Australian government must speak out to support Palestinians and international law

Letter to the Australian Foreign Minister and Shadow Foreign Minister

20th May, 2021

Senator the Hon. Marise Payne
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Parliament House

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs
Senator the Hon. Penny Wong
Parliament House

Dear Minister,

The current wave of violence in Palestine-Israel is appalling. Those nations not involved in the conflict have a moral responsibility to demand an end to the violence so that no more lives on both sides are lost.

The global voice calling for the violence to end might be the United Nations, however, the United States has recently blocked UN statements calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. This action by the United States is reprehensible, clearly demonstrating its lack of commitment to achieving a just peace in Palestine-Israel and greatly undermining the effectiveness of the United Nations.

The actions of the United States make it imperative for middle-ranking nations, such as Australia, to join together and take a prominent role in advocating for a just peace in the Middle East. Australia needs to demand that the provisions of international treaties and international law, to which Australia is a signatory, be upheld.

We draw to your attention United Nations General Assembly Resolution 37/43, 3rd December 1982, clauses 2 and 3, which

2. Reaffirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle;

3. Reaffirms the inalienable right of the … Palestinian people and all peoples under foreign and colonial domination to self-determination, national independence, territorial integrity, national unity and sovereignty without outside interference;

The military power of Israel dwarfs that of Palestine, which has no formal armed forces and only rudimentary weapons. The force Israel is using against Gazans and other Palestinians in the current conflict is wholly disproportionate. Israeli attacks on Gaza have inflicted substantial damage to housing, roads, hospitals and power and water supply, denying many Gazans the basic necessities of life. The Australian Government must demand that both sides stop their attacks but, in particular, that Israel immediately stop its heavy attacks on Gaza, which has a very high civilian population density and is suffering a death toll ten times that of Israel.

Israel controls Gaza’s land and sea borders, denying Gazans their right to leave and return to the land to which they are confined by Israel, in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Australia must demand that the effective imprisonment of Gazans end and that the fourteen-year old blockade of Gaza, restricting many goods that are basic necessities of life be lifted.

Palestinians have the right to resist continued dispossession, another instance of which is the recent threatened evictions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah district of Jerusalem and the incident sparking the current violence. A large number of Palestinians were forced to leave their land and homes in the turmoil leading to the formation of the state of Israel in 1948. There are considerable numbers of these refugees and their descendants still living in refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as neighbouring Arab countries, with a much larger number forming a Palestinian diaspora. The right of return of Palestinian refugees to their own country, guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has been denied them by Israel and supposed brokers of peace accords. This injustice must be redressed and the Australian Government must unequivocally state its support for the provisions of the Declaration to be upheld.

Israel’s building of Jewish civilian settlements in occupied Palestinian territory in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and displacing the local Palestinian population contravenes international humanitarian law. We draw to your attention another international covenant to which Australia is a signatory. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states:

The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

The constant and continuing appropriation of land for Jewish settlements is pre-empting the terms of any peace settlement by establishing facts on the ground which pose a large and growing obstacle in any negotiations – and in clear contravention of international law. The Australian Government must clearly affirm its commitment to the Geneva Conventions and demand that his illegal settlement building stop.

Australia must act as a global citizen, accepting its moral and legal responsibilities and upholding the spirit of international treaties and laws to which it is a signatory. You, as Foreign Minister, must speak out, demand that the disproportionate use of force in the current conflict end and advocate for a just peace for the people of Palestine and Israel.