Senator Lee Rhiannon – speech regarding Israeli attacks on Australian-funded aid programming in Palestine and calling for an end to Australia’s military ties to Israel

photo of Senator Lee Rhiannon
October 30, 2012

The Australian government’s policy to the Israel-Palestine conflict needs to change. A priority should be ending military cooperation and military trade with Israel.

Full speech

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (20:24): Recently, I attended a dinner in this parliament hosted by Australians for Palestine. The guest speaker was Israeli historian Ilan Pappe. His books include The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, which covers the planned expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from their lands in 1948, and The Forgotten Palestinians, which covers the lives of those Palestinians who still live within Israel’s borders. Professor Pappe was in Australia as a guest of the Australian Friends of Palestine Association to deliver the annual Edward Said Memorial Lecture at the University of Adelaide. Professor Pappe’s talks are a reminder to all of us of how much more needs to be done to achieve justice for Palestinian people and peace in the Middle East.

About one half of the world’s Palestinian population resides in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel. Many of these Palestinians are refugees, including more than 1½ million in the Gaza Strip, 2½ million in the West Bank and about a quarter of a million in Israel proper. Palestinian land is being increasingly alienated from Palestinians by Israeli settlers and the military.

The Australian Greens’ position on the Middle East states that the Greens:

… recognise the ongoing injustice that has been done to the Palestinian people and aim to rectify that injustice in a way that will allow both Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace.

The Greens’ statement also calls on:

… the Australian government to halt military cooperation and military trade with Israel …

and for:

… the removal of existing Israeli settlers and Israeli security and military forces from the Palestinian territories.

Military cooperation between Australia and Israel should end. Israeli military operations are destroying the homes and livelihoods of Palestinians. Aid projects to assist Palestinians that are funded by UN bodies, bilateral aid programs and non-government organisations have been destroyed. In July I spoke in the Senate about aid projects in Palestine under threat from the Israeli authorities, including an AusAID funded health clinic constructed through ActionAid’s local partners.

In April this year the European Commission released a list of projects it has funded that have been destroyed or damaged by the Israeli military between May 2001 and October 2011. There have been 82 examples of destruction that amounted to a loss of $US65.6 million, $US40 million of which came directly from European aid. One of the projects, Gaza’s international airport, partly built with aid money from Spain, Sweden and Germany, was damaged in 2001, costing contributing countries $US12.7 million.

The Israeli military have destroyed a fleet of Red Crescent ambulances financed by the European Commission and several waste management and water treatment plants. As well as the aid funded projects, the demolition of homes, schools and local infrastructure on the West Bank occurs regularly. Solar panel projects in Hebron villages received demolition orders earlier this year. The projects are funded by the Spanish and German governments. France has protested to Israel’s ambassador in Paris over the demolition of two water cisterns in the Hebron area in the southern West Bank which were financed under a French agricultural cooperation project.

When analysing these developments with European funded aid projects—of which there are many, as the European Union is the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority—it is relevant to note that the European Union has been strongly criticised for bankrolling parts of the Israeli military industrial complex and the settlement economy. While some argue that the EU is balanced I would argue that it is biased, and undermines the benefits of many of its own projects.

I am aware that the Israel government claims their military have the right to demolish structures built without a permit. The reality is that building permits are virtually impossible to acquire, and some aid organisations have stopped applying.

Commenting on the destruction, Oxfam’s Country Director Nishant Pandey said:

Aid from the international community, including European governments, is wasted when aid-funded projects are demolished.

…   …   …

European governments can ensure that their citizens’ money is going for good by calling on the government of Israel to end the demolition of aid projects and civilian infrastructure in Area C.

What is relevant for the Australian government is that the Israeli military, with which we have increasingly close ties, is a destroyer of public and private Palestinian buildings and infrastructure. The Israeli military destruction of aid projects is insidious—these attacks not only bring hardship, suffering and often death to Palestinians but also make Israeli military hardware more marketable, as it is promoted as battle tested.

In 2010 approximately 80 per cent of Israel’s military production output was exported, and exports by Israeli arms companies totalled $7.2 billion. Despite this extraordinary level of military trade Israel receives enormous amounts of military aid from the US and the European Union. From 2000 to 2009 the US gave Israel $24.1 billion in military aid. Israeli companies and universities involved in the military and security sectors received millions of euros in government research grants.

The Australian government is developing increasingly close ties with the Israeli military. Since 2005 more than $690 million has been paid to the military contractor Elbit Systems Pty Ltd. This Israeli company which specialises in intelligence and communications technology has won a contract with the Australian Defence Force to supply battle management systems for the Royal Australian Navy’s landing craft. Elbit Systems has built its business model on close relations with the Israeli military, which gives it a market edge as the products have been used in military operations, with many of these military operations targeting Palestinian people.

Elbit’s promotional material details that its UAVs—unmanned aerial vehicles commonly known as drones—were used effectively by the Israeli military in its 2006 war against Lebanon when countless civilians were killed under the Dahiya doctrine, which advocates the intentional destructive of civilian infrastructure. An Elbit Systems press release issued on 24 March 2008 details that these drones were used in the military operations in Gaza. Elbit’s Heron drone has been used by the RAAF in Afghanistan since December 2009, and to date has cost Australia more than half a billion dollars. The Heron does not carry weapons. It is loaded with sensors and cameras, but that could be about to change. At the May Senate estimates hearing Australian Defence Force chief General David Hurley stated:

I wouldn’t discount the fact that we might have armed UAVs thinking through our force structure review into the future.

It appears that Australian armed forces are experienced in operating armed drones. ABC’s Foreign Correspondent in June reported that they had been informed that US drones have conducted strike missions at the direction of Australian Special Forces troops.

The threats to aid projects in Gaza do not only come from the Israeli military. The Israel Law Centre aided by members of the Liberal Party are targeting aid projects supported by World Vision Australia via AusAID funding. These projects that include assistance for families to keep sheep, goats and chickens and tend their vegetable gardens are under threat because they are delivered by the Palestinian not-for-profit organisation the Union of Agricultural Work Committees. The UAWC has denied it has links with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an organisation listed as a terrorist organisation. An AusAID investigation into the allegations found them to be baseless.

The World Vision funded projects in Gaza provide assistance for more than 8,000 people in the 42-kilometre long strip. These projects assist Palestinians with their farms, greenhouses and irrigation systems destroyed in Israeli air strikes. In a letter to the Israel Law Centre, the World Vision Australia CEO, the Reverend Tim Costello, described the centre’s allegations as unsubstantiated and in some cases defamatory. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr, in answer to a question today in the Senate from Senator Eric Abetz said UAWC was not banned by Israel or declared a terrorist organisation by the Israelis. The Union of Agricultural Work Committees has retained its long-term, non-government organisation status with Israel. In May the foreign minister stated: ‘Taking into account the thorough nature of AusAID’s examination and advice from [the Australian Government Solicitor] that no offence has been identified, the [Australian Federal Police] has advised it would not accept this matter for further investigation.’ Despite these findings the Israeli Law Centre and a small band of obsessed Liberal MPs have pursued World Vision and AusAID over their support for these projects. The coalition are isolated in these bigoted attacks. Oxfam Britain, Belgium and Italy, and the Dutch government are all continuing to assist the UAWC.

The Australian government’s policy to the Israel-Palestine conflict needs to change. A priority should be ending military cooperation and military trade with Israel. (Time expired)

Link to parliamentary Hansard