Australian “Sorry”and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict revisited

News of Kevin Rudd’s historic apology to the Stolen Generation has reached the Middle East. In Al-Ahram, a Cairo based Arabic daily newspaper author Shahira Samy praises the Labour government for its apology to indigenous Australians. This piece, written with the backdrop of the Arab-Israeli conflict made me wonder what might be achieved if Israel was to take a momentous first step and admit liability for the refugee problem just as Kevin Rudd has in regards of the Stolen Generation. Reading the article authored by Samy, “When Australia said Sorry” made me realise that peace in the Middle East hinges on symbolic gestures as much as it does on land allocation. Recognition of the right of Israel to exist, which has been extended by the Palestinians and some Middle East Governments, is just such a gesture. In return, the Israeli’s have not offered any similar gesture failing to even recognise the dispossession of the Palestinians or suffering it has caused in the sixty years of its existence. This is not surprising as Israel was founded on a myth that “Palestine was a land without a people, for a people without a land”. The millions of Palestinian refugees and years of bloodshed have proven the fallacy of this peice of Zionist propaganda. (Let it be said also that the same Rudd government that has been widely commended for extending an apology to indigenous Australians failed to recognise the plight of the Palestinians when on Wednesday 12 March, 2008 it congratulated Israel for reaching its sixty year anniversary. The unfortunate irony of this has been pointed out by Jumana in an earlier posting and by Alan Ramsay in, “Don’t Mention the War” 8 March, 2008.)

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is but one example of how much progress is possible when people are willing to make symbolic gestures that express their contrition and seek forgiveness. All Australians fortunate enough to feel the positive force of the Rudd Government’s apology (on behalf of the Australian people), and the acceptance of the apology by indigneous Australians, understand very clearly that symbolic gestures have the power to heal. Conversely without such symbolism very little progress is possible. In both examples mentioned here, much is still left to resolve. South Africa’s people have many bridges to still cross before the legacies of Apartheid are erased. Australia, in a similar way, must make a huge effort to tackle the structural poverty and the concomitant social problems experienced throughout many of Australia’s indigenous communities. But, in both cases the essential first step of admitting the policies of the past were racist, oppressive and unjust was made and the struggle to acheive a more tolerant and harmonious future is being undertaken. The Israelis and Palestinians would both acheive much just by just saying sorry.  

It seems to me then that the first crucial step in promoting peace in the region depends on genuine statements of the recognition of the humanity of the other side. I believe that the initial gesture must come from the Israeli’s who must accept that the act of dispossessing the Palestinians has created the problem of “two people for one land”. What is possible from that point on is conjecture, but just as in the case of South Africa and in Australia the recognition that past wrongs were committed and that land was taken from its original owners has led to accommodation and cooperation and efforts aimed at constructing a more tolerant and mutually beneficial future. Such statements do not necessarily lead to the repossession of lands taken from the original owners. In both South Africa and Australia the redistribution of wealth or property has not eventuated. A statement of contrition, and acceptance of blame, has no bearing on land but is a moral issue of the highest order and a crucial initial step towards building a lasting peace in the region.

The Middle East has accommodated difference for hundreds of years and there is nothing that pre-determines that this should not occur again. I await a historic gesture from the Israeli’s that recognises the tragic past and accepting blame for the wrongs committed as the crucial moment that divides a past marked by conflict between Israeli’s and Arabs with a future of dialogue leading to peace. Without this gesture, I fear that the future will remain unchanged and both Israeli’s and Palestinians will continue to live in fear and hatred of each of other.

Noah Bassil

15 Responses to Australian “Sorry”and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict revisited

  1. Emanuel Appel says:

    Israel has nothing to say “sorry “about.

    It is the Arabs who attacked Israel in 1948 after the UN decreed a partition of the land which Israel accepted and the arabs rejected – a two state solution.

    This idea that people get along in the MId East is an Arab fantasy. Look at Lebanon and Iraq to see how different groups get along.

    The Arab?Moslem has to be soundly beaten for this thing to stop.

