One of the saddest constants of our lives is the ongoing situation in Palestine.
I turned 36 earlier this month and from a very young age – in fact, for as long as I can remember – I have been watching, listening to and reading about the very sad plight of our Palestinian brothers and sisters.
Of course, it’s a situation which indeed is a lot older than I am and one which many Australian Muslims probably don’t have a great understanding of.
Over the past year or so, I have written a number of articles about some wonderful Palestinian Australians – Dalya Ayoub, Adam Bujairami and Ramia Abdo Sultan are all inspirational figures with amazing stories to tell.
As many of you would be aware, I host a weekly radio program called “Let’s Talk” on The Voice Of Islam and last month at the height of Israel’s most recent relentless, one-sided onslaught on the people of Palestine, co-host Ahmad Hraichie and I interviewed Sr Ramia about the current situation in Palestine and what we can do to help.
Much of what she told us was very raw and very eye-opening.
Ramia Abdo Sultan is a much admired and respected figure within the Australian Muslim Community.
Born and raised in Australia and of very proud Palestinian/Lebanese heritage, the prominent Sydney lawyer is also the Community Relations Advisor to the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC) and as the first female appointed to ANIC, Ramia is definitely a trail blazer, doing some fantastic work behind the scenes and putting countless hours into the role on a voluntary basis.
Ramia is also a member of the executive committee of the Gaza Childrens’ Fund, a non-profit humanitarian organisation which seeks to help and empower women and children in Gaza, while she also sits on other committees seeking to impart positive change including an advisory committee with the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Ramia began our radio chat by acknowledging the traditional owners of Australia (the Indigenous people) and by paying respect to their elders, pointing out that we should use these words in our future conversations about Palestine as if we want to stand up for justice in Palestine, we have to do it in our own backyards, as well.
She went on to highlight some terms that we need to use in terms of community discussions about Palestine:
- OCCUPYING FORCE: Israel – Palestine is not a conflict between two equal powers. There is an Occupier and there is an oppressed party.
- APARTHEID: we need to use this term in our community as it is the policy of separation that the Israeli government is using over the Palestinian people. It is incorrect to blame all Jewish people (Yahud).
- STATE-SANCTIONED TERRORISTS: the Israeli army and police are terrorists who are endorsed by the Israeli government against minorities who don’t have that power.
- FORCED EVICTIONS and SETTLEMENTS: so just as Australia is considered a settlement where the Indigenous have been displaced, this has also happened and continues to happen in Palestine.
- ETHNIC CLEANSING: Israel is ethnically cleansing the original people of the land of Palestine and has been doing so for 73 years.
Every year on May 15, Nakba Day is commemorated – the Palestinian Catastrophe.
But it’s not really a commemoration as by definition, the word ‘commemoration’ means a remembrance of something (either bad or good) which occurred in the past.
YES – May 15, 1948 was the original Nakba, when Israel entered Palestine by force and massacred/evicted hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
Yet here we are now some 73 years later and there is a Nakba occurring in Palestine each day, as the disproportionate level of force being used by the Occupier Israel against innocent civilians and especially children still happens every day.
And it’s not just the killing.
The way Israel continues to steal Palestinian land and for Jewish people to come from outside and reside on Palestinian land – it’s not only illegal but there are also matters of humiliation and dehumanisation to consider.
Even visitors from overseas can be detained at a checkpoint for hours, being asked the same questions over and over again by Israeli officials, dehumanising and humiliating the traveller, so he or she won’t want to visit there again.
But Palestinians in Jerusalem keep assuring visitors: “please keep visiting us – keep us in your dua and keep supporting us!”
“please keep visiting us – keep us in your dua and keep supporting us!”
It is also important that we build on our knowledge of the Al-aqsa district as this whole area is sacred.
This whole area of Jerusalem is regarded as an extremely sacred place by the three Abrahamic faiths, not just Muslims.
This is literally the Holy Land and it’s always been a point of contention among the three faiths so it is critical that we go on a tour and understand the history of these places, if the opportunity arises.
What we in Australia don’t realise is that the 250-300 thousand Palestinians who were expelled or fled in terror in 1948 now have several hundreds of thousands of descendants who are also refugees so there are indeed several generations of Palestinian refugees born into camps etc. who are fighting for the right to go back to Palestine.
Take for example Palestinian refugees in Syrian camps, being forced to flee their own country initially and then later being forced to leave Syria when its own problems escalated. How would you like being thrown out of home, time and time again?
All Palestinians want is to return home but Israel will not allow them the right to do so, contravening international law time and time again.
Ramia also points out that Palestine used to be the hub of the middle east, with educated and articulate people in a wealthy country.
So when the invasion and massacre took place, not only were their homes taken but also the home owners’ valuables – money, jewellery and other priceless heirlooms.
Many Israeli settlers built their wealth and their power on the back of displaced Palestinians and the sad irony is that while Palestinians welcomed displaced Jews after World War II, now they are being oppressed by the people they helped.
Ramia believes there should be a subject in our school curriculum devoted entirely to what has happened and is still happening over there as when we talk Islamic history, Palestine should be the centre of all conversations.
We have to plant the seeds early so our kids can connect with what is going on in our Holy Land of Palestine.
A very important point to note is that when it comes to Palestinian refugees, there is a vicious cycle which is been created where these people have no nationality.
No right to citizenship and several other basic rights.
In some countries Palestinians cannot own anything in their own name, which is very humiliating.
On the positive side, Palestinians remain the most resilient, resolute and optimistic people whose desire to protect their homeland is unwavering.
