MICHAEL EASSON. Israel, Gaza and Australia.

There is neither joy nor bright prospects from any of the recent violence and suffering in Gaza. The tragic loss of life in May naturally focuses attention on Australia’s policy concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict.  

There are two main criticisms of current Australian policy. First, using the emotive language of detractors, Australian policy is shamefully subservient to a foreign power, Israel; and second, recent Israeli actions appear wantonly trigger-happy in the face of ostensibly peaceful protests on the border.

I dissent from both claims.

Is it true, as Crikey writer Bernard Keane wrote last week, that “Turnbull’s protection of Israel [is] the exemplar of foreign influence”?

In fact, for many years under both Coalition and Labor governments, Australia has not been locked in tandem with the Israeli government on all major issues. This is evident in statements, from the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister down, noting Australia’s continued, more robust, support for a two-State solution, ruling out any move of our Embassy to West Jerusalem until after peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, the non-attendance by our ambassador at the opening of the new US Embassy in West Jerusalem, the issuing of public statements by successive Australian Foreign Ministers criticising Israeli settlement construction, and calling on Israel to show “restraint” when its citizens are physically attacked, and our consistent, nuanced voting that rejects one-sided United Nations General Assembly and subordinate-organ resolutions.

Last November, when the UN General Assembly declared Israel’s Actions in East Jerusalem to be ‘Null and Void’, Australia abstained, because of the egregiously one-sided wording of the motion. Canada voted ‘No’. On a resolution about “the Syrian Golan”, Australia abstained. Both Canada and the UK voted ‘no’

A few weeks ago there was a UN Human Rights Council resolution to investigate only Israel’s role in Gaza protest deaths. Australia, with the United States, was on the losing side of a 47-nation vote. But the vote, based on a flawed resolution presented by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, returned 29 votes in favour, 14 abstentions, 2 not voting and 2 against for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, the Council resolved to set up its own investigation in a statement which condemned “the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians, including in the context of peaceful protests.” Such loaded language blatantly pre-judges matters, not least in misquoting what the principles of discrimination and proportionality actually mean in international law.

At the heart of truly fixing the Israel-Palestine issue is a generally agreed model. The best way to resolve the causes of Gaza conflicts is a lasting peace through a two-State solution that is both verifiable and truly accountable on both sides.

This was noted on 15 May by Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong who stated: “The deaths and injuries of Palestinian protesters in Gaza overnight are both shocking and tragic. Labor urges Israel to show restraint. We support the right for peaceful protest and call on both sides to de-escalate tensions.” She went on to say: “We believe the leadership of both sides should examine what more they can do to work towards a viable two-state solution and deliver a peaceful future for both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.”

In 2017, the NSW ALP Conference resolved to:

  • Note previous resolutions on Israel/Palestine carried at the 2015 ALP National Conference and the 2016 NSW Labor Annual Conference; and
  • Support the recognition and right of Israel and Palestine to exist within secure and recognised borders; and
  • Urge the next Labor Government to recognise Palestine.

To be achieved, the last point surely has to be read in the context of “secure and recognised borders”. Such borders will not be achieved by difficult and complex negotiations alone. They require resolute leadership on both sides prepared to tell hard truths to their respective peoples, accede to a truly lasting agreement, and exert the will and means to enforce it against their respective irredentist and other extremist elements.

For all its real and perceived faults, past or present, few seriously question Israel’s capacity for the necessary accountability in such circumstances. Israel’s Military Advocate General is subject to the supervisory jurisdiction of the Attorney General, which in turn is subject to rulings by Israel’s Supreme Court, one of the most accessible peak courts in the world.  Similarly, the killing of Afghan civilians or unarmed insurgents by Australian troops was investigated by the Australian Defence Force, not the UN.

The position of the Palestinian leadership, on the other hand, remains beset by deficits in unity, accountability and democracy that are crucial obstacles to resolving the human rights crisis in the two Palestinian territories.

In February this year UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the Gaza Strip, in particular, as a “constant humanitarian emergency”. He noted, without dwelling on the riven internal political and security situation, that “two million Palestinians are struggling everyday with crumbling infrastructure, an electricity crisis, a lack of basic services, chronic unemployment and a paralysed economy. All of this is taking place amid an unfolding environmental disaster.”

This makes the need for a real and enduring peace an urgent priority. Yet the Hamas leadership continue to deny Israel’s right to be a country, encourages or turns a blind eye to terrorist attacks and maintains educational and public information systems that advocate hatred of Jews as Jews (not just Israelis). With an ailing Palestinian President still in office some eight years after his elected term ended, Fatah, Hamas and the nominal PLO interim statelet remain a mishmash of personal, political, religious, and indeed criminal, rivalries. Hamas are said to be confident that with their leading role in the conflict, they can defeat Fatah in any new poll, but have never allowed one in Gaza since they forced Fatah out in 2007.

The recent loss of life at the Gaza-Israel security barrier, including some children, is intolerable. Israel has long insisted that Israeli commanders and soldiers are guided by international law in their actions. Indeed, the Israel Defence Force (IDF) maintains a robust, multi-layered investigations system, with numerous checks and balances to ensure impartiality. Indeed, right now, the IDF is conducting investigations on any credible accusation or reasonable suspicion of alleged wrongdoing.

You would expect nothing less but much superficial commentary ignores or glosses over that this accountability is totally absent from Hamas intentions and actions.

Proportionate Action

What of recent clashes?

The commentary in The Times of Israel by army reservist Kinley (Moshe) Tur-Paz, a founder and CEO of the Kibbutz HaDati Educational Network, who was called up for the Gaza demonstrations is persuasive and speaks to Israeli’s culture of accountability. See: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/i-was-at-the-gaza-border-we-did-all-we-could-to-avoid-killing/?utm_source=Start-Up+Daily&utm_campaign=6835fe55e1-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_05_17_SUI&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fb879fad58-6835fe55e1-55745717.

He wrote “I can understand and identify with all of those good and moral Zionists who fear that the many Palestinian victims may be our fault, the result of mistakes made by our side…

I want to testify that what I saw and heard was a tremendous, supreme effort from our side to prevent, in every possible way, Palestinian deaths and injuries.

“Of course, the primary mission was to prevent hundreds of thousands of Gazans from infiltrating into our territory. That kind of invasion would be perilous, mortally dangerous, to the nearby communities; would permit terrorists disguised as civilians to enter our kibbutz and moshav communities, and would leave us with no choice but to target every single infiltrator. That’s why our soldiers were directed to prevent infiltration, in a variety of ways, using live ammunition only as a last resort.

The IDF says it attempted to avoid civilian casualties. The IDF has said that terrorists were sections of the mob that sought to cross the border. Hamas wanted them on the front line as human shields, hiding terrorists, and endangering their lives. Before the protests, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar said: “Let them wait for our big push… We will take down the border and we will tear out their hearts from their bodies.” (The Algemeiner, May 15, https://www.algemeiner.com/2018/05/15/hamas-co-founder-calling-gaza-riots-peaceful-resistance-is-deceiving-the-public).

Hamas Political Bureau Member Salah Al-Bardawil speaking on May 16 on Baladna TV, which broadcasts from Gaza, admitted that of the 62 people killed in clashes along the Gaza border on May 14, 50 were Hamas personnel. (See: https://www.memri.org/tv/hamas-politburo-member-bardawil-fifty-martyrs-were-hamas-members).

The right of the Palestinian people to peaceful protest in Gaza and the West Bank deserves support—as does Israel’s right to defend its borders and determine that only those entering legally, properly and peacefully can do so. Especially when Israeli population centres are in such close proximity such that they are minutes away, just by running. There is no justification in any circumstances for protesters to employ violent measures and it is incumbent on security forces to ensure that their responses to violent attempts at infiltration are appropriate and proportionate to the risk.

Last week in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman, foreign policy commentator, Pulitzer Prize winner, and critic of Israeli Prime Minister “Bibi” Netanyahu, wrote about the disgraceful Hamas leadership. He lamented: “What if all two million Palestinians of Gaza marched to the Israeli border fence with an olive branch in one hand and a sign in Hebrew and Arabic in the other, saying… ‘We, the Palestinian people of Gaza, want to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish people…’.” But Hamas never thinks like that. For them, perpetuating the conflict on their religious and ideological terms is everything.

There is thus much hypocrisy in international fora on human rights. You wish there was a place to dispassionately assess the truth — like the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the UN. But there are a stack of judges appointed by dictatorships that dominate the judges that might be appointed, just as there is a majority of dictatorships and semi-dictatorships currently on the UN Human Rights Council. So we need to be realistic. And hence the need re-energise the peace process.

Israelis know there is a world of woe ahead. Jews know from the Talmud, with the biblical Exodus from Egypt, that Yahweh prevented the angels from singing and rejoicing when the Egyptian chariots pursuing the Israelites were drowned in the Red Sea, scolding them with the words: “How dare you sing for joy when My creatures are dying” (Talmud, Megillah 10b and Sanhedrin 39b). The Talmud also teaches that personal elation should never allow forgetting the misfortunes afflicting others (Berachot 31a). The cup of deliverance cannot be full when others suffer.

The tragedy of Israel and Palestine is that everyone’s humanity is diminished if peace remains a forlorn prospect and hostage to deliberately propagated hatred. Especially this is so when people are regarded as merely political tools to be expended – not as men, women and children all with rights, prospects, and intrinsic worth as individuals.

* Dr Michael Easson for the past 40 years has written on Australian policy on Israel and the Middle East for various publications including The Guardian, The Spectator, The Australian Jewish News, and Labor Leader. He is President of the Australia Defence Association, but has written this piece in his private capacity.


John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

This entry was posted in World Affairs. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to MICHAEL EASSON. Israel, Gaza and Australia.

