Wednesday, March 12, 2008

12-Mar-08: A tribute to and from Australia

We made our aliyah (going "up" to settle in the historical homeland of our people, Israel) from Australia in 1988. Malki, our only daughter at the time and the youngest of the four children born to us up until that time, was two when we arrived here and made our new home in Jerusalem.

Malki never again left this land and is buried in Jerusalem. Her life, and our hopes, came to an end in a massacre carried out by Hamas who now rule Gaza, and celebrated - literally celebrated - by the neighbours who covet our land, our lives and our achievements.

Australia was a special place to live, and is a wonderful place to be from.

For all the kindnesses with which our children's grandparents were blessed when they arrived in Melbourne in 1950 as refugees from the displaced person's camps in Germany and from the Nazi concentration camps and labour camps before that, we will owe an eternal debt of gratitude.

This is why, with special pleasure, we are reproducing here a speech made today by the prime minister, Kevin Rudd, in the Australian parliament in Canberra.
House of Representatives - 12 March, 2008

Mr RUDD (Griffith—Prime Minister) (11.58 am)—by leave—I move:
That the House:
(1) celebrate and commend the achievements of the State of Israel in the 60 years since its inception; (2) remember with pride and honour the important role which Australia played in the establishment of the State of Israel as both a member state of the United Nations and as an influential voice in the introduction of Resolution 181 which facilitated Israel’s statehood, and as the country which proudly became the first to cast a vote in support of Israel’s creation; (3) acknowledge the unique relationship which exists between Australia and Israel; a bond highlighted by our commitment to the rights and liberty of our citizens and encouragement of cultural diversity; (4) commend the State of Israel’s commitment to democracy, the Rule of Law and pluralism; (5) reiterate Australia’s commitment to Israel’s right to exist and our ongoing support to the peaceful establishment of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue; (6) reiterate Australia’s commitment to the pursuit of peace and stability throughout the Middle East; (7) on this, the 60th Anniversary of Independence of the State of Israel, pledge our friendship, commitment and enduring support to the people of Israel as we celebrate this important occasion together.

Today the parliament of Australia notes the occasion of this year, being the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel. The story of the establishment of the state of Israel begins with the unimaginable tragedy of the Holocaust. At the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem the words of the Australian delegate to the 1938 Evian Conference are recorded. He said that Australia could not encourage refugee immigration because, ‘as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one’.

Thankfully, later in 1938 the Australian government took the decision to admit 15,000 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. But by the time the war began only 6,500 had reached Australia.

By war’s end, six million Jews had been murdered. By war’s end, the international community finally began to look again in earnest at the question of a homeland for the Jewish people. Australia is proud to have played a significant part in the international process that led to the foundation of the state of Israel. Australia’s then Minister for External Affairs, Dr Evatt, was part of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, which recommended in August 1947 the termination of the Mandate for Palestine. And he was chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee meeting on the Palestinian Question that proposed the partition of Palestine. He strongly believed that the fundamental right of self-determination for the Jewish people and for Palestinians could only be achieved by each having their own state.

The resolution that the United Nations adopted in November 1947 reflected that. It proposed the establishment of two independent states—one Arab and one Jewish. And Australia was the first state in the historic vote of the international community on that resolution to cast its vote in support of the modern state of Israel. On 14 May 1948 David Ben-Gurion declared the foundation of the modern state of Israel.
Prime Minister Ben Chifley, too, was closely involved in Australia’s policy towards Israel. In June 1948 he reinforced Evatt’s strong support for a two-state solution when he cabled British Prime Minister Clement Attlee and urged early recognition of Israel, saying that:

Such [a] declaration would properly indicate willingness to agree in principle to the recognition of the Provisional Government of Israel, and at the same time willingness to recognise de facto the Arab authorities in actual control of Arab Sections of Palestine.

