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Am I my Palestinian brotherís keeper?

By Dave Smith - posted Tuesday, 5 April 2011

 In December 2010 Marrickville Council (representing various suburbs in the inner-west of Sydney) voted to support the global ‘Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign’ (BDS) against the Israeli government, aimed at ending the Palestinian Occupation.

In the months that followed, and most especially in the lead-up to the State election in the March 2011, Council’s pro-BDS stand came under increasing criticism. Councillors who were party members were put under pressure to publicly withdraw their support for the campaign by senior party officials. Others were threatened with various forms of legal action. Almost all were threatened with physical violence via anonymous calls and emails.

Some critics attacked the BDS campaign itself as being naïve or misguided. The majority though simply attacked the presumption of Council for meddling in international affairs when such issues should be left to the federal government’s Department of Foreign Affairs.


For those whose Biblical knowledge is hazy, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is one of those archetypal Scriptural questions that the Bible doesn’t deem to be worthy of an answer. It was first enunciated by Cain in one of the early chapters of Genesis, as Cain attempts to squirm his way out of God’s probing interrogation about the fate of his murdered brother.

Along with “who is my neighbour?” and a handful of other disingenuous queries (that likewise never receive a direct response in the Bible) such questions are intended as rhetorical, and are asked solely with a view to excusing the questioner from fraternal responsibilities.

I see a similar dynamic at work in so many of the questions that have been raised around here of late, concerning whether it should be the responsibility of local government to take a stand on international human rights issues, such as that taken by Marrickville Council in their support of the global ‘Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions’ campaign (BDS) that protests the Palestinian Occupation. Is it really the job of local government to worry about such things? Shouldn’t Council stick to the job of maintaining roads and taking out the garbage? Since when did we become our Palestinian brother’s keeper?

I’m not suggesting that all those who raise such questions do so with evil intent – not at all. I’ve heard these questions raised by good people of good conscience, and yet I do think that such questions inevitably reveal something of the mindset of the questioner.

Here is the response I now give to those who raise this question over whether it is appropriate for local government to get involved in international affairs:

If you had members of your own family living in Gaza, and if it had been some of your nieces and nephews who had been killed in the last IDF incursion, would you really be objecting to the fact that your local government was trying to do something about it?”


Now … take a deep breath before you answer. Be honest! Even if you do hold strong opinions as to the proper roles of the various levels of government, if it were your own sisters and brothers who were suffering, would you really object?

And here’s the kicker, of course – these people are your sisters and brothers!

This is the real problem I believe. We don’t think of the Palestinian people in this way. Perhaps we feel a closer kinship with the white citizens of Israel? Perhaps we don’t feel any kinship with anybody beyond our own shores? Either way, this is the problem, and it’s the real issue that lies behind so many of these questions.

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About the Author

Father Dave Smith is Parish Priest, professional boxer, human-rights activist and father of four. He was part of the Mussalaha (reconciliation) delegation to Syria in May 2013. Join Dave's mailing list via his main website - - and read his updates on Syria on

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