I have continued to advocate and urge that we work continually with our friends and allies in the international community to commit to advancing what has been an elusive long-term goal: a sustainable two-state solution. It has to be based on justice, self-determination, and peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis alike.
Mr KHALIL (Wills) (17:59): Many Australians are watching and have been watching with horror and deep sorrow the events taking place in Israel and Gaza. I know this is a very distressing situation for Australians that are in Gaza and in Israel and of course for their families at home.
I start by acknowledging the devastating loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives and the terrible harm inflicted upon innocent civilians as a result of conflict.
As we’ve heard today from many speakers, all loss of human life matters, and I join the Prime Minister and other speakers in this place in condemning any threats or acts of violence against innocent people. They should never be tolerated, and, wherever it occurs, we cannot be indifferent to human suffering. It is in these dire and difficult moments that we must recognise and embrace our shared humanity.
Hamas’s terrorist attacks on Israel 10 days ago, with the indiscriminate killing and kidnapping of innocent civilians, is detestable and has been condemned in the strongest possible terms. Hamas is a proscribed terrorist organisation, and these attacks by Hamas do not advance the cause of Palestinian self-determination or statehood. Far from representing the Palestinian people, Hamas undermines Palestinian needs and aspirations. Hamas’s actions have pushed any prospects of peace further from reach, undermining the legitimate aspirations and needs of the Palestinian people themselves, and it should be noted that their avowed objective is the destruction of the state of Israel. They do not believe in a two state solution and therefore cannot be a partner for peace.
To reiterate what the Prime Minister clearly stated today: we should be very clear that it is Hamas, not the Palestinian people, that is the enemy. The Palestinian people are suffering greatly, and this suffering has impacted on generations of Palestinians. The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, which is home to two million people, is deteriorating rapidly. We are monitoring the situation closely and we support the work of the United Nations, the United States, Israel and Egypt to establish safe passage for Gaza civilians.
The cycle of hatred, violence and despair between Israelis and Palestinians has been ongoing for almost a century. Now, I’m a person of Egyptian heritage. My own family has been part of this conflict for the past 70 years. My grandfather, my father and my uncles fought in the Egyptian army in the wars of 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973. Our own family home back in Egypt, in Port Said, was reduced to rubble by Israeli air strikes in 1956, and I, like many Australians, have a personal understanding and connection to the region and its history. I acknowledge the decades of suffering that Palestinians have had under occupation, but I have to state the moral clarity here, as we’ve heard from other speakers: that all of these facts—the suffering, the occupation—do not justify Hamas’s terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians, their indiscriminate and detestable killing and kidnapping of innocent civilians. That is why it’s important to disconnect those two points. Hamas’s actions have been condemned—rightly so—in the strongest possible terms because they are abhorrent and they do not represent or advance the Palestinian cause of self-determination.
Now, despite all of this, despite the current crisis and the decades of conflict, I still support a two-state solution. It might sound strange to say that, but long-term stability and peace will not be achieved in the region until Palestinian self-determination is realised and until the Palestinian people have a state of their own. Many Israelis know this. I have continued to advocate and urge that we work continually with our friends and allies in the international community to commit to advancing what has been an elusive long-term goal: a sustainable two-state solution. It has to be based on justice, self-determination, and peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis alike. In fact, Australia has a long and proud history of supporting a just and durable two-state solution to this conflict, and it’s one that includes Palestinian self-determination as well as a recognition of the existence of Israel and its right to defend itself and its people from attack.
Ultimately, the only way a two-state solution can be achieved is through a direct negotiated outcome between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and we are far away from that at the moment. And any lasting resolution to the Middle East conflict cannot be at the expense of either the Palestinians or the Israelis. During this crisis, our government has called for the utmost efforts to be made to protect innocent civilian lives, and as a government we condemn, as we have heard from the Prime Minister today, any indiscriminate attacks and targeting of civilian infrastructure. As the Prime Minister said today, the protection of civilian lives must come first, and respect for international humanitarian law is paramount. That is why Australia has also joined the international community’s efforts to establish and maintain humanitarian access to Gaza, including safe passage for civilians. We have done this by engaging at all levels with countries in the Middle East and beyond in support of the protection of civilians and the containment of this conflict.
We know this is a very challenging time for so many. We are providing multiple repatriation flights out of Israel and communicating with Australians in the region, including identifying Australian citizens in Gaza. We continue to provide updates to registered Australians. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Wong, has specifically called for that safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to civilians affected by the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. There have been strong and constant diplomatic efforts by Australia and our allies since the beginning of this crisis, including Minister Wong’s efforts with her US and Egyptian counterparts to ensure the Egyptian controlled Rafah border crossing into Gaza can open as a humanitarian corridor to provide Gazans with Australia’s aid and aid from many countries around the world. In addition, the diplomatic efforts are geared to ensuring the resumption of water supply, particularly in southern Gaza where there are many civilians. Foreign minister Wong and Minister Pat Conroy also announced an initial $10 million in humanitarian assistance for civilians affected by the conflict in Gaza, and that is really to provide medical support to victims of conflict as well as emergency water, nutrition, sanitation and hygiene services, and child protection. The government of course is committed to assessing the need for further support as it arises.
My role within the government and as Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is always one focused on the national interest, and this includes the impact on our national security and implications for Australia’s social cohesion from the impacts of regional instability as well as the geopolitical instability arising from this conflict. I understand that many Australians wish to express their views, and they have strongly held views about this conflict and about what is happening. The Australian government of course supports the right of Australians to express their opinions peacefully in peaceful protest, but we categorically condemn any antisemitism, Islamophobia or dehumanisation of any kind. I utterly condemn discriminatory behaviours, hate speech and incitement of hatred and violence based on religion or ethnicity. Those behaviours and statements are not the same as Australians’ right to peacefully protest. Right now, it is more critical than ever that we maintain the social cohesion and the respect for one another to safeguard what we all value, this multicultural and pluralistic society.
We must ensure the protection of children, school children and schools, places of worship, synagogues and all Australians as they go about their daily lives during these tense periods. Threats or acts of violence against innocent people should never be tolerated or justified, and, as I said, we should never be indifferent to human suffering. Wherever it occurs, we must recognise and embrace our shared humanity, and, in these times, that is more important than ever. The Prime Minister summed up this approach recently in this place when he said:
Protecting innocent people is not a show of weakness. It is a measure of strength because true strength never turns its back on humanity. We care about the lives of everyone caught in this conflict—that is who we are as Australians.