Israel: a nation killing and starving children

Mar 20, 2024
Injured Palestinians, Including children are brought to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Dair El-Balah Injured Palestinians, Includ Children are brought to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Dair El-Balah for treatment following the Israeli attacks in Khan Yunis, Gaza on March 02, 2024. Photo by Omar Ashtawy apaimages Dair EL-Balah Gaza Strip Palestinian Territory 020324_Dair_EL-Balah_OSH_005 Copyright: Alamy/xapaimagesxOmarxAshtawyxxapaimagesx

There is nothing in recent memory that matches the scale of the atrocities being inflicted on the civilians of Gaza, who appear to be being punished for their very existence. Every report and image coming out of this tiny but densely populated piece of land brings despair, horror and incredulity, with the question “How can this be happening?” being uppermost.

Perhaps the most deeply disturbing of all are recent comments from UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini, that “This war is a war on children”.

His statement was not made lightly:

  • More children have been reported killed in just over 4 months in Gaza (over 12,300) than the number killed in wars globally in the 4 years to 2022 (12,193) (UNRWA, here).
  • “Today no child in Gaza is free from fear, pain and hunger…..All children living in the Gaza Strip have lost their childhood”. (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, here).
  • UNICEF estimates that at least 17,000 children in the Gaza Strip are unaccompanied or separated from their parents.
  • Children are now dying of starvation, as its use as a weapon intensifies. Mass killings of those desperately seeking food occur (see for example here).

Philippe Lazzarini’s stark words underline the moral abyss that has unfolded. A war on children. There are not many greater depths to which humanity can plunge.

How can it be that this is continuing, month after month, much of it in plain sight with every report we read? It’s a question most often uttered with a sense of desperation and helplessness. And yet the question has answers; it is not rhetorical.

For the war on Gaza to continue, Israel needs accomplices, “friends” who will never hold the nation to account. Such “friends” make statements that are breathtakingly inadequate for the scale and disproportionate nature of the suffering that’s occurring – for example repeated assertions, as genocide unfolds, that Israel has a right to defend itself, but international law must be upheld.

Israel’s prime accomplice is the United States, which provides not only reliable political support but also huge quantities of weaponry for Israel. From 2013 to 2022, 68% of Israel’s weapons imports came from the US.

The Washington Post recently reported that the US Congress has approved and delivered more than 100 separate military sales to Israel since October 7, “amounting to thousands of precision-guided munitions, small-diameter bombs, bunker busters, small arms and other lethal aid”. In addition, the US military stockpiles billions of dollars worth of weapons in Israel, which – despite much secrecy – it is believed are also being used against the people of Gaza now.

The spectacle of a US president wringing his hands about how awful the situation is becoming for the people of Gaza, while sending the next shipment of bombs to rain down on them, should be the stuff of political satire, but it is the reality.

But Australia is also an accomplice. From the very earliest days of Israel’s response to the brutality inflicted on its citizens by Hamas on October 7, the Australian government has been incapable of condemning Israel for any of its multiple crimes in Gaza. Other nations or groups who commit atrocities are named (Hamas repeatedly), but never Israel. There are no signs of a downgrading of Australia’s political support for Israel, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are still claiming that “Australia has a warm and close relationship with Israel” – a nation that is killing and starving children.

Australia took over six weeks to finally – on December 12, 2023 – join widespread calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. Our government refused to support South Africa’s action in bringing the matter of genocide to the International Court of Justice. Within a day of the Court’s ruling on 26 January that “Israel must take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services [for the people of Gaza]”, Australia suspended payments to the very organisation that was most needed to do this, UNRWA, a decision which has only just been reversed after 7 weeks.

On weapons exports to Israel, Foreign Minister Wong has stated that “Australia has not supplied weapons to Israel since the conflict began and for at least the past five years”, despite the fact that Australia issued 52 defence export permits to Israel in 2023 alone, and many more in the preceding years. The Minister appears to be ignoring weapons parts and components, and the critical role they play in the whole military supply chain – a role that is recognised in the Arms Trade Treaty to which Australia is party.

For us to turn away in despair and helplessness in the face of all this is not an option. We must continue to demand decisions on the part of our own government that place the needs of innocent people, especially children, at the absolute centre of decision-making.

The following measures are among those that the Australian government could take immediately:

  • Insistence on full and unimpeded access of aid convoys to all regions of Gaza, and an end to attacks on Palestinians who are desperately seeking food.
  • Strengthening demands for a permanent ceasefire and an end to the siege of Gaza.
  • An explicit prohibition on sales of weapons and weapons components to Israel, and an announcement of it.
  • Abandonment of Australia’s “warm and close” relationship with Israel.
  • The provision of transparency on compliance with, and accountability for, all of Australia’s international obligations towards the people of Gaza, including those set out in the Genocide Convention.

Unlike the US, what Australia does may not be decisive for the children of Gaza. But the power of a good example always matters. Belgium, Italy and Spain have already suspended arms transfers to Israel, and in the Netherlands there was a court ruling for the cessation of the export of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel.

Right now, the Australian government must act to prevent far more children, and adults, dying from the starvation and other horrors being inflicted on them.

And there must be accountability – in whatever form it eventually takes – not only for the perpetrators of the genocide in Gaza but also for those who failed to do whatever possible to stop it.

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