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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Owen Jones BBC Question Time

British columnist, Owen Jones, on BBC Question Time, exposing the truth behind Israel's attacks on Gaza.

Treating asylum seekers worse than criminals

Australia treats criminals, including pedophiles and rapists, better than it treats asylum seekers. Most criminals only get sentenced to a few years jail, if that, and are usually given a relatively comfortable cell to themselves. Whereas asylum seekers, who have committed no crime, are imprisoned without charge for years in cramped and inhumane conditions.

Jail may not be the most luxurious place to spend time, but Australian jails are far better than the detention centres that we incarcerate asylum seekers in. Asylum seekers, including children, are often imprisoned for years before being granted asylum.

Amnesty International's recent visit to Nauru found the camp to be 'a human rights catastrophe with no end in sight'. It found '... 387 men cramped into 5 rows of leaking, tents, suffering from physical and mental ailments - creating a climate of anguish ...'. Amnesty describes conditions at Nauru as 'cruel, inhumane and degrading'. No-one has legal representation and not one case for asylum has been heard yet. Our criminals have more rights and better treatment than that. Australia should be ashamed.

It is not illegal to arrive in Australia by boat and seek asylum, regardless of how much some politicians like to maintain that position. What is illegal, is for Australia to continue with inhumane conditions and off-shore processing. It is illegal because it breaches a number of conventions to which Australia is signatory to, including the Refugee Convention and other human rights conventions.

Hypocritically, Australia condemns the treatment of asylum seekers by countries which aren't signatory to the Refugee Convention, even though our treatment of asylum seekers is disgraceful and the worst in the western world. Other western nations, such as the UK, USA and European nations release asylum seekers into the community. In fact, Australia is the only country in the world with mandatory detention for asylum seekers.

The reason for the off-shore processing is because it is meant to deter people from making the dangerous journey by boat. The deterrence factor of off-shore processing is debatable. Australia is an island. That means that people will continue arriving here by boat.

Shamefully, last week the Australian government approached a number of church and community groups asking how we can make things harder for asylum seekers. This in itself borders on persecution. We make things harder for people seeking our protection than we do for people who commit crimes. We should be facilitating the processing of asylum seekers by working better with our neighbours and other countries.

Australia takes very few asylum seekers compared to other nations, and ranks 46th in the world for accepting asylum seekers. As an example, Sweden, with a population of 9.5 million, took 81,000 refugees in 2011. Australia has a population of 22 million and had 21,000 refugees in 2011. Sweden has 8.8 refugees per 1,000, compared to Australia taking 0.98 per 1,000 head of population. Yet, Australia is 17 times the size of Sweden. Refer to Table 22: 

We have politicised the issue at the expense of people's lives. Instead of Australians being so fearful of a few people who can contribute positively to our society, we should be extending a helping hand and assisting them to settle here. Apart from the human cost of these racist, inhumane policies, Australia also spends billions of dollars trying to stop people arriving here. After years of incarceration in crowded refugee camps, some in which the accommodation is barely better than a tent, we expect them to then fit straight into Australian society as well-adjusted citizens. Oh, and to be thankful for our magnanimous gesture.

The Fraser government worked with its neighbours to resettle refugees from Cambodia and Vietnam in the 1970s. This resettlement program helped to stem the flow of boats to Australia while settling many more refugees into Australia and neighbouring countries. While this was admirable, it was purpose was to stop the arrival of boats rather than assisting refugees. Fraser's theory was that by opening the 'front door' to refugees it would reduce the number entering through the 'back door', or by boat. Unfortunately, it set in place the idea that boat-people are arriving illegally. Nonetheless, the policy had some merit and may certainly be more humane than the current political-driven, fear-based policies that see Australia treating asylum seekers in a manner that is not commensurate with the idea of us being the land of the 'fair-go'.

While there is persecution in the world, people will flee it. The only way to truly stop people seeking asylum is to stop persecution. Of course, this is idealistic and unlikely to ever happen. In the meantime, we can honour the conventions we've signed and help asylum seekers settle into Australia, not via mandatory detention, but through being released into the community pending decisions regarding their claims.

Instead of being driven by fear and hatred, we should be driven by an altruistic sense of compassion and caring for those who are suffering. We should be treating asylum seekers with dignity and compassion, not treating them worse than criminals.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The History of Palestine

The below video provides a brief overview of the modern history of Palestine and, in particular, the influence of Zionism, which really was the beginning of the current conflict. It challenges issues such as 'land without a people' and the Zionist claim that Israeli occupation of Palestinian towns was peaceful and legal.

Friday, November 16, 2012

On the side of the oppressor

As Israel amasses a 30,000 strong Army on the border of Gaza, threatening a massacre of civilians in Gaza, world leaders have spoken out in defence of Israel, while silent on the massacres of Palestinians.

Today (16 November 2012) Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard condemned Palestinian rocket attacks, while the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, stated that Israel has a right to self-defence.

Christians across the globe are praying for Israel. Very few are praying for Palestine.

The Palestinians have been labelled terrorists. The Israelis have been lauded as the peace-loving victim. Yet, Israel has illegally occupied Palestinian territory since 1948. It has killed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and forced more than a million out of their homes. Israel is in violation of hundreds of U.N. resolutions, which it continues to flout.

Israel's actions are genocidal. The denial of Palestinian nation-hood and the erasing of Palestinian history is ethnic cleansing.

Who speaks up for Palestine?

Desmond Tutu once said, 'if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor'. Sadly, national leaders and millions of Christians are not neutral, they have blatantly, proudly and vocally joined the side of the oppressor, while being completely silent, or even hostile towards the oppressed.

Israel is guilty of arresting and detaining adults and children without charge for months, some for years. This is called 'administrative detention'. Israel has segregated, demonised, dehumanised and invalidated Palestinians. Israel may not be using gas chambers, but they are using Nazi tactics. For decades Gaza has been a massive concentration camp.

Israel has built a 'security barrier', which in most parts is a massive wall and in other parts a high, impassable fence. This security barrier is placed well within Palestinian territories and prevents Palestinians from accessing schools, hospitals, their own crops and jobs.

Some Palestinians fire rockets into Israel. Israel responds with military jets, tanks and personnel. They launch missiles loaded with white phospherous and depleted uranium that cause horrendous injuries to the survivors of the attacks. The missiles are launched into civilian areas.

Israel claims they have a right to self-defence. Based on this, Palestine could argue the same thing.

While Israel makes much of the recent rocket attacks from Gaza, it must be kept in mind that Israel has been firing rockets and bullets into Gaza for years, killing dozens of people. For example, Stop the War Coalition has reported the following:

  • In 2011, Israeli weapons killed 108 Palestinians, including 15 children and injuring 468 people. Israeli weaponry used in these attacks was 57% (310) military aircraft, 28% (150) live ammunition, 11% (59) tank shells, and 3% (18) mortars.
  • In September 2012, Israel killed 55 Palestinians and injured 257 people. 209 of these casualties were caused by Israeli Air Force missiles, 69 by live ammunition, and 18 from tank shells.
Over the years, Israel has been guilty of provoking Palestinians to retaliate. As documented by Maureen Clare on Electronic Intifada, Israel has been shelling and shooting Palestinians in the lead-up to the most recent attacks:
  • 11 November 2012 - Five Palestinian civilians, including three children, killed in the Gaza Strip in the last 72 hours. Four of these deaths occurred as a result of Israeli military firing artillery shells at children playing soccer. Additionally, 52 civilians were wounded, including six women and 12 children.
  • 8 November 2012 - a 13 year old boy playing football in front of his house was shot dead by the Israeli military.
  • 5 November 2012 - a mentally-ill man wandered close to the border and was shot by Israeli military. Israelis did not allow Palestinian medical personnel to attend to the man for six hours. It is believed this delay caused the death of the man.
At the moment, the world's media is upset at there being three Israelis killed. While the deaths are a tragedy, there has been no mention of the above Palestinian deaths or of the other 53 Palestinians who have been killed by Israel this year. Since 2000, there have been 6,617 Palestinians killed by Israel, while there have been 1,097 Israelis killed. The full report can be viewed at

Whether Palestinian or Israeli, killing cannot be condoned. However, the world's leaders, and sadly many Christian groups, are condoning the Israeli massacre of innocent Palestinians.

