Acting Prime Minister Marles does not believe Palestinian hospitals should be allowed fuelOct 27, 2023
The Australian government must withhold all political support from the Israeli government while the killing of Palestinian civilians and destruction of their infrastructure continue. And yet, what hope? On 25 October when acting Prime Minister Richard Marles was asked on radio whether fuel should be allowed into Gaza to allow hospitals to function; he could not bring himself even to utter a simple “yes”.
Last week, the Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW) wrote to Prime Minister Albanese to urge his government – as have many others – to explicitly condemn violations of international law not only by Hamas but also by Israel in the current horrific war between those parties. MAPW asked the PM: “Are Israeli attacks on health care, food, water and fuel not atrocities that should be named as such, just as we all recoiled in horror at the atrocities committed by Hamas against young Israeli civilians?”
Tragically, the Australian government’s partisan support for Israel reached new heights on 25 October when acting Prime Minister Richard Marles was asked on radio whether fuel should be allowed into Gaza to allow hospitals to function; he could not bring himself even to utter a simple “yes”.
Therefore the call from Foreign Minister Penny Wong, later on 25 October, for humanitarian pauses in the fighting to enable essential supplies to reach those in need, was very welcome.
However, far more is needed from Australia. Minister Wong’s call must come with teeth – consequences if it is not heeded. MAPW repeats its call of last week for the Australian government to withhold all political support from the Israeli government while the killing of Palestinian civilians and destruction of their infrastructure continue. Such support while Israel continues to violate international law greatly diminishes our capacity to help bring an end to the unspeakable suffering inflicted by this war.
Similarly Australia should stop any weapons exports to Israel until the attacks on civilians and their infrastructure cease. Questioning from Greens Senator Shoebridge has revealed that 322 permits for Israel-bound military or dual-use exports have been issued since 1 January 2017.
Political and military support to one of the combatant sides simply fuels this decades-long conflict, with terrible outcomes for both Israeli and Palestinian civilians.
While humanitarian pauses in the fighting, as called for by Minister Wong, are very much needed, nothing short of a lasting ceasefire will spare both Palestinians and Israelis from even greater suffering. The only realistic way to prevent further crimes in this war is to end the war. It is imperative that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for an immediate ceasefire be supported and implemented.
It is therefore disturbing to see, at the same time as our foreign minister calls for a step back from fighting, acting PM Marles announcing – after the customary total absence of discussion in our parliament – a stronger Australian military presence in the Middle East, for purposes that appear extremely vague. Alarmingly, a combat role for the ADF does not appear to have been explicitly ruled out. The only things that would be certain from increased military involvement, judging from history, are even greater humanitarian catastrophes, and “mission creep” as fighting ramps up and no one knows how to stop it – as in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq… .
A ground attack on Gaza now would be unconscionable. The people of Gaza are trapped in a prison-like situation, have had over two weeks of relentless bombardment, are given the mockingly absurd instruction to go somewhere else, and have grossly depleted supplies of life’s essentials. UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides multiple health, education and other services for Palestinian refugees, stated on 21 October that “since 7 October at least 35 UNRWA facilities have been impacted, some being directly hit, despite the regular provision of the coordinates of all its facilities in Gaza to all relevant parties. At least 17 UNRWA staff have been killed thus far.
The psychological impacts of this war are horrendous. Children in Gaza are severely traumatised; how could they not be? Families in Israel are distraught about relatives held captive; how could they not be?
Any failure to stop the current barbarity will be a grave moral failing, including for any allies of the combatant parties who do too little too late. It will also promote divisions and hostility much further afield. US President Biden has already warned of a possible increase of domestic violence related to the Israel-Palestine war. He stated that “This is not some distant tragedy. The ties between Israel and the United States run deep.” Perhaps the deep ties with a nation engaging in war crimes are the very problem, not only for the US but for Australia too.
UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini has echoed the UN Secretary-General’s warning against Gaza, and the world, being plunged “deeper into fathomless, dark depths.” Minister Wong has made a welcome start in advocating a turning away from that abyss, but without far more decisive, and non-partisan, action from Australia – including support for an immediate and lasting ceasefire, and total rejection of any military support – our nation remains part of the problem.
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