This text is a formative advance version of a special editorial from the following members of the ANZSW Journal Editorial Collective: Neil Ballantyne, Liz Beddoe, Kerri Cleaver, Yvonne Crichton-Hill, Ian Hyslop, Eileen Joy, Emily Keddell, Deb Stanfield, and Shayne Walker. It will be further developed, refined and published in the forthcoming Reproductive Justice issue of the journal. It has been written to express unconditional solidarity with the Palestinian people at this time.
We are horrified by the indiscriminate death and suffering, as Gaza, walled off from a watching world, is bombarded by the Israeli military machine. There are no words, really – homes, refugee camp apartment blocks, bakeries, hospitals, schools, ambulances – all sites of screaming children and bloody suffering: unnecessary pointless heart-breaking terror. These are war crimes as defined by international laws, conventions and treaties.
We condemn the disproportionate horror perpetrated by the Zionist Netanyahu regime. We condemn the collusion of Western Europe, particularly the UK government and we condemn the way the US has unconditionally bankrolled the system of occupation and apartheid that has been imposed and systematically entrenched since the founding of Israel 75 years ago.
We condemn the tepid response of social work bodies locally and globally. Statements from the ANZASW and the IFSW do not appear to recognise that this is a struggle between an occupied people and an oppressive colonial state. We don’t condone the violent incursion, killings and kidnappings carried out by Hamas which unleashed the current fury of the Israeli state: but we unreservedly condemn the genocidal collective punishment of Palestinians.
Where there is occupation and oppression, there is resistance. The right to resist military occupation is recognised by the Geneva Convention. Palestinian resistance will not be crushed by the slaughter of people shut in the enclosed prison which Gaza has become. The notion of destroying Hamas by bombing and shelling a densely packed, trapped, hungry and desperate civilian population is as illogical as it is grossly inhumane. There is no safe place in Gaza. We know this to be true. The world has watched: over 10,000 people have died and the numbers tick over by the hour. Women are giving birth in hospitals without lights, sanitation, or anaesthetic. The acutely ill are dying in pain. How does this make Israel more secure? The children who survive this living hell will not simply learn to fear an all-powerful Israel: they will be inscribed with a legacy of suffering, injustice, resistance and struggle.
If social work has anything useful to say in a world of division and inequality where the security of capital and the geopolitical interests of the powerful allows for this barbarism, it must call for justice for Palestine. Social Work Associations, including the International Federation, like to be aligned with the abstract idea of social justice, but in reality are all too often complicit in oppression by taking neutral positions – calling for ‘both sides’ to develop mutual understanding and resolve differences. These messages are gutless and unprincipled. They ignore the disparity of power. This is no time for neutrality. There is no neutrality in the face of the current slaughter. There is no neutrality in the face of genocide.
Many will argue, correctly, that the internal politics of Israel and of the wider region, are complex. The history of conflict is indeed long and tangled: the six day war which led to the occupation of Gaza, the Yom Kippur war, the Intifada uprisings. However all this resistance, conflict and the escalated repression which has followed, stems from the same festering root of political and material injustice – the confiscation of land and the dispossession of the Palestinians to make way for the state of Israel. Agitation for the creation of an Israeli state was spear-headed by Zionist ideology as espoused by founding father and first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion who described all Israelis as part of a standing army. Golda Meyer famously claimed that there was no such thing as Palestinians. The hawkish military strategist Ariel Sharon founded the Likud party to which Netanyahu is heir.
Netanyahu continues to show no concern about the current war crimes, no interest in abiding by international law and no interest whatsoever in Palestinian statehood. The Israeli far right has always been quick to label any critique of Israel as anti-semitic, invoking the moral revulsion of the Nazi holocaust. However, many Israelis and members of the Jewish diaspora internationally, reject the ongoing Zionist vision of an expanded biblical homeland – the colonial ideology that justifies a continuing settler push into the West Bank. The genocide must stop and we have to shout this from the rooftops. Joe Biden and other Western leaders have blood on their hands.
The idea that Israel can only be made secure from terrorist threats by more arms, more security, more US money is a toxic circular delusion. Israel exports arms and the technology of hyper-security across the globe, including the militarisation of Police forces in the U.S. (Loewenstein, 2023). Global justice in an unequal world is not served by the proliferation of weapons, prisons, and surveillance. There is common cause. The American Black scholar activist Angela Davis has suggested the current plight of Palestinians – how we do or don’t respond, where we do or don’t stand – presents a moral litmus test for social justice across the world.
There will be no just and lasting resolution until there is a free sovereign Palestinian state. Acts of resistance, uprising and warfare have scarred the politics of the Middle East since the post war partition and shaped a long trail of suffering for the Palestinian people. This tragedy has frequently been exacerbated by Western political interference. The displacement of the Palestinians is a fundamental historical structural injustice which must be addressed.
We are witnessing a magnified eruption of the colonial logic of elimination; a logic that is implanted in all the smaller acts of human rights violation directed to the management of the ‘Palestinian problem’. It was Mandela who said that South African freedom could not be complete without the freedom of the Palestinians. The analogy runs deep – the heavily policed Palestinian enclaves of the walled-off West Bank are akin to the segregated Bantustans of apartheid South Africa.
Israel isn’t about to disappear from the map. This isn’t a realistic or appropriate goal but the politics of the relationship between Israel and the West must be reconfigured. The current unconditional support for Israel is unconscionable and the self-defence as a justification for mass killing narrative is little short of sickening. The US and Western Europe should be imposing sanctions rather than providing financial, military and political support to a violent oppressive regime. The hypocrisy of this position is not lost on the wider world.
Angela Davis is right, we are at a defining junction in terms of global social justice and human rights. If social work can’t advocate for a just settlement, if it can’t name the abuse of power and self-interest that perpetuates the suffering of the Palestinian people, the global profession is morally bankrupt, part of the problem. This situation is the legacy of a deep history of global imperialism and the Western world is donkey deep in the current horror. We must all speak and act in solidarity with the Palestinian right to freedom and self-determination – we must all do what we can to stand on the right side of history.
In line with the Australian Social Workers for Palestine Position Statement we call for:
- A permanent ceasefire now.
- Immediate release of all children held as prisoners by Israel.
- The return of all hostages held by Hamas and administrative detainees held by Israel, including the release of the social worker Riad Arar and his son.
- Social work organisations globallly, including The ANZASW and The Israeli Union of Social Workers, to condemn the actions of the Israeli government.
- The New Zealand government to condemn Israel’s war crimes.
- The International Criminal Court to hold all perpetrators of war crimes to account.
- An international sanctions regime to break the systemic apartheid, occupation and genocide of the Palestinian people.
- International solidarity to provide a viable process for Palestinian self-determination.
This is a time for relentless solidarity. There are no adequate words for the plight of Gaza but we must not be silent.
Image Credit: United Nations
Loewenstein, A. (2023). The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World. London: Verso.