17th October 2023 13:21
Victorian Legislative Council, Melbourne

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan) (13:20): I rise to make a brief contribution on the motion before the house. Like other members in this place, I was appalled by the horrific and criminal attacks on Israeli communities that occurred last week. The news of Hamas taking over 100 civilians as hostages was especially chilling. The use of civilians as bargaining chips and human shields is reprehensible, cruel in the extreme and a flagrant violation of international law.

I share my deepest condolences with all of those affected by this terrible conflict, be they in Israel, in the state of Palestine, elsewhere abroad or here in Australia. We continue to watch in horror as the renewed conflict reignites the tragic cycle of violence and fear and loss for millions of innocent civilians in Israel and Gaza. With the death toll already reaching into the thousands, it is especially heartbreaking that so many of those who have lost their lives, be they Israeli or Palestinian, were children or young people whose lives had only just commenced.

It is not hard to imagine from where we sit what purpose Hamas had in launching the attacks, given that they would inevitably lead to the death or injury of tens if not hundreds of thousands of people, mainly innocents and non-combatants. These are classic insurgency tactics designed to trigger horror, overreaction and missteps. We saw it after 9/11, and it appears to be happening again now.

However, while we are rightly outraged by these egregious acts of terrorism and by these crimes, there is another perspective to this conflict that we must not ignore. The collective punishment of Gaza by Israel that we are now witnessing is deeply distressing and illegal, a response seemingly condoned under the banner of Israel’s right to defend itself.

I want to quote the UN’s permanent observer mission to the state of Palestine. In reference to the Hamas attack they observed that:

These developments did not occur in a vacuum. They are preceded by the killing this year of hundreds of Palestinians … and preceded by decades of Israel’s unrelenting:

Military raids on Palestinian villages, towns, cities and refugee camps …

By way of context, the UN observer mission continued by noting:

Arrest, detention, imprisonment and abuse of thousands of Palestinian civilians, including children and women;

A suffocating 16-year air, land and sea blockade of more than 2 million Palestinians in Gaza …

Amnesty International, reporting on the human rights abuses suffered by Palestinian people over the last seven decades, stated:

Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip continued to face Israel’s oppression, domination, fragmentation and segregation under its brutal occupation and apartheid …

Gaza itself is frequently described as an open-air prison. According to UNICEF, before the current escalation over 1 million Palestinian children were already in need of humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, accounting for approximately half of the total child population.

So this has not happened in a vacuum. This ongoing and apparently escalating conflict will result in more displacement, suffering and death.

The injustices and violations that are among the root causes of this violence must be addressed as a matter of urgency. Civilians will continue to pay a heavy price until Israel dismantles the system of apartheid against Palestinians, including its illegal blockade and now siege of Gaza. The international community must respond with aid to reduce the suffering and support all parties to pursue a rational path to peace and a genuine and sustainable two-state solution.

Here in Australia we must embrace and support all affected communities and demand respect and restraint. We must also respect the right of those communities to demonstrate publicly, recognising that whatever the situation there is no place for vilification, antisemitism or violence. Likewise, there is no place for politicians who would seek to capitalise on this tragedy and undermine our democracy for short-term political gain.


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