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Just Voices #4, The Occupation

Dear AJDS members and supporters,

Welcome to the fourth issue of the AJDS newsletter, Just Voices. This edition is focused on the subject of the Occupation of Palestine. We recently gathered with some of our members and supporters at the annual AJDS dinner, where we were fortunate to have two distinguished speakers – Father Bob Maguire and Rabbi Kim Ettlinger, who discussed the importance of justice and mercy, and what the pursuit of these might look like. Both leaders emphasised the crucial role of action (as opposed to mere talk) in the attempt to further social justice. This approach speaks directly to the plight of both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis subjugated to the Occupation.

What is the Occupation? An ongoing abuse of human rights; an oppressive militarization of home; a diminishing of human relations; a sterilization of so many individual futures of hope. It is also a state of mind. Given the multi-faceted nature of this complex historical force, this newsletter features a range of entries that speak to the Occupation’s all-encompassing nature. The eclectic contributions include a missive by B’Tselem CEO Hagai El-Ad, two poems by Australian-Palestinian writer Micaela Sahhar, a visual essay grappling with the cactus in Israeli and Palestinian art by yours truly, Ann Fink’s review of Samah Sabawi’s play “Tales of a City by the Sea”, and a report by our executive council member Nicole Erlich. We also offer you a report on the film “On the Banks of the Tigris: the Hidden Story of Iraqi Music”, which while not directly related to Palestine, certainly reflects one of the effects of Zionist ideology on a marginal Jewish culture. We also invite you to read the recent interview with AJDS executive member Sivan Barak for Federation Story, here

Editing this edition, I was compelled to start with Mahmoud Darwish. In a poem written just after 1967, he shares a somewhat humanizing vision of the Israeli Other. This is a hopeful portrayal of an encounter and an engagement between a Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli soldier that contravenes the separation of the two men in reality. Darwish redeems his Israeli soldier by depicting his resistance to the oppressive narrative of the Occupation. This is a perpetrator of the Occupation who is aware of his nation’s violence.

We can only hope that such lucidity and fearlessness permeate the future of progressive political activism, especially as we approach another election in Israel that is foreshadowed by some of the most racist and militant actions that country has seen. We send our support to all those toiling under the Occupation, those struggling to recover from the latest military attacks on Gaza and elsewhere, and those struggling to speak of a different way of being in Israel/Palestine.

Keep safe, speak out over the upcoming holidays and be sure to send us your comments, thoughts and contributions!


The Editor
The Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS)

* * *
A Solder Dreams of White Lillies / Mahmoud Darwish

He dreams of white lilies,
an olive branch,
her breasts in evening blossom.
He dreams of a bird, he tells me,
of lemon flowers.
He does not intellectualise about his dream. He understands things as he
senses and smells them.
Homeland for him, he tells me, is to drink my mother's coffee,
to return at nightfall.
I asked him: and the land?
I don't know it, he said.
I don't feel it in my flesh and blood,
as they say in the poems.
Suddenly I saw it
as one sees a grocery store, a street, newspapers.
I asked him, do you love it?
My love is a picnic, he said,
a glass of wine, a love affair.
- Would you die for it?
- No!
All my attachment to the land is no more than a story or a fiery speech!
They taught me to love it, but I never felt it in my heart.
I never knew its roots and branches, or the scent of its grass.
- And what about its love? Did it burn like suns and desire?
He looked straight at me and said: I love it with my gun.
And by unearthing feasts in the garbage of the past
and a deaf-mute idol whose age and meaning are unknown.
He told me about the moment of departure, how his mother
silently wept when they led him to the front,
how her anguished voice gave birth to a new hope in his flesh
that doves might flock through the Ministry of War.
He drew on his cigarette. He said, as if fleeing from a swamp of blood,
I dreamt of white lilies, an olive branch, a bird embracing the dawn in a lemon tree.
- And what did you see?
- I saw what I did:
a blood-red boxthorn.
I blasted them in the sand…in their chests…in their bellies.
- How many did you kill?
- It's impossible to tell. I only got one medal.
Pained, I asked him to tell me about one of the dead.
He shifted in his seat, fiddled with the folded newspaper,
then said, as if breaking into song:
He collapsed like a tent on stones, embracing shattered planets.
His high forehead was crowned with blood. His chest was empty of medals.
He was not a well-trained fighter, but seemed instead to be a peasant, a
worker or a peddler.
Like a tent he collapsed and died, his arms stretched out like dry creek-beds.
When I searched his pockets for a name, I found two photographs, one of his
wife, the other of his daughter.
Did you feel sad? I asked.
Cutting me off, he said, Mahmoud, my friend,
sadness is a white bird that does not come near a battlefield.
Soldiers commit a sin when they feel sad.
I was there like a machine spitting hellfire and death,
turning space into a black bird.
He told me about his first love, and later, about distant streets,
about reactions to the war in the heroic radio and the press.
As he hid a cough in his handkerchief I asked him:
Shall we meet again?
Yes, but in a city far away.
When I filled his fourth glass, I asked jokingly:
Are you off? What about the homeland?
Give me a break, he replied.
I dream of white lilies, streets of song, a house of light.
I need a kind heart, not a bullet.
I need a bright day, not a mad, fascist moment of triumph.
I need a child to cherish a day of laughter, not a weapon of war.
I came to live for rising suns, not to witness their setting.
He said goodbye and went looking for white lilies,
a bird welcoming the dawn on an olive branch.
He understands things only as he senses and smells them.
Homeland for him, he said, is to drink my mother's coffee, to return safely, at nightfall. 

