Senator James Paterson – condemning Hamas’ attacks and its treatment of Palestinians

photo of Senator James Paterson
October 17, 2023

In the weeks ahead, as this conflict sadly continues, let’s remember three things: Hamas initiated this attack, Hamas knew what would happen next, and Hamas bears the responsibility for what is happening now. The only responsible and respectable thing to do is to unequivocally condemn Hamas. I hope that all Australians and all senators can do that.

Senator PATERSON (Victoria) (20:43): I want to take the opportunity tonight to perhaps unexpectedly address the Palestinian people and their supporters in Australia. I do so because I have had the opportunity to already express my solidarity with the Jewish community and the people of Israel at two events in Melbourne in the last week. No decent person denies the suffering of Palestinians, especially those in Gaza. No decent person opposes the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians to live in peace, security and prosperity. No decent person questions the understandable anxieties from Australian family and friends for the safety and wellbeing of civilians in Gaza. Every decent person hopes for the peaceful resolution of the long-term conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Where we may differ is who bears the primary responsibility for the conflict that we see today and the desperate circumstances of the people in Gaza. It is often said that Gaza is the world’s largest open-air prison. If that is true, then Hamas are the prison wardens keeping innocent civilians incarcerated. And it is not just the 199 citizens of Israel who Hamas is keeping hostage in its war; it’s two million Gazans, too. While Israel uses the IDF to defend the citizens of Israel, Hamas uses the people of Gaza to defend itself.

Right now, innocent Gazans are being used as human shields by Hamas for two reasons. Like it has in previous conflicts, Hamas knows that storing its weapons and hiding its fighters among civilian populations in apartment buildings and even in schools and hospitals makes the IDF more cautious in targeting it. Hamas also knows that, if civilians are killed by the IDF when targeting its weapons and fighters, civilian casualties are a powerful propaganda weapon to be wielded against Israel in the debate for global popular opinion. Is it any wonder that, after Israel warned Gazans to move south in advance of a likely ground invasion, Hamas told them to stay put? Hamas told them to stay in harm’s way. They know what the consequences of this will be for Palestinian civilians, just as they knew the consequence of their horrific attack last weekend and their decision to not just shoot Jews in the streets and in their homes but to kidnap them back into Gaza as hostages. No democracy could stand by and let that happen. No democracy could spare any effort in trying to recover their citizens. No democracy could accept the ongoing risk of another attack like this happening again. That is why Israel must act. That is why Israel must strike back. That is why Israel must eliminate Hamas. Sadly we know that, when they do, despite the precautions they will take, innocent Gazans will die.

The responsibility for those deaths will lie with Hamas. No-one who has any concern for the humanity of the people of Gaza should defend Hamas. It is, rightly, a listed terrorist organisation here in Australia. Since March 2022, following a recommendation of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security inquiry, which I chaired, it has been listed in its entirety. What the government recognised and the parliament endorsed on a bipartisan basis is that Hamas is a single entity engaged in terror against civilians. Its actions on 7 October demonstrate the wisdom of that decision.

Regrettably, we have seen some Australians seek to defend Hamas and its actions last week. On Sunday 8 October, while Hamas terrorists were still on the loose in Israel, hunting Jews, Sheikh Ibrahim Dadoun spoke at a rally in Lakemba. Among other things, he said to a cheering crowd:

I’m smiling and I’m happy … I’m elated, it’s a day of courage, it’s a day of resistance, it’s a day of pride, it’s a day of victory. This is the day we’ve been waiting for. Seventy-five years of occupation. Fifteen years of blockade. What happened yesterday was the first time our brothers and sisters broke through the largest prison on Earth. This brings pride to the heart …

It cannot be said that this was a rally to condemn an Israeli response which had not even started yet. It was a celebration of the death of innocent men, women, children and the elderly for the crime of being Jewish. If that wasn’t bad enough, the following night a rally organised by the Palestine Action Group ended with a group of young men shouting a series of distressing chants, including, ‘Gas the Jews!’ In Melbourne, one protester carried the portrait of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the prescribed terrorist organisation Hezbollah. Others at that rally chanted, ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,’ a call for the eradication of the entire modern state of Israel and its people. I acknowledge some Palestinian Australian leaders have condemned some of this behaviour. At subsequent rallies, protesters were told that behaviour like this was not welcome and would not be tolerated. It is to their credit that they have done so, and they do have an absolute right to peaceful protest, but the incitement to violence that we have seen on our streets in the last fortnight is utterly unacceptable.

Unfortunately, some have tried to defend or excuse it. I was very troubled to read a joint statement purportedly on behalf of Australian Muslims and signed by a number of organisations, including the National Imams Council. Included in that statement is ahistorical nonsense, like the claim that Jewish people were foreign colonisers in Israel. That is despite the fact that Jews have continuously lived in Israel for more than 3,000 years. It pretends that the Jewish people’s connection to Israel started in 1947 and it offensively compares the creation of the modern state of Israel to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It also questions Israel’s right to exist and its right to defend itself.

In a free society they are entitled to have views on these issues which others find offensive or wrong. What is more disturbing is the attempted defence of Sheikh Dadoun’s inflammatory speech in Western Sydney. The statement seeks to excuse his obvious delight at the murder of innocent Jews by saying that the media’s reports of his comments lacked context. In particular, they suggested that the media failed to report his comment ‘because this is the first time that Palestinians have broken free from the largest open-air prison on earth’. Many media reports did in fact include this comment, and it in no way minimises the other things that he said, because these Hamas terrorists didn’t break free from Gaza to go for a walk. They didn’t break free to go to the shops. They didn’t break free to go to a restaurant. They broke free to engage in the worst massacre of Jews in a single day since the end of the Holocaust—a slaughter, an atrocity, a pogrom. It was every bit as despicable as anything that ISIS or al-Qaeda have ever done.

Not just are Hamas responsible for the 1,400 Jews and Israelis of other faiths they have already killed; they are responsible for the thousands of Palestinians who’ve already died and the deaths that we all fear are to come. Whatever your views on the best path forward for peace or the exact future borders between a Palestinian state and Israel, we should be united in this. We should all hope for a day when the people of Gaza are free from Hamas, because there can be no peace with Hamas.

In the weeks ahead, as this conflict sadly continues, let’s remember three things: Hamas initiated this attack, Hamas knew what would happen next, and Hamas bears the responsibility for what is happening now. The only responsible and respectable thing to do is to unequivocally condemn Hamas. I hope that all Australians and all senators can do that.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard