Australia has opposed an independent investigation into the killings of 60 Palestinians. Twenty-nine countries from the United Nations human rights council pressed to establish an “independent, international commission of inquiry” into violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Gaza. Only two nations voted against the idea: The United States and Australia.
If you retain the ethical impulses of an ordinary human being, you might wonder why anyone needs to inquire into the rights and wrongs of firing live bullets into crowds of protesters. Tens of thousands of Palestinians — men, women and children — took part in rallies connected to the “Great March of Return”. According to the UN’s senior human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussain, an astonishing 12,000 of them have been wounded, more than 3,500 by gunfire. Under what possible circumstances could that be justified?
Figures quoted by Al Hussain put the death toll in Gaza since March 30 at 106. That number includes 15 children.
Again, what’s to debate? Are we really so ethically adrift that we need extensive deliberations to condemn soldiers shooting down kids?
You only have to shift the example slightly to illustrate how perverse discussions about Palestine have become.
Imagine 60 Americans, Israelis or Australians killed by snipers during a political rally. Irrespective of the cause for which they marched, no one would dare suggest they somehow deserved their fate. Quite rightly, the condemnations would have been both instantaneous and universal.
Yet, Australian officials, while expressing “sadness and regret about the loss of life and injury”, are of the view that Israel had legitimate security concerns and the right to protect itself. According to the summary of the UN human rights council meeting, “Australia was of the opinion that the inquiry must also acknowledge the role of Hamas, which was not mentioned at all.” This, of course, has been the line pushed by both Tel Aviv and Washington: That the involvement of Hamas in the march somehow justified all that blood. Well, if Likud-supporting civilians died in a Palestinian rocket attack, would anyone bring up their affiliations to suggest they deserved their fate? Are we really saying that it’s OK to shoot protesters dead if you don’t approve of their spokespeople?
To his credit, Labor’s Anthony Albanese has at least asked the government to explain its vote. Yet, it’s hard to imagine the ALP under its current leadership providing any real alternative on Palestine.
Back in 2016, Bill Shorten met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a junket organised by the Australia-Israel-United Kingdom Leadership Dialogue. On that occasion, Shorten explained that an “awe” of Israel had allowed him to achieve a unity with Tony Abbott and the other conservative politicians on the trip. “Our domestic instability is receding”, he said, “Such is the force [Israel] exerts on our collective imagination.”
If there’s to be progress on Palestine, it won’t come from a political class fundamentally committed to the US alliance and thus to Israel as a forward base in the Middle East.
According to the Campaign Against Arms Trade, Britain has approved the sale of arms (including sniper rifles) to Israel worth £320 million (Dh1.58 billion) since the 2014 Gaza war. In 2016, the US signed an agreement to provide Israel with $38 billion (Dh139.76 billion) of military assistance over a 10-year period, in the largest such agreement ever between the US and another country.
As the most powerful nations in the world continue to shower Israel with weapons and other support, Palestinians are increasingly casting their struggle as a civil rights movement. The call by many in Palestinian civil society for an international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement reflects that orientation — an appeal for a globalised version of Martin Luther King’s Montgomery bus boycott.
The events of the last week — and the disgraceful response by politicians — makes plain the necessity for the solidarity once marshalled to bring change in apartheid-era South Africa. As the Australian Jewish Democratic Society notes, more people have been slain by the Israeli army over the last six weeks than were killed by East Germany during the entirety of the existence of the Berlin Wall. In some ways, that’s not surprising. Gaza is an open-air prison camp, in which two million people endure conditions far worse than those enforced in the old eastern bloc.
But it’s not normal, and it’s not right, and it can’t be allowed to continue. If our leaders won’t take a stand, it’s up to the rest of us.
— Guardian News & Media Ltd
Jeff Sparrow is a writer, editor and broadcaster, and an Honorary Fellow at Victoria University, Australia.