“Uncle Rob is Right. Israel, Australia: What is the Difference?”: Senator Lidia Thorpe on Gaza

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Lidia Thorpe and Israel

The Albanese government having thrown itself into the US-led defence of Israel as it perpetrates genocide on the Palestinians within the walled-in region of the Gaza Strip reveals one settler colonial nation supporting another in its subjugation of Indigenous peoples on their own lands.

The overwhelming evidence South Africa presented to the International Court of Justice last week, detailed multiple forms genocide, as the crime is defined in the Genocide Convention, that are being perpetuated in Gaza, along with pages of quotes detailing the genocidal intent of Israeli officials.

In terms of the ICJ genocide application, prime minister Anthony Albanese finally provided some thoughts on Monday, when he told ABC radio that “the main game” is “not the court case”, rather it’s working on a “durable peace”, which is an answer that certainly isn’t in support of the case.

And since the Albanese government stepped in to provide support for the US and the UK, as it’s fellow AUKUS powers attacked the Houthis in Yemen over actions that were undertaken in solidarity with the Palestinians, federal Labor has embroiled us in warring on the side of Tel Aviv.

Criminal complicity

Thursday week, 26 January, is Invasion Day. Going back a decade ago, recognising in print that the date, which has long been a public holiday celebrating the nation, was the day that marked the beginning of the dispossession and purposeful mass killing of the continent’s First People, was rare.

These days, major retail outlets, like Woolworths and Aldi, have refused to stock Australian Day merchandise, which not only shows that the campaign to drop the date has become mainstream, but it also reveals that it’s profitable for major companies to actively display their support.

Indeed, Indigenous affairs were front and centre last year. The Albanese government held the Voice to Parliament referendum, which, it was presented, would serve to advance Aboriginal rights, even though the body that was to be established could only provide nonbinding advice.

The negative vote against the Voice was announced almost simultaneously as the mass killings in Gaza began, with the PM then showing clear support for these actions with the projection of Israeli colours onto Parliament House, which laid bare the colonial racism present at the nation’s core.

The local crime of genocide

Senator Lidia Thorpe led the Progressive No Vote campaign against the Voice to Parliament, as she asserted that an Indigenous body providing advice to the nation’s executive about the best way forward for First Nations peoples which doesn’t then need to be actioned is not self-determination.

And Thorpe was likely the first federal politician to voice her support for the Palestinians in the early days of the catastrophe, as, despite the western media framing, the Gunnai Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung senator was clear that what was unfolding was a genocide against an occupied people.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Senator Lidia Thorpe, who represents the Blak Sovereign movement in parliament, about the crimes against humanity that are unfolding in Gaza, the Albanese government’s complicity and the genocide that’s continued here for centuries.

Since early October, the settler colonial Israeli government has been engaged in the wholesale massacre of the Indigenous Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip, which is a walled-in region that Tel Aviv has occupied since 1967 and has been subject to a 17 year blockade.

Senator Thorpe, overall, how would you describe what’s taking place in Gaza right now?

It’s a live genocide in front of the world’s eyes. It’s a real time genocide that we’re all watching, and it doesn’t seem like too many governments around the world, in particular ours, are doing much about it at this point in time.

The Israeli government has blood on its hand. And the fact that this country is guilty of ongoing genocide and has also taken as long as it has to say anything on Gaza speaks volumes.

We knew the humanitarian crisis was coming. And the government’s response makes us complicit in the Palestine genocide, just as it stands guilty right here for the genocide against First Peoples.

South Africa has taken Israel to the International Court of Justice charging it with genocide. The Albanese government, however, has repeatedly asserted Israel is defending itself, and it’s also issued a couple of weak statements around a ceasefire.

As someone who works alongside the ministers making these decisions, what do you think about the response of the Australian government?

Absolutely weak and gutless. It’s a disgrace. And we don’t have a Human Rights Act in this country.

Australia is guilty of breaching so many rights, including in the ongoing genocide against First Peoples. This country should be at the International Court of Justice itself in regard to what’s gone on to our people.

So, I’m not surprised that they won’t support human rights, and I’m not surprised that they’re complicit in someone else’s genocide.

The evidence that South Africa has presented in the International Court of Justice clearly shows it is not about self-defence for Israel. It is a genocide unfolding as we speak.

What happened on October 7th was used as an excuse by Israel to raise that self-defence rhetoric. This is not self-defence and certainly, that’s what’s coming clear from the International Court of Justice.

I just wonder what these Labor ministers are thinking. The evidence is clear. They’re aware of the evidence, which makes them complicit.

