On Sunday 14 June there was an interesting gathering of Jewish people at the Newtown Synagogue Community Hall  –  this open-minded group was there to hear the views of three eminent Palestinians. Although the three speakers had different backgrounds, their collective points were absorbed by a very keen audience willing to learn from their Middle Eastern neighbours. 

Nahed Odeh:

After obtaining a law degree in Alexandria, Egypt, and gaining her Masters at Al-Quds University, Nahed Odeh started her professional life as a lawyer in Jordan as well as in Palestine. She progressed through many organisations on women and children’s rights as well as many training courses in International Humanitarian Law. With the assistance of Australian AusAid, she passed the interview and IELTS exam, and is now at the end of her third year of PhD in law.

Looking back at the problematic issues between Israel and Palestine, she focused very strongly on the separation wall. “In 1967, by occupying the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israel started to treat the people of the West Bank in an extremely different way from the people of Gaza” she said. “And so over 2,000 different military orders were imposed on Palestinian citizens.”

She also referred to the Oslo agreements which she said came about to separate the Palestinian areas into 3 territories. “The Palestinian Authority tried its best to unify the separated areas, legally and administratively. But in order to demolish all the Palestinians’ efforts, Israel continued their plan by building a huge wall in the West Bank including East Jerusalem, which segregated the Palestinian areas from each other.” Nahed then referred to the checkpoints, which she said became the main struggle that faces the Palestinian people and their stand against unification.

In concluding she stated: “Over 400,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and the East Jerusalem are directly affected by the Wall, either because their communities or their land has ended up west of the Wall on the Israeli side, or because they live in communities that are surrounded completely. Also the people in Gaza are living in a very big prison with closed borders and the lack of the simple basics of human rights.”

Imad Kilani:

Imad Kilani was born in Yaabad, a small town in the West Bank, north of Jenin. Imad’s family has lived in this area for generations. He did his undergraduate in Palestine, majoring in management studies. In 2014 Imad left Jenin to undertake an MA in International Relations in Sydney, Australia.

Imad spoke emotively about the fragile nature of identity as a Palestinian. “There’s a stigma with being a Palestinian – when travelling, people think you are a terrorist; but also that you have no country to speak of, no passport. It’s demoralising. How can a person be denied identity?” he asked.

Imad elaborated by pointing out the meaning of Israeli occupation, how it is different, and why the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is different. In pointing out that Palestinians are stateless on this planet, he said “We look like strangers to others, or ‘outsiders’ from the global society. That frame has very negative implications on everyday life.”

And in referring to the Israeli occupation of the land every day, he said it is also criminalising the Palestinians by the same means. “That makes Palestinians not only live in misery, but it drives them to feel that they don’t belong on this planet” he added.

Ahmed Bishtawi:

Ahmed Bishtawi was born in Nablus, where his family has lived for generations. He did his undergraduate degree and an MA in Law at the university in Nablus. He worked as a legal advisor for the Palestinian Water Authority. In 2012, Ahmed came to Australia to do a PhD on the topic of the water treaties between Palestine and Israel.

Ahmed spoke about two legal systems regarding Palestinians living inside Israel. “In the West Bank there are different legal systems: one applies to the Palestinians which is military law, and the other applies on the Jewish settlers which is ordinary civil Israeli law. As a result these two legal systems lead to different treatments and different obligations and privileges” he said. “The settlers in the West Bank enjoy more privileges than the Palestinians in terms of health, education, movement and access to natural resources.” He added that whatever crimes the settlers do, they may be charged under the civil Israeli laws, but that most of times they are not. Ahmed also spoke about administrative detention and lack of freedom of movement for Palestinians.

“It was in Australia where I was able to look back at the conflict” he said, adding “and to start thinking about a one state solution as a logical step.” He certainly caught most of the audience off guard when speaking of a one state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Concluding the presentations was MC Na’ama Carlin, a young Israeli PhD student who shared with everyone her experiences of growing up in Israel. “We heard very one sided stories which were critical for maintaining nationalistic sentiments” she said. “Like many other Israelis, I seldom questioned the existing narrative.”

She said her turning point was coming to Australia and being able to see things from a distance. “This is where the paradigm began to shift” said Na’ama. “Here I really began to get involved and invested in politics because the ‘other’ had a face, a name and a story.”

Na’ama concluded by speaking about the moral responsibility Diaspora Jews have to respond to human rights atrocities in Palestine.

The evening concluded with a magnificent Middle Eastern feast of typical exotic foods. The dialogue continued well into the evening with lots of views to exchange and debate. The general consensus was that it was a very valuable evening all round.

Footnote: An interesting article by Mudar Zahran, a Jordanian-Palestinian, depicts another side of the current debate.

See http://goo.gl/lx5gtV