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Just Voices #6, July 2015 - Restricted Mobility

Freedom of movement is a basic human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and assumed as a basic logic in liberal models of democracies and Nation States. Many of us in the Jewish community in Australia have grown up listening to the stories of our parents, grandparents and relatives, about surviving the terrors of Nazi occupation in Europe, antisemitic violence in Russia, or entrapment by post fascist communist regimes in Europe, in which leaving the country was restricted.  We are familiar with the story of the S.S St Louis, which set sail from Germany in 1939 carrying 900 Jews and ultimately returned to Germany after being refused entry to a number of countries.

These days freedom of movement is something that we often take for granted, at least within the borders of Australia and the countries we travel to.  If there was an outpost within the city of Melbourne which restricted us from travelling throughout the city or from relocating to another city, town or state, we would be outraged. Freedom of movement within a country is regarded as an unquestionable right. However, when we extend the rights of freedom of movement to a countries’ borders, the logic and rationale start to become questioned. Australia's right to exercise sovereign jurisdiction over who enters is assumed. It is interesting to note that while control over borders is treated as a static reality, often accompanied by strict border protection policies, borders are a man-made concept and have in fact constantly been realigned and forged, only to shift throughout history.

When we take advantage of our freedom of movement, both within Nation States and between them, we find that this basic right is not something afforded to everyone. This issue of Just Voices is dedicated to the right of freedom of movement. In this edition we examine the way that freedom of movement relates to various contemporary issues.

Last Pesach, the AJDS was very privileged to host a presentation by renowned journalist for Ha’aretz, Amira Hass. With motives of the exodus and freedom evoked by the festival of Passover, Hass talked about the policies of the State of Israel that are antithetical to these themes. She discussed the ways that Israel’s agenda has increasingly seen the bantustanisation of Palestine and the West Bank, imposing great restrictions not only on the freedom of movement for Palestinian, but on the capacity and viability to assert Palestinian self-determination. Her talk is brought to you in this issue.

Just days before Hass delivered her presentation, on April 1st, it was confirmed that Yarmouk, a refugee camp in Syria which was previously home to some 160,000-200,000 Palestinians, had been overrun by ISIS and Syrian rebel factions. Ban Ki-moon described the situation as the “deepest circle of hell,” with severe and brutal killings and human rights violations. The refugees in Yarmouk had, and to this day continue to have nowhere to go. Hass pointed out that despite some diplomatic efforts on the part of Palestinian authorities to extricate Yarmouk refugees into Palestine, the limitations of not being afforded recognition as a nation state made this impossible. Were Palestine to have the rights afforded to other nation states, they could have facilitated the safe passage of refugees into Palestine.

The Israeli Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, which has quasi-constitutional status, declares that "there shall be no deprivation or restriction of the liberty of a person by imprisonment, arrest, extradition or otherwise;" that "all persons are free to leave Israel"; and that "every Israeli national has the right of entry into Israel from abroad." However, restriction of movement has been a growing tenet of the project of Zionism, under the pretence that such a policy protects the security of the State of Israel and its citizens. 

Gisha, the Israeli Legal Center for Freedom of Movement works to protect and advocate for freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially in Gaza. They reveal a very different reality to the above legislation. According to Gisha the intent behind the separation policy which has seen Gaza under siege for seven years is the prevention of movement between Gaza and the West Bank, suspecting that people from Gaza may remain in the West Bank.  Gisha also highlight the ways that the restriction of the human right of freedom of movement has resulted in additional basic rights being violated, including the right to life, the right to access medical care, the right to education, the right to livelihood, the right to family unity and the right to freedom of religion. 

Furthermore, the separation of the West Bank from Gaza has resulted in severe economic disadvantage, thus limiting the viability of Palestinian self-determination. According to the World Bank, free access between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is a necessary condition for the integrity of a Palestinian economy. Gisha released this report on the economic repercussions of limiting access between the occupied Palestinian territories.  

Another policy used by Israel is exile. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and Bedouins have been transferred and exiled since the establishment of the State of Israel, many of whom have been forcibly moved to Gaza. Currently the Israeli government is building infrastructure and taking steps to see the development of the area East of Jerusalem known as the E1 area. This plan, first instigated in 1994, involves the forced relocation of up to 7,000 Palestinian Bedouins in order to join Jerusalem with the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumin. Owing to international political pressure and local resistance, the plan has been postponed for some 20 years, until recent renewed interest in the project in a climate of increased right wing and occupation politics. 
The AJDS will be initiating a campaign in coming weeks to stop the E1 development plans and forced removals of Palestinians, stay tuned for more details.
Recent events in Australia have called into question the freedom of movement both across the countries’ borders and within. Protests have erupted at Australia’s offshore detention centres, in Manus Island and Nauru, in the face of appalling conditions and unethical treatment of asylum seekers. As we write this edition of Just Voices, the federal government is seeking to enact the Border Force Act, which could see immigration detention centre workers jailed for up to two years for whistleblowing. They are also pushing legislation for the unprecedented use of force in detention centres.

