We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East. (From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

Sunday, 17 February 2013

"Right Now, Israel Does Not Have A Realistic Or Practical Partner In Peace": Aussie State Politician

Canadian-born New South Wales Labor MLC and state shadow minister for water Walt Secord, who's chair of the NSW ALP International Relations (Foreign Affairs) Committee, deputy chair of Parliamentary Friends of Israel, and deputy co-chair, Parliamentary Friends of Armenia, has just returned from an inter-party study visit to Israel organised by the state Jewish Board of Deputies.

He's reported on this, his second visit to Israel in two years:
 
"Too often, study tours want you to listen to a long line of speakers on the same subject – but there was no repetition in this tour and there was a genuine attempt to present different perspectives – including speakers from the Left side of Israeli politics. But we also acknowledge the difficulty in getting politicians for the tour as we were at the height of the Israeli general election – but the quality of speakers was outstanding.

I also acknowledge the effort to provide Palestinian and Israeli Arab perspectives, such as meeting the Governor of Bethlehem and the Abu Gosh Israeli Arab education officials....

My previous study tour in 2011-2012 started in Armenia as I wanted to learn more about the first genocide of the 20th anniversary and to visit their national genocide museum in Yerevan....
After Armenia, I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland and then flew directly to Israel and toured Yad Vashem.  I then visited Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan to see a contemporary context of genocide. Halabja was where Saddam Hussein in March 1988 unleashed chemical gas attacks on the Kurds killing 5,000 people.


As a person who has studied the Shoah, I believe that, as Nobel Prize winner and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi said: “Those who deny Auschwitz would be ready to remake it.”

So while visits such as these are often challenging, they are vital to promoting that which must never be forgotten.

This year – 2012-2013 – on my personal study, I visited the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Armenia, Georgia; Israel and the Palestinian Territories, including Bethlehem and the Aida refugee camp and the ancient ruins of Western Armenia; Turkey, Istanbul, Anzac Cove at Gallipoli and finally, Cairo, Egypt. Let me say that Israel was the centrepiece to my study tour.

But before I speak to that let me briefly discuss why I visited Turkey and Egypt. I visited Turkey for two reasons: Firstly, I wanted to continue my exploration of the Armenian Genocide. I visited ancient Armenian sites in Western Armenia – Kars, Van and Ani.

And secondly, I also wanted to see Turkey within in the context of what the late-Harvard University Professor Samuel Huntington has described as the “Clash of Civilisations”. That is the interaction and conflict between Islam and the West.

I think Turkey is interesting in light of the recent activity of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in regard to Israel and the Flotilla and the struggle in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and the rural areas between political Islam embodied by the debate on the “scarf” against the backdrop of Turkey’s secular tradition.

Incidentally, I was in Istanbul on the sixth anniversary of the assassination of Hrant Dink –the Armenian editor murdered by a Turkish nationalist because of his outspoken views on the Armenian Genocide and Turkey’s failure to recognise its past.

I have to admit to complex views on Turkey.  Turkey must face the Armenian Genocide and unreservedly acknowledge it, but we in the West have an interest in supporting democratic, secular Islamic States like Turkey and Indonesia.

I would like to take this opportunity to note and express my support for Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council’s efforts to encourage Asian journalists in the region to visit Israel.
As for Egypt, I have to admit that my visit was for what I describe as almost selfish reasons.

It was a depressing visit. I hope I am wrong, but I fear that it will be very difficult to travel there in about a year.  I also fear for its Christian community there and for their future. If events continue to worsen there, I believe that there is a case for Australia to consider giving Coptic Christians in Egypt recognition as refugees.

On my tour to the Jewish and Christian sites in Cairo, I asked how many people usually take the tour and the guide said about 60 people a tour.  There were only two of us on that one tour.

Tourism is the third largest contributor to the national economy there. The current events and unrest are having an important impact on Egypt, which will only worsen the situation. I was there two days before the second anniversary of the events of Tahrir Square.

Some brief thoughts on Egypt. If Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi loses the next election, he must willingly hand over power to a new Government. I believe that the true test of a post-conflict society is the secondelection; the second government or the changing of administrations.I also visited Coptic Christian sites and Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo.  I was excited to visit Ben Ezra Synagogue as it was where the famous Rabbi Moses Maimonides worshipped when he lived in Cairo –which leads us happily back to the subject of Israel.  Many moments will stay with me for life.The light plane flight to the Israel-Lebanon border was one. You see the security concerns and geography in stark terms:  Israel at its narrowest. I think it is about 14 kilometres at one point.
 

The emotional meeting with former Melbourne resident, Arnold Roth – the father of a victim of terrorism was unsettling, but worthwhile.  It put a face to terror and its impact, but also showed someone rebuilding their lives – after unbelievable tragedy.  There were personal highlights too, such as taking my parliamentary colleague Luke Foley, who is a proud Catholic to his first Shabbat meal....

As a general observation, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies tour added more layers of appreciation to the complexities of the region. The Erez Checkpoint operated by the IDF between Israel and Gaza showed the complexities of balancing security concerns of Israel. One thousand trucks a day go through the facility. They balance the day-to-day operational needs of Gaza residents and business people such as medical support, including transferring people to Israeli hospitals for cancer treatment.
 

As well as the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies portion, I added on several days to explore Israel myself. Last year, I visited the Gadot Observation Point near the Golan, Masada, Tiberias, Sderot, Gush Etzion, the Dead Sea, Ramallah, Nazareth, Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Eilat and Jordan.
 

This year, I visited the Baha’i Temple in Haifa and travelled to Kibbutz Kadarim and got taken on to the Sea of Galilee by motorboat.
 

To get a real first-hand experience, I caught an Egged bus from the roadside at Kibbutz Kadarim to Akko and then Tel Aviv.  I sat with IDF soldiers going home for Shabbat. They helped me when I got to Akko.  They were puzzled by why a Sydney man with a Canadian accent would bother to take public transport rather than get a driver. But, as I said, some things should be experienced first-hand. 

It can really shift your view on matters. I guess this raises the question of whether this trip has shifted my view on any matters in relation to Israel.
 

Well, I still wholeheartedly support a two-State solution for Israelis and the Palestinians. But I am a realist. Right now, Israel does not have a realistic or practical partner in peace.

Fatah in the West Bank is struggling and its leadership are unable to even go to Gaza.

Hamas in Gaza does not recognise Israel’s right to exist.

Egypt is in internal conflict and is sending mixed messages. It still has shaky peace with Israel, but it is a “negative” or cold war type of peace.  Syria is in crisis and is a failed State. This affects Israel and the whole region.

So this calls for realism, and for clear support of Israel’s right to defend herself. 

But I hope for many things. I hope I am proven wrong about my urgency to see Egypt. For example, who would have imagined that Sadat would have ever made peace with Israell?

 And for the record, you do not make peace with your friends; you make peace with your enemies.  I hope that shifts in Palestinian leadership allow a two-State solution to once again be a real, not theoretical, ambition...."

Read Walt Secord's entire speech here

2 comments:

  1. I've spoken with Walt Secord on a few occasions and he is an amazing man and an even more amazing friend and supporter of Israel.

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