What follows is a transcript of a speech given by Randa Abdel-Fattah at Parliament House in Sydney, on the occassion of the 40th Anniversary of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine. It is reprinted with the author’s permission.
For forty years of illegal occupation, for 59 years of dispossession, Palestinians have wondered why they are deemed undeserving of the basic, raw, universal rights afforded to those in countries whose leaders self-righteously determine the fate of Palestinian nationhood. Palestinians have historically had to struggle to simply reassert before the eyes of the world this simple fact – that they are a people, with a history and a cultural identity.
And when I say this, I say it from my Australian-born position and my position as the daughter of a Palestinian. I say it from my privileged opportunity to stand in a Western house of parliament that belongs to a country that was one of the bare, cowardly few who joined Israel and the US in opposition to a General Assembly resolution demanding that Israel comply with the legal obligations contained in the 2004 judgment of the International Court of Justice, a judgment that ruled the Wall to be illegal.
I can only make sense of the general apathy, the distorted media representations, the twisted logic of blaming the victim and appeasing the aggressor, the awards proudly received by high-profile journalists and politicians to honour their support of a country that practices apartheid, by confronting a crude, and regrettably obvious fact: power dictates who will have access to human rights. The West’s self-serving proclamations about representing the antidote to terrorism, being the vessel by which human rights, freedom and dignity are delivered and the champion of democracy and liberalism are suspended when it comes to freeing Palestine of an illegal and deplorable occupation.
Our people’s struggle for freedom is often presented by the media and some of our politicians in the language of ‘isms’ – ‘terrorism’, ‘extremism’, ‘fanaticism’, ‘radicalism’. A four-letter suffix capable of systematic dehumanization and delegitimisation of a people’s struggle for liberation. Even today our national paper, The Australian, featured the following headline, ‘Six Days and 40 years since Israel asserted itself.’ Asserted itself?!!!
Right and wrong are relative terms in this world and that is why we have the United Nations and international law. But as long as the US and Israel redefine right and wrong, the United Nations remains impotent.
For forty years of illegal occupation Palestinians have had to comfort their millions of refugees with the knowledge that international law recognises their right to return home. They have clothed themselves with the countless UN resolutions affirming that right. As Israel pours concrete over the olive groves, demolishes homes for more illegal settlements, builds Israeli-only bypass roads, and constructs a Wall that crashes and snakes its way over stolen land, the dispossessed and displaced warm their hands over the burning ashes of UN resolutions and property deeds.
Illegal occupation, the right of return and the Apartheid Wall. They are inextricably linked. Peace will not come with accords, road maps and agreements that skirt around the fact that there is an occupation and it is illegal.
If we are to retain any semblance of international law and order we must remove the illegality and reposition international law as judge and jury, not the foreign policy of the US or, for that matter, Australia.
You do not rely on an occupier to write the rules. Those rules should be accountable to the international community and its laws embodied in the United Nations. The objectivity has been corrupted and that is why what we idealise as universal human rights, available in principle to each and every human being, are subjectively, selectively handed out.
The fact is that the approach has defied logic. The facts on the ground, the settlements on stolen land, the bulldozing of houses, the collective punishment, the more than 500 checkpoints in the West Bank, the discriminatory permit system, the segregated roads, the monstrous Wall- these are all monuments to the occupation. The off-spring of a state conceived over the rights and land of another people. Of a state that has superimposed itself over a homeland.
We cannot remember al-Nakba without addressing the unresolved problem of the refugees expelled from their lands in 1948. The expulsions and transfers have never stopped and al-Nakba is being constantly perpetuated.
The occupation must end, the settlements over stolen land must be dismantled, the Wall removed, the refugees’ rights to return or be compensated be upheld for people in the current diaspora. The Jewish Law of Return allows any Jew born anywhere in the world the right to live in Palestine because of an exodus that occurred 2000 years ago and yet the right of return of people expelled in 1948 is deemed impractical.
Israel demands Palestinians recognise its right to exist. No more evident is the fact that this recognition is demanded unilaterally than in the construction of the Wall. That Israel does not recognise Palestinians is evidenced in both the physical presence of the Wall and the culture of dispossession, humiliation and segregation that it represents.
Four times the size of the Berlin Wall, stretching 650 kilometres in length and towering 8 metres high, it has cut off Palestinians from their land, their families, their villages, their livelihood. It has had a devastating impact on freedom of movement, employment opportunities, the economy and the social fabric of Palestinian life. That it is for security has been unequivocally exposed as a farce. It snakes through Palestinian land, separating Palestinian from Palestinian. Even humouring the so-called security excuse, we see the distorted logic being applied yet again: security being achieved through oppression and humiliation.
The common thread, from 1948 until today, is that Israel seeks to achieve its objectives outside the framework of international law. That is why the standards are fluid; they shift and sink because there is no accountability. And all this from a state that is touted as a shining beacon of democracy in the Middle East .
The Palestinian people are not making spurious claims carved from folk tales or delusions about their link to their land. Many of them still remember the day they were kicked out of their homes and still hold the actual door keys to their stolen houses. Their right to self-determination, to have the continuing injustice redressed, have been recognised by international law.
Peace means different things to different people and where there is relativity there is the danger that might becomes right; that humanity descends into chaos and cruelty; that forty years of occupation are allowed to go on as leaders define peace without an over-riding standard that holds them to account. We should be championing respect for international law which, if we allow ourselves any credit, aspires to recognise both people’s intrinsic humanity and equal right to live with independence and freedom. If the rule of law is restored, a just peace will follow.