The violence has been grossly misreported, with little or no mention of Palestinian deaths in the mainstream media.

Israel accuses Palestinians of being terrorists. The Palestinians blame the violence on Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine. The following map shows how much land Israel has stolen from Palestine (the white areas show Jewish land, the green areas show Palestinian land):

Now, with 30,000 troops preparing to invade Gaza, I fear a massacre that will make the atrocities of Sabra and Shatila (3,500 deaths), Operation Cast Lead (1,400 deaths) and other brutal and ongoing attacks pale against it.

This is a continuation of the Nakba; the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

When will the world stand up to this brutality and hold Israel accountable?

When will the world stop trying to erase Palestinians from history? When will their existence be validated?

It seems that Palestinians are not entitled to the same human rights of safety, security and dignity that the rest of us are.

When will Christians pray for Palestinians instead of condoning Israeli aggression in the name of God.

Rather than backing the oppressor, it is time the world spoke up for the oppressed.

Speak up for Palestine!

The Palestinian Nakba

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sheep or Goat? Government or Church?

The influential religious right-wing, claim that the bible puts responsibility for the poor and downtrodden in the hands of the church and its people, not in the hands of government. This is used to justify smaller government and the removal of publicly funded welfare, health and education services. Yet one of the most famous passages in the bible, the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Matthew 25:32, tells us that all 'nations' will be held accountable to God. Nations are ruled by governments. 

For so long now, right-wing Christians have been stating that government is not meant to provide welfare or social security, that caring for the poor is the responsibility of churches and individuals. This belief has been used to justify lower taxation in order to remove or prevent government funded programs such as health, education, housing and welfare. The provision of these services by government is often seen as socialism, which is decried as being evil, as being a principality of Satan.

In the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, in Matthew 25:32, Jesus tells us that 'all nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats'.

The parable doesn't tell us that 'all people will be gathered before Him', but all 'nations'. Nations are not just comprised of people, but have leadership; government. The nations will be held accountable for whether they looked after the 'least of these', those less fortunate, those who were unable to provide for themselves; those who need food, water, clothing, shelter, security, love.

In the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus states that the 'nations' should have provided:
  • food - for I was hungry
  • drink - for I was thirsty
  • refuge - for I was a stranger
  • clothing - for I was naked
  • caring - for I was sick 
  • compassion - for I was in prison
Those who did provide this, were put with the sheep and will inherit the Kingdom of God. Those who didn't provide for the poor, will be with the Goats who will depart from God's presence into everlasting fire.

Why did God separate the nations into the sheep and the goats? Sheep need shepherds. For a nation, the government is the shepherd. It is the government that provides the direction and the protection for the people of that nation.

In Ezekiel 34:2-4, God warns the shepherds of Israel, 'You eat the fat clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them'.

The shepherds that the bible talks of are Kings and religious leaders. This scripture is criticism of both the government and the religious institutions.

Throughout the Old Testament, God did not just single out individuals for his warnings and blessings. He also directed his edicts towards nations, in particular the nation of Israel. He warned Israel of the need to care for the least of these, for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger. The stranger being someone who was not of that land, a foreigner.

While each of us is responsible for our actions ... and inactions ... God also holds governments accountable for their treatment of everyone, including the 'least of these'. In Matthew 25:40, He states 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me'.

