Vale Patrick Wolfe
It takes a brave man to challenge history written by victors. Patrick Wolfe was such a man and he did it from the standpoint of rigorous intellectual scholarship on settler-colonialism. Palestine, in particular, was never far from his mind and Palestinians and advocates for Palestine remember him with the greatest affection, admiration and sadness.
Patrick Wolfe’s writings and lectures gave voice to the very real suffering and indignities to which indigenous people are subjected at the hands of settler colonists. His support for the Palestinian struggle against the Zionist colonisation of their homeland went beyond just writing or speaking about it. He was also at the “barricades” and was never afraid to even make solo protests whenever and wherever he could.
Unlike others who opt for safer, often equivocal grounds from which to hold Israel to account, Patrick embraced boycotts as a legitimate non-violent tactic and was a staunch supporter of the Palestinian-led BDS movement.
He was tireless and fearless in his pursuit of historical truth and moral integrity often to the detriment of his own personal academic career. He never balked at taking a public stance for a just cause so viciously maligned; he never said “no” when asked to speak, even when tragedy struck his personal life. That said, his expertise and research abilities were in much demand by prestigious academic institutions and he held many visiting positions around the world.
Patrick knew what it meant to lose his home, his belongings and years of research in the terrible 2009 bush fires in Victoria. Yet, at one Australians for Palestine event not long after, he said his loss was nothing compared to the relentless home demolitions visited upon the Palestinians due to shameless policies of Zionist expansionism. That he even thought about others when he himself had lost everything is indicative of the man.
Another time, he insisted on moderating a panel of academics and lawyers – an event that Australians for Palestine had organised after a highly publicised performance of Caryl Churchill’s controversial play “Seven Jewish Children”.
Patrick was included on that panel and was eminently qualified to give his own views on the topic being discussed, but at the eleventh hour stepped in as moderator and did it graciously and authoritatively before a packed house. That was the mark of this generously-spirited man.
Patrick’s scholarly output was prodigious. In 2012, he wrote an article for Arena Journal New Jews for old: state formation and the impossibility of Zionism in which he wanted to register his debt to the great Palestinian intellectual Edward W Said for giving him clarity on the Palestinian narrative from a Palestinian’s perspective.
In reaching his conclusion that a unified, secular democratic Palestine-Israel state would not only dismantle Zionism, but would also dismantle settler colonialism, Patrick felt that Said would have approved.
Three years later, Patrick had two powerful new books published and he ended one magnificent tour de force – Traces of History: Elementary Structures of Race – with a semblance of optimism: “The incompleteness of racial domination is the trace and achievement of resistance, a space of hope.”
We can only wonder what Patrick might have written further had death not taken him so unexpectedly. Perhaps, the greatest tribute we can give him is to seize that “space of hope” and keep shining a light on Palestine until truth and justice triumph. It is precisely what Patrick would have done.
Co-founder and co-chair
Australians for Palestine