Julian Hill MP – grieving the innocent lives lost; calling for Israel to allow aid to Gaza; criticising settlements and urging change so that donations to settlements are not tax deductible; and criticising the politicisation of the conflict

Photo of Julian Hill MP
February 27, 2024

Domestically, one of the most offensive things said is that the Australian government or parliament or MPs support genocide. That is ridiculous. Everyone wants to see a ceasefire. Australia has voted for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and of course wants to see a permanent ceasefire agreed to urgently by both parties.

Mr HILL (Bruce) (17:21): I’d like to take this grievance debate literally and grieve for all those innocent lives lost in the horrific war between Hamas and the Israeli government, now in its fifth month. Yes, conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is decades old, but this latest violence is devastating. The day of 7 October 2023 saw the largest loss of Jewish life on a single day since World War II, at the hands of terrorist group Hamas, who still holds civilian hostages. The harrowing situation in the occupied Palestinian territories is affecting many Australians, who are grieving and scared for family and loved ones.

Australia has vocally and repeatedly expressed concern about the unacceptable loss of civilian lives in Gaza. Worryingly, though, it may get worse. This week, according to media reports, the Israeli government may tick off on plans for a ground offensive, a major ground offensive, in Rafah, where over one million Palestinians are sheltering in tents and clinging to life. The Prime Minister is absolutely right to call on Israel not to go down this path. I’ve been a longstanding and vocal supporter of Palestinian rights and the need for a just resolution to this conflict and a political agreement for two states—a secure Israel and a Palestinian state—the longstanding policy of Australia and many nations. Yes, a secure Israel. The world cannot just abandon the Jewish people to be slaughtered by the Iranian regime or their proxy extremists. Those calling for extreme responses should remember this. The world also cannot stand by while Gazans starve to death or just passively observe accelerating dispossession and escalating violence in the West Bank. Mass starvation is not a proportionate response to Hamas’s horror show. All human life is sacred, and all innocent civilians should be protected.

Domestically, one of the most offensive things said is that the Australian government or parliament or MPs support genocide. That is ridiculous. Everyone wants to see a ceasefire. Australia has voted for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and of course wants to see a permanent ceasefire agreed to urgently by both parties. Australia has also stated that we expect Israel to abide by the ruling of the International Court of Justice in South Africa’s case alleging genocide. Most urgently though, right now, is the need to get food to the people starving in Gaza. I say to the government of Israel: for God’s sake, let food in now—not tomorrow or next week or next month but now, today. Right now, 400,000 Gazans are starving. Now, one million are at risk of starvation. Families in Gaza have been forced to forage for scraps of food left by rats and eat leaves out of desperation to survive. A Save the Children aid worker said:

My husband told me people have resorted to eating bird and animal food and tree leaves out of desperation. He has been forced to scavenge for scraps of food; he recently found scraps in his sister’s house that had already been ruined by rats but washed them and ate them anyway because there is literally nothing else left to eat. He said he will not perish from bombs, but from scarcity of food.

The UN has said that, in the first six weeks of this year, from 1 January, over 50 per cent of aid missions to areas north of Wadi Gaza, where the starvation is highest, were denied by Israeli forces.

Australia has committed $46½ million in aid since this violence started, but the truth is that right now only Israel has the power to decide if the people of Gaza will die of starvation or not—not Hamas, not Australia, not Egypt and not even the US; it is Israel that can decide this.

If the right-wing Israeli government wants to salvage the shreds that are left of its international reputation with much of the world, it should let enough food in now. How can a country that has so many wonderful people and so much to offer the world, which claims to be a civilised democratic state, fail to act with urgency while civilians are at immediate risk of starving to death 10 kilometres from their shops and supermarkets?

Of course, one of the many big lies being spread in Australia is that the government has cut all funding to UNRWA. That is untrue. In fact, the Labor government restored funding to UNRWA that the Liberals cut, and then we doubled it. All $20.6 million has been paid this financial year. Six million dollars in extra funding has been temporarily paused, not cut, and of course people want that resolved and restored.