In the parable of the sheep and the goats, government is held accountable for its treatment of poor, the destitute, the homeless, the refugee, the prisoner, the patient. It cannot be argued that this is not the responsibility of government, that only the church can provide these services. Besides that, most churches are only interested in providing these services to their followers, not to those who have no interest in their religion. Would the church provide refuge for Muslims fleeing a despotic regime, or would they only provide it to the Christians? Would they provide care and compassion to an openly gay person who may be dying? Some might, most won't.

Governments are responsible for caring for all members of their society, not just those who fit certain religious criteria.

And of course to take those services off government and give them to churches would be to overwhelm the ability of the church to deliver those services. Certainly there is a place for churches to provide these services, but not to be the sole providers of them. In a world with more than 7 billion people, can the churches truly claim that governments should not be used to deliver these services?

The parable of the Sheep and the Goats holds governments responsible for their treatment of the 'least of these'. As mentioned in Ezekiel, religious leaders are also held accountable. By undermining the ability of government to provide these services, religious groups are denying the 'least of these' access to food, clothing, accommodation, security and care. Is there an agenda that the churches are working towards by transferring social welfare from government to them? They can't possibly deliver services to all, so is it just a power-grabbing, money-making scam? Or is it a genuine concern for the poor?

Instead of pursuing their own agenda and fighting for essential services to be taken off government, religious groups should be working with government to ensure that the services are provided to all who need them.

There will come a day of reckoning.

Will government, will the church, be with the Sheep or the Goats?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Killing in the name of God

Today marks the 95th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration (2 November 1917), when Arthur Balfour, the U.K. Foreign Secretary, issued a declaration that Britain intended on establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

It was a massive betrayal to the people of Palestine who had been promised independence by Britain if they fought alongside the Allies in the First World War, in order to conquer the Ottoman's. Britain was successful in defeating the Ottoman's, yet Palestine's promise of independence vanished with the issuing of the Balfour Declaration.

Ironically, 95 years later to the day, 2 November 2012, Australia is reconsidering whether to side with Israel and the U.S. in opposing a Palestinian state, or to vote for a two-state solution.

95 years after the Balfour Declaration, the world is still arguing over recognition of Palestine, even though the inhabitants had lived there for thousands of years.

The argument over the establishment of Israel has always been convoluted with biblical prophecy and promises of God. Christians have argued that God promised the land of Israel to the Jews thousands of years ago. Because of this, Christians justify or turn a blind-eye to the gross crimes committed by Israel since its establishment. There have been hundreds of United Nations resolutions issued against it, yet Israel continues to flout international law.

The irony of Christians blindly defending the human rights violations of Israel based on the Bible and the favour of God, is that in the same breath, they will condemn Islam and the Koran for creating suicide bombers. These Christians will say that Islam teaches Muslims to hate Jews and Christians, and to kill them in the name of Allah (God).

Suicide bombing should be condemned. It is unacceptable. It is inhumane. It is a crime.

Massacring or forcibly removing civilians is also unacceptable, is inhumane and is a crime against humanity. Bombing schools, hospitals or houses is unacceptable. Using depleted uranium and phosphorous bombs is unacceptable. Yet few Christians criticise Israel for these atrocities. A Palestinian might fire a rocket into Israel, and Israel will retaliate, not by arresting that person, but by using military aircraft to bomb the entire neighbourhood, often killing dozens of people who had nothing to do with firing the rocket. At best, this over-reaction is martial law without trial. At worst, it is a crime against humanity, which is a violation of international law.

Israel has a legal right to exist within the UN's 1947 borders and a right to live in peace, as do the people of Palestine. Palestinians should not be subject to the brutality that Israel has unleashed on them since 1947.

Palestine and its people must be recognised by the United Nations. To oppose recognition, is to oppose human rights and to condone ethnic cleansing.

Ironically, it was a Palestinian named Jesus, a Jew who 'so loved the world', who told us to 'love your neighbour as yourself'.

If ever there was a time and a place to 'love your neighbour', it is Israel and Palestine today. Instead of blindly supporting the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, we should be demanding an end to the brutality and supporting the recognition and peaceful liberation of Palestine.