After only 7 hours on Australian soil Palestinian Sameh Habeeb gave his eyewitness account of what happened during the assault and the ongoing siege of Gaza since December 2007.
An audience of mainly students and activists in Brisbane heard Sameh stress his was not a personal story.
It has taken considerable effort for him to get here (Brisbane) from London.
He was thoroughly checked by the Australian immigration officials on arrival at Brisbane International Airport and has been under surveillance and attack in the UK.
He said that the whole population of Palestine is under attack. What the media refers to as the ‘Gaza war’ was ‘a one-sided massacre’. And even before that he said that Gaza was ‘under siege since Hamas took office’. Since the intifada (uprising) of 2000 Palestinians have been unable to get sufficient work or food in Gaza.
The siege affects all sectors of daily life. Sameh had a photo slide exhibit [he is a photo journalist studying in London].
500 slow death since Israel’s Assault.
Education & Schools —
250 schools bombed. Since the Al Cana school in Lebanon was bombed in 1996. Even a UN school in Gaza was destroyed.
Economy — industry is 80% dependent on spare parts from Israel.
Agriculture — only 9364 hectares of arable land producing 280,000-300,000 tons of produce. Fishing limited by Israeli navy and mining for oil & gas is to be exploited by mining companies.
Construction & Infrastructure —
a water crisis, sewerage is killing fish, only intermittent power available (systematically shut down by the Israeli military), importation of fuel and oil is restricted and they pay far more than Israel.
Crossings & Freedom of movement —
Gaza Tunnels: bring in essentials of life: needles, medicines, food, milk, cows etc. If caught the tunnellers are imprisoned in Cairo prison.
Psychological warfare —
Threats are made by Israeli agents via phone, radio, leaflets, sonic booms from jets…
The UNRWA school at El Fakhor was bombed, flour is burned using phosphorous bombs, truck drivers bringing supplies are murdered by Israeli pilots, Samouni (an extended family) was massacred in 10 houses.
Animals — Cows shot for sport by Israeli pilots.
Media coverage — International media show photos of smiling children in Gaza, claims that rockets have been fired for 8 years is false, rockets are homemade and useless (unable to kill).
During question time the following points were raised:
Israel exploiting oil on Palestinian fishing grounds.
One-sidedness of media.
Obama and the new settlements in Kuds (East Jerusalem).
Aust. trade unionists being asked to get behind international boycott of Israel (BDS campaign). Sameh responded that it is important t explain why. Need to do anything to break the siege.
Tom Bramble from Socialist Alternative, the group that organised the tour, said that the US is to blame. Israel would not exist without the support of the west through $3B US grants per annum and weapons. Important to target our own government and reject Gillard’s Aust/Israel leadership Forum. Big lobby system in the US for Israel.
Sameh was asked (in disbelief) how Israel got away with bombing a UN school. Sameh explained the lawless nature of Israel and its refusal to abide by UN resolutions or International law.
The point was made about the Israel announcement of the 1,600 new settlements in East Jerusalem (Kuds).
Recognition of Israel — “Hamas will never recognise Israel, not in the way Fatah does [even though they have recently spoken about a return to the 1967 borders].” He said that Hamas has learnt from the mistakes of Fatah and represents a change of strategy from the Palestinian Authority. Later he said that Hamas would win an election on the West Bank today.
He was asked what Israeli goods we should boycott in Australia… He replied that he had only been in Australia for 7 hours but he knew that Israeli cosmetics are sold in Australia.
Sameh had many interesting posters some are shown here. The one of the UN 1948 Partition Plan (signed by Australia’s Doc Evatt) that set up the state of Israel in occupied Palestine shows both the history and failure of the two-state plan.
One person who has been organising the showing of Palestinian films [The Wall, Jenin Jenin and others] in Brisbane schools asked Sameh if he could visit a school at short notice and answers students’ questions about Palestine. Unfortunately his schedule was too tight and was unable to do so.
Sameh Habeeb should be congratulated. He walked off a 30 hour international flight, was interrogated at Brisbane airport by Australian officials and then came to the meeting well prepared and able to discuss all aspects of the plight of Palestinians in Gaza. He probably knew little of what to expect from his audience. For a man based in London he was well briefed.
My own thoughts were that the evening was structured to promote greater knowledge of Palestinian struggle but in an oversimplified manner bordering at times like propaganda – of course it is hard to achieve objectivity on such a human and complex political situation. Perhaps this is a symptom of naivety in the Australian Left.
The focus was on Gaza. Of course to understand Palestine, we need to understand the whole region.
It was very much an on campus meeting directed at uni students short on political experience with little knowledge of Palestine and the middle east.
Few, if any, trade unionists were present.
Sadly Australian socialists (I am one) have little to offer the Palestinian struggle apart from raising the issue in as many forums as we can … and we should remember never to try to build organisation out of the misery of others, be they Palestinians, aboriginees, workers, kashmiris, women or Tamils and so on…