Aotearoa-New Zealand and Palestine each have populations of five million people. With the exception of several Pacific Islands, we New Zealanders are the most distant people from Israel-Palestine. What can a few dozen New Zealanders of Muslim, Jewish, Christian, secular and other identities do from a small country at the bottom of the world?
We – members of Wellington-Palestine and Alternative Jewish Voices – work together because we see in the Palestinian people other human beings whose equal human rights are being crushed in a disastrous and illegitimate occupation. We seek solutions that begin with the restoration of rights and equal standing, as preconditions (not rewards) for a political solution.
As an occupied people, Palestinians are entitled to protection, but protection is not a dynamic of change. So much time and energy have been expended in the past few years to slow the losses of the Trump-Netanyahu embrace. In those efforts, Palestinians have been too often reduced to being the object of our protection. Protection is no substitute for recognising Palestinians as political actors and as agents of resistance and social change.
Here in Aotearoa-New Zealand, we believe we can capitalise on a moment of national change to reframe the issue. NZ recently elected a centre-left government with an historic majority, led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. She has a rare ability to make waves with good, basic, principled statements. However, since our diplomatic initiative on UN Resolution 2334, our government has fallen decidedly quiet about Palestine.
"The previous coalition government had their hands tied by the Foreign Minister, Winston Peters. Peters had no interest in the Palestinian cause and failed to raise his voice against Israel's breaches of human rights, even when unarmed protesters were being picked off by IDF snipers during the Great March of Return,” says Neil Ballantyne of Wellington-Palestine.
On November 6, 2020, a new Foreign Minister took office. Nanaia Mahuta is the first Maori woman to serve as Foreign Minister, with 24 years of parliamentary experience. Her community focus and Cabinet portfolios have included indigenous land rights, water quality, and Māori development.
Now that’s a reset.
Alternative Jewish Voices and Wellington-Palestine submitted a briefing on Palestine to the incoming Foreign Minister, urging her to uphold the laws that governments have signed in our names. We want our government to call for an end to the blockade and recognise the State of Palestine, to condemn the detention of children, to formulate policy that recognises Palestinians as whole people and indispensable partners in any real solution.
Those calls are not new, but we hope that they will finally reach a differently attuned ear. Land rights, clean water, autonomy and development; we hope that Nanaia Mahuta will have the courage to ask why Aotearoa-NZ has helped to withhold such basics from the Palestinian people for so long.
Our government has habitually asked, ‘Shall we bestow these things?’ when the real question is, ‘Who are we to withhold them?’
When the question is reset in this way, the recognition of Palestine becomes an obvious answer. Things don’t change until people have equal standing to speak as of right about their own land, resources and futures.
To reset the conversation in those terms, Alternative Jewish Voices and Wellington Palestine are focusing on the call to recognise the State of Palestine. Recognition is not a reward. It is a baseline and a precondition for a political project. On a personal level, to withhold recognition is to deny Palestinians full, normal participation in a world of state-based systems, simply because they were born Palestinian. Why should a Palestinian child lack a passport, or use of the water beneath her family’s land, or access to websites that work in Israel?
Those are questions that bring Palestinians into focus as whole human beings. Our lack of recognition is a willful refusal to see and hear from Palestinians as our equals. Marilyn Garson, member of Alternative Jewish Voices and author of Still Lives – A Memoir of Gaza, will bring that statement to half a dozen towns and cities in the coming weeks on a speaking tour. We think the message will resonate widely.