“What is a Palestine?” and other interesting questions directed to the Adelaide “Seacret” protesters February 13, 2012

by Margaret Cassar  -  Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA)   -  February 2012

In the course of our 75 weeks protesting against Israeli cosmetic company, Seacret,  we have been asked a myriad of questions.  These can range from  teenagers naively enquiring  “What is a  Palestine?”  to people of all ages yelling the abusive and xenophobic, “F*** Palestine what about Australians?”

The first question querying why we are in the Mall every week reveals the depth of ignorance in Australian society about Palestine. However, a young person assuming that Palestine is an object, perhaps a new brand of car or a new computer game, soon finds out that we are talking about a whole country with a people, history and culture who are suffering human rights abuses every day. The seeds are sown and the Zionist attempt to wipe the word and concept of Palestine off the map receives another nail in its coffin.

 The latter question about our commitment to Australians is fascinating as it implies that compassion is an either/ or dynamic. In effect our questioners are saying “If you care about Palestinians then you don’t care about Australians”. Conversely if you care about Australians then you have no business being concerned about the suffering of people in foreign countries I find this narrow view of our place in the world and our response to global suffering quite distasteful.

 Since first voicing my support for the Palestinians I have not only heard this view expressed by angry people in the Mall  but also at social occasions with friends of all political persuasions. Even if we put aside the view that we live in a globally connected world where actions in any one country can have ramifications and consequences around the world this attitude seems to rely on Australian minds and hearts becoming limited and selfish.

Nothing could be further from the truth regarding the hearts and minds of our band of protesters in Adelaide. A sense of social justice and a desire to uphold human rights for everyone is probably the only common factor in all our backgrounds. As has been mentioned in many of our You Tubes (http://www.youtube.com/user/AustralianFOPA) we are an extraordinarily disparate group of people. Yes, we are all passionate about the Palestinian cause, but we have also contributed a great deal to the Australian community in various ways, for example running soup kitchens for homeless people,  providing  Aboriginal medical services, advocating for children with disabilities or working in youth suicide prevention programs.

However those people offensively  questioning our commitment to Australians have not provided us with our most bizarre questions. We have had to field even more interesting questions from an Israeli soldier. This soldier spent considerable time with one of our protesters. First up he demanded  to know where we obtained our information. Our protester replied “It’s all freely available on the internet.” As we know there is a continuous stream of information about the situation in Palestine from sources as varied as world class news services to UN reports to bloggers in the Middle East.

 His most interesting and shocking question was the disingenuous “What more can we (the Israeli Occupation Forces) do to help the Palestinians?” Where do we start to answer a question like that? There is a litany of behaviours we could mention ranging from stop arresting young children, stop trying them in military courts to never again closing the borders of Gaza and raining phosphorus bombs on its trapped, helpless citizens.

 Our protester was put on the spot but immediately suggested that the soldiers might like to start by doing something about the settlers’ violence towards Palestinian men, women and children Perhaps the soldiers could intervene instead of standing by idly watching these vicious attacks?.

This led on to a long discussion about the Occupation with the Israeli soldier trying to convince our protester that the Occupation creates  considerable difficulties for Israelis and the Israeli military.  This is just another blatant example of oppressors presenting themselves as victims. Now even if we decided to collectively share this delusion we have an easy solution to their woes “End the military occupation of Palestine and tear down the Wall”.

In response to our thousands of interactions in the Mall our protesters have become even more committed over the 75 weeks. Every protester has heard questions like the following, “Is a Palestine an endangered bird that we need to save?” The level of ignorance about Palestine is so great that we know we need to be on the streets of Adelaide educating people about  the situation in the Middle East. We have had to expand our methods of communication to match the wide variety of queries and levels of knowledge we encounter. We will use conversations, leaflets, maps and photographs plus music from our busking protesters, Helen and Phil (see video) to convey our message. We will continue to answer questions until there is a just peace for the Palestinians.

Margaret Cassar is an Adelaide Seacret Protester and Member of AFOPA Executive.

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