"The Palestinians in Australia"
A Speech given at a Book Launch held at the Palestine Club in Sydney
It is indeed an honour to be invited by Mr Sameer Masallam - President of the Palestinian Club and Members of the Committee to speak this evening at the launch of Hani Elturk’s very carefully researched second book titled ‘The Palestinians in Australia,’, published by the Palestinian Club. This book is twice the size of his first book about this subject and includes profiles of many more Palestinians now living in Australia.
I have known Hani for many years and I immense respect for his contribution to the Palestinian Community and also to this great country of ours. He certainly deserves the OAM. Congratulations Hani!
Having read Hani’s book from cover to cover I recently contacted Tim Fischer, who is Australia’s Ambassador to the Vatican, telling him about all Hani’s book and that it details how Palestinians are contributing so very much to Australia and also about the launch today. He says he certainly intends to buy a copy of Hani’s book. As Deputy Prime Minister of Australia Tim Fischer was the first person to Chair the Parliamentary Friends of Palestine group which was established in 1999, as Hani has mentioned in his book.
I believe the immensely creative spirit of highly acclaimed artist, poet and journalist Marcelle Mansour, Hani’s sister, is certainly symbolic of the creative spirit of Palestinians living here today; this is made clear from what Hani has written about her in his book.
Hani’s book gives valuable insights into how so very many Palestinians have given and continue to contribute in a very positive way to their new homeland. Of Palestinian background, The Hon. Joe Hockey MP, Shadow Treasurer, is an excellent example. Hani also writes about Palestinian academic, Dr Hanan Ashrawi, who was invited to Australia to receive the Sydney Peace prize in 2003. I felt honoured that I was invited to present my long poem ‘Ain Assalam’ - ‘A Spring of Peace’ - to her when she received this prize at Parliament House in Sydney.
Many Australian light-horsemen who fought and died at Beersheba in Palestine as well as our soldiers serving in other places in the area, including the Dardanelles, during World War I, believed they were helping to bring about freedom from Turkish domination for the people. But as T.E. Lawrence said: ‘All Pledges and promises have been cast aside,’ when the whole region was divided up after the War in order to satisfy the interests of the former colonial powers - particularly Britain and France.
Lord Fisher, First lord of the Admiralty before World War I, had changed the British fleet from coal to oil. The British were well aware of the immense quantities of oil existing in the area. After the Dardanelles disaster where so many ANZAC troops were deployed and died in order to help weaken the Turkish army so that there could be a victory for the Allies in the Middle East, Fisher resigned from Churchill’s War Cabinet and in a hand written letter to my grandfather, Sir George Houstoun Reid, GCB, GCMG, KC. he made clear his anger about the Dardanelles: ‘The inexcusable Criminal disaster of the Dardanelles and no punishment for the butcher politicians.’
I was born years after my grandfather died. But as a teenager I found many letters, notes and diaries which had belonged to Reid, in a black tin box in my parents’ attic in Sydney, including Lord Fisher’s letter. I gather from his diaries Reid had a great admiration for the Arab people, a number of whom he met when he went to Cairo to inspect the Australian troops before the disaster of the Dardanelles. He was very interested to learn about their immense love of poetry, because he also enjoyed writing poetry.
My grandfather, after being Premier of New South Wales and also Prime Minister of Australia, was appointed Australia’s first High Commissioner to the U.K in 1910 for two terms. While serving as High Commissioner, he became a close friend of Sir Arthur James Balfour the British Foreign Secretary. When it became clear that the British were possibly losing the war with Germany, was it perhaps considered that probably the only way to achieve a victory was to endeavour to persuade the government in the United States to enter the war?
So surely the question must be asked: Was the Head of the Zionist Lobby in the U.S informed early in 1917 by Walter Rothschild, and/or Chaim Weizmann who were both active Zionists in Britain, about the ongoing very serious consideration in Britain being given to the idea of providing a homeland for the Jews in Palestine and could this have possibly persuaded this man to use his considerable influence over Woodrow Wilson, the U.S President at the time to advise him to agree to the U.S. entering the war against Germany? Certainly this may have been so as the U.S. declared war on Germany in April 1917. There is no doubt that Zionists in Britain would certainly have very much wanted a victory for Britain so that the British pledge for a homeland for Jews would be implemented.
