It's Australia Day and I'm in Palestine. I can't help but draw parallels between the two countries – the two stories of invasion, displacement and imperialism.
On January 26th, 1788 the British flag was raised in Sydney Cove for the first time. A day some celebrate as the colonisation of Terra Nullius. For others it commemorates a day of invasion, grief and survival. A day a people lost their land and their identity. May 15th, 1948 is celebrated as the day the state of Israel was officially established. Known by Israelis as Yom Ha'atzmaut (Independence Day). To the Palestinian people this day is called The Nakba (the day of disaster) where over 700,000 people were forcefully removed from their land.
Both Yom Ha'atzmaut and Australia Day are days that can only truly be celebrated by the powerful. The conquerors. They are celebrations of one races victory, at the expense of another. Of course these are not uncommon stories; the world's map has been shaped by violent conquest, occupation and displacement. But on this day celebrated by the country I call home, I sit in a tiny West Bank village surrounded by razor wire and landmines, fighter jets occasionally flying overhead and I wonder…Why? Why does it have to be this way and why we must celebrate it? The tactics of imperialism that have displaced Australia's First Nation people are the same tactics being used here in Palestine. In fact they are the same tactics used against the Jews in WW2. A people group have been scapegoated. Laws are established to segregate, oppress and demoralise. They are dehumanised through government and media propaganda. A people are dehumanized and become the enemy. Terrible acts of violence and hate are done to them, while many stand idle, apathetic or unaware of the abuse.
Hate instills hate. A friend of mine here, a journalist, asked a Palestinian teenager at a check-point what their favourite memory was. The boy gave a gap-toothed smiled and responded, "the first time I threw a rock at a soldier". Violence is conditioned into the children here, on both sides of the wall. Israeli teenagers become trigger-happy soldiers, heads full of Zionistic nationalism. And the rock throwing boy becomes the crazed bomber on the bus, the axe-wielder in the synagogue. Desperate to feel powerful, if even for a moment. The imperialistic system that has shaped Australia, and is shaping Israel/Palestine demands such responses. It pulls us into its web and it seems you must either conform, lash out with what force you can muster, or be crushed.
But I believe there is another way. Or at least I have faith there is. It is the way of hope – the way of creativity, joy and nonviolence. My Palestinian friend Ghassan told me, "no matter what, we must have hope. Without hope, there is no life". Hope manifests itself here in art, poetry, music, clown schools and theatre groups that resist the occupation by creating beauty and life, like any thriving society should. They tell another story – one that doesn't involve guns or violence. This Way (I believe it deserves a capital) is beyond the system of Us versus Them, Tribe versus Tribe, that an imperialist empire relies on to function.
So today I choose not to celebrate, because to celebrate what the 26th stands for, is to accept and legitimize a broken system. But I do choose to hope. I hope for a day that I can truly celebrate this Day – with boxing kangaroos temporary tattooed on my face, Australian flag adorning my shoulders as a cape, twirling wildly as I dance to the JJJ hottest 100. Celebrating alongside those who have been displaced by Australian imperialism, but are now empowered and included in a free society.
The system is enticing. Look at how our indigenous brothers and sisters, the homeless, asylum seekers and any who don't fit the societal mold, are still being treated today. We are fooling ourselves if we say we are not the same nation we were 200 years ago. The roots run too deep. But it is the nonviolent, creative resistance I see here and back home that make me think it doesn't always have to be this way. There is another another Way to walk - another story to create.