I am glad the Australian Government has finally agreed to take more refugees. But what a missed opportunity for moral leadership! The politicians were dragged to it by a community shouting our willingness to respond compassionately and sensibly to the crisis in the Middle East and Europe.
Country towns like Katanning and Albany offering to re-settle asylum seekers, and householders with spare bedrooms reaching out to integrate new people into the Australian community have put the Government to shame.
Instead of leading with compassion and with sensible plans for bringing people to this continent, the Government have played politics firstly with numbers – can we stretch to 10,000 or 20,000? – and secondly with cherry-picking those considered in greater need than others.
At this point in the crisis, both limiting numbers and having the luxury to choose between desperate people are irrelevant. Sure, we need to be practical: Australia cannot take 800,000 refugees in a year like Germany, but there is no danger of that happening. Any discrimination in favour of one group, whether it is Christians or Yazidi, will inevitably be perceived as discrimination against other groups. This morning Muslims are complaining, and rightly so, that yet again, our Government is treating Muslims as less than human.
As citizens, we should thank the Government for their willingness to consider increasing our humanitarian intake and encourage the Prime Minister to stretch his imagination to be as generous as possible. (https://www.pm.gov.au/contact-your-pm)
We should also encourage those who express generosity and offer practical help to them if we are able to provide it (Katanning Shire President: email@example.com ; Albany Mayor http://www.albany.wa.gov.au/?receiver=146&page=feedback ).
We should also look around the facilities that are ours with the same generous imagination. Is there anything we can do as individual families, churches or community groups to welcome refugees, and what action do we need to take to initiate that welcome?
Michelle Cohen Corasanti, The Almond Tree, Reading, UK: Garnet Publishing
Paperback from $AUD 11.22 (online) or Kindle E-book: $US 3.49
Reviewed by Ted Witham
I wept frequently while reading this outstanding first novel.
The Almond Tree tells the story of Ichmad Hamid, a gifted Palestinian boy whose family home is destroyed to make way for Jewish settlers. They lose their orchard and, after some years in a tent, are able to build a one-room cement-block house on the tiny patch of land the Israelis leave for them. Ichmad’s beloved Baba is sent to prison for 14 years after 12-year-old Ichmad helps radicals bury weapons in their backyard. Their small home and all its possessions are again destroyed by Israeli soldiers.
In his father’s absence, Ichmad takes on the role of provider for his family, working on Israeli settler construction sites for far less wages than the suspicious Iraqis and Russians who work with him. Following his father’s advice Ichmad tries to choose always the way of peace, and despite endless provocations, not to return hatred for hatred.
Teacher Mohammad offers to tutor the gifted boy every evening after work. Ichmad wins a scholarship in Maths and Physics to Hebrew University, and sets out on a stellar academic career. He collaborates with his Professor, a bitter Jew whose family was murdered in Auschwitz. Eventually the two become close friends and win the Nobel Prize jointly for their work on nanotechnology.
Ichmad continues to support his family on his Professor’s wage at Harvard, and maintains close contact with his village. He identifies with their life-giving almond tree with its roots deep in Palestinian soil. At every turn in his story he encounters tragedy, much of it caused by the brutality of Israeli occupation, and Ichmad’s desire to choose peace almost always – eventually – turns the tragedies into something deeper and positive for his people and his family.
This is a powerful first novel by a courageous Jewish-American woman. I did not need to be persuaded that the occupation of Palestine is anything but a disaster for the Palestinians. It would be wonderful if this novel helped others to see the human cost of providing a secure and secular state for the Jewish people. It may just be sufficiently powerful to do so.