Don’t Mention The War In Wentworth: Dr Peter Slezak


The furore over the Morrison government’s ‘riffing’ on moving Australia’s embassy in Israel has distracted from the even greater crimes being perpetrated against Palestinians. Dr Peter Slezak explains.

Despite the storm of local and international condemnation, Prime Minister Morrison’s willingness to consider moving Australia’s Israel embassy to Jerusalem is a significant public relations win in the larger political scheme of things. Whether or not the harshest criticisms of the proposal are warranted, the furore over the embassy issue has been a successful sleight-of-hand, diverting attention from the most urgent and important political issues in regard to Jerusalem in particular, and the Israel/Palestine conflict in general.

It is undeniable that arguments in favour of the embassy move have a superficial plausibility when seen in isolation, but the larger picture has been removed from the agenda. The overall effect of the embassy controversy has been to narcotise the public and commentators.

The most dramatic illustration of this opiate effect was seen at the public forum for candidates in the Wentworth by-election on Tuesday October 16th, hosted by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. Given the context and the audience, the event was astonishing not for what was said and widely reported but for what was not mentioned and not reported at all.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

In the heart of the Jewish community which has an intense interest and deep involvement with Israel, it is remarkable that the question of Israel including the matter of Jerusalem was hardly raised at all. Apart from a few perfunctory, bland remarks by the candidates and barely a question or two from the audience, there was no mention of any of the intensely controversial matters concerning Israel.

The words “settlement” or “occupation” were not uttered. Israel’s recent enactment of “Nation State Law” was not mentioned despite recent world-wide condemnation, notably by US Congresswoman Betty McCollum, who declared, “The world has a name for the form of government that is codified in the Nation State Law – it is called apartheid.”

As a life-long resident of the Wentworth electorate, and as one of the 12.5% Jewish constituents, I dutifully attended the forum which had an air of unreality as if occurring on a different planet. One need not hold a partisan view to find the neglect of questions concerning Israel extraordinary and revealing.

Equally revealing is the neglect of these issues in the voluminous mainstream public discourse. The explanation is not far to seek when one looks at the “facts on the ground” that are unmentionable in polite company. These facts may be discovered in Israel’s daily Ha’aretz newspaper and in reports by human rights organizations notably including Israel’s own B’Tselem, Adalah and ICAHD, as well as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Defence of Children International (DCI).

Claims that moving our embassy to West Jerusalem would not affect “final status” issues are simply disingenuous in view of Israeli policy that an undivided Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel. It is in this context that the contemplated move would not only flout international convention but normalize the erasure of the 1967 Green Line separating Israel proper from occupied East Jerusalem, the future capital of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.

Arguably more serious than merely affirming de facto realities as proponents of the move have argued, unmentioned is the overwhelming problem standardly referred to (New York Times, Dec. 20, 1996) as the “Judaizing” of Jerusalem, the fact that there are now around 200,000 illegal Jewish settlers in occupied East Jerusalem.

This take-over of Palestinian Jerusalem is occurring amid regular house demolitions, evictions and cancellations of Palestinian residency permits. Within the walls of the Old City itself, the encroachment of Jewish settlers is accompanied by a pervasive and menacing military presence.

East Jerusalem, Palestine, which remains under Israeli occupation. (IMAGE: Chris Graham, New Matilda)

Also destroying hope for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem is the fact that it has been surrounded by illegal Jewish settlement blocs and, therefore, effectively cut off from the rest of the West Bank making it impossible to serve as the capital of an independent Palestinian state.

The prospect of a Palestinian state itself has been all but destroyed by Israeli settlements, infrastructure, Jewish-only roads, roadblocks and the presence of 600,000 settlers who are all illegal according to international law. Palestinians are now confined in disconnected enclaves constituting perhaps 30% of the West Bank, with no real independence under a brutal military occupation.

Regular lip service to a 2-State solution by politicians and apologists of the Israel Lobby cannot be reconciled with a fact that the charter of the governing Israeli Likud Party explicitly rejects any Palestinian state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Remarkable for its absence from public discussion in the recent intense attention to Israel is the ongoing Gaza border violence. This appears on the verge of escalating following ominous Israel threats, although the immense number of dead and injured are almost entirely Palestinians.

Already around 200 unarmed Palestinians have been shot dead, including minors, journalists and paramedics. Thousands have been injured with live ammunition. Meanwhile, Gaza is on the brink of total collapse due to the crushing blockade which is a violation of international law, and predicted to make the enclave entirely unliveable within the next year or so.

More than 200 Gazan protestors have been shot dead by Israel during the ongoing Right to Return protests.

Also evidently not worthy of attention in media and public commentary, on average two children are shot dead each week in the West Bank since the year 2000, according to NGO Defence of Children International (DCI). Altogether there have been around 8,000 unarmed civilians shot dead in that period. Other statistics convey something of the circumstances that have received no attention in commentary on Israel.

There have been around 50,000 Palestinian houses demolished since 1967 according to the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). Also eliciting no comment in mainstream media or commentary, UN figures report that Palestinian’s have inadequate access to their own water in West Bank aquifers because it is diverted to illegal Jewish settlements.

The foregoing litany prompts reflection on the nature of ideological bias and thought control in our liberal democracy with a free press. Justified outrage about Morrison’s cynical and ill-advised proposal about moving Australia’s embassy has the effect of diverting immense time, energy and passion from the larger picture of violations of human rights and international law, making us bear some indirect responsibility for the immense cruelty and injustice.

Dr Peter Slezak is an Associate Professor in Philosophy within the School of Humanities & Languages, at the University of New South Wales.