By Vacy Vlazna
“Solidarity is not a matter of altruism. Solidarity comes from the inability to tolerate the affront to our own integrity of passive or active collaboration in the oppression of others, and from the deep recognition of our most expansive self-interest. From the recognition that, like it or not, our liberation is bound up with that of every other being on the planet, and that politically, spiritually, in our heart of hearts we know anything else is unaffordable.” — Aurora Levins Morales
Abandoned for 66 years by the international community to Israeli war crimes, Palestine needs friends.
Palestine, don’t despair. You are not alone, you have friends around the world: people, strangers, you may never meet, but who, like you have families, jobs, and who share the Palestinian dream of freedom and justice to which they are quietly and actively dedicated.
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: Portrait of an Activist
Palestine let me introduce you to Margaret Cassar who is representative of the Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA) BDS protestors way down-under in Adelaide, (13,000 kilometres from Jerusalem) Australia. Margaret is a mother of three young adults, a stepmother of two, she teaches children with learning difficulties and her husband, Charles, fully shares her commitment to Palestine.
Under Margaret’s democratic, caring leadership and presence, the BDS group, by magnificently protesting every week for nearly 4 years, has tapped into an extraordinary commitment and tenacity to stand for Palestinian rights thereby serving as a model and inspiration to Australian activists. Their doggedness, Margaret asserts, comes from a determination not to join the 66 year trail of abandonment,
“World attention focuses on Palestine for a short time, resolutions are passed, Israel is slapped over the knuckles, the distraction of the so-called Peace Process continues and then another issue takes over and the Palestinians are forgotten again until the next crisis. I determined then and there that I wouldn’t disappear. I wouldn’t abandon the Palestinians. . .as long as there are 2 people outside Myers and I’m filming it’s a protest.”
Also, with the assistance of her sons, Patrick and Thomas, Margaret embarked on a new endeavour and skill, filming and producing videos of AFOPA’s weekly BDS actions.
The AFOPA BDS action began in October 2010 targeting the Israeli cosmetic Seacret company that steals its mineral ingredients from the Palestinian Dead Sea.
Each week, the group set up their banners and posters in the Rundle Mall and chat amiably with passer-bys. They have handed out over 40,000 leaflets making Adelaide the most informed Australian city about Palestine. A public opinion survey commissioned by AFOPA President, Sam Shahin, found “that 49% [of the community] are either quite or very aware of the conflict. This is a significant expansion from the 44% in the 2011 survey and 38% in the 2009 survey.”
Their efforts have expanded to: 2009- Jerusalem Quartet protests; 2010-2014 Seacret Protests in Rundle Mall; 2011-2013 Israeli Film Festival Protests; 2012-2013 Don’t Buy Israeli Apartheid for Christmas National Campaigns; 2012 Letter Writing Campaigns by Anisa Hamood to stockists of -Osem products – Naot Shoes; 2013-2014- SodaStream Campaign; 2014- Batsheva Dance Company Protests; 2014- Start of Campaign to ask South Australian Trade Unions to endorse the BDS Campaign and divest from any Israeli Companies; 2014 Palestinian soccer rights campaign.
Birth of an Activist
Understanding how Margaret Cassar has become the face of Australian BDS action gives insight and inspiration into the nature of activists for any cause. Margaret proves that, once caught by the rightness of justice, inherent in everyone are the qualities ripe for activism; an heartfelt empathy as expressed by Adelaide broadcaster, Peter Goers, and a moral responsibility that stands up for justice for humanity’s oppressed.
Margaret shatters the stereotype of the rambo protestor. Egoless, her focus is purely Palestine. She describes herself as “at heart shy and self-conscious” and
“the accidental protester” who turned up to film an event and then became inspired by the commitment of an extremely dedicated group of people in Adelaide. This group have an unwavering sense of solidarity with each other and the Palestinians and have always stood their ground in spite of some pretty vile abuse and harassment [from Christian Zionists].
“To me it seemed like a form of psychological torture to stand in the Mall and be so exposed to Zionist abuse and the constant Zionist paparazzi photographing us for their “friends in Israel”. At that stage I used to motivate myself by looking at the photos of the Bi’lin weekly protests and then screw up courage by repeating to myself “no matter what happens to us it’s not even a hundredth fraction of the suffering endured by the Palestinians.”
Let us see Margaret through the eyes of her BDS colleagues who respect her highly:
Paul Heywood -Smith: “Margaret is at once shy, self-effacing and prone to inhabit the background. At the same time she is dogged, stubborn and determined that her cause will triumph. When it does triumph she will be entitled to have her name recorded amongst the heroes. What is significant in all of the above is that before the Seacret campaign and her becoming an Exec member of AFOPA Margaret had never attended a protest in her life and nor had she been a member of any committee let alone a political one. She is thus a wonderful example to all would-be activists.”
Joe Frank: “Without Margaret it is doubtful if our BDS activities would occur as regularly and effectively as they do. In her quiet but effective way she ensures that we are all informed, involved, given the opportunity to make suggestions and provide feedback. We are a ‘democratic’ group because of her manner. Nothing is imposed. Any of our concerns are taken up and duly addressed.”
Tom Bennet: “Margaret is one of those quiet achievers who tirelessly works behind the scenes to keep the weekly protest going” and “often also shouts us all coffee after the protest when we debrief and chat at one of the many coffee shops around the Mall. She “keeps everyone working together in a harmonious manner.. she is a lot of the glue that holds us all together.”
Dr Abdul Aleem: “As a person, Margaret is warm and kind-hearted. If she sees any buskers, or people selling “The Big Issue” on the Mall, she generously makes donations to them. I guess, that says it all.”
Kathie Guy: In her warm and gracious manner Margaret conveys gratitude to participants for their time and effort, ensuring each one of us feels valued and appreciated which in turn provides encouragement and inspiration to continue the regular actions.
And Kathie is right, for Margaret the respect and inspiration is mutual;
“Every week I am inspired by my fellow protesters. They turn up despite 45 degree heat, freezing cold wintry nights and they turn up when they’re sick. Some have turned up just after having operations or just finishing night shift when they are absolutely exhausted or they will turn up on crutches with broken legs. And no matter how exhausted, sick or dispirited we are the time we spend together re-energizes us.”
Hemmed in by the ‘Christian West’, Zionist zealots and Solomon’s jinns in the Palestinian Authority, nevertheless, Palestinian sumud [steadfastness] soars from every shabab’s stone, from the grit of each hunger striker, from every replanted olive sapling, from the generational courtings, weddings and births on Palestinian land and from the keys in refugee hands.
There are also friendships in every solidarity band of strangers, leaflet, rally, protest, letter, petition. Sumud and friendship will inevitably vanquish the Zionist occupation.
– Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.