Certainly Walter Rothschild, an active Zionist in Britain and close friend of Chaim Weizmann, worked hard over some months to formulate the draft declaration for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. During World War I, Weizmann helped the British war effort, developing a new method for manufacture of acetone. As a fervent Zionist, he was busy on the diplomatic front, trying to bring the cause of a Jewish state closer to British politicians and journalists. Weizmann's efforts culminated in The Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917.
At the time Reid was absolutely adamant in his advice to his friend Balfour that the rights of Palestinians must never, ever be infringed under any circumstances since there would certainly be immense risks involved in implementing such a plan if this was not so, which could certainly cause very serious unrest and conflict for years to come.
Finally on November 2nd 1917 Rothschild received a letter, addressed to his London home at 148 Piccadilly, from Balfour. In this letter the British government declared support for the establishment in Palestine of ‘a national home for the Jewish people’. This letter became known as Balfour Declaration was composed in 1917 and sent to Lord Rothschild. Foreign Office, November 2nd, 1917.
It is important to ask the question: What actually led the British Empire to such a Declaration? What led the world’s leading superpower at the time to commit itself to such an unreasonable affair based on support from a marginal ethnic group (less than 10% of the entire population)?
Surely the question should also be asked: Is it possible that the British and American governments, being aware at the time of the immense quantities of oil in the Middle East, required an ally in the area to help protect their interests and a homeland for the Jews could, they believed, almost certainly provide such an ally? It appears that this may have indeed been the case because Israel is permitted to be very heavily armed possessing even Nuclear weapons.
Reid was Australia’s first Scottish Prime Minister and therefore was well aware of many of the often over bearing British actions to satisfy their own interests. The people of Palestine have suffered horrifically and this is made very clear in Hani’s book in a letter written to the then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd by Mahmoud Yousef Sultan, the Secretary General of the United Palestinian Workers Association.
I cannot understand how the world can stand by as Palestinian home after home is bulldozed to be replaced by Israeli houses and not strive to find a peaceful solution so that Palestinians could have an independent state and as we would say in Australia, enjoy a ‘fair go’. But as many of us are we are well aware, Israel has many very powerful friends in the West and certainly in the media.
When I was first invited to the Middle East in the 1980’s to speak in universities about Australian literature and especially poetry, I assisted Dr Hussam Al-Khateeb in compiling an edition of Al-Adab Al-Arabiyya - A Foreign Literature Quarterly - containing the work of many Australian poets and writers. Dr Hussam is a Palestinian and he made clear me how much the Palestinians have suffered and continue to do so, which is so poignantly expressed in the poetry of highly acclaimed Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish who makes clear in his poetry …
'Mount Carmel is in us …
The grass of Galilee is on our lashes …
This land absorbs the skin of martyrs,
This land promises wheat and stars.
Worship it! We are its salt and its water.
We are its wound … A wound that fights!
We cling to our dreams through bitter nights!'
Darwish is recognized as a major literary voice for the Palestinian people. He was born in the village of Birwa in the Galilee, in the northern region of what was then Palestine. In 1948, the Darwish family left their hometown after the area was declared part of the new state of Israel, and settled in a town called Dayru I-Assad. Over the ensuing years, Darwish was subject to house arrests and imprisonments for political activism. His poetry is reflective of the struggles he encountered living under occupation during this time. His poems are mostly composed of plain words and in a simple style. Yet with their simplicity, his words are profoundly felt. In all his poems Darwish expresses strong sentiments about his love for his homeland, his pain over the occupation of his homeland and his undying hope for its return. His intense longing for his homeland is evident in the following lines:
'Thorns are tearing our flesh each day,
But we're living like slaves anyway.
The Acacia is drooping …
Poppies are drooping …
Rafah's gates are sealed by wax …
And locked by curfew …
Each door in Rafah opens like a wound.
So like our Poppies we are weeping.’
Learning about the unspeakable suffering of the Palestinian people and also through my grandfather’s diaries and letters, of the extremely grave concern my grandfather held in 1917 at the time of the Balfour Declaration, I became as a young student determined to do everything in my power to raise the awareness of the Australian people to this very grave situation.
Thus I am delighted that I have been invited to say a few words this evening. Hani has certainly now made clear how, after years of suffering, the great contribution Palestinians are making to Australia.
I consider Hani’s book ‘The Palestinians in Australia’ should certainly be available in every library in Australia.