Today, I reiterate my solidarity with the Palestinian people and recognise the tragedy of the current situation in the region. For too long, Palestinians have been denied their inalienable rights. Never has peace in the Middle East been a more urgent priority.
Full motion and speech
Senator URQUHART (Tasmania—Deputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (13:25): This will be my last address to this place this year on the question of Palestine. This year has of course been the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The year is about the international community acknowledging that what is happening to the Palestinian people is wrong. It is about highlighting the hope for a better world and the hope for peace in Palestine and Israel. Beyond hope, it is about agitating for a solution.
From this pocket of the world, many miles from this tragic conflict, it is about what needs to be done to change the situation and how countries like Australia can be part of the solution. That is why the motion on Monday from the Labor member for Calwell, Maria Vamvakinou, and seconded by the Liberal member for Reid, Craig Laundy, is so important. The motion clearly articulates the purpose of the international year of solidarity:
That this House:
(1) notes that as of 1977, the United Nations made 29 November the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People;
(2) recognises 2014 as the United Nations International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People (IYSPP); and
(3) acknowledges the objective of the IYSPP was to promote solidarity with the Palestinian people as a central theme, contributing to international awareness of:
(a) core themes regarding the Question of Palestine, as prioritised by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People;
(b) obstacles to the ongoing peace process, particularly those requiring urgent action such as settlements, Jerusalem, the blockade of Gaza and the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, and;
(c) mobilisation of global action towards the achievement of a comprehensive, just and lasting solution of the Question of Palestine in accordance with international law and the relevant resolutions of the United Nations.
The motion was supported by the Labor members for Fremantle and Shortland, and implicit support was given by the Liberal member for McMillan. The Liberal member for Higgins was the only member to speak against the motion.
I congratulate the five speakers in support of the motion for their courage to speak out on this issue. It is only through cross-party support for a two-state solution, through cross-party opposition to the Israeli occupation, that the Australian government will be able to take a position of supporting Palestinian statehood—a position that is supported by 135 members of the United Nations General Assembly. Combined, these countries have a population of over 80 per cent of the world’s population. Recently, the United Kingdom and Spanish parliaments also passed resolutions supporting recognition of Palestine. Last night, French law-makers voted in favour of recognising Palestine as a state. Australia is becoming an outlier—at odds with the global community. Australia needs to join with the international community in recognising the state of Palestine.
Last night, the very best of the Australian spirit was on display at the Parliament House soccer pitch. The United Nations Information Centre, in partnership with the Parliamentary Friends of Palestin e— co-chaired by the m embers for Calwell and Reid— t he Council of Arab Ambassadors and the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific , organised a commemoration of the International Day of Solidary with the Palestinian People. The international day was last Saturday, 29 November. The celebration included a ceremony and a soc cer game between an Australian p arliamentary team and members of the ACT Palestinian community. The soccer game was chosen because the ceremony included the presentation of soccer balls and a cheque from 10-year-old Mac Miller of Brisbane to Ambassador Abdulhadi for the children of Gaza.
Mac created a charity called Football : Play It Forward, which raises funds to purchase soccer equipment for children in developing countries to spread the joy from participating in the world game. While I could not attend because of obligations here in the chamber, I am advised that Mac was an outstanding speaker, sharing his story of being in India with Football : Play It Forward when one of the children asked if he could help them provide soccer balls to the children of Gaza. His response was: ‘Why not?’
He set about raising the funds and last night presented Ambassador Abdulhadi with soccer balls for the children of Gaza. The spirit of this donation exemplifies the very best of the Australian spirit. Congratulations, Mac and everyone who took part in the soccer game.
Today, I reiterate my solidarity with the Palestinian people and recognise the tragedy of the current situation in the region. For too long, Palestinians have been denied their inalienable rights. Never has peace in the Middle East been a more urgent priority. The Palestinian people need to secure their rights to statehood, and Israel urgently needs peace and security. Never before have we so needed the international community to unite in support of a successful outcome.
Sadly, this year has brought some of the most violent and brutal events ever seen in the region. 2014 saw Israel’s military operation entitled Protective Edge kill well over 2,000 Palestinians. Among the dead were more than 500 children. A further 11,000 were injured. Whole city blocks were wiped out. The health system was pushed to the brink of collapse, with the number of casualties far outstripping its capacity. UN schools and shelters were bombed, which I view as a blatant barbaric act and a very serious violation of international law.
Estimates by the Gaza health ministry, the United Nations and some human rights groups found that between 69 and 75 per cent of the Palestinian casualties were civilians. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported at the beginning of August that 520,000 Palestinians might have been displaced. To put this in an Australian context, this would be equivalent to the entire population of my home state of Tasmania and then some. More people than the entire state of Tasmania had their homes and neighbourhoods decimated. As a result of the 50 days of terror, these people have no access to shelter, water and to food. They are relying on the international community to provide emergency food, water, medicines and shelter, and the international community is struggling under the weight of the conflicts across the entire Middle East region.
A major and ongoing impediment to the creation of a viable Palestinian state has been the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. These settlements are forcibly displacing Palestinian civilians through demolitions and the removal of residency rights. We need to recognise what an obstruction these settlements are to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. The injustices that the Palestinian people have had to endure are unimaginable—and they must end. Labor supports a two-state solution as the only way that that justice can be achieved and stability can be built in the region. Clearly, the world must work towards supporting Israel and Palestine to find a way to live side by side in durable peace.
But recent legislative moves within the Israeli government seem to be moving in exactly the opposite direction. This month, we saw very disturbing moves to actively resist the two-state solution through the creation of the so-called Jewish State. While the idea of a Jewish state is not new, a recent draft bill which was approved by the Israeli cabinet goes much further. This bill seeks to define Israel as ‘the nation state of the Jewish people’ and to limit the rights of non-Jewish citizens to ‘individual rights according to the law’. This is a move that would deny Palestinians national rights as a minority.
Human rights groups warn that, if there is no express right to equality, and international law is excluded as a source for legislation alongside Jewish law, they will be powerless to challenge traditional interpretations that discriminate against non-Jews. Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are concerned that they will be subject to Jewish law. Many are worried that this move will see the end of a democratic Israel. This move can do nothing but worsen this tragic situation and inflame the tension. It certainly will do nothing to move Israel closer to peace and stability. Never have we needed more commitment from the international community to help ensure a successful outcome is achieved.
In his International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People address, the United Nations Secretary-General said:
We have passed through another somber, sad and sorry year for Palestinians, Israelis and all who seek peace. Over the course of 50 brutal days this summer, the world witnessed a ruthless war in Gaza—the third such conflict in six years.
The Secretary General concluded his address with:
The mindless cycle of destruction must end. The virtuous circle of peace must begin.
I agree with the Secretary’s words. In closing, I again place on record my support for the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People and call on the Australian government to recognise the state of Palestine. (Time expired)