Type
Article
Category
Colonialism
Palestine

Indigenous there, settler here: battling dispossession on stolen land

Seventy-four years ago, 700,000 Palestinians—or 80 per cent of the population—were expelled and ethnically cleansed from my homeland. My grandparents, who were teenagers at the time, were expelled from Al-Lydd, Historic Palestine, were forced to seek refuge in Jordan. They resided in refugee camps for the decades to come and, since then, no member of my family have returned to our rightful home.

This is what we describe as the Nakba (catastrophe). This year, a common theme within Nakba events was that Nakba is not a singular event, but an ongoing process. This was particularly felt as tensions began to rise in Occupied Palestine. Just weeks before Nakba day, an Israeli Supreme Court issued a ruling which allowed the destruction of villages in Masafer Yatta, in Hebron, occupied West Bank.  Over 1,200 residents face expulsion to allow the occupying Israeli government to create an army firing range.

The Nakba is ongoing. Seventy-four years on, Israel continues to ethnically cleanse Palestinians.

A couple of days before Nakba Day, Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh was murdered by the Israeli miliaary. Her funeral was then attacked by Israeli police, establishing that colonial state-sanctioned violence against Palestinians would extend from life into death. Since then,  no accountability processes have been put in place.

The Nakba is ongoing. However, our story of dispossession is not unique, but rather forms part of the many stories of Indigenous populations being uprooted, murdered and having their lands destroyed by violent colonial regimes, including the land we live on, so-called Australia. Here, colonisation is ongoing, and Indigenous people continue to face its violence.

Since 1991, there have been over 500 deaths in custody with no forms of accountability or meaningful investigations. As recently as 2020, Yorta Yorta Woman Tanya Day died in police custody and, despite the coroner finding that the police officers involved should be referred for criminal investigation, a decision was made not to prosecute. As I write this article, the traditional lands of First Nations People are under constant threat from being destroyed in the interests of mining companies and the state. In 2020, Rio Tinto blasted a 46,000 year old Aboriginal sacred site in Jukkan Gorge, Western Australia, for profit, ignoring the pleas of elders and indigenous members of the local community, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people. 

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Despite being forced into exile, and holding refugee status, Palestinian refugees whose families were exiled in 1948 living on colonised lands are settlers, too. In the context of so-called Australia specifically, we benefit off stolen land at the expense of First Nations people actively subjugated by colonial violence. In more recent years, our supposed inclusion in society and the exploitation of Arabs as symbols of multiculturism have been used as tools by the state to conceal its racist and colonial legacy that seeps systemically and impacts Indigenous people the most. For example, on ‘Australia Day’—a day marked by the violent invasion of traditional lands, and genocide of First Nations people and their culture—multiculturalism is often celebrated. This is used as tool to highlight Australia’s supposed inclusiveness, and encourage celebration of ‘Australian identity’ at the expense of First Nations peoples in this colony. As such, it is important for us living in so-called Australia to examine our relationship with the colonial violence inflicted on First Nations people.

Some insist on arguing that Australia is an inclusive society and racism is just a thing of the past and, as issues of race became prominent in the recent elections, they were often countered by manipulating the idea of Australia’s multicultural society. Yet, in spite of the fact that First Nations in Australia are the most imprisoned population on Earth, neither party campaigned on decolonising legal structures with the aim of reducing the rate of incarceration. Additionally, as Sarah Collard reports, there were no policies directed at reducing the socio-economic gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, and no commitment to reducing costs in remote and reginal communities—this , despite the election fought over reducing the cost of living and improving the economy. As noted by Dr Chelsea Watego, ‘there is no left and right in the colony.’

Instead, throughout the elections we saw an emphasis on multiculturalism, with various political and community readers describing Australia as an inclusive society. Albanese, for instance, stated ‘I have a non-Anglo-Celtic name, and so does our Senate leader as well. I think it send a message out there hopefully to multicultural Australia that you can achieve anything in this country.’ Thus the existence of migrants and refugees in Australia becomes a tool to negate its racist structures and history. This erases the experience of Indigenous people, who have been calling for decolonial strategies for the systemic issues facing them.

This tool is also used by Israel with incredible frequency. When faced with allegations of Apartheid from the world’s largest human rights organisations, its governments notes that Israel is an inclusive society, with Arab MPs, judges and even Arabs and Israelis co-existing. It exploits its non-Palestinian refugee population to highlight that Israel is a welcoming, multicultural and inclusive country. This, despite the fact that the use of the term ‘Arab’ completely erases Palestinian identity and existence, furthering the settler colonial project. Moreover, it purposefully conceals the fact that Palestinians living in Israel are denied the same rights as Jewish people and also, that Palestinian refugees are denied entry and their right to return. For in order for Israel to maintain its settler colonial project, Palestinians, Palestinian identity and Palestinian sovereignty must be erased.

This helps understand why Australian policies towards Israel are so favourable. The representation of the Palestinian struggle as a conflict around national security, as opposed to one of racial justice and decolonisation, resonates with Australia’s own history and policies. The recent acquittal of Zachary Rolfe, who shot and killed Kumanjayi Walker in his home, highlights this. Instead of focussing on the escalating state repression endured by Aboriginal communities and the social circumstances that led to Walker’s ‘criminal record’, his record was used as a weapon in court. It was argued that Walker was ‘the author of his own misfortune’. This form of victim-blaming, which focussed on the supposed security risk an unarmed man presented to a military trained armed police officer, diverted the case away from one of racial injustice to one of security.

This attitude has a direct correlation with Israel’s continuous attempts to reframe colonial and state violence towards the Palestinian people to one that is our own fault and necessary for the safety and security of the Israeli state.  As such, it is clear that the values of Australian and Israeli colony are not distinct, and mutual support is required for the continuation of both settler-colonial projects.

It is clear that, in so-called Australia, we are tools in maintaining the settler colonial project and thus, settlers ourselves. Examining our relationship with First Nations as settlers invokes a responsibility in activism. It calls on us to not just engage with issues that impact us, but also with those that we are complicit in. Our Nakba goes hand in hand with settler colonialism in this colony and will not end until settler colonialism is dismantled everywhere.

 

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Amal Naser is a Palestinian organiser living and working on unceded Gadigal Land. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at UNSW. She has strong interest in the intersection of the law and the rights of Indigenous persons.

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Comments

  1. Fraid that’s the too hard basket in a nutshell. How the one, the many, crack open that nutshell, so such inequalities of being in this place and time, as described above, no longer exist and true equality reins, for ever more, lies well beyond my current figuring. Like to read some possible solutions though.

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