Senator Janet Rice – acknowledging the commemoration of the ‘Al Nakba’ and the injustices in Sheikh Jarrah

photo of Senator Janet Rice
May 12, 2021

This institutional discrimination is felt acutely in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. While the pandemic rages 500 Palestinians are at risk of unjust eviction, 87 of them imminently. They’ve faced years of long, exhausting court battles that have been financially draining, beyond the personal stress on those residents. This is the tragic experience of people facing discriminatory laws and policies from the Israeli government.

Full speech

Senator RICE (VictoriaDeputy Australian Greens Whip) (21:35): I rise tonight to speak about human rights, both here in Australia and around the world, as has been my habit every Tuesday night on sitting weeks for a while now. The Australian Greens believe that universal human rights are fundamental and must be respected and protected in all countries and for all people.

In talking of human rights, I want to start here in Australia. Sadly and tragically, there are significant human rights breaches occurring right here in Australia. We’ve seen the government implement a travel ban on Australians coming from India, threatening them with jail time for returning home. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights say that everyone has the right to return home to their country and shall never be deprived of the right to enter their own country. We have written to the Prime Minister calling for the government to significantly increase quarantine capacity and travel capacity to return home, to enable everyone who wants to to safely return to Australia, upholding that fundamental human right.

For First Nations peoples in Australia, it’s been thirty years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody that made clear recommendations to prevent future deaths. Tragically, in those 30 years more than 474 families have lost a loved one in custody. As my colleague Senator Lidia Thorpe has repeatedly called for, governments across Australia must implement the long delayed recommendations of that royal commission.

Moving to the United States, in America the Black Lives Matter movement has been borne out of tragic and unnecessary deaths. As Human Rights Watch summarised:

The police killing of George Floyd … and a series of other police killings of Black people, sparked massive and largely peaceful protests, which in many instances were met with brutality by local and federal law enforcement agents.

   …   …   …

Police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the shooting of Jacob Blake provoked massive protests calling for police accountability, reduction in the scope and power of police, elimination of extortionate court fines and fees, and investment in Black communities.

Rather than address problems of poverty or health that contribute to crime, many US jurisdictions focus on aggressive policing in poor and minority communities, fuelling a vicious cycle of incarceration and police violence.

We call on the United States government and state governments to protect the lives and human rights of all and respond to racial injustice with clear, rapid action that addresses wealth inequality, racism in their police structures and the unequal effects of the COVID pandemic.

In Afghanistan we’ve seen multiple attacks on members of the Hazara community, with the latest bombing in Kabul targeting and killing innocent schoolgirls. Those who carry out such crimes must be held accountable. Some of the attacks which have occurred against Hazara communities in Afghanistan, particularly those against medical facilities, amount to war crimes. The Australian Greens have called for action by the Australian government and Afghan authorities to protect Hazara communities and individuals who are at risk. We want the Australian government to increase the humanitarian quota in Australia’s refugee program, ensuring that more places are available to accept Hazara refugees.

In speaking on Afghanistan, we must also acknowledge the awful actions committed by Australian troops. As my colleague Senator Steele-John has said:

… the lack of oversight from chain of command meant that individual patrol commanders were enabled to set their own objectives which, as we have seen from the horrific allegations in the Brereton Inquiry report, fell far outside the behaviour Australians expect from our troops.

   …   …   …

On top of the dreadful cost that we also have paid dearly in the lives of our own, and in resources, Australia must acknowledge the terrible legacy that we have left in Afghanistan and compensate the families, and the communities, affected by our occupation.

In West Papua, the worsening situation is tragic. Killings are occurring, including in recent weeks nine Papuans and an Indonesian police officer. We’ve seen internet access cut to West Papua and leaders in the Indonesian government saying that human rights will be disregarded in the crackdown as military troops are deployed to West Papua. We call on the Indonesian government to urgently withdraw all combat troops from West Papua and to allow immediate unfettered access to UN and other independent human rights observers. The Australian government must not be silent while this occurs. The Greens call on our government to speak out for our West Papuan neighbours and to advocate to the Indonesian government to prevent violence and the loss of life in West Papua.

This week Palestinians commemorate Al Nakba day, Arabic for ‘the catastrophe’ when in 1948 thousands of Palestinians were killed, and an estimated 700,000 lost their homes and became refugees. Many of their descendants have remained in refugee camps since. This week, some Palestinians are facing the threat of a second expulsion, this time from Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem. In the aftermath of the Nakba, the UN and Jordan built and granted ownership of homes for 27 families on what was vacant land in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. Since that time, generations have been born, grown up, married and died in these houses. However, Israel seized control over Jerusalem in 1967, and, despite international calls for it to withdraw, it has refused. East Jerusalem is recognised as being under military occupation. Israel has used a raft of discriminatory residency regulations and planning frameworks to reduce the Palestinian population in Jerusalem. Israel has passed a law that allows Jewish people to claim land that was owned by Jews prior to 1948. But, in contrast, Palestinians who lost homes or property in 1948 are not compensated nor can they exercise their inalienable right to return to their former homes inside what is now Israel, which is a right enshrined in UN Resolution 194.

These are some of the policies that have led human rights groups to conclude that Israel is committing apartheid. Last month, a report by the US based Human Rights Watch found:

…in most aspects of life, Israeli authorities methodically privilege Jewish Israelis and discriminate against Palestinians. Laws, policies, and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land has long guided government policy. In pursuit of this goal, authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity.

Human Rights Watch’s report follows one by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem that reached the same conclusion, as did a 2019 report to the UN by Palestinian human rights organisations.

This institutional discrimination is felt acutely in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. While the pandemic rages 500 Palestinians are at risk of unjust eviction, 87 of them imminently. They’ve faced years of long, exhausting court battles that have been financially draining, beyond the personal stress on those residents. This is the tragic experience of people facing discriminatory laws and policies from the Israeli government.

The Greens support the rights of the Palestinian and Israeli people to live in peace and security in their own independent sovereign states and recognise the ongoing injustice that has been done to the Palestinian people. That injustice needs to be rectified to enable Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace. We condemn the escalation in violence overnight, which has cost the lives of Palestinian civilians, including children. This violence has roots in the efforts of Israeli settler groups to evict Palestinian families. We need to end injustices like settlements, forced evictions and the occupation itself to have a hope of putting an end to violence and conflict, starting with no evictions in Sheikh Jarrah.

Last week the EU said ‘The Israeli authorities should cease these activities and provide adequate permits for legal construction and development of Palestinian communities,’ with similar sentiments expressed by UK officials and the US State Department. Australia must speak out and add our voice to stop the ongoing Nakba for Palestinians.

I have spoken before about ongoing human rights abuses and I will keep speaking out in this parliament.

Link to parliamentary Hansard