Letters to Eureka Street

Let’s be clear
Recently many progressive activists have drawn an analogy between the former Indonesian occupation of East Timor and the current Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

This is also an analogy I have personally drawn in the past, both in order to confirm the merits of a clear-cut two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and also to carefully delineate the precise limits of such a solution. That is to clarify that ‘Israel out of the West Bank and Gaza’ means precisely the same as ‘Indonesia out of East Timor’. It does not and cannot mean the abolition of the state of Israel any more than East Timorese independence required the destruction of Indonesia.

However, there are three fundamental differences between the two situations which need to be considered in any balanced assessment.

Firstly, the East Timorese never made any demands on Indonesian territory beyond their own state. In contrast, the Palestinians continue to demand a Right of Return of 1948 refugees to Israel proper, and the major Islamic factions unequivocally demand all of Israel.

Secondly, to the best of my knowledge, the East Timorese never attacked Indonesian civilians anywhere outside East Timor. In contrast, most of the recent Palestinian suicide/homicide bombings have taken place against Israeli civilians in Green Line Israel, rather than in the Palestinian Territories.

Thirdly, the countries neighbouring Indonesia never provided military or political support to the East Timorese, and certainly never funded extremist factions within East Timor. In contrast, Israel’s neighbours still support the Palestinian intifada to a greater or lesser degree, and some of them specifically fund Hamas and other extremist groups which are opposed to any two-state solution.

Philip Mendes
Kew, VIC

Call to arms

Recently the Vatican issued what has been aptly termed ‘a call to arms’ to all Catholics. Clearly the Vatican believes that homosexual activity is not only wrong but also deserving of a public, Catholic condemnation.

This belief is at odds with its attitude to paedophile activity. Until the secular press forced it to change its mind, the Vatican believed that some paedophile activity deserved not public condemnation, but silence and a cover-up.

This inconsistency does not trouble the Vatican, but it troubles many Catholics who, apparently, are expected by the Vatican to rally to the call and add our condemnation to its own.

The Vatican, of course, would not have noticed it, but many Catholics are still trying, day by day, to live down the shame of belonging to a Church whose spiritual directors covered up for paedophiles and, when eventually caught, tried to represent their part in that worldwide disaster as no more than ‘an error of judgment’.

So we are not in the mood for condemning homosexual activity or partnerships. We have no desire to flourish the Vatican’s condemnation in public debate, for that would only add to our shame since it would leave us open and without an answer to the charge of hypocrisy.
John Haughey
Carlton, VIC

Drawing the line

From time to time we hear mention of the term ‘territorial integrity’. The need to respect territorial integrity was recently invoked by Alexander Downer, as a constraint against intervening in the Indonesian Government’s suppression of Aceh nationalism. No-one seemed to ask, ‘What is territorial integrity?’ or ‘Why do we need to respect it?’ Territorial integrity seems to be one of those sacred cows, like economic growth and mandates, which those in power would have us believe are beyond argument.

In the case of Indonesia, territorial integrity means that the territory which formed the Dutch East Indies in the colonial days, before independence, is to remain forever a political unit. Why? Because that’s the territory the European colonialists ruled. It doesn’t matter if any of the many racial or religious or other groups that inhabit parts of the area never wanted to be ruled by the Javanese, who happen to be the most populous group. Their country was part of the Dutch East Indies, so they are ruled by whoever is strong enough to dominate the whole area. It doesn’t matter either that the state that they agreed to be part of originally—those who did agree—was not the unitary Republic of Indonesia but the United States of Indonesia, without the centralised rule that was later imposed.

The same, or similar, applies to many other countries, especially in Africa. Examples are Sudan—the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, as it once was—and Nigeria. These are countries that seem destined by design to be bitterly divided. It applies too to situations resulting from the interference of Western powers. Turkey’s boundaries reflect the desire of the Great Powers to deny the Kurds their own country, and deliberately split them up only to become oppressed and despised minorities in other countries. Using territorial integrity as a reason for refraining from opposing the oppression of the Kurds by Turkey is tantamount to sacrificing the Kurds to the perpetuation of the results of Western manipulation.

Is it too much to suggest that pleading respect for territorial integrity as a reason for not intervening on behalf of an oppressed group could be called racism?

Gavan Breen
Alice Springs, NT



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