At the AJDS Annual Dinner, 30th November 2014. From left: Kim Ettlinger, Sivan Barak, Bob Maguire, Jordy Silverstein and Max Kaiser.


Performing investigations or investigations as performance?

By Hagai El-Ad

Accountability is at the core of protecting human rights. For, without it, especially during times of war and military conflict, how can one hope for justice? What recourse do we have against abuses of power or violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL)?
This is why so much of the work of the organization I head, B'Tselem, in the occupied Palestinian Territories, focuses on identifying violations, collecting data and testimonies, and bringing them to the attention of the relevant investigative bodies, primarily the IDF Military Advocate General (MAG), in order to achieve what is our moral and professional responsibility, what victims of human rights violations deserve: justice for past abuses, deterrence against future misdeeds. 

Read more here.   


Two poems

By Micaela Sahhar
Policing over the possible, Dagan, I
note down now how you would note
rumours as facts. Surveying a space where
(it was said) the dead (even then) had
no land, as those who still made sound
scooped trenches for an olive grove
whose massive roots heaved like a pod

of whales, beached. I saw the tightness
of their skins on television. Around
the foreign bodies you kept moving (heeding
how a resting shark will drown) This is
a de-construction of facticity you said,
burning objects as like as people
who flock yet, vaporous through prostrated trees.

Continue reading here

Portraying the Occupation in Israeli and Palestinian Art

By Keren Rubinstein
Assam Abu Shakra's cactus
Can art stand up to the Occupation? Is it crude or privileged to turn to art when countless lives are relinquished for political gain? Perhaps. And yet, I wanted to look at Israeli and Palestinian visual portrayals of the ongoing disempowerment, appropriation and violence entailed by the Occupation. Can I group Palestinian and Jewish Israeli artists together in such a way, or is this a contrived and superficial attempt to suture an intractable and violent rift? It has been done before... 

Continue reading here.

Iraqi Music and Peace film finished - support still needed

On the Banks of the Tigris: the hidden story of Iraqi music has just been completed! This feature length documentary shows the human face of Iraqis and their culture – a face that’s missing from most media.
When Majid Shokor escaped from Iraq he discovered that the songs he loved as a child in Baghdad have a surprising hidden history. This film tells the story of Majid’s extraordinary journey around the world to meet the exiled musicians of all faiths who still play and sing these songs today.  They are reunited in a joyful concert at London’s Barbican Centre, where music and culture transcend religion and politics.
A five minute trailer can be viewed at:

Continue reading here

The Same Sea

By Ann Fink
Tales of a City by the Sea was a stunning theatrical experience. It is a many layered love story, set in the Gaza Strip. It is a unique play, written by Samah Sabawi, a Palestinian-Canadian-Australian writer, poet, playwright and political commentator; a wordsmith of great talent. It is a poetic and musical journey into the lives of ordinary people in the besieged Gaza strip prior to, during and after its bombardment in the winter of 2008-9.

Tales of a City by the Sea tells the story of Jumana, (Nicole Chamoun) a Palestinian woman, a journalist who lives in the Shati' (beach) refugee camp in Gaza and Rami, an American born Palestinian doctor and activist who arrives on the first ‘Free Gaza’ boats in 2008. It is a story of impossible love, crossing cultural as well as national boundaries, intertwined with the parallel tale of Jumana’s cousin, Lama (Emily Coupe).

Continue reading here

Lobbying for a Just Peace for Israelis and Palestinians

By Nicole Erlich

In my role as executive member of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) I joined a delegation in the last week of November to speak to Federal politicians about the dire and volatile situation in Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories.
Over two days, we conversed with 35 MPs from major and minor parties who varied in their understanding and perspectives on the best way forward. Our discussions included briefings on the recent escalation of violence in Jerusalem, rapidly expanding settlements, and the desperate need of people in Gaza.  We also discussed our fears of the implementation of the recently announced Jewish nation-state bill, which would erode Israel’s claim as a democracy by denying non-Jewish minorities in Israel any collective rights. 

Continue reading here.
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