  2. Edmund says:

    Israel will never admit to their transgressions. The massacre of civilians and the mass expulsion of others never existed in the eyes of the current governmental system. It would go very far if they did show some sorrow over the actions of their predecessors, but its not going to happen in either of our lifetimes.

  3. Raffe says:

    The comparison between Australia’s treatment of Aborigines which led to the apology, and the situation between Israel and the Arabs, is fraught with danger. Perhaps an apology is necessary as a first step towards restitution and reconciliation. So how’s about the Arab governments who expelled 750,000 Jews from their lands when Israel was created in 1948, apologize. Then how’s about these same Arab governments offer compensation to the dispossessed Jews who had lived in Arab lands since the time of the Romans. And yes, there’s room for more apologies….like from Arab governments who broadcast over the radio that Palestinian Arab should leave their homes in order to make the way clear for their armies which would enter the new state of Israel and ‘drive the Jews into the sea.’ What a shame that when Israel defeated all the Arab armies (with a loss of 10 percent of the Jewish population), there was no Arab apology for failing to accept, as did Israel, the United Nations division plan. And while we’re into apologizing, let’s get an apology from Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and other Arab nations for their failure to give citizenship to the refugees they created, especially the ones born in the camps. Instead, except for Jordan, these are virtually stateless persons, looked after by the nanny state of the United Nations and its surrogate, UNWRA. Israel made every single one of the three quarters of a million Jews expelled from Arab nations into Israeli citizens on their arrival….why couldn’t the Arabs have done so. Surely an apology is needed here.
    Good, now we’re getting down to some real apologies. Okay, while we’re on a roll, let’s get an apology from the governments of Egypt and Syria for creating and fighting the Yom Kippur War, from the Governments of Lebanon and Syria for bombardment of Israeli farming communities when there’s a ceasefire, from Hamas and Hezbollah for their terrorist actions and for the use of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians as shields.
    And yes, when all these apologies happen, Israel should apologize for driving some Palestinian citizens out of the country during the war of 1948. No doubt, those apologies will make us all feel relaxed and comfortable.

  4. noahbassil says:

    Who, Emmanuel, was the UN, and with what right did the UN decree that the land of one people should be divided and a larger proportion handed over to others? Your views here are clearly motivated by racism and a lack of willingness to see the wrongs committed by the British, the UN and ultimately by generations of Israeli leaders who have all ignored the human rights of the Palestinian people. How would people react if I suggested that the only way to resolve the problem was if the Jew was “soundly beaten”? Sounds horrific, really doesn’t it.

  5. Dana says:

    Keeping it “scholarly”

    You cite a bogus (fake) Zionist slogan: “A land without a People for a people without a land”

    check out the citation , just google it up, and you will see that this was not a Zionist slogan or concept.

  6. Emanuel Appel says:

    Dear Noah Bassil

    What right did the UN have? Every right in the world.

    The Palestine Mandate was originally established by the League of Nations on the territory of a beaten Empire, the Turkish Empire. The land belonged to the conquerors, the British and French do with as they wished.

    While the Turkish lands were used to establish the Arab lands of today ( you have no bitch about that, do you) totally artificial, the land called Jordan and modern Israel were to be the Jewish homeland. Jordan was torn away and even the remainder was to be split in 1947. Israel accepted and the Arabs’ position was all or nothing. Good, you got nothing. Don’t cry about it.

    I find it funny tha tthe biggest bigots and racists, the arabs who cut heads of other people, complain that they’re beinng discriminated against. Actually, all civilized people shoudl discriminate agaisnt such dogs.

  7. Raffe says:

    Emanuel, you’re not helping the Zionist cause, racism and hatred is a core instigator for violence both in the Middle East and abroad. Please moderate your language if you’re going to post here. You can advocate for Israel without degrading other religions and ethnicities.
    שלנוי דידותיות סוג לנו לשפר לאכלס

  8. Emanuel Appel says:

    Rafi ha yakar,

    On the contrary, if there’s a reason why this Arab/Israeli nonsense has lasted as long as it has is because of Israel’s lack of sufficiently violent response to the Arab both verbally and physically.

