The failure of the Green Party parliamentary motion to recognise the state of Palestine says more about the Labour government than the predictable reaction of National and Act which opposed the motion for spurious reasons. Labour should have taken this step as soon as Nanaia Mahuta had her feet under the table.
Two days ago I sent this message to Act Party deputy Brooke Van Velden:
Kia ora Brooke,
I read online that you are objecting to a parliamentary motion which recognises Palestine as a state because you have been told the saying “From the river to the sea – Palestine will be free” is used by Hamas and was used also by a Green Party MP on Saturday.
This is NOT a Hamas slogan. It is used in demonstrations the world over because Israel now occupies and/or controls ALL of historic Palestine (one of the longest occupations in modern history) and the saying simply says that every Palestinian living between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea deserves their freedom – something I’m sure you will agree with.
It’s also important to note that Hamas itself supports a two-state solution based on 1967 borders – as does New Zealand, the US and most other countries we like to compare ourselves with.
There is a lot of misinformation deliberately spread by the pro-Israeli lobby here and around the world to derail pressure on Israel. Please don’t be dissuaded from supporting this motion by mischievous misinformation.
Please support the proposed parliamentary motion.
When Nanaia Mahuta was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs late last year there were hopes for a change in government thinking towards the struggles of indigenous people. The minister encouraged this by saying she hoped to bring her experience and cultural identity as an indigenous woman to her role on international issues.
Palestine, West Papua and Western Sahara are places where the indigenous people are struggling for freedom and human rights and early on there was hope she might have New Zealand join the 138 member states of the United Nations which recognise Palestine.
However the hope faded and after more than six months of silence Nanaia Mahuta finally spoke out in a tweet and a short media release. In the context of the rising tension and outbreaks of violence she said she was “deeply concerned” about the deteriorating situation in Jerusalem and Gaza. She called for a “rapid de-escalation” from Israel and Palestinians, for Israel to “cease demolitions and evictions” and for “both sides to halt steps which undermine prospects for a two-state solution”.
Speaking with reporters later she said she didn’t want to apportion blame and in a further statement on Thursday said New Zealand officials had raised with the Israeli ambassador Israel’s “continued violation of international law and forced evictions occurring in East Jerusalem.”
Mahuta is speaking as though there was some kind of political or military equality between Israel and Palestinians. But there isn’t. In reality it means the minister is appeasing the highly militarised state of Israel, with which we have extensive bilateral relations, against a largely defenceless indigenous Palestinian population which lives under Israeli occupation and/or control.
She is addressing only the symptoms of the problem. The rockets fired from Gaza are a micro issue. The heart of the problem is that for the last 53 years Israel has run what the Nobel Peace Prize winning organisation Human Rights Watch as called “crimes of apartheid and persecution” against Palestinians. Their detailed 213 page report on Israel’s systematic abuses of Palestinians across the entire area of historic Palestine was released earlier this year.
The problem showed up in Israeli plans to remove Palestinians from homes in the occupied East Jerusalem suburb of Sheikh Jarrah and replace them with Jewish settlers (“occupied” refers to Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, illegal under international law, following its capture by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war)
Such forced removals have been a routine practice by Israel both during and since it was formed in 1948.
With tensions rising Israel then mounted an extraordinary brutal attack on Muslims worshippers, as they were praying, in the Al Aqsa mosque in occupied East Jerusalem. This mosque is the third holiest site for Muslims and was seen around the world as an outrage against all of Islam.
From there the Hamas leadership in Gaza, after issuing an ultimatum to Israel to withdraw their troops from Al Aqsa, began firing rockets into Israel which has responded with heavy bombing of the densely populated Gaza strip.
I have a T-shirt which says “The first casualty of war is truth, the rest are mostly civilians” and so it has been this past week with Palestinians bearing the brunt of casualties with many dozens killed, including at least 10 children.
Despite all this, anyone reading the minister’s comments would think both sides are equally to blame when the problem lies with Israel’s denial of human rights to Palestinians over as many decades as the issue has remained unresolved.
So what should a small country at the bottom of the world do to influence events in the Middle East? How can we possibly hope to make a difference?
The answer is simple. New Zealand should implement its existing policy on the Middle East and give it some teeth.
It is a policy based on respect for international law and United Nations resolutions. These should be at the heart of our response and direct what we say, how we say it and what we do.
This means the government should:
- Demand an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land (UN Security Council resolution 242)
- Demand the right of return for Palestinian refugees expelled by Israeli militias (UN General Assembly resolution 194 – reaffirmed every year since 1949)
- Demand the end of the more than 65 laws discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel (These are illegal under the crime of apartheid as defined by the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court)
- Demand Israel stop building Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land (UN Security Council resolution 2334 which was co-sponsored by New Zealand under John Key’s National government) These settlements are illegal under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Initially Israel will take not a blind bit of notice and these calls will need to be followed by escalating sanctions such as the steps we took against apartheid South Africa with its racist policies towards black South Africans.
Instead, Nanaia Mahuta is still tiptoeing meekly (unlike her stance on China or Myanmar) around the issue – apparently afraid to call Israel to account for fear of a false smear of anti-semitism which many in the pro-Israeli lobby spray around like confetti on social media at anyone who condemns Israeli actions or calls for international sanctions against Israel.
It’s time for the minister to speak up unequivocally for Palestinian human rights and bring Aotearoa New Zealand onto the right side of history.
It’s important to say what the end point here must be.
Israel has buried any two-state solution under illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land so the outcome can only be a single, secular, democratic state where all ethnicities and religions are protected in a democratic constitution where everyone has equal rights.
Of course Israel will object because it prefers what Israeli human rights group B’Tselem calls “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea”. Israel’s arguments mirror those of the Smith Regime in Rhodesia and the apartheid regime in South Africa.
International pressure was an important factor in removing those racist regimes and it will be important in forcing democratic change in Israel as well.