And the fact that Penny Wong refused to meet with Francesca Albanese to discuss the Israeli claim of self-defence shows that they’re avoiding evidence they don’t want to know.

The Palestinians and the First Nations peoples of this continent have a special relationship. Can you talk about that?

It’s about survival and self-determination. It is what the Palestinians have been fighting for over this 75 year occupation. It is the ongoing secrecy around genocide, that both people have had to endure.

Ours started almost 250 years ago. We were 100 percent of the population here. Now we’re 3 percent of the population. Most of our people have been wiped off the face of the Earth. And that is genocide.

We know what it is like to be dispossessed. We know what it is like to fight for the survival of children and families.

That is ongoing here and that is why we understand the Palestinian struggle. We have the experience. We have the intergenerational trauma that continues to affect our people.

The pain. The grief. The loss. It’s something we understand, and it is something that we know that Palestinian people around the world are experiencing right now.

The system of globalised trade means that Australia is linked to the genocide in Gaza in a number of ways.

But the multiple crimes against humanity now taking place over there, further reverberate here because of what’s been taking place in the establishment of this settler colonial nation.

I can say that as a settler, what’s happening in Gaza has given me a greater emotional understanding of what has taken place here.

And when I saw footage of your uncle Robbie Thorpe describing, at the Palestine rally in Melbourne last week, that Australia is “a big Israel”, it sort of summed up this deeper understanding I’m referring to.

So, how would you say the genocide in Gaza and the support from the setter colonial government here are impacting First Nations people locally?

This has put the spotlight on genocide. Uncle Rob is right. Israel, Australia: what is the difference?

When people get a greater understanding, like yourself, then there is a very good comparison between the two genocides and the impacts that has on people.

The solidarity between Palestinians and our people highlights the similarity between the two countries and this similarity is why everyone should be talking about genocide.

Another point to make is that the Gaza genocide, the government’s support for it, and the lighting up of various buildings in the colours of the Israeli flag came almost simultaneously with the announcement that the nation had voted against the Voice referendum.

You opposed the Voice as it was a weak proposition. But it would appear a majority of the No votes were opposed due to the false idea that the Voice was too strong a proposal.

What are your thoughts on the Gaza genocide coming on the back of this result? And has the nation had a chance to deal with the outcome of the referendum?

The misinformation that was coming from Price and Dutton is what we have to deal with here. And I said from the beginning that we’re not ready for a referendum on this. I knew it was going to cause harm.

The environment wasn’t right. We weren’t ready to ask this country whether First Nations peoples should have rights, which was the crux of the question that was meant to appeal to people.

It just showed how racist this country is, regardless of the Progressive No vote. October 7th, how I describe it as an activist, is we had to hold onto our grief about the referendum, and we had to grieve for our brothers and sisters in Palestine.

We had to pause our feelings to deal with what is going on in Palestine. However, the government’s response was to give public servants a week full pay because of their heartaches around the referendum, never mind the children being murdered in Palestine.

I was so disgusted in how the government responded to the No vote.

They went into some kind of mourning. We had Aboriginal organisations doing the same. And that really frustrated a lot of the grassroots Blak Sovereign movement activists, because you can’t go silent in the middle of a genocide that is playing out on the world stage.

It was part of the government strategy to keep a divide between First Peoples and the Palestinians in this country.

The referendum was, as we know, deeply divisive and it was meant to be. We should have always gone through a truth-telling process in order to educate this country on why Palestine is the same as what is going on here, and all the ugly truths about what has occurred here.

And lastly, Senator Thorpe, you opposed the Voice referendum in favour of establishing a truth-telling process followed by treaty-making.

But since Israel unleashed its Gaza campaign, many commentators are suggesting that the old western-led international order is falling over, as, in sanctioning the massacre on the Palestinians, western powers have disregarded international law.

So, from this present position, what are your thoughts on the way forward for First Nations people? And what do you consider needs to happen in terms of Palestine?

We need rights. We need a rights-based approach. We need the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to ensure free, prior and informed consent.

We need a Human Rights Bill in this country. We need the recommendations covering deaths in custody and child removals: all the genocidal acts that this country continues to perpetrate that is what we must be doing in this country now, stopping this ongoing genocide.

In terms of Palestine, and what comes next for Palestine, well, that is not for me to decide. That is for Palestinian people to decide. That is their self-determining right.

That is the principle of self-determination, and it is why the Middle East has been in conflict for so long, because of these outside powers exerting their ideas and telling others how they must live as a people.

At the end of the day, what Palestinians and First Peoples here want is peace and an end to genocide. That is something I can certainly say we agree on.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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