On 29 January 1949 he announced that Australia would become one of the first countries to recognise the new state of Israel, describing it as ‘a force of special value in the world community’. As President of the General Assembly ‘Doc’ Evatt then presided over the historic May 1949 vote admitting Israel as the 59th member of the United Nations. On 11 May 1949 the Chifley Labor government opened an embassy in Tel Aviv. Evatt later said that, when working on the question of Israel, he wanted to ensure that the ‘new State of Israel, whose people had in the past done so much for humanity, would be welcomed, not merely formally but with good heart and good conscience’ into the international community.

The 60 years since the establishment of Israel have been full of challenges and full of trials. Similarly, the process for the emergence of a Palestinian state has come along a torturous path. There has been too much bloodshed. But over those 60 years there has also been cause for hope.

We think today of Prime Minister Menachem Begin standing with President Jimmy Carter and Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat, at the White House on March 26 1979 at the signing of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty that followed from the Camp David Accords. Prime Minister Begin used both the Hebrew and Arabic words for peace when he urged: ‘No more war, no more bloodshed, no more bereavement. Peace unto you. Shalom, salaam, forever.’ We can think, too, of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, shaking hands with his lifelong enemy Yasser Arafat on the lawns of the White House on September 13 1993, saying:

We, the soldiers who have returned from battles stained with blood; we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes; we who have attended their funerals and cannot look in the eyes of their parents; we who have come from a land where parents bury their children; we who have fought against you, the Palestinians—we say to you, in a loud and clear voice, enough of blood and tears. Enough!

All peoples of goodwill yearn for that vision to be realised. It has not been realised yet. To borrow again from former Yitzhak Rabin, a man who tragically paid the ultimate price while pursuing peace: ‘The risks of peace are preferable by far to the grim certainties of war’.

We firmly believe the establishment of an independent and economically viable Palestinian state must remain a key objective in the Middle East peace process. This is important for the future. It was important in the vision of 1947. It remains the vision today, just as our objective must be for Israel to exist within secure and internationally recognised boundaries.

Today, we in Australia support the ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority towards a final status agreement by the end of 2008, as launched at the Annapolis Conference in November last year. To support the establishment of a viable and sustainable Palestinian state Australia pledged a $45 million assistance package at the donors conference for the Palestinian territories in Paris on 18 December. Australia remains, as we have in the past, committed to an effective two-state solution.

Over the past 60 years Israel has preserved its robust parliamentary democracy and has built a vibrant society and economy. If anyone wants a dictionary definition of the term ‘robust’ they should spend an afternoon in the Israeli Knesset. That is where you see the definition of ‘robust’ at work. By contrast we are a pack of pussycats in here! Over the past 60 years governments from both sides of politics in Australia have supported our strong relationship with Israel. That relationship is strong and it is deep—and it will remain so.

Because we are both democracies, as democracies sometimes we will agree and sometimes we will disagree. That is in the nature of strong relationships. But the underlying friendship between us does not alter.

Australia offers our congratulations to the government and people of Israel on this the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the modern Israeli state. We acknowledge our special history and relationship and we look forward to its continued strength and development into the future. I commend this motion to the House.
More power to him, to his parliament and to the great nation of Australia.

1 comment:

Julia said...

Here's the text of the main editorial in one of Australia's leading newspapers on the day of Rudd's speech. You might agree that the clarity of it is exemplary.

"An enduring beacon of democracy in a troubled region...
TO recognise the 60th anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel, which falls on May 14, Kevin Rudd will today make a statement to federal parliament offering Australia's continued goodwill and support. Together with the recent marriage of Michael Danby in the first Jewish wedding ceremony in Parliament House, it is a further demonstration of the bipartisan support that exists for Israel. The Australian shares the Government's goodwill towards Israel and supports all efforts for a two-state solution that includes self-determination for Palestine and brings lasting peace to a much-troubled region.

