STUART REES. Cowardice as a principle of foreign policy, what on earth are they thinking?

In relation to Israel’s decades of military occupation of Palestinian lands, a cowardice spreading pandemic has infected Australian politicians and public servants. Recent symptoms are evident in the Australian government’s submission to the International Criminal Court (ICC) that an investigation of Israeli war crimes in Palestine should not take place.

Credit: Unsplash

Before pursuing the argument that legal casuistry and cowardice characterise an Australian government’s attitude towards the plight of Palestinian people, it is important to remember that the cowardice pandemic has also affected ICC deliberations.

ICC Deliberations and Canberra’s Response

In his recent book I Accuse, the forensically brilliant US author Norman Finkelstein examines the ICC Chief Prosecutor’s refusal to investigate the killing by Israeli forces in May 2010 of nine people on the humanitarian flagship the Mavi Marmora, bound for Gaza. Finkelstein records that the eventual death of ten people and injuries to scores of others was judged by the Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, as of not sufficient gravity to warrant an official investigation. Finkelstein shows beyond reasonable doubt that the ICC Chief Prosecutor whitewashed Israel.

Pushback within the ICC then obliged Bensouda to reopen the investigation into the Mavi Marmora murders and the carnage in Gaza in 2014, yet take five years to do so. An inquiry, which covered Israel’s building of settlements and its military operation in Gaza, concluded that Bensouda was ‘satisfied that there was a reasonable basis to proceed.’

At that point the Australian government informed the ICC that ‘on jurisdictional grounds Palestine is not a state’, therefore there should be no investigation of alleged war crimes in Palestine.

Legal contortions over the notion ‘jurisdiction’ must have been made in closed door conversations as to how to protect Israel, how to comply with what Israel and the US want. At that point a public servant, presumably, was instructed to give a shameful explanation to parliament.

Appearing before Senate Estimates Committee, James Larsen, chief legal officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that ‘Israel has encouraged us (Australia) to make observations to the court regarding the investigation into war crimes.’

Prior to Larsen’s appearance, the Australian Ambassador to the Netherlands Mathew Neuhaus is reported to have given Australia’s objections to the ICC investigation. When Ambassador in Zimbabwe, and in relation to the brutalities of the Mugabe regime, my meetings with Ambassador Neuhaus showed him to be a principled, brave, consistent defender of human rights. But in the context of demands from Israel, principle and courage are stifled by the usual gutless, amoral pragmatism that passes for Australian policy making. This principled man must have squirmed at the demands placed upon him?

In response to Australia’s objections to the ICC, Bensouda, no doubt affected by Professor Finkelstein’s devastating critique, has informed Canberra, ‘There are no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice.’

Yet the ICC’s ‘substantial reasons’ have been water off a duck’s back to Canberra. What on earth were they thinking?

Brutality and the Obscenity of ‘Balance’

Let’s be clear as to the ICC’s objectives and what Australia is keen to prevent. The investigation was to unearth possible war crimes committed by the Israeli blockade of Gaza, their responsibility for the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza plus the consequences of the 2014 Operation Protective Edge. That proposed investigation would also address possible atrocities committed by Hamas and by other Palestinian armed groups.

The investigation would examine evidence that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) used internationally banned weapons such as Dense Inert Metal Explosives (DIME) which cause loss of limbs and wounds that do not respond to treatment. The investigation could consider the possible use of the banned white phosphorus in the air over densely populated areas.

In that 2014 invasion, over 2,200 Palestinians were killed most of them civilians, including 550 children. Over 10,000 were injured including 3,374 children of whom 1000 were left permanently disabled. Eighteen thousand homes in Gaza were destroyed.

Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians lost their lives. One Israeli child was killed and one home destroyed.

To describe these events, the operative word in political and media circles is balance. Palestinians’ perspectives, often ignored, have to be balanced by a plethora of Israeli government claims. In the context of the Israel/Palestine conflict, balance conceals truths and is an obscene notion. When will the media and politicians learn? What on earth are they thinking?

The Hamas government in Gaza has welcomed the proposed ICC investigation even though it would pursue charges that Palestinian civilians were used as human shields by Hamas and by other Palestinian armed forces.

Israel has opposed the ICC. Prime Minister Netanyahu has given his usual Humpty Dumpty ‘things mean what I say they mean’ explanation. He calls the possible ICC investigation ‘a black day for truth and justice.’

Preventing the Cowardice Pandemic

Regarding Australia’s consistent, cowardly responses to calls from Israel and the US, who makes these policy recommendations? Were they ever taught about ethics and courage in public life, or is diplomacy reduced to inhuman game playing?

In government circles, who will have the courage to say that cruelty towards Palestinians and cowardice as the hallmark of Australian policy to support Israel are wrong? Who might concede that refusal to unmask possible war crimes implies collusion with indiscriminate destruction and killing?

It looks as though a vaccine is needed to inject courageous anti bodies into political and diplomatic bloodstreams? Without that vaccine, Palestinians will continue to be betrayed and the question, ‘what on earth are Australian politicians and public servants thinking?’, will have to be repeated.


Stuart Rees OAM, human rights activist, poet, novelist, author of books on social justice. Recipient of the Jerusalem Peace Prize, Founder Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation.

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

For questions regarding our comment system please click here.
(Please note that we are unable to post comments on your behalf.)

13 Responses to STUART REES. Cowardice as a principle of foreign policy, what on earth are they thinking?

  1. Avatar saul geffen says:

    Oh Stuart Rees and his obsession with the pesky Jews. Surely the lovely folk from Hamas having taken time off from throwing homosexuals off buildings and mutilating the genitals of their daughters are blameless. What’s lobbing a few thousand rockets at civilians, and building tunnels to kidnap citizens for ransom (after their murder) after all?