It is a certainty that the occupation will end one day, perhaps years from now. One day Israel will tire of caging an entire people. One day it will decide enough, and it will happen so quickly we will pinch ourselves that it is true, like a band aid ripped off a wound. But what then? What is the legacy it leaves behind? The blood might have dried, but the wound will have scarred. For the body can be beaten, the belly can be starved, the fields can be destroyed, the houses can be demolished, the fruit can rot at the road blocks, but the memory cannot be erased.
Peace will come with time. Reconciliation will come with time. But that time can never start to run until international law is respected and obeyed.
some readings from Randa’s books:
“Does My Head Look Big In This?” and “Ten Things I Hate About Me”
“I have seen a house demolition. I can still smell it. The dust from the rubble was so thick it climbed from the earth like the vapour and mist of a cold winter’s morning. It ribboned out of the debris and twirled around my body, the Angel of Death’s breath blistering my skin, its grayish steam seeping up into my nostrils. The earth moaned that day. It did not want the bulldozer to wrench its guts. Abo Ziyad’s house fought bravely. The house had not expected that the Angel of Death would blow its horn so soon. Not after Abo Ziyad had built the second floor for his son and new daughter-in-law. Not after Um Ziyad had furnished the upper floor with new purple couches (too bold a colour the neighbours lamented) and hand-made lavender drapes. But the bulldozer kept smashing into it; battering it, killing it.
It attacked with conscientious ferocity, like a mugger kicking away at a victim’s face, head, neck and ribs to undo identity and impose anonymity. Kick. Smash. Kick again. The bulldozer did not know or care that Um Ziyad had cut her finger under the sewing machine as she made the drapes. The bulldozer did not know or care that Abo Ziyad had fussed and fretted over the second-floor plans to ensure that his daughter-in-law would feel welcomed and honoured. The bulldozer did not know except to sniff the earth for prey and then to pounce and attack, its claws and blades slashing in an excitable frenzy. The bulldozer came back for more, craving the taste of the house’s blood. It attacked until the house started to bleed internally. I saw it from across the road, as I clinged to Baba’s arms. I saw the house try to stay upright, for Abo Ziyad’s sake, for Um Ziyad’s sake. But the prey had been detected and death was the only result. The frames let out a piercing scream for mercy and all of Palestine heard its rib cage splayed open, a carcass in a heap on the earth, ready to rot and fester like meat left under the open sky. Wooden frames, walls, steel pipes, kitchen cupboards, bathroom vanities, pieces of furniture, blocks of cement− the limbs and internal organs lay strewn around the corpse. The bulldozer kept going, like an eagle picking the flesh off a dead rabbit. Fall, fall, fall, FALL DOWN the bulldozer screamed. Glass shattered, concrete smacked the earth, the house’s guts lay on the ground, defeated, anguished, and we all cried into our pillows that night because there was nothing we could do. There was nothing we could do and we hated our helplessness more than we hated that bulldozer.”
Copyright (c) Randa Abdel-Fattah 2007
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“I received a letter from you last year. It was the colour of mustard and smelt of gasoline. It rode the wind, gliding through the dusty sky without a care in the world. It dangled on a piece of iron protruding from the side of our house. Dangled for a moment and then decided to drop, sweeping its way down onto the ground. I saw it as I stood in front of my home, my face itchy from salty tears. Your planes flew overhead, buzzing and roaring like gigantic killer bees searching for pollen. On the ground, the tanks rolled in; like giant, merciless beasts they rolled over cars and upturned sidewalks. Over the sound of Abo Faris’ house being demolished, over the sound of crushing bricks, cars, stone and cement, over the sound of ancient streets disappearing into anonymity, Mama still managed to scream loud enough at me to come inside. Before I rushed into her frantic arms I saw your leaflet on the floor. I swept down and grabbed it.
It was signed by you, the State of Israel. It was written in Arabic and I must say that for a Hebrew speaking people your command of masculine and feminine grammatical rules was impressive. I still have trouble with my conjugation assignments.
The wind blew your letter to my home in Bethlehem. I wondered who you were addressing. Were you addressing the people of the villages of Umm Salumuna and Wadi Annis, villages south of Bethlehem? Villages whose land was razed to make a footprint for construction of your Wall? Down with their olive trees. Down with their fruit trees. Down with their almond trees. Down, crush, down. Excavate the mounds of dirt with your imagination. Bulldoze the ground with your hands until your fingernails are caked in grime. Dig the earth with your eyes and you will exhume a village that once had some homes and some streets and some lives.
Was your letter addressing the people of the village of Nu’mann? Even though they can hear a muezzin calling the faithful for prayer in East Jerusalem, and the bells tolling in the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Wall has isolated and cut them off. The sounds echo over their purgatory. Non-residents are not allowed in. Those who leave in the morning to shop for food and go to work struggle through the checkpoints to return in the evening. Were these the people you intended would heed the warnings in your letter?
The letter in which you addressed me as an Arab and warned me to evacuate my village as you intended on razing it so that you could construct a wall. An enormous, serpentine wall that slices through my land and builds peace with concrete, electric fencing, watchtowers and barbed wire. Whilst I do consider myself to be an Arab for future correspondence purposes I would like to make one small request. I would rather you address me as a Palestinian.
For that is who I am. I am also fourteen years old and I have decided to reply.”