Middle EastSenator's email address is:email@example.comSenator BERNARDI (South Australia) (11.00 pm)—The outbreak of hostilities between two rival Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, has come at a very difficult time and threatens the Middle East peace process. I speak with some experience, because recently I visited Israel as a guest of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, as part of a
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Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (11.00 pm)—The outbreak of hostilities between two rival Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, has come at a very difficult time and threatens the Middle East peace process. I speak with some experience, because recently I visited Israel as a guest of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, as part of a bipartisan parliamentary delegation. The visit provided me with an insight into the realities of Israeli politics, Israeli social life and the country’s role within the Middle East. Despite having been subjected to a re-lentless campaign of terror during its entire existence, Israel has remained a vibrant and robust democracy. It has remained a country governed by the rule of law. It has an inde-pendent judiciary which the government and military are both answerable to. It also main-tains freedom of speech and religion, which are two values we hold so dear in this coun-try.
However, Israel does face a number of grave challenges, the most important of these being the search for peace. Of course we are all aware of the geography of Israel. To the south, in the Gaza Strip, Hamas refuses to recognise Israel’s right to exist and it remains committed to Israel’s destruction. We saw evidence of the hundreds of rockets being fired at Israeli towns and settlements by ter-rorists given safe haven in the Gaza Strip. To the north of Israel, Hezbollah is frantically rearming and reorganising to prepare for its next unprovoked attack on Israeli sover-eignty. Here the United Nations is entrusted with keeping the illegal terrorist organisation Hezbollah from gaining strength and with preventing them from once again invading Israeli territory. Let me make this clear: Hezbollah is an illegal terrorist organisation. So, imagine my surprise to see the Hezbollah official flag flying within metres of a United Nations compound—serving as a direct an-tagonism towards Israeli citizens.
Some of the threats to Israel, however, are less well known — so much so that I only became aware of them through talking with a number of Palestinians and Israelis during the delegation. One such person was re-spected Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh. Mr Toameh made it clear that whilst the West regards the Palestinian Fatah party as relatively moderate and pragmatic, he regards them to be at least as dangerous as Hamas, and far more corrupt and incompe-tent.
But the most alarming aspect of my visit was two meetings linked not by personalities but by the content of the discussion. One of these meetings was with Mr Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch. Palestinian Me-dia Watch is an organisation that monitors and translates what the Palestinian media, schools and imams are saying to their people in Arabic. As happens in Australia, there have been the usual claims that comments are taken out of context or have suffered through mistranslation, but there can be no denial of the sinister message that was presented so clearly to us. We were presented with images that would disturb even the most open minded of people.
Mr Marcus visited Australia last week and shared with some members of the Australian public much of what he shared with the delegation. This included many examples of incitement on Palestinian TV, which is the equivalent of our ABC. And when I say in-citement, I do not just mean incitement to dislike, or even to hate; I mean incitement to murder, and to commit suicide in doing so. He showed us a music video, aimed squarely at children, urging them to become martyrs and to enjoy the delights of heaven, which, in his video, resembled a brightly coloured fairground. And the video was not shown just once; it was shown 50 times in a single month on Palestinian TV. We also saw a children’s show in which a young, articulate 11-year-old Palestinian girl told the host that her goal in life was to become a martyr for Palestine. In May 2007, Palestinian Media Watch reported that Hamas was using a clone of Mickey Mouse on a weekly chil-dren’s television program to teach Islamic supremacy and hatred of Jews and Ameri-cans.
This problem, unfortunately, is certainly not confined to Palestinian television. Mr Marcus showed a notice for a youth soccer tournament run by the Palestinian Ministry of Education, at that time also under the con-trol of Fatah. Each of the teams was named after a Palestinian suicide bomber, while the tournament itself was named for a terrorist leader who was finally hunted down by Israel. The Department of Education was also responsible for textbooks denying Israel’s right to exist and calling for constant conflict with it. In sermons broadcast on Palestinian TV, popular imams preach anti-Semitism and call for the destruction not only of Israel but of the Jews, in the most blood-thirsty of terms. We have been told on numerous occa-sions that the cause of Palestinian hatred to-wards Israel is the occupation and the ill-treatment of Palestinians. I now know, through my own experience, that the source of this hatred is far more insidious and will be far harder to overcome than simply grant-ing a Palestinian state. Yet it must be over-come for there to be any chance of a genuine and lasting peace. Clearly, such a peace ob-jective is not on the agenda of all those re-sponsible for this incitement.
Sadly, my belief that this hateful behaviour was the exclusive preserve of the Hamas terrorist group proved very short lived. The following day we met with Ziyad Abu Ziyad, until recently a Fatah representative on the Palestinian Legislative Council. Mr Abu Zi-yad is regarded as a moderate within the Fa-tah group. He is the co-editor of a joint Pal-estinian-Israeli journal and has been an im-portant member of Palestinian delegations to various peace negotiations. His message to me, though, was far from impressive. Per-haps the most disturbing of it was that every time the issue of Palestinian incitement of hate, particularly directed towards children, was raised, he told us that he did not agree with 14-, 15- or 16-year-olds carrying out suicide bombings, because he felt that at that age they were too young to be making that kind of decision. He could not explain to me when pressed at what age it was appropriate for a person to become a suicide bomber or a mass murderer or whether it was all right for a Palestinian youth to carry out killings in ways that did not necessarily involve their own deaths. When he was further pressed on this issue, he claimed that Palestinian TV was so bad that no-one really watched it anyway so it did not really matter what was put on it.
Mr Abu Ziyad explained that all Palestinians had satellite dishes and they watched channels on that instead. This undermined the argument that he had been trying to impress upon us about the grinding poverty of the Palestinians, especially due to the block-ade of Hamas. Somehow they could all afford satellite dishes! Since then, I have been advised that the Palestinians actually receive more aid per capita than any other population in the world.
Mr Abu Ziyad also sought to put a spin on various topics that simply did no credit to his cause. The most outrageous claim was that President Abbas was so concerned about peace with Israel that he even did his doc-toral thesis on Jewish history. I have since been informed the thesis was a denial of the Holocaust. Mr Abu Ziyad blamed the Israeli occupation for the lack of peace, but there was a persistent refusal to acknowledge or accept that his own people must refrain from terrorism and meaningfully recognise Israel.
Of course, the occupation could have ended in 2000, had then leader Yasser Arafat accepted Israel’s proposal for a Palestinian state or even continued the negotiation proc-ess. When I asked why Arafat did not do so, Mr Abu Ziyad claimed it was because the Israeli Prime Minister at the time, Mr Barak, had demanded Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount. In fact, Mr Barak’s offer was for Palestinian sovereignty over the top of the Temple Mount, where the Islamic holy places are, and Israeli sovereignty under the mount, the site of Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall.
The truth is that Palestinians have the op-portunity to pursue a peace process. Like most Australians, I fervently hope that they do pursue this process in the Middle East, but we have to understand that peace can only come when Israel has a genuine partner to negotiate with. Sadly, given my experi-ence with the so-called ‘moderates’ on the Palestinian side, peace in Israel is a long way off. Until that time, I take comfort in our government’s strong support for Israel and its right to take the necessary steps to defend itself and its citizens from the evil that is terrorism in all its forms.