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COMMENTARY: By John Minto

During World War I, the New Zealand government took a big area of land at Raglan from the local Tainui Awhiro people to build an airfield and bunker as part of local war preparations.

The airfield was never built and, instead of returning the land to the people, the government used the Public Works Act in 1928 to give legal justification for the Crown keeping the land.

In 1967, local iwi were evicted from the land and forced to rebuild nearby with the government then selling the land for the Raglan Golf Course.

In the early 1970s, Tainui Awhiro, led by Māori activist Eva Rickard, began the fight to have the land returned and after much protest, marches, petitions, lobbying, occupations and arrests on the golf links themselves they were finally successful in 1983.

The land was handed back — but not until they had fought off a government “offer” requiring them to buy their land back from the Crown.

It was my first experience of being part, in a very small way, of a Māori land protest.
One of the important things I remember from Raglan, Bastion Pt and those early land protests were the messages of support and solidarity which came in from around the country and all over the world.

Typically, these would be read out at the start of a protest hui and local iwi and supporters took great heart from them. They lifted spirits and warmed hearts when things sometimes seemed bleak.

Long way to decolonisation
We have a long way to go in decolonisation in Aotearoa New Zealand but we have come a significant way from the crude government behaviour at Raglan.

On the other side of the world, colonisation in Palestine is continuing apace since the mass expulsions of Palestinians from their land in 1948 (more than700,000 people evicted from their homes and land by Israeli militias from more than 500 villages with dozens of civilian massacres along the way).

Every day for the past 74 years, more Palestinians have been evicted from their land using all manner of spurious, creative justifications, backed by a court system run by the Israeli colonisers.

In the spotlight today are 12 Palestinian villages with more than 1000 people who face eviction from their land in an area of the South Hebron Hills called Masafer Yatta.

An Israeli court has given the Israeli army the go-ahead to evict the people and take over their land for a “live firing range”. The range isn’t needed. The Israeli army already has close to 18 per cent of the occupied West Bank set aside for firing zones — it’s just a commonly used pretext for land theft.

If the Israeli army is able to evict these people, it will be the largest eviction of Palestinians in more than 50 years.

Like the early colonists in New Zealand, Israel wants the land without the people.

Palestine’s Raglan struggle
Masafer Yatta is Palestine’s Raglan Golf Course, albeit on a larger scale and as part of the longest-running military occupation in modern times.

The people of Masafer Yatta are fighting back with protests and vowing not to move despite five weeks of thuggish bullying by Israeli military with vehicles racing around the land in a massive show of force to intimidate and cower the people. Live bullets ripped through roofs of houses in the Khallat Al Dabea village during this “military training”.

The local Palestinian people are organising to defend their land and homes against Israel’s aggressive colonisation.

Young people are on the frontline. Co-founder of non-violent resistance group Youth of Samud (Sumud means “steadfastness”) Sami Hurraini was detained by the Israeli army in the hot sun for eight hours without food or water last week but is undaunted.

Despite receiving a demolition order for their centre in Masafer Yatta, Hurraini says, “Of course Israel won’t stop us! We will rebuild the centre every time they demolish it.”

The least we can do is add our voices of international support and solidarity to the people of Masafer Yatta. We need to let them know they are not alone — just as similar messages gave heart to Māori fighting land theft here.

And we have to let Israel know there are accountabilities for ethnic cleansing and the war crimes associated with colonisation of Palestinian land.

Palestinians are not looking for our sympathy — they are looking for practical solidarity. If enough voices are raised around the world Israel will be forced to back down.

The strongest voice we have is the government’s. We need to insist our government uses it on behalf of all of us.

John Minto is a political activist and commentator, and spokesperson for Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa. This article was first published by The New Zealand Herald and is republished with the author’s permission.

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