essentially, the rest of the world realises that Israeli occupation is a bad product and refuses to buy in where Premier Baird sold out.

In NSW, taxpayers have experienced first-hand how the Premier’s underdeveloped thoughts can have real consequences.

Sydneysiders have refused to accept the consequences of lockout laws and many have organised in protest. Likewise NSW taxpayers should refuse to accept that their tax dollars are being used to perpetuate the cruel oppression of the Palestinians.

Keeping Palestinians oppressed so they remain profitable is a coward punch, so Premier Baird, where’s Israel’s lockout?

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Kristen Zornada

Kristen Zornada is an Australian lawyer with a masters in international human rights law and humanitarian law from Harvard.

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