Successive Australian governments have ignored the legitimate demands of the Palestinian people for decades, as the Israeli government flouted international law and continued to build illegal settlements and institute an effective apartheid against the Palestinian people. The Australian government has even willingly traded military equipment with Israel, including millions of dollars of Australian weapons exports—Australian weapons that could currently be in use in the crimes and violence in Gaza. Politicians cannot now hide behind platitudes and ignore this asymmetric violence. We have a responsibility to call for peace and an end to the occupation.
Senator SHOEBRIDGE (New South Wales) (20:34): I’d like to start by acknowledging that, for many in Australia and around the world, the past week has been deeply traumatic and painful. Violence degrades and weakens the bonds that tie us all together, right when we most need to remember our common humanity. The appalling attack by Hamas last week should be unequivocally condemned, as should all attacks on civilians. The racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, anti-Arab sentiment and Islamophobia that has occurred in Australia over recent days has no place in our society. It’s important now more than ever that our response to violence cannot be to fuel more harm and suffering. It cannot be used as a justification to inflict harm on other innocents, and we must not remain silent while this is happening in Gaza. It’s in moments of collective pain that politicians need to be steadfast in upholding values of peace and be brave enough to lead. Those elected to this place can provide a path for a better world, especially at dark times like this.
I’d like to briefly read the words of Noy Katsman, whose brother Hayim was tragically and appallingly killed by Hamas:
I want us to support the people who call for calming down and for peace, and for saving lives, not the people who call for more hate and more violence, that’s my request to everyone and I know that’s exactly what my brother would want to do.
We should reflect on the fact that Noy, who is in pain and grieving a family member, has been able to provide a level of moral clarity that many in this chamber have failed to even reach for.
I want to say this very clearly: cutting off water and food, using phosphorus weapons and bombing schools and hospitals are all war crimes. An estimated 1,000 children in Gaza have already been killed by the Israeli military strikes. Israel has bombed civilians who were fleeing using the routes they said would be safe. Aid workers, paramedics trying to treat the wounded and journalists have lost their lives to indiscriminate fire from the Israeli military. There can be no excuses, justifications or rationalisations for the killing of innocents, and we must not remain silent when we see this violence. It’s not defence. UN experts are loudly warning of the war crimes being carried out by the Israeli military in Gaza, with a death toll reaching towards 3,000 and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced. The World Health Organization has made it clear that Israel’s demands to evacuate hospitals in Gaza amount to a death sentence for many patients. At this time the people of Gaza have nowhere to flee. For the Palestinian families who endured the first aggression from Israel 75 years ago during the Nakba, the catastrophe must feel never-ending.
No-one is asking this government to judge from afar. People are asking them to see what is occurring in front of our eyes—that is, collective punishment against a whole people, and an escalation of violence and aggression by a state that has a history of apartheid policies. Even before this motion was put forward by the government, Australia was complicit in these ongoing war crimes. Successive Australian governments have ignored the legitimate demands of the Palestinian people for decades, as the Israeli government flouted international law and continued to build illegal settlements and institute an effective apartheid against the Palestinian people. The Australian government has even willingly traded military equipment with Israel, including millions of dollars of Australian weapons exports—Australian weapons that could currently be in use in the crimes and violence in Gaza. Politicians cannot now hide behind platitudes and ignore this asymmetric violence. We have a responsibility to call for peace and an end to the occupation.
This government speaks of concern for regional spillover, but the Israeli military has already bombed domestic airports in Syria. A reporter, Isam Abdullah, was killed by Israeli artillery in Lebanon simply while doing his job. Many from the Iranian community have contacted my office, terrified they’re about to enter a multi-country war. Surely, if we were concerned about regional spillover, we would be calling loudly for de-escalation, not providing political cover for war crimes.
This week I joined thousands calling for peace in Sydney. They came out despite threats and intimidation from the police. Thousands of people, including Palestinians and Jewish people, side by side, came out in solidarity with the families in Gaza. People in major cities across this country told this government very clearly that they want peace. It is a testament to its lack of moral compass that the Labor Party leadership in my home state of New South Wales vilified those people who simply wanted to exercise their right to peaceful protest, to show solidarity for those impacted by violence over recent days and to call for peace. Meanwhile, elements of the media in this country compounded the rhetoric and fanned the flames of division between the Jewish and Arab diaspora, leaving Jewish-Australians feeling unsafe and Arab-Australians abandoned.
I’ve been to Palestine and Israel. I’ve walked through Israeli military checkpoints, spoken with Palestinian families forced from their homes by illegal settlements and seen Palestinian children tried in Israeli military courts for the crime of being Palestinian. I’ve also seen the beauty and the strength of the Palestinian people and the courage and the moral strength of those Jewish-Israeli citizens who publicly resist the occupation. Hope and fear live side by side in those lands.
For two decades I have been attending rallies calling for an end to the occupation of the Palestinian territories and for a peace with justice. I do this side by side with my friends in the Palestinian diaspora and the Jewish community. At times like this, I remember the clarity and courage of my former New South Wales parliamentary colleague John Kaye, who so passionately campaigned for Palestinian rights while acknowledging his own proud Jewish heritage. At rally after rally I attended, speakers recounted: the most recent number of those killed in Palestine; the most recent instances of human rights being denied, of homes being bulldozed; the death of a child who could not get the medicine they needed because of a blockade; the death of a mother forced from her home, still holding the key to her front door; prisoners who were taken from their homes in the middle of the night by soldiered and trained attack dogs, held at gunpoint, blindfolded, held without charge for years. Water tanks are only necessary because the Israeli government regularly and without warning denies access to plumbed water to the Palestinian homes being used by target practice by bored Israeli soldiers.
Amidst decades of this grinding, perpetual violence with far too many examples of human rights abuses and war crimes, people have continued to join together and reach across the divide and call for peace, freedom and equality. For too long their calls have been ignored. Let’s listen now and act. A commitment to peace and non-violence means meeting the appalling tragedy of a Jewish child killed in Israel with empathy and an unwavering resolve to end the violence. Equally, it means meeting the appalling tragedy of a Palestinian child killed in Gaza with empathy and an unwavering resolve to end the violence. This shared humanity and equal commitment to peace and non-violence are what’s missing from this motion. It is what has been missing from the global response for decades, and it is what is needed to finally bring peace with justice and an end to the occupation.