It will soon be too late for Gaza

Feb 19, 2024
21 October 2023, Palestinian Territories, Al Zahra: An aerial view of Madinat Al-Zahra near Khan Yunis. The number of Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip has risen by more than 200 to 4,385 since the beginning of the war with Israel two weeks ago, the Hamas-run Heath Ministry said. Photo: Alamy/ Shadi Tabatibi/dpa

Within two weeks the remaining people of Gaza, herded into Rafah, will all be dead, either from disease, starvation, or murder, an Australian medical specialist told me on Friday. Humans can’t survive in these conditions. What is Australia doing? he wanted to know.

What the Australian government is doing is putting out a series of mild appeals to Israel, all of which have been ignored. That’s no surprise, since our Foreign Minister has affirmed Australia’s enduring solidarity with Israel. In mid-December Penny Wong and her Canadian and New Zealand counterparts called for a ‘sustainable ceasefire’ in Gaza. Then in January they asked Israel to allow humanitarian aid to reach the Palestinians. A month later they called on Israel not to ‘go down this path’ of an assault on Rafah. Prime Ministers Albanese, Trudeau, and Luxon said the same, calling for an ‘immediate ceasefire’.

A month elapsed between each of these requests, which in diplomatic terms makes them less than urgent. Yet suddenly on 22 January, Penny Wong suspended Australia’s contributions to the United Nations Works and Relief Agency, in response to Israel’s allegation that 12 of UNWRA’s more than 3000 workers in Gaza had been involved in the 7 October Hamas outbreak. Wong later admitted that she didn’t have all the facts before doing so. Nor did the United States: on 30 January Antony Blinken called Israel’s allegations against UNWRA staff ‘highly, highly credible’, while admitting that the United States had not investigated them.

Sky News and Britain’s Channel 4 did investigate, however, and found no proof that UNRWA members were involved in terror attacks on Israel. The Financial Times found that Israel had accused four, not twelve, UNWRA workers of collaboration. So Wong’s promised review of her hasty decision should take into account the actual Hamas numbers, and note that Israel had between 7 October and early February killed 152 UNWRA staff and damaged 147 of its installations.

While appeals to Israel at prime ministerial level may look like progress to some in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, they change nothing. For at least four reasons:

  • Prime Minister Netanyahu regularly ignores all such appeals, including from the United States. They all cite the need for a two-state solution, which he will never agree to, as the allied leaders know.
  • He is confident that neither they nor the International Court of Justice can enforce the terms upon which the state of Israel was established in 1947, which it immediately violated with the Nakba, and which it will continue to violate until all Palestinian land is occupied by Israel.
  • The three prime ministers’ call on Hamas to return all the 120 hostages it took on 7 October failed to mention Hamas’ condition, that Israel release some of the 5000 or so Palestinians it holds in prison, many without charge. This condition for negotiation is rarely noticed.
  • The only condition that has worked to end Israels’ wars in the past is to have the supply of weapons and war finance cut off. That is what the three prime ministers should state clearly they have done. They should call on the US and NATO members to do the same.

Israel under Netanyahu is unmoved by lettuce-limp appeals from its friends, by the forceful reaction from its enemies in Lebanon and Yemen, and by international shaming. Clearly, this is his opportunity to impose a final solution – something familiar to Jews. His propaganda manufacturers are immune to outrage at their false narratives of beheaded babies, raped hostages, and terrorists under hospitals. They have a long record of lying and later backing down after the damage is done, according to Chris Hedges, a journalist with years of experience in the region. He says their lies include: that Israel wants a just and equitable peace and will support a Palestinian state; that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East; that Israel is an ‘outpost of Western civilization in a sea of barbarism’; and that Israel respects the rule of law and human rights.

Most media in Israel do not report the truth, that IDF attacks on Gaza have killed at least 28,663 Palestinians and wounded 68,395 since 7 October. The death toll in Israel from the Hamas-led attacks was 1,139. Netanyahu’s political future depends on winning this asymmetric war. If he backs down, his ultra-right ministers will move against him, and so will liberals in Israel. He could be tried for corruption and be found guilty. The International Criminal Court might be encouraged to indict him.

But politics being the art of securing power and holding onto it for as long as possible, his friends in the US, UK, and other NATO countries, as well as those in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, may well be considering their own positions too. Politicians faced with powerful Zionist lobbies, and with populist media owned by Murdoch, will face blistering attacks if they come out as firmly against Israel as UN Secretary-General and UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese have done.

In the end it may come down to what matters most: the survival in power of a handful of presidents and prime ministers, or the annihilation of more than two million people. It is grotesquely disproportionate.

Where is Responsibility to Protect when it’s needed?

Those in power should regret Gaza for the rest of their lives, as leaders did after the Rwandan genocide, about which they did nothing.

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