Predictably, today's statement to parliament - the timing of which has been agreed between the Government and the Israeli embassy for the convenience of parliament - has spawned a chorus of dissent from the usual left-wing, anti-Israel suspects. In an advertisement in this newspaper, a group claiming to be informed and concerned Australians has distanced itself from what it says is "a celebration of the triumph of racism and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians since the al-Nakba (Catastrophe) of 1948". The group says Australia and Australians should not give the Israeli people and its leaders the impression that Australia supports them in their dispossession of the Palestinian people.

The sponsors of the advertisement, which include individuals and organisations such as the Australian Friends of Palestine, the militant left-wing Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union and the Socialist Alliance, are entitled to their view. The group expresses what is now fashionable thought in academe, increasingly attracted to victimhood, despite its history of support for Israel. Unfortunately, it offers nothing to further the cause of peace or properly recognise the tragic circumstances that underpinned the creation of the state of Israel in the first place.

Despite frantic efforts by US President George W.Bush to seek a legacy in successfully brokering a settlement between Israel and its neighbours - something that defeated his predecessors, including Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter - recent events have served only to underscore the intractability of the problem. Nowhere has the grotesque nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict been more evident than in the joyful celebrations among Gazan civilians following news that a deranged gunman had killed eight Jewish students - most of them 15 and 16-year-olds - in the library of the Mercay Harav Yeshiva last week. The attack has potentially opened a new front in the conflict, raising the possibility of new restrictions on the movement of Arab residents of East Jerusalem. The attack has also underscored divisions among those claiming to be the Palestinian leadership. The Palestinian Authority, under President Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the attack but Hamas, the Palestinian leadership in the Gaza Strip, praised it. What does it say about Hamas culture that it would promote public celebration at the slaughter of children? One thing is certain: such barbaric displays by Israelis do not accompany news of the murder of Palestinians. The Australian believes Israel has been a force for good in the Middle East while its Arab opponents have, unfortunately, slipped backwards. Political efforts to blame Israel for the misfortune of ordinary Palestinians lack credibility. The fact is, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism has been to the great disadvantage of ordinary Palestinians who find themselves caught in escalating violence led by zealots who have no interest in any settlement that recognises Israel's right to exist. These leaders are prepared to use the suffering of their own people in a propaganda war against Israel in the Western media. The success of this propaganda war can be seen in the support offered in advertisements, such as the one published today.

We reject the view that the Israeli conflict lies at the root of all the problems in the Middle East and is the trigger for the rise of al-Qa'ida and, by extension, terrorist acts such as the 9/11 bombings. In truth, al-Qa'ida had little to say about Israel or Palestine throughout the 1990s. Ironically, the rise of Tehran's regional influence and the appearance of Shia militias have led to an improvement in the relationship between Israel and the Sunni states of the Gulf that are themselves threatened by radical Islam. It is disappointing that no one on the Palestinian side has been able to pick up the opportunities for lasting peace. The fatal obstacle is the fact that neither Hamas nor the Iranian leadership in Tehran that sponsors Hezbollah is interested in anything that recognises Israel's existence. The Palestinian leadership has been unable to pick up the ball passed by Israeli leaders of vision, since 1992 under Yitzhak Rabin and in 2000 under Ehud Barak.

As Greg Sheridan wrote in response to the recent shooting murders, there are four interlocking, plausible reasons why Hamas prefers to perpetuate the suffering of its own people rather than ignore Israel and concentrate on running an independent Palestinian state. It wants to damage Israel internationally, radicalise other Palestinians, ensure Israel's policy of disengagement from the Palestinians fails and serve Hamas's Iranian and Syrian sponsors. We have great sympathy for the Palestinian people who are being used as pawns by those whose power depends upon maintaining a festering sore in relations with Israel. But like the governments in Australia, the US and Britain, we see through attempts to blame the victim, in this case Israel, for the dilemma. Against remarkable odds, Israel has prospered greatly over the past 60 years because of its commitment to democracy and the rule of law, which easily qualifies it for the enduring goodwill and support of friends such as Australia."