Palestinians in Australia
There are few records of Palestinian migration to Australia before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. From this point onwards, Palestinian migration patterns are generally traceable in correlation with geopolitical events in the region. However, these migration flows have been difficult to track as the majority of Palestinians arrived on passports issued by the countries to which they were displaced before arriving in Australia (e.g. Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait).1 For example, the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1948 and 1967 and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza led many Palestinians to migrate to other Arab-majority countries, from where they later travelled to Australia (see Exile, Migration and Diaspora in Core Concepts). Further waves of immigration occurred surrounding the wars in Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s and the Gulf War in 1991.2 Many Palestinians have also arrived on work or study visas based on individual opportunities offered.
Community in Australia
The Australian government’s formal records do not reflect the true number of Palestinians living in the country. The 1996 Australian census indicated there were a total of 11,573 Australian residents who were born in ‘ and Jordan’. However, respondents are no longer given the option to select ‘historic Palestine’ as their place of birth and may only select between ‘Israel’ or ‘Gaza Strip and West Bank’. This results in the number of Palestinians being understated, as Palestinians born in the geographic area that is now Israel may not want to acknowledge Israel’s sovereignty over their former homeland and opt out of selecting a place of birth. In the 2016 census, 2,932 people indicated that they were born in either the Gaza Strip or West Bank. However, over 13,000 Australian residents identified themselves as having Palestinian ancestry.3
Palestinians in Australia have been described as an ‘invisible’ national group, as their experience of exile makes community numbers hard to determine.4 For example, many children of Palestinian refugees were born in surrounding countries where their parents had secured temporary residency rights, and are hence often counted under different national categories. Most Palestinian Australians have never lived in , having been born in surrounding Arab countries where their families were displaced before arriving in Australia (e.g. Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait). Due to the commonality of mixed heritage among Palestinians, some may identify simply as ‘Arab Australian’ to simplify understandings in the Australian context, and also show solidarity with other Arab communities with whom they share a language, religion or cultural background.
The majority of Palestinian Australians speak Arabic as a first or second language. Many are Muslims, although some may not practice the religion actively. Australia is also home to a significant population of Christian Palestinians, mostly , who have usually migrated from Bethlehem, Jerusalem or villages in between.
Experience in Australia
Palestinian Australians often maintain links to their homeland through memory and stories passed down between generations. Many second- and third-generation migrants continue to take pride in cultural activities, including food, music and art. People also feel connected by staying up-to-date with Palestinian current affairs and news. There can be generational divides between older Palestinians who recall their childhoods in the Middle East and want to preserve Palestinian culture, and the younger generation who are more culturally ‘Australian’. Some may be concerned that assimilation will result in the Palestinian culture and cause being forgotten. Nevertheless, generally Palestinians choose what elements of their heritage and identity they wish to embrace on an individual basis. Older Palestinians tend to retain more typical Arab communication patterns (see Communication).
Palestinians in Australia may face barriers in expressing their culture as the community is quite spread out geographically. Families do not necessarily live in close proximity to one another (as is common with many other established Arab migrant groups). The Palestinian Australian community is also generally quite varied, coming from diverse backgrounds with different experiences and settlement patterns. This influences the community ties they form in Australia. For example, Christian Palestinians tend to join other Arab communities, while Muslim Palestinians usually worship at mosques established by other Muslim migrant communities that have congregations of Arab-speaking Australians. Given the diversity of Palestinians’ experiences, consider that some individuals may have experienced discrimination and economic hardship as former refugees or people during their time in a second country before arriving to Australia.5 Palestinians face less discrimination on the basis of their national identity in Australia. However, some describe encountering stereotypes and social barriers on the basis of their Muslim or Arab identity.
Many people continue to have a strong emotional connection with Palestine and dream of eventually having the option to return or visit without their safety being compromised. Political engagement with the Palestinian cause overseas is common, with many actively raising awareness through film screenings, fund raising, etc. However, be aware that some may have a fear of public activism due to safety concerns. While being an Australian passport holder makes it easier to visit the region, a person’s political views voiced in another country can make them a target and be held against them if they attempt to return. Many Palestinians have an aversion to being politically vocal for fear of being perceived as a ‘trouble maker’.
Some Palestinians have reported that they feel that the Australian public is broadly apathetic or unaware of their people’s plight. However, others have observed positive shifts in understanding over the past decade.6 The Palestinian community has developed a supportive relationship with Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities over their shared experiences of dispossession.7 The Australian government does not recognise the State of Palestine. However, its official position supports a two-state solution.8
Want this profile as a PDF?
Get a downloadable, printable version that you can read later.