The Albanese Government has continued Australia's relations with Israel by condemning terrorist attacks from the Hamas militant group, writes Belinda Jones.
THE CONFLICT in Israel flared again this week when Hamas militants attacked unarmed civilians at the Supernova music festival and other sites on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Al Jazeera described the surprise attack as ‘the worst civilian massacre in Israeli history’.
The Albanese Government acted quickly.
‘Australia unequivocally condemns the attacks on Israel by Hamas including indiscriminate rocket fire on cities and civilians. We call for these attacks to stop and recognise Israel’s right to defend itself.’
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese reiterated Senator Wong’s words approximately 11 hours later in a similar social media post in the early hours of Sunday morning. This attracted petty criticism from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Sussan Ley, accusing Albanese of not acting quickly enough, which she described as “yet another failure”.
Other Western leaders also condemned the attacks as footage of the attacks reverberated across social media platforms throughout the world. U.S. President Joe Biden described the attacks by Hamas as “pure unadulterated evil”. U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Nikki Haley was quoted as saying chillingly, in a media interview, “Finish them”.
Israel claimed it was “caught off-guard” by the attacks, yet it was later revealed by the Chair of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, that Egypt had “warned the Israelis three days prior that an event like this could happen”. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied Israel had been warned of the attacks. The Israeli police rejected accusations by Israeli media that their response was “sluggish”. The Israeli Defence Force’s (IDF) response was described as an ‘intelligence failure on multiple fronts’.
The much-publicised Israeli “Iron Dome”, or Kippat Barzel, defence system appeared to be “overwhelmed” and failed during the attacks when Hamas launched ‘5,000 rockets in 20 minutes’ which resulted in hundreds of civilian Israeli casualties.
Israel launched indiscriminate retaliatory attacks on the occupied territory of Gaza, which resulted in hundreds of civilian Palestinian casualties.
The United Nations issued a statement reiterating that “Indiscriminately killing civilians in the context of hostilities, with no regard for the principles of distinction, precaution and proportionality, is a war crime”. So, by this measure, both Hamas and Israel appear guilty of war crimes.
For many young Australians, this may be the first time they’ve really paid attention to the Middle East conflict. Social media channels were continuously streaming heinous, uncensored videos from both sides of the conflict though with little context of the thousands-year-old dispute.
There has been very little covered in the Australian media in recent days about the ongoing tensions between the Israelis and the Palestinians or the history of the conflict. In the past, Australia has trod a cautious but diplomatic road with respect to the ongoing hostilities and has long advocated on the world stage for a “two state solution”.
Recently, Australia announced its decision to use the terms “occupied” and “occupation” to ‘describe the territories in the West Bank and Gaza that Israel occupied in 1967’ reorientating Australia ‘towards the orthodox position on the occupation under international law’.
Former Liberal Prime Minister Harold Holt, in June 1967 while in Washington DC, was alleged to have described the Arab-Israeli war of that year as “only huffing and puffing”, according to his press secretary. Holt sought to downplay events elsewhere in the world at that time so Australia (and the USA) would remain focused on the Vietnam conflict, which he regarded as more relevant to Australia. Holt was known to have echoed former Prime Minister Robert Menzies’ foreign policy in relation to the Middle East.
Over the years since that time, Australia has progressed to a “multicultural” society with the ending of the White Australia Policy, replacing it with a policy of “Multiculturalism” in 1973, which has resulted in diasporas from all nations growing in size within Australia. These diasporas carry with them an influence on domestic politics which former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam claimed impacted the 1974 Federal Election after he infamously took a “neutral position” during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Whitlam, in a National Press Club address ten years after his sacking, made the ‘sensational accusation’ that ‘members of Australia’s Jewish community tried to blackmail his government during the 1973 Yom Kippur War’.
Former Prime Ministers John Howard, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison were supporters of Israel and shared a close friendship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, often referring to him by his nickname, “Bibi”. Morrison “emphasised the excellent relations” between the two countries when he met with Netanyahu shortly after becoming Prime Minister in 2018. His predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, said at the time that the Morrison Government “will be as strong a friend and a supporter of Israel as mine was”.
For the most part, Australian prime ministers have not varied from this path of supporting Israel in any substantive way and have continued to work on the international stage towards a peaceful end to the millennia of hostilities in the region. During this time, Israel has continued its illegal blockade of Gaza and has continued to encroach on the occupied territories which has inflamed tensions, largely without any push-back from successive Australian governments.
So, it is unsurprising that the Albanese Government reacted hastily and strongly to the current attacks to support Israel, yet has stopped short of condemning the indiscriminate retaliatory action on innocent civilians by Israel in recent days. Nor has it condemned other state actors or other militant groups that have played a pivotal role in exacerbating ongoing tensions.
In what remains a very complex and long-running dispute deeply rooted in religion, Australia, a secular nation, continues to tread the contentious path of picking a side and supporting Israel. This is despite Israel’s role in intensifying tensions by committing illegal actions and war crimes against the oppressed Palestinians, who also have the right to defend themselves and their lands granted to them by the international community in 1948 when the state of Israel was created.
One thing is certain, there is no end in sight and it is another generation of civilians on both sides who are, once again, bearing the brunt of the brutal hostilities in the name of religion. Meanwhile, a new generation of Australians grapples with the horrific images of war via their social media platforms as they try to understand and come to terms with the complexities of the long-running dispute over the Holy Land.
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