The Albanese government needs to come clean on its support for Israel’s war crimes

May 1, 2024
The flag of Israel against the background of weapons and ammunition.

Israel’s crimes against humanity, war crimes and its acts of genocide against the Palestinian people are, without a doubt, the most horrific acts committed by a ‘democracy’ since the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. Yet despite this fact the Australian government refuses to warn or investigate whether any Australian citizens or companies are involved directly or indirectly, in the commission of these atrocities.

Since October 7 when Hamas committed appalling acts of violence against Israeli citizens, Israel has, according to Al Jazeera last week, displaced 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people.

The United Nations said last week that as of 22 April “according to the authorities in Gaza, of the 34,151 Palestinians killed in Gaza, 14,685 have been children and 9,670 women. Another 77,084 have been injured, and over 7,000 others are assumed to be under the rubble.”

The United Nations Human Rights Chief Volker Türk says; “Every 10 minutes a child is killed or wounded. They are protected under the laws of war, and yet they are ones who are disproportionately paying the ultimate price in this war.”

And despite the intellectually dishonest attempts by supporters of Israel and its US patrons, the fact is what Israel is doing in this conflict is committing genocide. A point powerfully made by Jewish former war correspondent Peter Maass in the Washington Post who wrote a fortnight ago, that while a “war-crimes court should be the arbiter of whether Israel’s actions in Gaza qualify as genocide…sufficient evidence for indictments appears to exist because the legal definition of genocide is “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” The key words are “in part.” Holocaust levels of killing are not required to reach the legal standard.”

It is against this backdrop that the Albanese government continues to sit back and fails to warn those Australians who are fighting with the Israeli defence forces (IDF) or stop those individuals and companies who supply defence equipment, including dual use products such as software, with an unambiguous warning that Rome Statute (the international law under which the International Criminal Court operates) offences are incorporated into domestic law via the Commonwealth Criminal Code. To be clear it is not suggested any Australian citizen or company has committed Criminal Code offences, simply that a prudent government would issue a warning.

Australia’s inaction can be compared with South Africa. A nation that understands crimes against humanity given its past history its government has warned South African citizens who fight for the IDF in Gaza they could be prosecuted when they return home.

Dual citizens fighting for the IDF is one thing – they can be identified easily, but exports is another. One of the most opaque aspects of the Australian contribution to Israel’s offensive in the Gaza, and one in respect of which Canberra has been decidedly slippery about, is what it is doing to prevent any form of technical assistance to the IDF. We referred earlier to the concept of ‘dual use’ exports. The Defence and Strategic Goods List (DSGL) is a compilation of the military and commercial goods and technologies that Australia regulates. Part 2 of the DGSL lists “dual-use goods” – goods and technologies designed for civilian use, but which may also be used as military components, for example, computer chips, radios and other IT software and hardware.

What the Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles have said is, as the former noted on April 8 “we of course don’t send arms to Israel now, so we haven’t done so for some period of years.” Mr Marles has said the same thing, telling the media on February 24; “to be clear, there are no exports of weapons from Australia to Israel and there haven’t been for many, many years.” He then argued that the defence export regime is one of the most rigorous in the world, and that includes for dual use products and services.

But note, neither ruled out that Australian companies or consulting outfits products and services are still being exported to Israel, and therein lies a risk such products or services are being used by the IDF. In fact in a Senate Estimates hearing on October 25 last year, Hugh Jeffrey, Deputy Secretary Strategy, Policy, and Industry stated that in regard to Australia’s 322 approved defence exports to Israel from 2017 to 31 March 2023, “during that time period the export permit process did not go to lethal equipment”. He added: “Australia’s permit process, as I’ve explained, would relate to military and dual-use items. Again, I’m not going to go into the details of the permits themselves, but those permits would involve things like radios, body armour, software, vehicle parts—sporting equipment too, Senator. It’s anything on the defence strategic goods list”.

In other words, the Albanese government is not banning the export of dual use items, only at best what the Nine newspapers Matthew Knott recently described as a ‘go slow’.

And as Dr Lauren Sanders, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Queensland in the Law and the Future of War project observed, according to a recent SBS News interview, “while Australia may not be directly donating weapons to Israel, it is unclear whether Australia has allowed any component parts of larger systems, such as computer chips, to Israel.” Dr Saunders noted; “We’re not sure if that’s happening or not because there are a number of countries that are exporting as third party countries some components like in jets, for example — some of the chips that are built in Melbourne could be going to the Danish company that is then selling them on to Israel. She add that it might also be Australian companies may make components and then sell them to third party companies that then sell to the IDF.

It is an egregious examples of black letter lawyering for the Albanese government to maintain that it is not breaching its defence exports regulations and criteria if it is allowing experts in such circumstances.

The Australian people need and deserve answers as to what is being done in their name in their government when it comes to this country’s relationship with a nation in respect of which the International Court of Justice said in January this year, was committing acts that could amount to the ‘plausible’ genocide in Gaza. Especially from a government that consistently postures itself as an ardent adherent to the rule of law, international human rights norms and the international rules based order.

The Albanese government needs to come clean on what support, direct or indirect, are Australians, corporate or individuals, providing to the IDF. We should be able to know the names of such entities and what products or services have been provided through the export licence scheme. And most importantly the practice must stop. To allow any military cooperation with Israel at the moment would be as unconscionable as it is grossly hypocritical – treacherous to the international rules based order and the good faith expectations of the Australian people. Why is it not ok to send dual use software products to China or Russia but it is ok to send them to a nation widely condemned for committing genocide?

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