Thursday, December 8, 2011

Nothing is Sacred...

... for the Barnetts of this world:

"Colin Barnett's description of James Price Point in Western Australia, where Woodside is preparing to build a liquefied natural gas terminal, as an 'unremarkable beach' shows a callous dismissal and ignorance of Aboriginal people and their beliefs (Secret men's business threatens $30 billion gas bonanza, December 5).

"If the place is part of a song cycle, a dreaming place sacred to the people of the region, it is disgraceful that politicians like Barnett can disrespect the real pain and distress that Aboriginal people feel if these places are threatened. These feelings could not have been made more dramatically to me while filming in the Central Desert in early 1987.

"I took a nearly blind Papunya artist, 'Old' Tutuma Tjapangati back to his 'dreaming place'. After 2 days following tracks through the sand he suddenly indicated that we should turn off. Unerringly, he guided us through kilometres of sand and spinifex. Then, very quietly, he started to sing, and tears welled in his eyes. Gradually the song became a wail. Then he indicated that we stop. I looked around. The place looked the same as the hundreds of kilometres we had travelled through. Continuing to sing, he sat motionless for a whole day often with tears rolling down his ancient face. 'Unremarkable' to me, this was a place of indescribable importance to him. Old Tutuma died later that year, aged 78, and I was later told he was waiting to see his dreaming place before he died. Such emotions, beliefs and sensibilities cannot be so easily dismissed by people such as Barnett." (Letter, Christopher McCullough, Bilgola Plateau, Sydney Morning Herald, 7/12/11)

Neither here nor in Palestine:

"A glance at the map of Palestine shows the great importance of the Plain of Philistia lying on the sea coast, which provides a great highway from Jaffa to Haifa, that is, from south to north... A leading Zionist is reported to have said words to this effect: 'If we are to build up our national home we must sit down on the nerve centres of Palestine', and this certainly applies to the Wady Hawareth area situated in the middle of the plain of Philistia which was sold by its landlords in Syria to the Zionists.

"When the Jews sought to gain possession, the Arab occupants refused to move. They were (several thousands of them) living in tents with great herds of cattle and flocks of sheep and goats. These tent-dwellers had lived, and their flocks had grazed, on this same land for many generations. 'Where are we to go?' they asked.

"After a long trial in the Court in Nablus, for the case was a very complicated one, judgment was given in favour of the Zionists, who applied for an order of evacuation. The following letter, dated November 22nd, 1930, which I wrote to my sister after I had paid a visit to the Arab camp, speaks for itself:

"'I must tell you of my long day's outing to visit the Bedouin tribe which the Government had evicted from its lands in the Wady Hawareth, now sold to the Jews. A good 340 kilometres I covered that day over some appalling ground. On arrival I found a miserable tumbled-down hut into which I was ushered by a crowd of men who immediately collected out of the blue on seeing the car, for there was not a soul in sight when I first got out of it, with the Moslem lawyer who had accompanied me from Haifa. We entered the hut - a rickety old bedstead with a laharf on it, a very shaky chair on which I perched with care, while Mohammed Ali el Tamimi, the lawyer, sat still more gingerly on the edge of the bedstead. The other friend who guided us from Tul el Karm sat with the men on the bare earth of the floor.

"'He started telling them who I was, when they broke into his remarks with, 'Lo, he comes, the Ancient one. He is over a hundred years old, our Sheikh, the chief of our tribe', they said. Way was opened for him through the crowd at the door, and he hobbled in, leaning on a thick knobbly staff, but quite alert and vivacious. He greeted us, then managed with some difficulty to squat amongst the other men on the mud floor of the hut. Mr Samara (our guide) took up his tale again, and I followed, saying how I had read while in the Lebanon, in the Arabic newspapers, of their terrible plight, and had come to see and sympathise.

"'As I spoke I saw the old wizened face of the Sheikh begin to twitch, his mouth tremble, his eyes blink and blink; but he couldn't keep the tears back, and they trickled down his high cheek-bones, into his scrubbly grey beard, and on to his hairy chest. Everybody lowered their heads and stared at the floor. Mohammed Ali beside me blew his nose vigorously; Mr Samara had not got a handkerchief, so sniffed violently. I swallowed hard. 'What shall we do?' What can we do?' said the Ancient One. 'Such is the decree of the English Government', and the spell was broken.

"''With your permission, honoured Sheikh', I murmured, 'the women and children are my concern. Let me go to them', and I fled. It was a most moving incident, but never a word of complaint was uttered; sheer heroic endurance of the utmost misery.

"'The Bedouin, as you know, live always on the barest limit of primitive subsistence, and here were 2,000 souls with practically everything of their possessions swept away at one fell swoop by our own British police, who had to stand up to even the women fighting for tents and lands they had owned for generations. Bedding, clothing, cooking utensils, domestic stores of oil, semini, cheese, rice, etc, even their tents gone - 118 of them went for good, leaving that number of families homeless - 260 ploughs broken up and burnt by the Jews, their springs of water gone, for the Zionists now own the land where they are, and our British police guard the borders. What they mind most is that the caves where they sheltered their cattle are now in Jewish hands, and their 8,000 cattle are out in the open with the winter upon them. Babies were born and died under the open sky - 19 widows - 400 children - even when they got a tent its sides were lacking; and yet, not a murmur did I hear. 'The British police only did their duty. The English Governor is very good; he helps us all he can. We will die here on our own land', expressed their feelings.

"'They are squatting now on 5,000 dunums allowed to them, while 40,000 dunums have gone from them, and the Jews claim that last 5,000, too. The Arabs may occupy them till the question of ownership is finally decided. But what are they among so many?

"'Sad at heart and unable to do more than leave a small gift with the Sheikh, we drove away. Some time later, when I discussed the matter with a high official, he replied, 'Yes, I am afraid that was a bad mistake we made!' 'Can you not do something to put it right?' I asked. 'Oh no', he said, 'we must not interfere with the Judiciary, that would never do'.'

"It is clear that the policy laid down in the Mandate would not admit of intervention by the Government in this connection, even had it been possible for it to do so." (Fifty Years in Palestine, Frances E. Newton, 1948, pp 257-259)

Be it 1930 or 2011:

"About 20 Bedouin communities between Jerusalem and Jericho are to be forcibly relocated from the land on which they have lived for 60 years under an Israel plan to expand a Jewish settlement. The removal of about 2,300 members of the Bedouin Jahalin tribe, two-thirds of whom are children, is due to begin next month. The Israeli authorities plan to relocate the families from the West Bank to a site close to a municipal rubbish dump on the edge of Jerusalem." (Bedouin to be forced out by Israeli expansion, Harriet Sherwood, Guardian/Sydney Morning Herald, 7/12/11)

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