The ongoing violence inflicted on the innocent people of Palestine by the Israeli army (IDF) and police and most recently, the violent raids on the sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque during the second week of Ramadan 2023, are actions which surely sicken and disgust any fair-minded person.

Yet sections of the media continue to label the interaction between the brutal Israeli oppressors and the defenceless natives of Palestine as a “conflict”….as if there is something even remotely ‘two-sided’ about it!

Once called out by Turkish president Recep Erdoğan as “a tyrant who massacres children”, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will surely also go down in history as one of the world’s greatest liars.

Just one of many examples of this is his 2021 statement which recently has been widely recirculated on social media: “There is no army in the world that acts in a more moral fashion than the army of Israel….. .”

Yes – this is one of the saddest constants of the world today….the ongoing situation in Palestine.

For decades, we’ve been watching, listening to and reading about the very drastic plight of our Palestinian brothers and sisters.

It’s a situation which many Australian Muslims – especially younger people – probably don’t have a great understanding of, as the amount of information released about Palestine by the Western media is limited and so much of its accuracy is not only questionable, it is laughable.

Ramia Abdo Sultan.

Prominent Sydney lawyer Ramia Abdo Sultan is a much admired and respected figure within our community.

Australian-born and raised and of very proud Palestinian/Lebanese heritage, Ramia is also the Community Relations Advisor to the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC) and the first female appointed to that body.

She is also a member of the executive committee of the Gaza Children’s Fund, a not-for-profit humanitarian organisation which seeks to help and empower women and children in Gaza.

Ramia also sits on other committees seeking to impart positive change including an advisory committee with the Australian Human Rights Commission.

AMUST is extremely grateful to Ramia for providing her insights and feedback with regard to Palestine and we are sure that much of the information that you are about to read will be an eye-opener.

Community Discussion

Firstly, Ramia has listed some terms that she believes we need to use in our community discussions about Palestine.

These include:

  • OCCUPYING FORCE: As mentioned in our introduction, Palestine is not a conflict between two equal powers. There is an Occupier and there is an Oppressed party.
  • APARTHEID: We need to use this term in our community as it is the policy of separation that the Israeli government is using over the Palestinian people. But is incorrect to blame all Jewish people (Yahud).
  • STATE-SANCTIONED TERRORISTS: The Israeli army and police are terrorists who are endorsed by the Israeli government against minorities who don’t have that power.
  • FORCED EVICTIONS and SETTLEMENTS: The displacement of Palestinians has been going on since 1948 and continues relentlessly.
  • ETHNIC CLEANSING: Israel is ethnically cleansing the original people of the land of Palestine and has been doing so for 75 years.

Nakba Day

Nakba Day – the Palestinian Catastrophe – is commemorated on 15 May every year. Not that it’s an actual commemoration as by definition, ‘commemoration’ means a remembrance of an event which occurred in the past.

As Ramia explains: “15 May, 1948, was the original Nakba, when Israel entered Palestine by force and massacred/evicted hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.”

“But here we are just on 75 years later and there is a Nakba taking place in Palestine each and every day, with the Occupier (Israel) using a disproportionate level of force against the Oppressed: innocent Palestinian civilians and especially children.”

But it’s not just the bloodshed. The way Israel continues to steal Palestinian land and for Jewish ‘settlers’ to come from outside and force Palestinians from their homes – and even desecrate Palestinian cemeteries – it’s not only illegal but there are also matters of humiliation and dehumanisation to consider.

Even visitors from overseas can be detained at a checkpoint for hours, being asked the same questions over and over again by Israeli officials, dehumanising and humiliating the traveller, so he or she won’t want to visit there again.

But Ramia is full of praise for the locals for their resilience and positivity.

“Palestinians in Jerusalem are constantly assuring visitors: ‘Please keep visiting us – keep us in your dua and keep supporting us’!”

Ramia points out that it is also important that we build on our knowledge of the Al-Aqsa site as this entire area is sacred.

