Israel and Hamas - Speech

Statement on Israel and Hamas
Federation Chamber, 17th October 2023

On the weekend, Hamas terrorists committed mass murder on a shocking scale. People at a music festival were gunned down. Babies were killed in their beds. Defenceless elderly people were murdered. Over 100 hostages were taken into Gaza. The scale of the attack was so large that it was the greatest loss of life among Jewish people since the Holocaust. This is a murderous, barbarous terrorist group whose objective was not just to kill Jewish people but to kill the peace process itself. Hamas has as its goal the destruction of the Israeli state. It wants to ensure that the peace process is derailed.

These shocking attacks are particularly hard for Australia. Australia has the largest per capita Holocaust survivor population outside Israel. The Jewish community has rich and deep links into Australia. It's a pleasure to have here in the chamber the member for Macnamara, who is such an articulate advocate and somebody who many of us on this side of parliament go to to better understand issues around the Middle East and around the Australian Israeli diaspora. For Jewish Australians, the branches of their family trees are heavy with loss and suffering, as the Prime Minister told the parliament. It's nearly 80 years since the close of the Holocaust, but the suffering that occurred is still so redolent in the memories of so many Jewish Australians. If the government has one message for Jewish Australians it is that we stand with you and Australians stand with you.

I understand that this is not just an attack on Israel. This is an attack on democracy itself. This is an attack on those of us who prize peace over war. As Penny Wong told the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce last week, one of the many tragic consequences of Hamas's abhorrent attack has been that it has pushed the two-state solution further out of reach. That makes this a crime perpetrated not just against the Jewish people but also against the Palestinian people. All peace-loving people should abhor the attacks that took place. I join with others in this parliament who have spoken out against the abhorrent anti-Semitism that we have seen at some rallies in Australia.

There is no greater weapon against inhumanity than our own humanity. That is why Australia has announced that we are providing an initial $10 million in humanitarian assistance for civilians affected by the conflict in Gaza. We are providing some $3 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross to fund urgent needs like restoring essential services and providing medical support to victims of the conflict. Through United Nation's agencies we will provide $7 million to deliver critical support, including emergency water and nutrition, sanitation and hygiene services.

We understand that there are communities on all sides who are hurting now. I was pleased to hear from my friend Rabbi Dovid Slavin in Sydney when he wrote to me, 'This is the time for decent people of all backgrounds to stand together in the face of bloodthirsty terrorism.' I've also spoken to Mohammed Abujarbou, who is a leader in the ACT Muslim community, who reminds me that there are ACT residents whose families have been killed in Gaza over recent days. There, in just a single attack on a residential building in al-Zeitoun neighbourhood, 15 members of the same family, including seven children, were killed, in addition to their elderly grandparents. There are deaths on both sides of innocents—deaths of children; deaths of those simply seeking to go about their every day lives.

Here in Australia it is critical that we support our multicultural society, that we reinforce the fact that the government will not stand with public displays of hate symbols. Our government introduced the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Prohibited Hate Symbols and Other Measures) Bill earlier this year in order to ensure that glorifying and praising acts of terrorism are criminal offences under Commonwealth law. We also want to work to strengthen our multicultural framework. Antisemitism and Islamophobia are equally abhorrent. We do not want to see either of them flourish in the current environment. Australia played a role in the foundation of the modern state of Israel in 1948, a moment of light after the darkness of the Holocaust. And over the ensuing decades we have welcomed many Jewish and Muslim migrants to Australia. They are equally welcome. It is so critical at this time that we reinforce the value of Australian multiculturalism.

It is critical too that, while we understand the extraordinary hurt that is being felt in Israel right now, the response is appropriate to the potential humanitarian suffering. It is a desirable goal to fully eradicate Hamas, but, as the Economist has argued, achieving that goal in an enclave of two million impoverished people with nowhere to flee will be impossible. The Economist warns that the comparison is potentially with the United States response after 9/11 and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. It points out that Hamas wants a ground war. Hamas wants Israel not to exercise self-restraint. But the street fighting that could ensue and the deaths of hostages that could follow might ensure that the operation loses international support and, ultimately, plays into the hands of those Hamas terrorists who are willing to let their own people die. This is the horror of the way in which Hamas operates. They are willing to invite an attack from Israel which would ultimately cost the lives of their own people.

It is critical that the Abraham Accords are built up, not undermined. It is possible to strengthen those accords between Israel and its Arab neighbours, including Bahrain, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and potentially Saudi Arabia. These Arab neighbours stand for a new Middle East that is pragmatic and focused on economic development. Just as the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt that followed the 1973 wars set peace forward in the region, it is possible to have peace advanced in this process. But that is unlikely to occur through an attempted occupation of Gaza.

It is a challenging time, but it is critical that all involved in diplomacy ask the question: 'What did Hamas want to achieve out of this, and how do we ensure that those ends are not met?' Hamas wanted to destroy a two-state solution. Hamas wanted to draw regional actors into the conflict. Hamas wanted to destroy any prospect of an Israel- Saudi Arabia accord. As Thomas Friedman has argued in the New York Times, it is important to think about how we can pursue those peaceful goals. At a time when anger and sadness is running hot, it is important for Israel to exercise appropriate self-restraint. The eradication of Hamas will ultimately occur through stability and, one day, peace. This must be the endgame that all of us encourage Israel to pursue.

In closing, I stand with the Israeli people at this time of horrific attacks upon their territory. Australia has provided international support and flights out, and we will continue to support our friends in the region.

Showing 2 reactions

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  • John Brookes
    commented 2023-11-06 15:13:30 +1100
    I’m disappointed. Yes, the Hamas action was abhorrent. But it did not spring from a vacuum. It is obvious to anyone who looks that Israel has the goal of pushing the Palestinians out of Israel. It is nothing short of old fashioned colonialism.

    It is also obvious to me that a two state solution is much beloved by the west because then Israel could remain as the west’s policeman in the middle east. If Catholics and Protestants can live together in Northern Ireland, then why not Jews and Muslims in Israel?

    There is no Hamas in the West Bank, yet Palestinians die there regularly at the hands of the IDF. Palestinians regularly surrender their land under threat of violence to Israeli settlers who have the backing of the IDF.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen an issue where the views of the western leaders and ordinary people have been so far apart.
  • Toby Halligan
    published this page in What's New 2023-10-18 09:46:14 +1100

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.