Palestinian Voices Welcomed into the Aotearoa New Zealand Parliament

From left to right: Marilyn Garson (Alternative Jewish Voices); Golriz Ghahraman MP; Nadia Abu-Shanab (Wellington Palestine); Samira (Wellington Palestine). (Photo: Tommy-Morum Kelly, Supplied)

By Neil Ballantyne

Fulfilling an earlier promise to “raise the voices of Palestinian people” in the parliament of Aotearoa New Zealand, just last week, Wellington Palestine and Alternative Jewish Voices were welcomed into parliament by Golriz Ghahraman MP (Green Party) to screen the documentary, ‘Imprisoning a Generation’ and hand over a petition, signed by 2,500 New Zealanders, asking the New Zealand Government to take action on the arrest, detention and abuse of Palestinian young people.

Each year between 500-700 Palestinian children under the age of 18 from the occupied West Bank are arrested, interrogated, detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system. The most common charge is stone-throwing, for which the maximum sentence is 20 years. Since 2000, more than 12,000 Palestinian children have been detained.

In 2020, Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP) documented 79 Palestinian child detention cases from the West Bank that detailed widespread and institutionalized ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees. The vast majority, nearly 85 percent, said they were physically abused by Israeli forces during the course of their detention. According to a recent DCIP report, Israeli authorities routinely detain Palestinian children in isolation, a practice that amounts to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

Imprisoning a Generation is a hard-hitting, heart-rending account of the brutalization of Palestinian children and young people by the Occupation forces. Before viewing the award-winning documentary by Zelda Edmunds the assembled audience of over 100 heard speeches from a panel of four.

Golriz Ghahraman is the Green Party’s spokesperson on human rights and foreign affairs. In her speech, she said that,

“The struggle of the Palestinian people has gone on for so long with the incredible disparity in might. The imprisoning of Palestinian children, the maiming, the lost childhoods, the lost years of education to me is the embodiment of that disparity.”

Referring to the New Zealand government’s recent decision to divest their superannuation fund from Israeli banks she added, “There is a lot more we can do to divest from the occupation. We’ve got to make sure we’re on the right side of history and the right side of the law.”

Golriz ended with a pledge to the Palestinian people present, “I want to acknowledge there are MPs here from both Labour and the Green party and I think our commitment has to be that we do more than turn up to movie nights (or host them). That we keep putting pressure on in our select committees, and in our caucus rooms and in public”.

Reflecting on the pervasive experience of incarceration for the Palestinian people Nadia Abu-Shanab told the audience, “No Palestinian in the occupied territories ever escapes the reality of incarceration. Incarceration is a lived reality for Palestinians because it touches every single family. The scale of it is huge. And even those Palestinians who haven’t been inside a prison cell, they are imprisoned by the occupation, by siege, by dispossession. The prison is a metaphor for the Palestinian experience as a whole.”

Two speakers shared their experiences of time spent inside Palestine. Samira talked about spending three-months with a host family in the Aida Refugee camp in 2018, “After two weeks I stopped naively asking, “Why?”. Why did they arrest that child? Why did they shoot them? Why did the teenagers have bullet scars and the toddlers have lung problems from tear gas? Why did I have to wake up at two am in the morning to the sound of Israeli soldiers raiding the house next door to interrogate a 12-year-old child? Why does the military law only apply to Palestinians and the civil law to Israelis?”

Marilyn Garson, from Alternative Jewish Voices, worked in Gaza for four years through the last two wars. She told the story of her colleague Khalil al-Halabi, “Khalil continues to show me what detention means. Khalil’s son was arrested while entering Israel with a permit five years ago. Just last week, Khalil’s son was brought into an Israeli court for the 157th time. That’s 157 hearings with no case yet presented against him. Khalil shows me, that when one Palestinian is detained the generations of one family are suspended. Of course they are, just ask yourself, what would you do?”

After the event, Nadia commented that,

“It was incredible to see parliament filled with Young Labour, local body politicians, union leaders, Jews, Catholic priests, Muslims, Māori (who are busy in their own land struggle), refugee and human rights organisations, four Labour MPs and nearly the entire caucus of the Green Party including two Ministers. I don’t think parliament has ever held or welcomed such a large gathering of Palestinians. Incredible, and so rare, to see the space filled with our truth on that night.”

– Neil Ballantyne is the Co-Convenor at Wellington Palestine. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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