“This whole area of Jerusalem is regarded as an extremely sacred place by the three Abrahamic faiths, not just Muslims.”

“It’s literally the Holy Land and it’s always been a point of contention among the three faiths so it is critical that we understand the history of these places.”

Refugee Camps

Most Australians would be unaware that the 250,000-300,000 Palestinians who were expelled or fled their homeland in terror in 1948 now have several hundreds of thousands of descendants of their own who are also refugees so there are indeed several generations of Palestinian refugees born into camps who are fighting for the right to return to Palestine.

Take for example Palestinian refugees in Syrian camps, being forced to flee their own country initially and then later having no alternative but to leave Syria when its own problems escalated.

How would you like it….being thrown out of home, time and time again?

All Palestinians want is to return home but Israel will not allow them the right to do so, contravening international law time and time again.

Ramia also makes the point that Palestine was once the hub of the Middle East, with an abundance of educated and articulate people in a wealthy country.

So when the invasion and massacre took place, not only were their homes taken but also their valuables – money, jewellery and other priceless heirlooms.

“Many Israeli settlers built their wealth and their power on the back of displaced Palestinians and the sad irony is that while Palestinians welcomed displaced Jews after World War II, now they are being oppressed by the people they helped,” she said.

Ramia believes there should be a subject in our school curriculum devoted entirely to what has happened and is still happening over there as when we talk Islamic history, Palestine should be the centre of all conversations.

“We need to plant the seeds early so our kids can connect with what is going on in our Holy Land of Palestine,” she added.

Vicious Cycle

A very important point to note is that when it comes to Palestinian refugees, there is a vicious cycle which has been created where these unfortunate people have no nationality.

No right to citizenship and several other basic rights.

In some countries, Palestinians cannot own anything in their own name, which is quite humiliating.

But in spite of this, Palestinians remain the most resilient, resolute and optimistic people….and their desire to protect their homeland is unwavering.

Ramia recommends the following suggestions that we as Australian Muslims should not only consider but follow up on where possible:

  1. There has to be some form of action – we cannot continue to just be reactive and only do something when backed into a corner.
  2. Make dua.
  3. Regarding protests in Australia to support Palestine, they are well-meaning but we must realise that there is more to change than just going to a protest and waving a flag. So attend these rallies by all means but also consider the other points raised here as well.
  4. Consistent advocacy and lobbying by contacting your state and federal MPs. And if you’re not good at this yourself, at least support the organisations which are.
  5. Raise awareness among those around you in the community.

Media Censorship

Ramia has strong feelings about the lack of adequate and accurate reporting of the events transpiring in Palestine and social media censorship with regard to this topic.

“With regards to what we say on social media about the Palestinian situation, of course, we do have a right to speak out….and it is not anti-Semitic to call out Israel for what they are doing in Palestine.

“But our social media accounts are being censored/limited/blocked when we speak out, and to think this is even being done to charity groups trying to raise funds for Palestine is a disgrace.

“Social media is a very powerful tool and it’s important that we realise that the responsibility has been shifted to us.”

“We need to educate ourselves on how we can support one another and push influencers to potentially put the word out there far more widely.”

“Social media is no longer just about posting.”

Jerusalem and the West Bank

Ramia says that the 2020 short film The Present, directed and co-written by Farah Nabulsi, a Palestinian British Oscar-nominated and BAFTA award-winning filmmaker and human rights activist, will give you an idea of what life is like for Palestinians in Jerusalem and on the West Bank.

“As an example, you may be stopped at several checkpoints just when you’re on your way to purchase an item such as a refrigerator, and this is so humiliating,” she said.

“Even going to work can be a mission where you may be turned back home for no good reason.”

“Of course, there are unlawful killings and excessive use of force, especially against women and young children.”

“The percentage of children imprisoned is quite staggering and Palestinian civilians are tried by a military Court, not under a standard civilian system.”