Looking ahead, the world must maintain focus on the creation of two secure states. The current Israeli Prime Minister’s repeated declarations that he will not support the creation of a Palestinian state demand an urgent international response. The grave implication is that his extreme right-wing government is hell-bent on formalising a policy of apartheid. If not forced relocation, then what else can he possibly mean?

Former Israeli prime ministers have observed that if there is no Palestinian state, there can only be a single, non-Jewish majority state—and that’s off the table—or a non-democratic apartheid state. Formal recognition of a Palestinian state should form part of the world’s response, along with urgent action to curb and reverse illegal Israeli settlements and extremist settler violence in the West Bank.

Frankly, there is little point to people in the world, me included, rabbiting on about a two-state solution if Israel keeps settling the West Bank without consequence, making a Palestinian state impossible. Given Mr Netanyahu’s comments, words now need to be matched with action by the international community to impose consequences on the illegal settlements enterprise.

Australia must make sure that our nation and its citizens are not active or passive participants in the settlement enterprise. The USA, the UK and likely the EU are moving to entry-visa bans for extremist settlers. Australia’s not at the top of their travel destination list, but other consequences should be considered in concert with other nations. Financial sanctions against the terrorist group Hamas are welcome. Consistency is important, and terrorist-like activities by extremist settlers also demand determined responses. Internationally consistent financial sanctions on individuals and entities directly linked to settler violence and Palestinian dispossession, including construction, finance and agricultural companies should be developed. The urgent clarification should be made that the 2019 Australia-Israel convention on double taxation only applies to land within the 1967 borders, as the agreement lacks an explicit territoriality clause that equivalent EU and US agreements have. Why isn’t it illegal for Australians to donate to support illegal settlement activity in the West Bank, and why on earth should people be able to get a tax deduction for doing so?

The Jewish National Fund’s Israeli wing was revealed to be purchasing Palestinian properties for illegal settlements in the occupied territories. There are concerning reports that the Australian JNF is raising money for Ateret Cohanim, who have been working to get rid of Palestinian residents in Jerusalem. Human rights organisations recognise it as a terrorist group. The Christians for Israel foundation are openly funnelling money into illegal settlements. The seminary for advancement of Jerusalem and the Ariel University Australia trust are supporting a university in the occupied territories. None of these connections are hidden. These organisations openly solicit donations and support settler and settlement related activities. I will continue to pursue these issues and will write formally to the Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, raising questions and seeking information about these charities.

Thank you to the many Australians and the Israeli progressive Jewish and human rights groups who have contacted me since I first raised these issues. To speak up about these things is not anti-Semitic, and it’s not anti-Israel. Anti-Semitism is a curse, and to label legitimate criticism of the current extremist right-wing Israeli government as anti-Semitism distracts focus from combating genuine prejudice and discrimination in our community. The views I’ve expressed are openly discussed in Israel, and to be called anti-Semitic when you raise them here is nonsense. Gross politicisation of this tragedy by the Leader of the Opposition and the Greens political party is despicable. In the last few months, Australians have seen very clearly what the Liberals and Greens are up to. The Liberals are trying to harvest votes from the Jewish community and the Greens from the Australian Muslim community, with extreme rhetoric, hyperbole and blatant untruths. Mythbusters: Australia is not cutting all funding from UNRWA; Australia is not selling weapons to Israel; Australia does not support genocide; Australia does want to see a ceasefire; and Australia is not giving terrorists visas to come here.

Only the Labor Party has any interest whatsoever in maintaining social cohesion in Australia and contributing constructively internationally on this issue. All MPs and community leaders should be guided by the same principle of a just and enduring peace, and a negotiated two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state coexist in peace and security within internationally recognised borders—and committed to maintaining that commitment to a peaceful Australian community.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard