Gaza: Australian timidity, US hypocrisy

Jan 11, 2024
Waving flag of Israel and Australia.Image:iStock

Just when will the horror that is Gaza today prompt the Albanese Government to acknowledge publicly that the war in the territory is now consumed by Israel’s blood-lust revenge and a hunger for ethnic reconfiguration? Is it too much to hope that the government can find a conscience of its own rather than mimicking the deceitful utterances of its US and Israeli “friends”?

In the outpouring of Western sympathy for Israel after the Hamas attack in early October the phrase “self-defence” figured prominently. Israel, said President Biden, had a right and responsibility “to respond to the slaughter of its citizens” and the US would ensure it had what was “needed to defend itself”. Biden cautioned, nonetheless, that Israel should “do everything in its power, as difficult as it is, to protect innocent civilians”. Following suit, Albanese commented that Israel had a right to defend itself, “but how it does that matters … every civilian life is valued”. Later, Albanese issued a joint statement with his Canadian and NZ counterparts declaring that the price of defeating Hamas “cannot be the continuous suffering of all Palestinian civilians”. Meanwhile, Penny Wong demanded that adherence to international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians, “must be prioritised”.

And the result of these urgings and admonitions? A CNN report in late December quoted US intelligence sources as saying that between 40-45 per cent of the 29,000 air-to-surface munitions dropped on Gaza by then were so-called “dumb bombs”—unguided munitions which pose a greater threat to civilians, especially in densely populated territories such as Gaza.

As of early January, some 22,000 Palestinians had been killed in Gaza and another 57,000 injured. The Israeli military claims it has killed around 8,000 Hamas fighters. Even by Israeli calculations then, nearly two-thirds of the dead in Gaza are civilians, including many thousands of women and children. The UN estimates another 7,000 dead under the rubble, hardly a surprise since some 60 per cent of residential buildings in Gaza have been destroyed or damaged.

Quite an achievement for the self-proclaimed “most moral” army in the world, aided and abetted by the US with its inexhaustible supply of double-standards. On 7 December, Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticised the Israeli offensive in southern Gaza. It was imperative, he warned, that Israel put a premium on civilian protection but there was “gap” between what Israel said and what was happening on the ground. The State Department responded to the “gap” by pushing through the sale to Israel of 13,000 rounds of tank ammunition, valued at US$106 million, bypassing the usual congressional review process.

In a closed-door fundraiser in December, Biden reportedly warned that Israel’s “indiscriminate bombing” was costing the country international support. That said, his own support for the Netanyahu government remained intact and the US administration was “not going to do a damn thing other than protect Israel”. Shortly afterwards, the administration by-passed Congress again to approve a US$147.5 million sale of artillery munitions to Israel with Blinken providing “detailed justification … that an emergency exists that requires the immediate sale”.

For Netanyahu, that emergency is about his own political future as much as Israel’s security. He has a particular score to settle with Hamas because it betrayed him. The truth “must be stated” said Gershon Hacohen, a senior military associate of Netanyahu in May 2019. Determined to prevent a two-state option, Netanyahu made Hamas his closest partner. “Overtly, Hamas is the enemy. Covertly, it’s an ally.”

Netanyahu now asserts that Israel will smash and destroy Hamas. That will not happen, there can be no “total victory” and the only certainty is more dead Palestinian civilians. Israel’s actions in Gaza will also now be aired in the International Court of Justice in a case brought by South Africa, which accuses Israel of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention in its military bombardment and siege of the territory. Israel has dismissed the move as an “absurd blood libel”, as if that will magically erase Israel’s policy of collective guilt, collective punishment and wanton destruction in Gaza. 

Hamas might have an horrific track record but it does not have a mortgage on extremist language or action. Israeli President, Isaac Herzog, declared all citizens of Gaza as responsible for the 7 October Hamas attack. It is absolutely not true, Herzog asserted, “this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved.” In a similar vein Israel’s Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, declared that Israel was fighting human animals and would “eliminate everything”.

Amid debate about the “day after” in Gaza, two senior members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet have a very clear idea of what it should look like. They are the deeply racist ministers for finance, Bezalel Smotrich, and national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir. Both are ardent advocates of so-called voluntary relocation of Palestinians. Smotrich, a settler in the West Bank, said in early January that if there were 100,000 or 200,000 in Gaza and not two million the entire discussion on the day after would “be totally different”. Ben-Gvir argued that relocation was “a correct, just, moral and humane solution”. That was too much for even the US, a State Department official describing such comments as “inflammatory and irresponsible”.

Having made Gaza near uninhabitable nothing would suit the Israeli Government more than Palestinians themselves deciding to “relocate”. One major complication is that they have nowhere else to go. Egypt, quite rightly, will not accept them. Any international effort to resettle them would reward Israel for its destruction of Gaza and encourage even more harassment of West Bank Palestinians. Reflecting a fondness for the language of ethnic cleaning in March 2023 Smotrich called for the West Bank village of Huwara to be “erased”. An Israeli general described a settler rampage through the village as a “pogrom”.

Does Australia have a view on South Africa’s case before the ICJ? Guardian Australia recently reported that while the government’s position has yet to be revealed some rank-and-file Labor members are urging support, arguing that the government’s “silence” on the more than 22,000 deaths in Gaza is “inconsistent with our national values”.

Just what will it take to move the Albanese government off the sidelines, tut-tutting occasionally, offering sweet nothings about a two-state solution, and making no appreciable difference to anyone or anything? Just how many more Palestinian dead are needed before Albanese finds his courage and his voice?

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