THE plight of the Palestinian people under the military occupation is so painful that even sometimes the citizens of Israel recount it in heartwrenching detail.
Avigail Abarbanel is an Israeli born psychotherapist who migrated to Australia in 1991.
Abarbanel renounced her Israeli citizenship in protest at the Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinian people.
Abarbanel served in the Israeli army between 1982–1984, during Israel’s first invasion of Lebanon. She said that until moving to Australia in 1991, she did not realise that what was being done to the Palestinian people was wrong. Because of her upbringing she was told to look at the Palestinians in a derogatory way.
This was further ingrained in her mind when at school because she was taught to dehumanise the Palestinians and view them as ‘others.’ She continues: ‘Israeli indoctrination, or what I think of as brainwashing, has everything to do with how Palestinians and Arabs in general are perceived in Israel.
‘It also has a great deal to do with how Israeli soldiers are able to treat Palestinians of all ages. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine is continuing right now in small steps on a number of fronts that chip away at the Palestinian people, their cohesion, their spirit, their resistance and their aspirations for freedom. I worry that if the opportunity arises Israel will go for a combination of mass expulsion and mass killings or in other words a full blown genocide.’
Abarbanel is a vocal advocate of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and asks everyone to support the boycotting of Israeli goods saying: ‘Allowing trade with Israel makes Israel believe that the world agrees with what it does and that the world does not care about the Palestinian people.’
Speculating about a peaceful future for the Palestinians she said: ‘The future isn’t set in stone and can shift and change in directions we sometimes do not anticipate. However, I believe that with the way things are going now, it doesn’t look good for the Palestinian people.
‘Unless the world wakes up, stops Israel and helps the Palestinians liberate themselves from Israel’s settler-colonialist oppression, I don’t see a future for the Palestinian people. I am afraid for the Palestinian. I don’t think Israel will just continue this status-quo forever.
‘I think that Israel is looking for an opportunity to finish the job that Ben Gurion began in 1947-1948. Genocides in modern times have been committed usually behind the smokescreen of war. Perhaps Israel is waiting for a big regional conflict to come along and give it the necessary pretext or smokescreen to end it all.
‘People have to remember that Israel is a settler-colonial project intended as a Jewish safe haven. Israel therefore has no intention of sharing the land with Palestine or its people and will not stop, unless it is forced to by outside forces. Unless the world gets this and intervenes decisively and definitively, it doesn’t look good for the Palestinians.
‘It’s one of those many areas where I hope that I am completely wrong.’
Abarbanel went on to say: ‘I am an open supporter of the BDS campaign as a non-violent way to stop Israel. The BDS provides an excellent opportunity to educate those who do not know the history of Israel and Palestine and who might be sympathetic towards Israel.
‘That is another reason to support this campaign everywhere in the world. Israel can pressure governments to legislate one way or the other against the BDS, but that cannot stop individuals. People think that individuals don’t make a difference to the bigger picture.
‘We have evidence that when groups of people put pressure on supermarket chains and suppliers not to stock Israeli products it has a negative effect on Israel’s economy and Israeli psychology. Ideally I would like European governments and hopefully the Americans too, to boycott Israeli goods officially.
‘As long as they still do business with Israel, buy from and sell to Israel, employ Israeli consultants in their police and military forces, Israel feels like it’s a respected member of the international community. This allows Israel to laugh in everyone’s faces and continue what it does to the Palestinians with impunity.
‘It was the sanctions against South Africa that Israel did not support – that eventually brought down the indefensible and Apartheid regime. The same needs to happen to Israel. The lesson Israel should have learned after WWII is “never again to anyone,” instead it learned “never again to Israel.”
‘We have the wrong kinds of people in power and we only have ourselves to blame for this. The BDS campaign is working even though it may take some time. It is making Israel so nervous that it recently passed the ridiculous anti-BDS legislation. No one can force an individual to buy an Israeli cucumber or orange in the supermarket.
‘Members and shareholders can complain to their pension funds if they invest in Israeli companies and products. As individuals we need to make use of our economic power.
‘Union and Church members around the world are doing the same and their pressure is working.’
Abarbanel, speaking about her Israeli citizenship, continues: ‘It was after I watched (on Australian TV) Ariel Sharon march to Al-Aqsa Mosque on Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem with an entourage of security guards. It was clear to me that it was a deliberate and provocative act and sure enough it sparked the second Intifada.
‘I have always been uneasy about Israel and thought that something wasn’t right there, but didn’t know anything about our real history. I felt that what Sharon did was the last straw for me and I called the Israeli consulate in Sydney and asked for an application form to renounce my citizenship. What he did seemed so profoundly wrong, arrogant and disrespectful that I felt that I didn’t want to be a member of that “club” anymore.
‘I couldn’t continue to belong to and have the citizenship of a country like Israel. It was a symbolic act of course because under the Israeli Law of Return, which applies to Jews only, I can technically get my citizenship back any time. But this act was important to me to send a message to Israel and to the world that I no longer want to be associated with that country.
‘I am called a traitor and plenty of other names too. Those who attack me try to appeal to some sense of tribal guilt that they think I might still have somewhere deep inside, in order to silence me. But I don’t feel guilty anymore. I feel relief and feel more comfortable with myself that at least in this area I live according to my values.
‘I don’t advocate that everyone who is an activist for Palestinian rights or every anti-Zionist renounce their Israeli citizenship. It’s just something I had to do to be able to live with myself. So I feel fine. Of course I also feel a lot of grief over losing the place I was born and grew up in.
‘I lost all my childhood friends, almost all of my family and everything that was once a part of my life. Nothing connects me to my history and that is really sad sometimes. It’s a pity that anyone should have to go through this, but the price I have been paying is tiny compared with what every Palestinian is paying every day. I am not the victim here, they are.
‘I pay my price willingly because it is the least I can do for the fact that I once was a member of that society, that I served in that military, that I supported Zionism without understanding that I was supporting a settler-colonial project and that even after I left Israel I was still an apologist for Israel for at least a decade.
‘I am ashamed of my history and how long it took me to wake up to the truth. So feeling some grief over what I have lost is a small price to pay. I accept it willingly and lovingly.’
She added: ‘I feel completely devastated and heartbroken for my fellow human beings and I feel angry with Israel and the rest of the world. I feel terrible for the people of Gaza. They are ordinary people like me and everyone I know, yet they are treated as less than human.’
‘Some people started to realise that what is happening is wrong and set up somewhere to talk about it. “Breaking the Silence” is an Israeli organisation of ex-soldiers and officers, started as a way of giving a voice to soldiers who question what they did in their military service.
‘There are many testimonies on their website and they also published a book with many of these testimonies. These people are vilified in Israel and are treated as traitors, but reading their stories and what they say about the process they have gone through can give you a pretty good idea about how young people are indoctrinated in Israel.
‘It’s easier to kill a Palestinian man, woman and child when you cannot see them as a human being. Israel teaches its people to dehumanise the Palestinian people. They are trapped in the largest open air prison and are entirely at Israel’s mercy.’