So the conditions in Palestine are humiliating and dehumanising, something that Ramia and her husband Forat witnessed with their own eyes on a visit to Palestine in 2016 when they saw a 14-year-old student on her way to school being physically stomped on by Israeli soldiers!

Incidents like this are not isolated and clearly illustrate that there is no freedom of movement, no security or no safety: blessings that we take for granted here in Australia.

Palestinians in Gaza

Gaza is tiny and Ramia says you can tour the entire area in less than two hours, yet there are two million people squeezed into living there.

All of the residents of Gaza are refugees so Gaza is basically a massive refugee camp and this has always been the plan of the Occupiers.

Almost 40 per cent of residents in Gaza are living below the poverty line and 75 per cent of them are receiving humanitarian aid.

There is an air, land and sea blockade on the region. Aid cannot be sent by ship and the people are forced to purchase most of their goods from Israel which makes the cost of living extremely high.

In terms of water supply, resources are drying up rapidly in Gaza but the enterprising Palestinians are coming up with their own methods of desalination and other watering systems.

The importance of Al-Aqsa

The first qibla in Islam, Al-Aqsa is vitally important to our faith and it is regarded as the third holiest site after Makkah and Madinah.

Al-Aqsa carries great rewards and there are many Hadiths which recommend it to us, so the importance of visiting Al-Aqsa after visiting Makkah and Madina is immense.

Above all else, Al-Aqsa was also the site where our beloved Prophet Muhammad (s) ascended into the heavens and was presented with the gift of prayer and salat.

The Palestinians residing in the Al-Aqsa area are hospitable and welcoming and when it comes to asking them what you can do for them, there are three things:

(a) keep visiting and never stop visiting;

(b) keep them in your dua; and

(c) for the Ummah to repair itself. Palestinians keep saying that Masjid Al-Aqsa is “the thermometer of the Ummah”.

People, Not Numbers

Ramia points out that one of our biggest failings is that we view the Palestinian people as numbers and data when we should be viewing them as human beings.

We need to start putting a face and a name to our brothers and sisters who are murdered each and every year.

In the May 2021 carnage which saw 256 Palestinians killed including 66 children, seven members of one family died in the bombings, including a bride waiting for Eid to be married.

If we don’t feel for REAL people like these, it shows that we are becoming desensitised.

As for the locals, the innocence of every child in Palestine is stripped away from them by the Occupiers because of what they see on a daily basis in terms of devastation.

Children as young as 10 are being faced with the real possibility of raising a family of orphan children whose parents have been killed, which is almost beyond our comprehension.

The children of Gaza have never seen anything of what we consider as normal in their entire lives.

What needs to happen

“Obviously, what would be a great start would be for the Palestinian people to be able to live with the same level of rights as any Israeli person… and of course, the right to return home,” Ramia acknowledged.

“For us in Australia, we need to be proactive….donating money and protesting is great but as I’ve already mentioned, there are many other ways we can also help.”

“And remember this: we are all going to be questioned on the Day of Judgement about exactly what we did to help.

“The answer will come from our hearts and lip service won’t protect us anymore.”

Positive Steps

The decision by the Albanese government in October 2022 to strip references to West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a step in the right direction.

Hopefully, this is just the first step of many from a government which is showing that it does have a heart.

Our major religious organisations also need to be more vocal in their support of Palestine and appeal to the government as the Sydney-based Lebanese Muslim Association is doing.

On 7 April, within 48 hours of the most recent shocking raids on Al-Aqsa, the LMA issued a public statement not only standing with Palestine but also calling on the Australian government to take a stand by denouncing Israel, its leaders and its army, in the hope that the rest of the world will follow.

Gamel Kheir.

The following day, LMA secretary Gamel Kheir doubled down on this statement in front of a large gathering at his organisation’s annual Iftar at Campsie in Sydney.

Ramia Abdo Sultan also spoke passionately on the subject at the second annual National Muslim Community Iftar, hosted by ANIC and the Alliance of Australian Muslims in Sydney) on 5 April 2023.