The ugly reality of the ways in which Australia treats its asylum seekers calls into question its broader policy on migration and refugees. Despite being a begrudging signatory to the International UN Refugee Convention, Australia constantly breaches the rights of asylum seekers and in reality accepts very few refugees within a narrative that we are protecting our borders and providing adequate resettlement of refugees; a common theme amongst the countries of the global North. In reality, the majority of refugees are settled in neighbouring developing countries, which begs the question, how much of the “burden” do we actually share?  And the even more poignant question, how much of the “burden” do we actually create, through participation in a globalised system in which richer countries can extract resources from poorer countries, but remain immune to the language of burdening.

Still, there is the issue of border security, of people smugglers and the righteous task of stopping deaths at sea. When Australian border security actually pays these very people smugglers we supposedly wish to deter to return asylum seekers back to Indonesia from Australian waters, the legitimacy of these concerns is called into question. People smugglers exist because the strict quota restrictions on refugee intake by Australia and other, so-called developed countries, prevents access to the international human right of seeking asylum.  Deaths at sea happen (putting aside political lies about throwing children overboard and character questioning the swarms of illegals and criminals heading for our shores) when people have nowhere to turn to protect themselves and their families, but to head to a country that sings: “For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share.”

What would you do?
Furthermore, it is hard to miss the irony in a country obsessed with turning back boats when its very foundation lies the moment boats landed with English convicts, and began an illegal occupation, resulting in acts of genocide committed against the Indigenous nations that occupied these lands.

This genocide, while often seen as a thing of the past, if at all acknowledged, is something that continues to inform the political paradigm in Australia. The forced closure of remote Aboriginal communities is a poignant example of this. Whilst many in Australia take for granted the freedom of movement to live and reside where we wish, the proposal to shut down around 150 remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia exemplifies that this right is not privileged to everyone. More info here.  

(Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that (1) a citizen of a state in which that citizen is present has the liberty to travel, reside in, and/or work in any part of the state where one pleases within the limits of respect for the liberty and rights of others, and (2) a citizen also has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country at any time.)

And lastly, later this month the Australian Labor Party will hold its triennial conference, in which it will also consider a motion to include concrete steps towards a just peace in Israel/Palestine. To discuss what these steps might look like, the AJDS will be holding a panel event at the conference's Fringe Event, together with APAN (Australia Palestine Advocacy Network). You can put pressure on the ALP to update their polities in the lead up to this event, by writing to members of parliament that demands proper recognition of injustice, and real solutions for a better future for all.

Stay in touch and take care,

Yael Winikoff, AJDS Community Organiser


The AJDS stall at In One Voice Jewish culture festival, 15 March 2015


Images from Rally Against Racism, Melbourne, 4 April 2015.

The bantustanisation of Palestine and Jewish Israeli dissidence

By Amira Hass, with an introduction by Jordy Silverstein

My name is Jordy Silverstein, I am one of the members of the executive of the AJDS, who’s hosting tonight. I want to start by acknowledging that we’re on the land of the Boonwurrung and Wurundjeri peoples of the Kulin Nation, and to pay our respects to elders past and present. And we say that not just as lip service and not just because that’s the thing one says, but in order to take it seriously and think seriously about what that means to be walking on stolen land and to be living on stolen land, think about the ways that we perpetuate colonisation or ways in which we continue to use colonisation, how we benefit from it and what our responsibility is as people living on this land to really think about that in our everyday lives, not just on a particular moment when we hear an acknowledgement.

And also because we’re here of course to hear Amira Hass to learn more about Israel/Palestine, it’s important, I think, to think about connections between far off lands and the land on which we walk. We pay our respects.

Read the remaining introduction and Amira Hass' talk here

Speaking out against bigotry

AJDS member Linda Briskman and her friend Susie Latham, through the newly formed Voices Against Bigotry network (VAB), are raising awareness of the forthcoming launch of an anti-Muslim political party – The Australian Liberty Alliance (ALA).

