on “Looking to the Future”


The University of Melbourne

16 May 2008



Friday nights are never good for public lectures and according to Ali Abunimah the same holds true in America.  So despite the advertising campaign of newspaper advertisements, radio announcements, email reminders and leaflet drops, we were not sure if we would get enough people to listen to one of the most eloquent Palestinian speakers on the Palestine/Israel conflict.  We need not have worried.  Some 220 people provided a most respectable audience on the night and they were certainly treated to an erudite overview of the Palestinian struggle for their stolen homeland and freedom.  Looking to the future, Ali Abunimah sees the inevitable end of Israel’s apartheid policies and practices because they simply cannot be sustained when a people steadfastly refuse to accept oppression, discrimination, brutality and a systematic drive to eradicate them from their own land.

After 60 years of what can only be described as an ongoing catastrophe (al-Nakba), Ali Abunimah believes that another world is possible, especially when one looks at how seemingly impossible political conditions were turned around in South Africa and Ireland.  In the case of South Africa, that push for change came from civil society  - ordinary people forcing governments to put sanctions in place until the white South African government realised that it could no longer maintain its power.  Only then did the whites accept the notion of a united democratic South Africa, and not before, as some people believe.  Ai Abunimah’s view is of two peoples deeply intertwined “as inseparable as blacks and whites in South Africa, as inseparable as Nationalists and Unionists, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.”  According to him, change will only come when both sides start dealing with that reality.  His vision is for a disenfranchised Palestinian population - in what is already a greater Israel - to be given equal rights, that is, one person, one vote and an equal share in deciding the future of the country much like what has happened in Belgium, Northern Ireland and South Africa. 

Thankfully, more and more people are realising the injustice of the Palestinian situation but there is also a realisation that after 60 years, Israelis have to be factored into any solution if there is to be a just peace in this troubled land. Ali offers a humane and honourable way of accomplishing this and his message resonated with the audience as it would with all good and decent people. Against such an embracing vision, Israel and its supporters, will find it increasingly difficult to justify an exclusively Jewish state at the expense of the Palestinians, the indigenous people of the land.

Professor Abdullah Saeed, head of the Asia Institute, chaired the lecture and moderated the questions, which were all skilfully answered by Ali Abunimah leaving no room for extreme views to find a way into the discussions.   In fact, the lecture was in the best traditions of academic presentations and exchange and the audience felt very satisfied that there is indeed a solution for such a hitherto intractable conflict.  It has inspired many to continue pursuing the issues with renewed gusto.  Professor Saeed’s support and his willingness to see the debate on Israel/Palestine widened in the Asia Institute is certainly a way for us to challenge the old paradigms and help students and others to engage in the pursuit of justice and truth.  Three more lectures will be held this year as part of our Lecture Series 2008 featuring Professor Jeff Halper, Dr Norman Finkelstein and Dr Sara Roy from Harvard University and details of these will soon be made available.

After the book signing, which saw all 50 copies of Ali Abunimah’s book sold out and many more orders, some 30 people shared a dinner at University House to honour our guest.  Perhaps most heartening of all was Ali Abunimah’s obvious appreciation of an evening that had managed to draw a crowd in spite of the odds and his own observation that in the States it would have been impossible to fill such a large lecture theatre enough to look respectable on any Friday night.  All in all, Palestine benefited from having a rational voice advocating for its legitimacy in our Israel-biased society.  So too did the largely Australian audience who were wanting to hear something positive about a people who are all to often marginalised, even demonised in their quest for freedom and acceptance.  The audience was not disappointed.




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