But their situation isn’t helped by the Governments of countries like Australia, with prime minister Scott Morrison recently stating after the bombing of the Al Jazeera building in Gaza City either arrogantly or ignorantly (or both) that Israelis have the right to defend themselves. Against WHAT!!
As for the Superpower countries, and indeed the United Nations, they keep proposing solutions but nothing ever happens.
Ramia recommends the following list of suggestions that we as Australian Muslims should not only consider, but follow up where possible:
- There has to be some form of action. We cannot continue to just be reactive and only do something when backed into a corner.
2. Make dua.
3. As far as these protests going on in Australia are concerned, they are well meaning but we must realise that there is more to change than just by going to a protest and waving a flag. So keep attending these rallies by all means but also consider the other points as well.
4. Consistent advocacy and lobbying by contacting your state and federal MPs. And if you’re not good at this yourself, at least support the organisations which are.
5. Raising awareness among those around you in the community.
With regards to what we say on social media about the Palestinian situation, of course we do have a right to speak out.
It is NOT anti-semitic to call out Israel for what they are doing in Palestine.
Nevertheless, our social media accounts are being censored/limited/blocked when we speak out, and to think this is even being done to charity groups trying to raise funds for Palestine is a disgrace.
The government is being quiet, the media is being quiet (even outlets like the ABC and SBS who traditionally provide a lot of information about Palestine are playing it very safe as they have probably been threatened about what to say and what not to say).
And this is why social media is so important. It is a very powerful tool and the responsibility has been shifted to us.
So we need to educate ourselves on how we can support one another and push influencers to potentially put the word out there far more widely.
Social media is no longer just about posting.
JERUSALEM AND THE WEST BANK
To get an idea of what life is like for Palestinians in Jerusalem and on the West Bank right now, Ramia recommends that you watch a short movie called The Present.
As an example, you may be stopped at several checkpoints just when you’re on your way to purchase an item such as a refrigerator, and this is so humiliating. Even going to work can be a mission where you may be turned back home for no good reason.
Of course, there are unlawful killings and excessive use of force and much of this force is against women and young children.
The percentage of children imprisoned is quite staggering and be mindful that Palestinian civilians are tried by a military Court, not under a standard civilian system.
So the conditions in Palestine are humiliating and dehumanising.
An example of humiliation and dehumanising that Ramia and her husband Forat witnessed with their own eyes on a visit to Palestine in 2016 was a 14-year-old schoolgirl on her way to school being physically stomped on by Israeli soldiers.
This just shows that there is no freedom of movement, no security or no safety – and the blessing of safety is something that we very much take for granted here in Australia.
PALESTINIANS IN GAZA
Gaza is so tiny that you can do a tour of the entire area in less than two hours, yet there are 2 million people squeezed into living there.
All of the residents of Gaza are refugees so Gaza is a massive refugee camp and this has always been the plan of the Occupiers.
38% of residents in Gaza are living under the poverty line and 75% of those living in Gaza are receiving humanitarian aid.
There is an air, land and sea blockade on the region. For example, help cannot be sent by ship and the people are forced to purchase most of their goods from Israel which makes the cost of living extremely high.
In terms of water supply, water resources are drying up rapidly in Gaza but as previously mentioned, the Palestinians are extremely resilient so are coming up with their own ideas re desalination and other watering systems.
THE IMPORTANCE OF AL-AQSA
Al-aqsa is so important in our deen as it was the location of the first qibla, so after Mecca and Medina it is one of the most important sites.
Also, Al-aqsa carries great reward and there are many hadiths which recommend it to us. The importance of visiting Al-aqsa after visiting the holy sites of Mecca and Medina is immense.
Above all else, Al-aqsa was also the site where our beautiful Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) ascended into the heavens and was presented with the gift of prayer and salat.
The Palestinians locally are so hospitable and welcoming and when it comes to asking them what you can do for them, there are three things: (a) keep visiting and never stop visiting; (b) keep them in your Dua; and (c) for the Ummah to fix itself up.
Palestinians keep saying that Masjid Al-aqsa is “the thermometer of the Ummah”.
As a result of the most recent bloodshed, 256 Palestinians, including 66 children, were killed. In Israel, 13 people were killed, including two children.
The Gaza Ministry of Health reported that more than 1,900 Palestinians were injured, and as of May 12, Israel reported at least 200 injured Israelis.
But both media as well as humanitarian aid are restricted from entering into Gaza so how are we ever going to get an accurate figure of the death toll or the full extent of the damage?
Ramia points out that one of our biggest failings is that we view the Palestinian people as numbers and data when we need to view them as people.
We need to start putting a face and a name to our brothers and sisters. In one example, during the most recent bombings, seven members of the one family were killed including a bride waiting for Eid to be married.
If we don’t feel for REAL people like these, it shows that we are becoming desensitised.
The innocence of every child in Palestine is stripped away from them by the Occupiers because of what they see on a daily basis in terms of devastation.
Children as young as 10 are being faced with the real possibility of raising a family of orphan children whose parents have been killed. This is almost beyond our comprehension.
The children of Gaza have never seen anything of what we consider as normal in their entire lives.
WHAT IS REQUIRED
What would obviously be a great start would be for the Palestinian people to be able to live with the same level of rights as any Israeli person.
And of course the right to return home.
For US, be proactive, don’t just be a bystander.
Donating money and protesting is great but as mentioned previously in this article, there are many other ways we can all help.
The momentum is here so let’s build on it.
And remember this.
We are all going to be questioned on the day of judgement exactly what we did to help.
The answer will come from our hearts and lip service won’t protect us anymore.
GOD BLESS PALESTINE – LONG LIVE PALESTINE