With increasing community vitriol against Muslims in Australia, government and media actions are fuelling verbal and physical attacks.  Although overtly Islamophobic groups such as Reclaim Australia receive publicity, it is institutionalised racism that is VAB’s concern. Through generating fear of Muslim ‘values’ and Muslim  ‘terrorists’,  governments reap populist support for raids on Muslim households, arrests with scant evidence and proposals to introduce draconian laws, including erasure of citizenship, at one time unthinkable in this country. In collusion, powerful newspaper outlets fuel this propaganda war. The Australian last month relentlessly published what it said was ‘an open-minded but unflinching series of articles analysing Muslim Australia’.

The ALA adopts policies enshrined in the anti-Muslim Q Society’s document: ‘12 practical steps to stop Islamisation’. Among its targets are mosques, Islamic schools, Muslim migration and Halal food.

Disturbingly, notorious anti-Muslim crusader politician, Geert Wilders, will be the guest of honour at ALA’s October launch in Perth.

Linda and Susie call on community members to sign up to the declaration that condemns vilification of Muslims. This can be found at

Behind the wall: two glimpses at how Palestinians are being pushed from their land

By David Rothfield

My recent, two day visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) included a déjà-vu experience, visiting a site that I first visited in 1978, the site where Jewish settlers had then just established the colony of Shilo. The settlement was named after a biblical site nearby and it overlooked a broad and fertile valley of the same name. In 1978, I traveled there with many hundreds of Peace Now activists to protest the establishment of this Jewish colony in a thriving agricultural area in the heart of Palestinian territory. Not only was Shilo considered illegal under international law, it was a blatant provocation to the Palestinians, designed to challenge their hold on the land and to dispossess Palestinian farmers.

In April of this year I returned to the Shilo Valley accompanied by a small team of Israelis and Palestinians associated with Machsom Watch and Yesh Din. Today, Shilo is just one of a string of 16 settlements that have since surrounded the Shilo valley. Most of them are officially regarded as illegal outposts, even by Israel. My hosts brought me to the Palestinian village of Turmus Ayya, one of four villages in the valley whose land has been invaded by encroaching Jewish settlement.

Continue reading here

Featured members of the AJDS

I asked two of our members, Liz Brumer and Leon Midalia, to answer 10 questions that were compiled as a way of introducing ourselves to one another. But I was also wondering about the importance of representing different kinds of Jewishness, the evolution of the AJDS, the current political atmosphere in Australia and the continuing restrictions on human mobility here and elsewhere. Read Liz Brumer and Leon Midalia's answers here.

You too can take part in this impromptu survey by clicking here. Your answers will be anonymous.

The Racism Panel and how to continue to challenge racism

At the beginning of June 2015 the AJDS held a panel on racism at Temple Beth Israel.  With increasing expressions of racism in recent years, from the forced closures of Aboriginal communities in Western Australia, continual policing of Australian borders and the violence entangled in the structure of detention centres, the rise of Islamophobia and antisemitism, and the development of more extreme right wing fascist elements both within political platforms and on the streets, the AJDS executive felt it was important to have discussions on racism and to tackle these issues.

The panel featured Linda Briskman, Professor of human rights and long standing AJDS member; Samia Khatun, historian of colonised peoples and author on Australian race relations; Crystal McKinnon, Amangu woman researching Indigenous resistance to oppression through the use of creative arts; Micaela Sahhar, Australian-Palestinian writer, poet and researcher on Israeli national narratives and its impact; and Mohamad Tabbaa, PhD candidate in Criminology and Law who has worked within the Muslim community in Melbourne.

Read more.

On (not) pursuing justice

By Mohamad Tabaa. Originally published here.

Last night I was on a panel discussing racism and activism, organised by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society who were generous enough to host the panel of five.

Held at a synagogue with a broad range of speakers, the panel was the first of its kind for me and raised a number of questions about the potentials and struggles of strategic alliances and networking across various groups. Some excellent questions were posed from the audience on this particular topic, which were both challenging and encouraging; challenging because the questions are difficult to address and require much sensitivity given they are discussing interactions amongst various groups experiencing (sometimes different forms of) racism; and encouraging because — particularly from my engagement with Muslim politics in this country — it symbolises a fresher politics that is unsatisfied with the insufficiency of Australian Muslim politics to date, and dares to imagine new directions.

I’ve been pondering this question of inter-group engagements for a little while now: after more than 10 years of working closely with various Muslim groups in Victoria, and especially after my resignation from the ICV last year, I can’t help but feel that for the most part, Muslim groups here are not very committed to a universal cause of justice. We need to look elsewhere.

Continue reading here

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