  1. Peter Best says:

    Easson’s gloss on the matter is a bit like talking about the different ways to cook beef without considering the killing of the cow. This “dispute” goes back a long way. Not as far as Moses in the bullrushes but in modern terms as far as the moment when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled or frightened into fleeing their homes and their homeland. They dream of going home, not after 2,000 years since their expulsion, but after 70 years. The borders that Israel claims to be defending are not Israel’s borders, but the result of military conquest. Israel is demanding “lebensraum”. Where have we heard that before?

  2. Mark Dando says:

    ‘Jews know from the Talmud, with the biblical Exodus from Egypt, that Yahweh prevented the angels from singing and rejoicing when the Egyptian chariots pursuing the Israelites were drowned in the Red Sea’.

    You might know that, but most of us think that any arguments based on ancient self-serving mythology, such as Jews have a right to Palestine because they’re god’s chosen people, deserve to be dismissed out of hand. I suspect that with the decline of US global power, coupled with the declining relevance of the Middle East as an energy source, the game is up for Israel as an culturally connected part of the Western world. It might well survive as a ‘Europeanised’ fortress at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, but will become increasingly isolated. As a former supporter of Israel I’ve had enough with arguments that the country is more sinned against than sinning.

  3. Michael Easson says:

    Mr Fry-Kontaxis thinks me both diabolically clever to “rehash” “Israeli talking points” and to simultaneously repeat Hamas propaganda about their recent involvement at the Israel/Gaza barrier. He also detects my “long history of justifying the deaths of Arab victims of Israeli violence, and his repeated blame of those Arab victims.” How sad.

    I wrote the article myself, unaided by Israeli or Hamas influence. One thing I agree with Hillary Clinton on her recent trip to Australia: There is no such thing as an alternative fact.

    No, the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip was not “implemented immediately following the election of the Hamas government”. Hamas won the most seats in legislative elections in 2006. It never won a Presidential election. Nevertheless, Hamas seized executive power in Gaza in a putsch in June 2007. Local Fatah leaders were executed or exiled. Hamas then greatly stepped up rocket and mortar attacks against Israeli civilian population centres and weapons smuggling into Gaza. Only then, and after repeated warnings, did Israel impose the blockade. In 2011, an international Panel of Inquiry established by the Secretary-General of the UN under the chairmanship of Sir Geoffrey Palmer, an expert in international maritime law, and a former Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand, found that Israel’s blockade of Gaza was a lawful act of self-defence against the continuing attacks against Israel from Gaza. See: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/world/Palmer-Committee-Final-report.pdf. This is at the heart of the humanitarian disaster.

    For Mr Fry-Kontaxis to say “at no point were any Israeli citizens in danger whatsoever” is breathtaking. Hamas’ Sinwar’s blood-curdling speech in the week prior to May 15 – “Our people and our boys will surprise the entire world with what they have in store… Let them wait for our big push. We will take down the border and we will tear out their hearts from their bodies” – can be seen, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klFbf6VG7uA&feature=youtu.be, as broadcast by Al Jazeera television. They charged the security barrier numerous times to try to get through. I suspect not to plant roses.

    How could anyone blame the ordinary Palestinians for the mess they are in? I have always believed that a true friend of the Israeli people is a friend of the Palestinians. There is nothing positive about war and there seems no end in sight for a sustainable peace treaty with two states living side by side. I pray that such days are nearing as distant as they presently seem. For the moment, I am in the troubled position of grasping an old truth: “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow (Ecclesiastes 1:18).”

  4. Leon Fry-Kontaxis says:

    This is just a rehash of Israeli talking points. Hamas claiming that 50 out of 62 casualties were part of its membership is a blatant attempt to take ownership of an action that they had comparatively little to do with organising and is an attempt to compensate for its inability to mobilize the civilian population of Gaza. This has been denounced by the people who actually organised the demonstrations.

    It is also worth noting that according to the IDF itself, its personnel received no direct small arms fire, and no serious attempt was made to breach the border wall. At no point were IDF personnel in any physical danger whatsoever, and at no point were any Israeli citizens in danger whatsoever.

    Easson is happy to quote Friedman’s sanctimonious nonsense, but he should at least be honest, he is a student of history and knows full well that the PLO signed the Oslo accords, which was exactly this. After the Assassination of Rabin, Israel deliberately flouted the accords by engaging in targeted assassinations, aggressive settlement building, and other provocations (of course this in no way justifies Hamas and the PIJ’s suicide bombing campaign inside the Green Line.)

    Easson is also aware that the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip was implemented immediately following the election of the Hamas government. There was no attempt at any sort of diplomacy on the part of Israel, it instead, along with the Bush administration, supported the Fatah putsch led by Mohammad Dahlan. Given Israel’s repeated indiscriminate bombardments of the Gaza strip, and its continued blockade and control of Gaza’s border crossings, airspace and access to the sea, to demand the people of Gaza effectively surrender and begin to sing kumbaya is offensive in the extreme.

    Mr Easson’s continued claims of the IDF’s so called purity of arms are risable, given the recent massacre on the border and Israel’s previous attacks on the Gaza strip, where residential neighbourhoods were razed to the ground. They are, however, not surprising, given that he has a long history of justifying the deaths of Arab victims of Israeli violence, and his repeated blame of those Arab victims.

Comments are closed.