The lifelong fight for legitimacy

Protest: The Free Palestine Movement has garnered global attention with rallies hosted in Melbourne. Photograph: Free Palestine Melbourne/ Facebook



A LOCAL Palestinian perspective on an international conflict.

“We are human”, seems like an odd statement to share as everyone indeed shares this common humanity that bonds humankind across the globe.

But for Palestinian migrant Wael Abo Subhaan, all he could ask for – for himself and his fellow Palestinians, is for the world to see them as human – valuable lives worth saving.

The Gaza Health Ministry predicts the death toll in Gaza has risen over 13,000 since Israel’s declaration of war against Gaza following Hamas’ attacks on Israel on October 7, killing 1400 people.

With such a catastrophic amount of lives lost and a million of people displaced, the Express reached out to Mr Subhaan to share his personal and first-hand perspectives on the conflict.

“I have family in Gaza, very close family – my uncle and his kids,” he said.

“We don’t know anything about how they’re doing.”

Israel has cut off internet and telecommunication services to the Gaza Strip three times since the start of this recent outbreak in violence – leaving Palestinians stranded and families overseas in the dark.

“There is no contact. My dad said since the last time he talked to his brother in late October, since that, been no connection whatsoever.”

Before losing contact with his uncle, Mr Subhaan was told that every property the family owned had now been reduced to a pile of rubble. A lifetime of memories was brought to the ground with one single strike.

“All their houses have been demolished,” he said emotionally.

“He was alive back then (When the pair last spoke five weeks ago), but since then, no connection,” he said.

“It’s really distressing for the whole family.”

“We don’t know if they’re alive or dead – it is very scary.

“The older generations … know Palestine but the younger ones only know Israel but with this war against civilians, nobody in this world can accept killing civilians.”

Israel has claimed to have issued evacuation orders before every strike, but Mr Subhaan says there is nowhere to go to escape the bombardment for the millions displaced.

Migrating to Australia in 1992 to reunite with his family, Mr Subhaan has now called Morwell home for 15 years.

“My family came before me in 1990 – I came in ’92 because I was studying overseas,” he said.

“The whole Palestinian people are all overseas like I am in Australia. Many have gone to Canada, many in the United States … wherever we go, we try to go toward education.

“We try to make the new economy that we’re in – we try to make it flourish, that’s how we are.”

Now retired, Mr Subhaan previously worked in business administration marketing for Shell.

Mr Subhaan’s parents initially fled constant insecurity and dispossession in Gaza in 1967.

Mr Subhaan’s mother was originally from Jaffa, a port city now part of southern Tel Aviv. The family was quite notable and wealthy in the 1940s.

“My mum herself, in 1948, they lost their lands to what is called Israel – unfortunately and then some of her family immigrated to the United States, Lebanon and others to Gaza,” he said.

The family lost everything during the 1948 war when Israel declared independence. Mr Subhaan’s mother had to flee as Jaffa became a part of the new State of Israel.

For Mr Subhaan, he too has seen the ugliness of conflict.

School was cancelled one March day when Mr Subhaan was all but 10 years-of-age. Mr Subhaan, as a young child at the time, walked home. What he was confronted by was heavily armoured tanks, machine guns and armed forces carrying the Israel flag.

“I’ve seen it in front of my eyes. I’ve been scared when the Israelis came to me as I was a child,” he said.

Mr Subhaan recalls seeing a young boy from his school struck down by an Israeli Defence Force officer on that day. Even as a child, Mr Subhaan won’t ever forget witnessing his schoolmate hit the ground and seeing the blood pour from his wound.

Upon migrating to Australia, Mr Subhaan was faced with the devastating reality that his national identity – a thing one prides oneself on, was not even recognised by Australia.

“When I came to Australia in 1992, I entered, and they said, ‘What’s your nationality?’ and I said I am Palestinian, and she said ‘sorry, I can’t find Palestine on our computer. What should I put you as?’” he said.

“I said, ‘I don’t know … I am Palestinian’.”

Centrelink once listed Mr Subhaan as Israeli, ultimately losing his official Palestinian identity once in Australia.

“When I was born, we weren’t under occupation. I was born in Gaza. On my birth certificate, it calls me Palestinian. Why am I now an Israeli?” he asked.

The latest conflict since October 7 has again forced millions to migrate, with many losing their homes.

“All of our family’s houses in Gaza City were gone on the second day because we lived in Rimal (in the north of the Gaza Strip),” Mr Subhaan said.

“They’ve made Gaza the largest open-air prison in the world.”

“They (Israel) control electricity, food, water – everything.”

Speaking on the global attention that the Palestinian movement has attained during this recent movement, Mr Subhaan said it is time the world sees the injustice that’s happening in Gaza.

“The whole world is seeing it, it’s been (six weeks) and it’s still going,” he said.

When asked why he thinks so many people are showing up in numbers to protest against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, he said, “Because we are humans – they see the injustice is happening”.

Mr Subhaan referenced one of Israel’s founding fathers, David Ben-Gurion, who was suspected of saying that, “The old will die, and the young will forget.”

The Jewish state’s first prime minister has become synonymous with that quote, likely depicting his hope that the Palestinian refugees would disappear.

Mr Subhaan says the Palestinian people will never forget.

Mr Subhaan has some hope for the future despite no signs of a ceasefire.

“The whole world now, the third-generation and the fourth-generation after the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe), all the Palestinians have a love for Palestine and refuse to have another catastrophe,” he said.

“I’m not the one liberating. I’ve been in Australia for so long; my kids are Australians.”

A small ‘Free Palestine Rally’ gathered at Victory Park in Traralgon midday on Sunday, November 19. Organised by the Gippsland Australian Muslim Community Inc (GAMCI) the group gathered to call for an immediate ceasefire.

Protest: The Free Palestine Movement has garnered global attention with rallies hosted in Melbourne. Photograph: Free Palestine Melbourne/ Facebook

Local lens: Palestinian-born Wael Abo Subhaan, who has lived in Morwell for many years, shared his personal perspective on the current Israel-Palestinian conflict. Photograph: Zaida Glibanovic