I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic
I’ve been asked to post a transcript of the speeches given by Karel Solomon and Fiona Byrne at the presentation to Marrickville Council of a letter of support from Desmond Tutu. So here it is:
[Opens with an Acknowledgement of Country and greeting for Marrickville councillors present, including Cathy Peters, Peter Olive, deputy mayor Sam Iskander, Mary O’Sulllivan, Dimitri Thanos]
This particular issue obviously bubbled away for a long long time here at council and it’s interesting times yet again that we live in. So I’ll hand over to Karel Solomon who is a local resident but was also for a long time an anti-apartheid activist and has been the facilitator, really, of tonight’s celebration.
Thanks very much everybody for coming. I’d also like to acknowledge the Aboriginal people of Australia and [… sound lost]
But tonight we are here to support Fiona and those councillors who took a brave stand, who supported the Palestinian people. As someone who suffered under apartheid, it is also clear that what exists in Israel today is apartheid, make no mistake about that. I want to give you a definition of apartheid as laid out by the UN.
The crime of apartheid is defined by the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as ‘an inhuman act of character similar to other crimes against humanity committed in the context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime’. On November 30th 1973 the UN General Assembly opened for signature and ratification the international convention for the suppression and punishment of the crime of apartheid. It defined the crime of apartheid as ‘an inhuman act committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppresses them’. If that’s not Israel, I don’t know what is.
Now people were forcibly removed from their homes and dumped into refugee camps based on one criterion and one criterion alone, and that was their race. In South Africa, we were moved from our houses into some faraway places because we were born coloured. If you were into a certain race you were discriminated again. And that’s an accident of birth and that’s why apartheid is so bad. You don’t choose to be born how you’re born. you’re born Palestinian, you’re born Jewish, you’re born black, you’re born white. You don’t say, I want to be born Israeli or something. So, when such action was taken against black people in white South Africa it was part of a policy. When blacks were told you can’t stay there, you can’t buy this land, it was because of apartheid. So when the Palestinian people get told you can’t live somewhere or you can’t buy this land, certainly it’s the same criteria that we must use.
So when people talk about Israel, and even some people that I know that support the Palestinians, they get a bit hesitant when we use this dreaded apartheid word. And that’s why South Africans that fought in the anti-apartheid struggle take it upon ourselves as a duty to highlight where apartheid exists today in the world. We feel morally obliged. So I’d just like to read to you this letter, and I don’t think it’s just Tutu that would be supporting your councillors, there are millions of other people out there who are supporting you too.
Thank you, Karel, for giving us a bit of an insight into your homeland’s experience of what it is to live under those kind of oppressions and the violation of human rights that we all need to be aware of and active in opposing.
I think I want to repeat something that Archbishop Tutu said, and it is very humbling to receive a letter like this at Marrickville Council, because it’s not easy to do what’s right, but we try to do what is right rather than what it easy. The decision by Council to choose who we do business with on a day-to-day basis is something that is taken into account whenever we do business with someone, and that’s what we were trying to do here. But also we were trying to actually say that when we do business with someone we need and want to know that they are ethical and sustainable in the way that they are creating whatever we are buying from them.
The letter itself is an affirmation for our community members who have been working on this issue and who have been trying to raise awareness of the plight of the Palestinians and so while Council has been give this letter, I think this is a letter for all our community members who have been working on this for quite some time, and I hope it gives them the strength and courage to continue to work within the local community, advocating on this issue.
I guess the other thing is the validation of knowing that we’re not alone in the BDS campaign is an important one as well. This is a grassroots global campaign. Sometimes you might think this is a bit of an oxymoron but this is exactly what this is – the BDS campaign is about working from the grassroots level to put pressure on the Israeli government to comply with international humanitarian law. And if we here at Marrickville council have managed to raise that awareness and hopefully bring more people on board to support the campaign then that’s really important.
I’ve told some of you that one of the recent experiences that I’ve had – I went to a 100th birthday celebration for a local resident here in Marrickville and as I was leaving her great-grandson-in-law came up and shook my hand and said that he just wanted to say good on you for what you’ve been doing around the Israel and Palestine issue, and that it had raised awareness in the broader community. He said, ‘my mates and I down at Maroubra Seals talk about the Palestinian people all the time now’. And I thought wow, if this middle-aged ocker Australian is down at his local club talking about the plight of the Palestinian people, then we are actually managing to get out there and raise awareness, and I hope that is the thing that has come out of what Marrickville council has done.
The other thing that I did want to say, and it comes back to what Karel was talking about in apartheid South Africa. I’m very proud of the fact that during the struggle in South Africa there were eight department store workers in Dublin who went on strike for two years for the right not to deal with goods from apartheid South Africa, and they were vilified and given an absolute shillacking in the media but they held their ground and for two and a half years they were on strike. But Nelson Mandela talked about the hope that that brought to those who were struggling in South Africa at the time, to get some acknowledgement in the global community around their situation.
So for me, I hope that hearing about what Marrickville council tried to do, tried to implement, if that goes back to our sister city community in Bethlehem and the broader Palestinian community then hopefully that brings them hope that they are actually being acknowledged in the broader global community and they do have support. So, again, it’s extremely humbling for Marrickville Council to receive a letter from Archbishop Desmond Tutu and I really do want to thank Karel for his facilitation of this, because while we can we have to do the right thing. Every local community is part of the global community and hopefully people can take strength from what we’ve done here and keep moving forward so that we do end up with justice for Palestine.