Ms LEY (Farrer) (19:45): I rise today to remind the parliament that in June it was 50 years since the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War. The conflict that empowered the state of Israel but began 50 years of occupation of Palestinian land is seen from very different points of view. I recognise and respect the viewpoint of many Jewish people whose ancestors and families have been persecuted for their race and faith. I know that they see in this war the Israeli’s state’s defence of its position as a place of refuge and as symbol that the rest of the world understands Jewish history.
As someone with a longstanding affinity for the Palestinians, including co-chairing this parliament’s friendship group over many years, I wish to highlight the Palestinian perspective. The 1967 war led to eventual peace with Egypt and Jordan, but it never brought Israel full acceptance from its neighbours. Taking stock at this half-century mark, we can see that both sides have been scarred by violence, failed negotiations and a peace process that seems to be all process but no peace. The disputes over Jerusalem and its holy sites, the separation wall dividing West Bank communities, the blockades and resistance of the Gaza Strip and Israel’s provocative settlement-building program are all obstacles to peace
The miracle that is Israel’s start-up nation with its high-tech industries spanning the globe and the vibrant society and culture it has created on the shores of the Mediterranean astonishes every visitor. When sitting in the bustling cafes of Tel Aviv, it’s easy to forget that the Palestinians even exist. There are roads into the West Bank on which only Israelis can travel. As you look across the landscape from settlements high on the hills in occupied territory, you see no evidence whatsoever of the Palestinian indigenous occupants. The richness of Israel makes the misery of Palestinians all the more troubling.
In his piece ‘I fought for a better Israel than this’, Israeli soldier and journalist Hirsh Goodman said:
We saved our nation, but the occupation has cost us dearly in the long run.
For 50 years, I have watched … as successive Israeli governments failedto leverage this victory into lasting peace, as Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank eroded the country morally, democratically and in the esteem of the international community.
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My children … have been forced into the role of occupiers contrary to the values we hold at home. My oldest son was inducted into the army about a year into the first intifada.
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His unit’s precise goal was to enforce the occupation: arrest … suspects” in the middle of the night … enforce curfews … telling young kids they can’t play soccer in the street because they posed a security threat; man roadblocks and turn away the sick because they did not have the right permits.
He did his duty as was expected of him, but almost the day after shedding his uniform he slammed the door on the country of his birth. He moved abroad and has not returned. … “I’ll never forgive the country for what it made me do,” he said simply.
The Palestinians’ armed struggle has been for the most part a failure. The PLO’s terrorism in the 70s together with modern-day corruption in many of its institutions have done very little to help its cause.
But think not of the leadership; think of the people. Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea half the residents or more live as either second-class citizens or noncitizens because they are Palestinian. In the West Bank a third of the Palestinian population is under 14. Less than five per cent would remember a time without Israeli occupation. Any visit to the Occupied Territories is confronting. I remember visiting the child I sponsored at his broken-down school in Bethlehem next to a shiny, bright settler school and seeing the rebellion in his eyes. I heard of another boy sentenced to six months in prison: one month for every stone he threw, though none of them hit anyone.
Peace has not come. Every generation of Palestinian refugees in the Arab world will grow up with resentment and hatred in their hearts. Every generation of Israelis will put on the uniform and prepare to fight. But, as Yehuda Shaul of the RDF veterans organisation Breaking the Silence commented to me, ‘The occupation is damaging our minds.’ The Yom Kippur War cost Israel over 2,600 killed and some 10,000 wounded—a tremendous price for a small country. More have been killed since on both sides in military action and suicide bombings.
The grief of both Jewish and Palestinian families will paralyse generations if a way forward cannot be found. Palestinians are both Christian and Muslim and, before all this happened, lived peacefully beside their Jewish neighbours. I ask for this parliament to take a quiet moment of prayer or reflection to remember and recognise people of all faiths who live in Palestine today.