The Australian hypocrisy – Russian occupation of Ukraine is correctly deplored but Israeli occupation of Palestine is just fine

Mar 4, 2022
Free Palestine Rally, Melbourne, 2021
Australia’s chronic disregard for international law when it comes to Palestinians runs deep. Image: Wikipedia Commons

Australia was swift and vocal in response to the Russian attack on Ukraine, endorsing boycotts of Russia, investigations of alleged Russian war crimes by the International Criminal Court and the right of Ukrainians to defend their land against the illegal Russian aggression and occupation.

Calls to uphold international law in support of Ukrainians against oppression and subjugation are moral and just.

For over 7 decades Palestinians have waited for this sort of support from the international community.

What’s more, Australia is planning to designate the entirety of Hamas as a terrorist organisation, a decision that has nothing to do with the safety of Australians, and everything to do with domestic politics.

And we have precedent on this. In his attempt to help Dave Sharma, the member for Wentworth and a former ambassador to Israel – and apparently a current ambassador for it – to win the Jewish vote during the 2018 byelection, Scott Morrison wanted to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate its embassy there.

Securing a few votes here is feasible for the coalition, coming as it does at the expense of the entire population of Gaza is inconsequential. Australian humanitarian organisations contributing to the daily survival of oppressed Palestinians face an endless nightmare under the choking Israeli blockade. They now have craven Australian domestic politics to contend with.

Gaza is always a priority for relief work, the result of an everlasting occupation, suffocating siege and cyclic bloodshed and destruction. It is routine for aid organisations to work with administrative staff at hospitals, orphanages, education and health institutions in Gaza. Hamas administers government services in the strip, and criminalising interaction with such workers only harms the most vulnerable, reinforces Israel’s unjust policies of collective punishment and is in contempt of the human rights of ordinary Palestinians.

Remarkably, it was Israel, not Hamas, grabbing headlines recently. Australia’s decision mysteriously follows the recent release of Amnesty’s extensive investigation concluding that Israel’s system of oppression and domination of Palestinians amounts to apartheid, which is a crime against humanity.

Australia’s chronic disregard for international law when it comes to Palestinians runs deep, be it in a pattern of voting against accountability for Israel at the United Nations or regurgitating Israel’s narratives of self-defence or condemnation of Hamas, even as Palestinians face ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrah and the Naqab, house demolitions and destruction of their crops in the West Bank and bombardment and siege in the Gaza Strip.

The most recent illustration of Canberra’s moral bankruptcy on this question is the government’s effort to block investigations of international crimes against Israel at the International Criminal Court. Contrasting that to the position on Ukraine couldn’t be more glaring.

Coalition attempts to circumvent established international law as it applies to their Israeli chums is not new. In 2014, then attorney-general George Brandis suggested that the term occupied is “not helpful” when describing occupied East Jerusalem and then foreign minister Julie Bishop argued the word “illegal” should not be used to describe Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Upholding human rights, respecting international law and supporting humanitarian work are intertwined, and Australia appears to neglect all when it comes to Palestinians.

The government’s meagre and increasingly diminishing aid to Palestinians notwithstanding, the unprovoked, abrupt and heavy-handed decision on Hamas and its reaction to Amnesty’s report show the one-sided approach to in support of Israel and shut down any censure of it, without a speck of consideration for Palestinians.

In 2018, during the “march of return” in Gaza, Amnesty and others condemned Israel’s belligerence, including the killing of 60 unarmed Palestinians in one day. A UN Human Rights Council resolution calling for an international investigation of human rights violations was voted against by only two countries: the United States and Australia.

Later that year, The Australian Foundation for Palestinian Children (Olive Kids) facilitated urgent and necessary prosthetic and orthotic devices for the children, many shot in their lower limbs by Israeli snipers resulting in amputations. The effort was in collaboration with the Artificial Limb and Polio Centre (ALPC), an NGO established in 1976 and the oldest and first centre in Gaza providing such services. ALPC is managed under the Municipality of Gaza since 1999 and is supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) since 2007. With all of Gaza under the defacto rule of Hamas, the Australian government listing draws a redline straight though such collaborations, denying thousands of children lifechanging help.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Australia and Israel with their shared origins in violent settler colonialism, feel compelled to protect each other while overlooking the colonial bondage and exploitation of the indigenous peoples under their control.

Humanitarian work in Palestine is arduous but crucial and human rights work is essential to facilitate it and ultimately end reliance on it. Sincerely helping Palestinians and uplifting their lives begins by dismantling apartheid, which in turn begins by dismantling Zionist colonisation, otherwise racial domination will persist and with it social and economic oppression. Only a process of decolonisation can bring change.

The work of humanitarian and human rights organisations won’t liberate Palestinians. It is up to those in Australia and around the world to heed the call to action and champion the rights of Palestinians today, ending their dehumanisation, debunking the myths that surround their presence in the land, rejecting political attempts at censorship, boycotting oppressors and their PR work and voting apologists for oppression out.

The time is now for the human rights of Palestinians, Ukrainians and Uyghurs to be equally seen through the lens of our humanity not of our colour, race, interest or politics.

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