With UN experts calling on governments to do more to prevent human rights violations in Gaza, what steps could Australia take?

It is hard not to feel completely powerless as the headlines roll in from Gaza.

Within Australia, there is widespread concern at the plight of the Palestinian people, who have experienced ongoing death, disabling and limited access to aid for over eight months now.

The Australian government has made supportive statements for the Palestinian people. The Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese said “I’ve supported justice for Palestinians my whole life and still do”. Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong urged Israel to show restraint: “The death and destruction in Rafah is horrific. This human suffering is unacceptable”.

Yet it is evident that the Australian government can do more.

The Australian government has rightfully condemned Hamas and their killing and terrorising of the population on 7 October. It has also frequently urged ‘caution’ from Israel, but it has not taken the stronger steps other Western countries such as Ireland, Norway, Spain and Slovenia have implemented to condemn Israel’s mass atrocities in Gaza.

Despite condemning Hamas for the 7 October attacks, the Australian government can administer further measures to support victims. Photo: Anas-Mohammed/shutterstock.com

Why is this necessary? Since the events of 7 October, Israel has arguably responded through revenge and the political self-interest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rather than in ‘self-defence’ as it has claimed. On the 24 May 2024, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Israel should “halt its military offensive” in Rafah. Yet Israel has continued to assault the area, resulting in more than 800,000 people being displaced, and the largest hospital shutting down.

As such, independent UN experts issued a press release through the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner stating that governments and companies must stop arms transfers to Israel or risk continued human rights violations.

Since then, Israel has killed 22 displaced civilians who were sheltering in their tents in Mawasi in southern Gaza and damaged a Red Cross office. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) previously identified this area as a safe ‘humanitarian’ zone. An Israeli airstrike targeting the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) centre in Gaza killed eight people. The day before this attack, the Israeli army strapped an injured Palestinian man to a jeep in the West Bank, driving him around as human shield. This is the latest in a long list of actions taken by the Israeli government that have amounted to ‘plausible’ genocide in the eyes of the ICJ.

From withholding aid to civilians and prompting starvation to the use of white phosphorus weapons and the bombardment of safe zones and humanitarian workers, Israel has continued unabated in its attacks. So far in Gaza, more than 37,000 people have been killed and 84,000 injured. Gaza has the largest group of amputee children now in the world.

So, what steps can Australia take to try to end the atrocities being committed against Palestinians?

First, as Fatima Payman, and the Greens have argued, Australia should recognise Palestine as a state. This would align Australia with 146 countries – the majority of the world. Australia would join the recent additions of Ireland, Norway and Spain to recognise Palestine.

This acknowledges Palestine’s right to self-determination as in Articles 1 and 55 of the Charter of the United Nations. While Australia has rightfully highlighted the right to self-determination with Ukraine, it has not afforded Palestine the same recognition.

Second, Australia should cut all military ties with Israel, as the UN experts urge. While the Australian government has claimed they have not sent military equipment to Israel since the start of the war, Australian companies have continued to provide components for equipment used by the IDF in their war on Gaza. It has been reported that Australian companies have 70 contracts with Lockheed Martin (responsible for manufacturing the F-35 fighter jets used to bomb Gaza), worth A$4.13 billion.

A Dutch court ordered the Netherlands to cease supplying components for F-35 fighter jets and Australia should follow suit. This would also mean stopping the involvement of Israeli companies in Australian weapon manufacturing. Controversially, Australia awarded a contract of A$917 million to the Israeli Elbit Systems, widely accused of supporting human rights abuses in Myanmar, to build military equipment in Victoria.

As Israel continues to ignore the ICJ’s ruling to halt operations in Rafah and as the International Criminal Court seeks a war crimes arrest warrant for Benjamin Netanyahu and the Minister for Defence, Yoav Gallant, the Australian government could also place sanctions on Israel and expel Israel’s Ambassador to Australia.

Not taking further action will only see Australia as a further contributor to ‘plausible’ genocide and crimes against humanity.

A version of this article also appeared at The Canberra Times.

Top image: A charitable organisation supplies food to displaced Palestinians in Gaza. Photo: Anas-Mohammed/shutterstock.com

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