    The fact that Hamas calls for the destruction of the State of Israel and the death of all its Jewish inhabitants is irrelevant. The fact that Egypt (a staunchly Muslim nation) also blockades Gaza seems to have been overlooked. The fact that Israel has fought 5 wars against overwhelming odds and a single loss would mean the end of the nation is also obviously not relevant. Oh and that fact that Israel withdrew from Gaza and the current murderous fascists

    This from the man who calls for BDS against Israel but not against China who occupy Tibet, Turkey who occupies half of Crete, the UK the Falklands and Gibraltar, Indonesia and its occupation and suppression of half of our closet neighbour PNG. Why on earth not Mr Rees. Is it because they are not Jews?

    Mr Rees even a cursory reading of a book you admire (the New Testament) would outline that the Jews claim to Judea and Samaria is a fair bit better than the UK’s to the Falklands. After all another pesky Jew was born in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago and Jews were obviously living and breeding in the “West Bank” then.

  2. Avatar Greg Giannis says:

    Thank you Stuart Rees for calling out the Australian government and its pathetic cowardice. Ive started reading I Accuse, and am flabbergasted that such a person of power, the ICC Prosecutor, totally whitewashed the evidence and found “no grounds for an investigation”. Very disturbing. I keep asking myself, how do I explain this to my children and give them hope that they live in a just world?

  3. Avatar Roslyn Ross says:

    What is never explained is how Australia can support what the Zionist apartheid State of Israel does to the Palestinians, when if there would be outrage if Australia treated its indigenous people in the way Israel treats Palestinians.

    The hypocrisy is breathtaking. And particularly since Israel has and had no issue with Palestinians or Arabs, if they were followers of Judaism, since it offered them immediate citizenship in its colonial State in 1947, and so the basis for the appalling treatment of the Palestinians is because they are non-Jews, but instead Muslims and Christians.

    How can we condemn the abuse of Muslims in Myanmar and China, and ignore the treatment meted out to non-Jews in Occupied Palestine?

  4. Avatar Nasser Mashni says:

    Excellent article Stuart.

    When will be governed by men and women of character and dignity to stand up for what is right and not kowtow to the hegemony.

    So very upsetting and disgusting.

    In the end justice shall prevail and history will judge these sycophants very poorly.

  5. Avatar Sonja Karkar says:

    The saddest thing about this article is that ten years have passed since that fateful day without investigation, and many more subsequent killings have been perpetrated by Israel since then. Thousands of Palestinians in Gaza are still suffering from the effects of Israel’s 2014 Operation Protective Edge, many of them permanently disabled, and many still homeless after Israel’s bombing of some 18,000 homes. Yet, Australia doesn’t think any of this needs investigating, but is gung-ho to call China to account over COVID-19. It is absolutely shameful that Australian politicians are blinded so absolutely by their fear and ignorance when it comes to Israel. Thank you Stuart for reminding us of where Australia’s responsibilities ought to lie whenever gross human rights violations are perpetrated, even by our so-called “friends”.

  6. Avatar Simon Warriner says:

    read it and weep for a humanity too stupid to see the wolf stalking it through the woods.

    nuff said.

  7. Avatar David Brown says:

    when will Australia’s political class recognise the similarities between the
    Zionist Israeli Apartheid States treatment of the Palestinians
    and the previous South African Apartheid’s racist treatment of their people

    and redirect our foolish pro-American and anti-Chinese behaviours to spend energies solving some important global human rights issues

  8. Excellent article by Professor Stuart Rees. Articles 55 and 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War state unequivocally that an Occupier must provide its conquered Subjects with life-sustaining food and medical requisites “to the fullest extent of the means available to it”. However Annual avoidable deaths from deprivation are immense in impoverished Occupied Afghanistan (84,300) and Occupied Palestine(4,200) but are zero (0) for the rich and war criminal Occupiers.

    In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, life-saving ventilators per million (/M) people are 504/M (Occupier US), 173/M (Occupier Australia) and 407/M (Occupier Apartheid Israel) versus 8/M (Occupied Afghanistan), 38/M (Occupied Palestine) and 13/M (Gaza Concentration Camp).

    Annual per capita GDP (nominal) is a deadly $521 for Occupied Afghanistan and a deadly $3,199 for the Occupied Palestinian Territories (the West Bank and the Apartheid Israel-blockaded Gaza Concentration Camp) as compared to $62,795 for Occupier America, $57,374 for Occupier Australia and $41,715 for Occupier Apartheid Israel (World Bank, 2018). I am an anti-racist Jewish Hungarian Australian.

  9. Avatar paul walter says:

    Funny, if you look at the Johns Hopkins stats on Covid, the one country that seems not to exist is Palestine.
    I can feel reassured that no Palestinians are dying of Covid then?

  10. Avatar Nevil Kingston-Brown says:

    Can’t think why Australia would oppose investigating massacres of local land-owners by a colonial state.

    • Avatar Jim KABLE says:

      You are right – the very existence of post-1787 Australia – based on exactly the same very shaky foundations.

      • Avatar Dufa Wira says:

        …and the US of A, China, South Africa, New Zealand, Turkey, Russia, Canada, Indonesia, Mexico, Myanmar, India, Thailand and the nations of South America from tip to toe. Lets not forget the obvious perpetrators: the UK, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and Italy. Is it any wonder that colonial oppression and genocide thrives in this world?
        Thanks for setting out the facts of Australia’s role in this blatant injustice, Prof. Rees.

        • Avatar Roslyn Ross says:

          Bear in mind every country on the planet exists because of colonisation at some point. Aborigines colonised and then were colonised. Indians colonised and then were colonised. So it went.

Comments are closed.