Don’t mention the “G” word

May 22, 2024
Flags of Palestine and Israel, alliance concept zipped

“It’s not the word I would use”… As Western Australian Senator Fatima Payman breaks party ranks to condemn the Gazan genocide, Defence Minister Richard Marles, in defiance of the International Court of Justice and United Nations, is attempting to shield Israel and deter MPs from using the term ‘genocide’ .

Last week Federal Parliament was in uproar about comments by Western Australian Senator Fatima Payman about the ongoing conflict in Gaza. She said:

“Instead of advocating for justice, I see our leaders performatively gesture defending the oppressor’s right to oppress while gas lighting the global community about the rights of self-defence. My conscience has been uneasy for far too long and I must call this out for what it is. This is a genocide and we must stop pretending otherwise. I ask our prime minister and our fellow parliamentarians, how many international rights laws must Israel break for us to say enough? How many images of bloody limbs of murdered children must we see?“

That final challenging question was particularly pertinent on that day in particular. The official death toll of Palestinian children had just passed 15,000 which was 14,644 more than the 36 children killed during the Palestinian attack on Israel on the 7th of October last year.

The criticism of Payman came from all directions. The Opposition demanded that she be removed from parliamentary committees even from the Labor Party itself. The right wing media had a field day with real or confected outrage. She received little support from her colleagues who voted with the Opposition to pass a motion condemning her remarks which was opposed only by the Greens and independent Senator Lidia Thorpe.

What are we to make of this incident? Clearly we learn much more about Australian political leaders and the mainstream media than we do about Senator Payman. What comes to mind is that old parable of the King’s new clothes. The extraordinary realisation is that as far as we can tell no politician on either side has used the word genocide when talking about Gaza. Defence Minister Marles declared it was not a word he would ever use! And yet the overwhelming majority of the world’s leading jurists had found in favour of South Africa’s Case against Israel just under four months earlier. And it was a devastating prosecution—84 pages of cogent forensic argument, 145 points backed up by 574 footnotes. It is readily available on line. But has anyone in the government bothered to read it? Clearly Marles hasn’t .There has been no adequate commentary on the matter of genocide from the Prime Minister, the Attorney General or the Foreign Minister. Perhaps Marles spoke for all of them. Has the collective judgement been that it is better not to say anything? If that is the case there has been an extraordinary dereliction of duty. Few people in the electorate would know about the Genocide Convention itself and the obligations incumbent on Australia to take remedial action when genocide is unfolding. All in all it underlines the extreme parochialism of Australia’s political elite and how out of touch they are with world opinion outside the small pinched circle of those nations Minister Wong frequently calls ‘like -minded friends.’

But it didn’t need a long legal document to indicate that a human catastrophe was underway in the Gaza Strip. It was all there to see day and night for six months. It was not just the relentless bombardment of a densely populated territory where the population had no means to defend themselves. The ruined and devastated streetscapes said it all. The death toll mounted every day. Women and children were especially vulnerable. Large extended families died together. Neighbours were left to pick up body parts from the rubble. There was no equipment to search for possible survivors left under collapsed buildings. It soon became apparent that the pursuit of Hamas fighters, while real enough, provided the cover for an assault on the whole Palestinian population but also for every aspect of their collective life. The underlying aim was to make Gaza unliveable. How else can we explain the destruction of all the public institutions—hospitals, libraries, schools, universities, churches and mosques, publicly recognised heritage sites. And then there was what appeared to have been the targeted assassination of leading professors, writers and intellectuals. Graveyards were bulldozed along with olive groves and other farm land. The Palestinians were to be, at the hands of the Israelis, not only a people without land but a people without a collective history or a public culture.

Such assertions would, in normal circumstances, seem extreme were it not for the many public statements made by Israeli leaders in the early days of the onslaught. They were collected and presented by South African legal team in their submission to the ICJ. The whole population, it was said many times over, was culpable and therefore due for relentless punishment, President Hertzog declaring on 12 October that: ‘It’s an entire nation out there that is responsible. It’s not true this rhetoric about civilians not aware not involved…..and we will fight until we break their backbone.’

A few days before Defence Minister Yoav Gallant had explained that the IDF was intending to impose ‘ a complete siege on Gaza – no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel. Everything is closed. We are fighting human animals…’

What those generations of Jewish activists who fought against racism all over the world would have made of this statement we can only wonder. The South Africans made the only possible assessment that the Israel leadership had made it clear that they had the ‘special intent’, or dolus specialis, to commit and persist in committing genocidal acts and that this had been significand and overt since October 2023 and has continued ever since.

Another strong theme which runs through official Israeli rhetoric is the long term plan to push the bulk of the Gazan population out of the Strip either by force or persuasion, creating what is termed ‘the Gaza Nackba.’ Last week the Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, remarked that Israel’s ultimate goal for Gaza must be to push Palestinians out and resettle it with Israelis. His colleague Communications Minister, Shlomo Karhi, declared that:’ In order to preserve the security achievements that our soldiers have lost their lives for, we must resettle Gaza with security forces and settlers that will embrace the land with love.’ Such views are widespread in the community as recent opinion polls show. When asked what they thought was the most viable solution for, ‘the day after’, 26% favoured the mass expulsion of Palestinians from both Gaza and the West Bank while a further 19% advocated the annexation of both territories without granting Palestinians citizenship. Only 32% were supportive of the two state solution while 20% were not sure what should be done.

These public commitments by two Israeli Cabinet Ministers coincided with the Australian Parliament censuring Senator Payman for declaring that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank should be free after 56 years of military occupation and daring to mention the “G Word” which, as we have seen, Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Marles declared he would never use. He would no doubt be equally abstemious about using the term Ethnic Cleansing as well, while joining hands with his colleagues in fretting about what they define as anti-semitism which they seem to believe is the leading consequence of one of the most profound human rights disaster since the Second World War.

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