Tuesday, 17 October 2023
It was a horrific series of attacks that the world watched unfold when Hamas terrorists struck innocent Israelis only10 days ago. Every one of those vile acts—the murder of civilians, women and children, the taking of hostages, including from a music festival, the door-to-door terror and rocket fire—is to be condemned, as this parliament has joined together to condemn it and the terrible loss of 1,400 lives in Israel. We've called on Hamas to release the hostages unconditionally.
The consequences of what Hamas has done and the inevitable response is having a profound effect on Palestinians living in Gaza as well as the West Bank. As I speak, the world is anticipating an Israeli offensive in Gaza with the stated aim of wiping out Hamas. But we do know the toll that will take on civilians. The IDF says 100,000 people remain in Gaza City. Already the Israeli retaliation means thousands of innocent civilians in Gaza have lost their lives. Thousands more are injured. Hundreds of thousands have fled south to try and escape what is expected to come. Every one of these civilian lives lost, whether they are Israeli or Palestinian, or any other nationality, is to be mourned.
As the humanitarian situation deteriorates, Australia is supporting the work of the United Nations, the US and Egypt with Israel to find safe passage for Gaza civilians. Under international law, one inhumane act does not justify another. Collective punishment is not within the rules of war. As a nation, Australia consistently calls for the protection of civilian lives and the observance of international law. We joined President Biden and other leaders in calling for Israel to operate by the rules of war. We have urged restraint in Israel's response, knowing that civilian lives are at stake.
I want to explain about Gaza. It's only 41 kilometres long and only six to 12 kilometres wide, a narrow strip that is really densely populated—more than two million people, half of whom are under 18. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA, the only UN body with a mandate to provide relief and social services to Palestinian refugees, describes the current situation there as 'unprecedented'. UNRWA is supporting displaced people in their schools and buildings, rationing food and water, but there's no access to fuel in many areas for people to relocate. With little food, water or electricity, it is a dire humanitarian situation. Hospitals are not able to meet the demand. That is why we need to see an end to this blockade.
Let's be really clear: Hamas is a terrorist group and does not represent the Palestinian people or their legitimate needs and aspirations. I am not the only one in this parliament to say that. Their aspirations are what most of us would consider human rights: the right to live in peace, the right to move around without checkpoints when you go to work or visit your grandchildren and the right to equal justice. Hamas's terrorism means that the only aspiration many Gazans can have right now is to survive. That is why Australia has engaged with countries in the Middle East and beyond at all levels in support of the protection of civilians and the containment of conflict. Innocent civilians on both sides are suffering as a result of this conflict. Both Palestinians and Israelis deserve justice and freedom. I feel a profound sadness for how far away the prospect of this is now.
I will pause there, Mr Deputy Speaker, knowing that I've got more to say.