The Guardian • Issue #2092

Palestine: Australia joins Western cruelty

Rally For Palestine, Dunedin, NZ, November 2023.

Rally For Palestine, Dunedin, NZ, November 2023. Photo: Mark McGuire – (CC BY 3.0 NZ)

The news that the Australian government decided to cancel visas for Palestinian refugees, effectively leaving them stateless, shows what kind of cruelty the West, including countries like ours, is capable of inflicting on Palestinians. Not only are Western countries in lockstep with Israel’s military, Western countries are putting their geostrategic position above humanitarian needs of Palestinians.

VISA CANCELLATION HEARTBREAKING

The situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate, with 31,500, dead and reports that 1 in 3 children under the age of 2 are suffering from severe malnourishment. In the midst of this came the heartbreaking news that the Australian government cancelled Australian visitor visas for Palestinians while they were en route from Gaza to Australia.

The General Delegation of Palestine to Australia, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and the Pacific drew attention to the fact that individuals and families had just escaped the Rafah crossing and “unimaginable horrors in Gaza,” only to find themselves stranded in transit countries, with nowhere to go. The General Delegation issued a statement urgently calling on Australian authorities to reconsider this decision.

After an outcry from ALP members and the public, some of the cancelled visas were reissued. One man who is now stranded at Istanbul airport remains in limbo. ABC news reports that it’s “not known how many visas had been cancelled, or how many have now been reinstated.”

This kind of cruelty from Australian government is a pattern (think Robodebt). This government needs to be held to account.

Our government’s heartlessness to refugees is nothing new. Our governments like to spruik the so-called “multicultural” policy and the virtue of the home minority idea, yet at the same time laying waste to any hope of peace and multipolarity in the majority world system. They create the conditions for mass migration and refugee crises, supporting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and supporting Israel’s genocidal attacks on Palestine, and do nothing to fix those crises, except making feel-good statements about multiculturalism in its Western form. Australian governments have consistently shown zero intent to build an equitable expression of nations and cultures in the global majority. It’s a form of geopolitical racism, of collective imperial chauvinism.

If Western countries are truly multicultural, they need to support a multipolar world, and serve world peace and settlement of disputes between cultures and nations in the developing world.

UNRWA DISGRACE

UNRWA funding should never have been cut, but the recent decision to restore it is welcome and necessary. UNRWA needs this funding to provide relief now.

As former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has noted that Australia has damaged its “already tainted” reputation by blindly following the United States in pausing UNRWA funding. Varoufakis drew an interesting line through history: from Iraq to Afghanistan to Palestine (and we could add Syria). Varoufakis is right: our own lack of sovereignty, our own weakness and inability to stand up to the United States, has become a danger to the world.

Penny Wong needs to be up front with the Australian people. Australia is financing Israeli weaponry while cutting aid and refusing refugees. It’s an old conundrum made obvious at the time of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: Australia first plays its sub-imperial role in the collective West by sending weapons and troops, fighting wars and introducing all manner of instability across the Middle East, then it refuses refugees from the region, and withdraws aid.

The cycle needs to stop at the source: rather than funding violent imperial wars, an Australian government needs to fund relief, and stand for humanity. We need to get away from US domination and capitalism, the root causes of those wars.

COLLECTIVE WEST MUST STEP AWAY

A poll from Arab News has indicated that 80 per cent of Palestinians trusted China and Russia to strike a deal in Palestine-Israel peace talks. In the wake of China’s success resolving conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and given Russia’s staunch defence of Syrian sovereignty during the devastating Civil War, Palestinian people know who’s on their side in the region. Palestinians are confident that Russia and China present a different attitude to international relations, and offer new potential. They know Russia and China are not interested in fanning the flames of conflict, division, and colour revolution as the West does in the Levant and the Middle East.

China and Russia also know very well that wiping Israel off the map is not an option. At present, Israel will not accept “unification under Palestine,” and Palestine will certainly not accept “unification under Israel.” A two-state solution is the only achievable option, and it requires urgent international support. A stable Palestinian state can only emerge if nationalist and progressive forces within Palestine are given an expanded capacity to govern.

Further, achieving a two-state solution is possible only if the West steps back and moves away from the negotiation process, allowing other voices in. China’s position on international relations in recent years has been made very clear: it seeks a shared future for humankind. This is not just a slogan, but a philosophy of international relations that is bearing fruit in reality. Russian negotiations with PLO forces are also promising.

CULTURAL CONSEQUENCES

Not only have at least 31,500 Palestinians been killed, mosques, churches, libraries and children’s theatres are also being destroyed (see Guardian #2089, 04/03/2024 for more on ‘cultural genocide’).

Among the worst elements of this genocide is the destruction of culture. Nur Masalha, in Palestine: a Four Thousand Year History, explores Palestine from the standpoint of its intangible ancient heritage – Palestine not just as a modern country, but rather a place and a people with an ancient history that brings together civilisations from across the region into a unique Palestinian identity.

Genocides and wars destroy cultures and histories. No matter what the US-led West may say to the contrary, it opposes a political resolution because it has no interest in protecting the diversity of cultures and civilisations around the world. Palestinian people require a path to self-determination and basic sovereignty, cultural sovereignty, established on the ground of statehood.

WHAT THEN MUST BE DONE?

We need a principled government.

The Australian government needs to stop being a puppet of the US regime and pluck up the courage to stand for Palestine and permanent ceasefire. Australia needs to stop arms sales to Israel. Palestine self-determination and regional stability is an absolute necessity, not Western bullying, not Western coercion.

The government could begin by standing up for the Australian people. We deserve a principled and humane government, but that’s not what we have. To establish diplomatic ground for a political resolution we need to drive a wedge between Australia and the West and establish an independent foreign policy. We have the ability to stand on the side of historical progress and humanity, to stand with the third world, with developing countries, to take a stand against war, meddling, cultural destruction, and imperialism.

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