Politicians temper stance on ceasefire after protests

November 13, 2023 by AAP J-Wire
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Top politicians have softened their objections to a ceasefire in the Middle East after a weekend of nationwide demonstrations showed strong support for peace.

Yesterday’s vigil at Moore Park, Sydney P     hoto: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Foreign Minister Penny Wong told ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday everyone wanted to “take the next steps towards a ceasefire” but warned such action could not be “one-sided”.

Senator Wong said Israel should observe international law, citing Australia’s concerns with the deaths of civilians in struggling and under-threat Gazan hospitals.

The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) expressed disappointment over Senator Wong’s comments.

AIJAC Executive Director Dr Colin Rubenstein described Wong’s comments as “disappointing and disturbing.”

“Make no mistake, any move towards a ceasefire without the release of the 240 hostages Hamas holds, and concrete moves to dismantle Hamas’ military infrastructure and end its rule over Gaza, amounts to a call for a victory for Hamas – a murderous genocidal terrorist movement.  A ceasefire will only allow the continuation of Hamas’ despotic and corrupt rule over Gaza and years of ongoing attacks on Israeli civilians, with Hamas spokespersons openly saying their goal is to try to repeat the unprovoked, murderous mass-terror wave of October 7 ‘again and again’.”

As British Labour leader Keir Starmer recently pointed out, ‘a ceasefire now will only freeze this conflict and would leave hostages in Gaza and Hamas with the infrastructure and capability to carry out the sort of attack we saw on October 7.’ Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and even left-wing  US Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders have also made similar points. Senator Wong should also understand this basic and undeniable reality.”

Hamas is committing gross war crimes by using civilians as human shields in hospitals. International law is absolutely clear that the war crime of using a civilian facility such as a hospital for military purposes renders that facility a legitimate military target – though of course, requirements under the Law of War regarding distinction, necessity and proportionality still apply.

Senator Wong’s claim that Gaza’s hospitals remain ‘protected’ sites,  and by implication, immune from attack under international law, even as Hamas has reportedly located its main command centre under Gaza’s Shifa Hospital, amounts to a misunderstanding of what International Humanitarian Law actually says. Worse still, it effectively aids and abets Hamas in committing the war crime of using human shields by arguing it should be given immunity from attack, and effective impunity to carry out other crimes, when its operatives do so.

There is no evidence that Israel is failing to comply with the Laws of War as it faces the terrible difficulties and dilemmas of attempting to end the threat from a terrorist organisation which has embedded itself deeply within a dense urban area and attempted to employ all of Gaza’s civilian residents as hostages and human shields. Everyone regrets the tragic civilian casualties that have occurred in the current Gaza war, but both legally and morally, it is Hamas that bears the responsibility for them.

The Government should support all legal means to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities, and oppose any end to the current war which does not achieve this absolutely vital goal.”

Senate Nationals Leader Bridget McKenzie claimed Senator Wong’s comments were an “equivocation”.

“Calling for a ceasefire as if there was some equivalence between the actions of Hamas and the actual reality of war is absolutely appalling and it needs to be highly condemned,” she told Seven’s Sunrise program on Monday.

But Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek clarified that Senator Wong said “we should be working towards the ceasefire” rather than outright pushing for an end to violence, and reiterated Israel’s “right to defend itself”.

“We should be seeking to minimise civilian casualties, particularly in hospitals and those vulnerable facilities in Gaza,” she told Sunrise on Monday.

“Working towards a ceasefire, calling for humanitarian force – that is a recognition that the civilian casualties in Gaza at the moment are very high, unacceptably high.”

Palestinian officials said two babies were killed following Israeli strikes at the Al-Shifa hospital complex as the number of Gazans killed by the Israeli bombing and blockade campaigns climbed to more than 11,000.

Israel has said Hamas, which has been labelled a terrorist organisation by the federal government, has command centres under and around the hospital.

Large demonstrations took place again across Australia at the weekend, with Victoria police saying 45,000 people attended a pro-Palestinian rally outside the state library in Melbourne.

The rally on Sunday followed violent clashes on Friday night after a Palestinian business in Caulfield in the city’s southeast was firebombed.

Owner Hash Tayeh addressed the crowd on Sunday, saying the “cruel” act of arson reduced his store to ashes.

“To those who sought to silence us with hate and violence, I say you will not succeed,” he said, while draped in a Palestinian flag.

“Love and unity will always prevail.”

A survey published last week by pollster YouGov found 53 per cent of Australians supported an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, compared to 26 per cent who did not.

Roads were closed in Sydney’s CBD for the fifth weekend in a row as a pro-Palestinian demonstration took place in Hyde Park, while members of the Jewish community gathered in Moore Park to hold a vigil for people taken hostage in the war.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-chief Alex Ryvchin called for the destruction of Hamas, the safe rescue of every hostage and peace “for the land of Israel”.

Liberal Party MP Julian Leeser said he would wear a kippah this sitting week, saying he hoped it would “remind the parliament that our country is made up of people of many faiths as well as those with none at all”.

Rallies were also held in other cities and towns, including at Brisbane’s King George Square and outside Parliament House in Perth and Russell Square in Adelaide on Sunday.

AAP/J-Wire

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