    Reaching out with the olive branch is what Jews love to do. Unfortunatley, cutting off the hand that holds it is what the Arab loves to do also.

    Instead of learning from this, we stupidly make the same mistake over and over thinking that the rest of the world will love us for it. Rather, they hold us in contempt.

    Restrain yourself if you wish. I will avenge myself and my family if I can.

  9. Raffe says:

    Whilst Israel has offered peace at many opportunities, and been rejected, we should never stop holding the branch. Moderate Arab states like Jordan accepted our proposals and now all that stands between Israel and Jordan is a river.
    I also firmly disagree with your belief that terrorism has cultivated due to the lack of a sufficient violent response.
    Terrorism has manifested greatly because of the corruption of the Arafat regime. Billions of dollars that was earmarked for Palestinian infrastructure was funneled away to his secret bank accounts, now under the control of his wife, and now the Palestinian people live in squalor.
    Extremism will always exist in any country (Israel included) but the way to avoid resentment and hatred is to alleviate the suffering of the masses. Whilst that won’t destroy the terrorist threat completely it would make terrorism an extremely unattractive prospect for the majority of the Palestinian people.

    Tanchumay to any suffering that you or your family have endured.

  10. Edmund says:

    Israel never offered anything a self-respecting person would agree to.

  11. Raffe says:

    Right cause:
    -97% of the West Bank
    -Withdrawal from 63 settlements
    -Full control of the Gaza Strip
    -Increase of Gaza territory by a third
    -East Jerusalem becomes capital of the new state
    -Right of return to a Palestinian state
    -$30 billion of compensation
    -Control over all holy sites
    -Desalinization plants to ensure an adequate, clean water supply

    Right….no self-respecting person would agree to this.

    Every single person who was there blames the failure of the talks on Arafat. From Clinton who stated that ”If the Israelis can make compromises and you can’t I should go home. You have been here fourteen days and said no to everything.”
    to Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan who berated Arafat for the missed opportunity.

    Please find me another moment in history in which a plan of this significance was offered to a hostile nation. It contained an independent national state for the Palestinians, right of return for refugees and they even threw in a freaking desalinization plant.

  12. Edmund says:

    Israel would retain control of all borders of the West bank as well as a buffer region. There would be no right of return as dictated by UN Charters, and only 63 of over 200 settlements would be dismantled. How can a country function if it doesn’t control its borders?

    Its insulting to twist the fact in such a way Raffe. Here is a break down from Gush-Shalom

    And hostile nation? I suppose people don’t have the right to self-determination?

  13. llwynn says:

    Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your impassioned comments. However, it’s gotten to be a bit vicious and we’re going to temporarily rein in the comments on this post. Any future comments on this posting will need to be moderated by myself, the site administrator.

    While it’s interesting to see the occasional comment along the lines of Emmanuel Appel’s “Actually, all civilized people shoudl discriminate agaisnt such dogs,” because of what we can learn about the thin dividing line between Zionism and the shocking sort of outright racism and bigotry expressed in such a comment, on the whole that’s not the sort of dialog that we want to support on this blog. We are, however, happy to moderate thoughtful commentary on such sensitive issues, regardless of the political position being advanced, so long as it is not grotesquely offensive.


  14. llwynn says:

    Comments on this posting are now closed. We look forward to reader comments on future postings.

  15. Peter says:

    Once again the big lie. The Arabs are not the indigenous of Palestine. Those would have to be those Jews who remained in Judea after the wars with the Romans – there were some -. and the Samaritans a group with a religion similar to Judaism. Both groups preceded the Arabs and have continuous presence in the area.

    It is the Islamists who should copy what Rudd has done. While they are at it they could also say sorry to alll the other pre-Islamic groups who they have disolaced – the Copts, the Lebanese and Palestinian Christians, the Zoroastrians etc.

    Of coure the anti-Israeli academics will not do their research properly preferring the Saudi financed version which pervades academia..

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