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Penny Wong is wrong

This morning on ABC’s Insiders program, Senator Penny Wong said that “how Israel defends itself matters” and that “when we affirm Israel’s right to defend itself, what we are also saying is Israel must comply and observe with international humanitarian law.”

Ms Wong, can you please give an example of how Israel is in breach of international humanitarian law?  Instead of implying this, come out with some specifics please! 

International law clearly states that if hospitals and other protected institutions are used to conduct military operations, then they are a legitimate military target.  Therefore, International law does not protect hospitals that are used as sites for terrorists, weapons, and rocket launchers. 

A Statement by the ECAJ and Zionist Federation of Australia released today said: 

The joint statement also said “The libel that any Israeli attack on Gazan hospitals from which Hamas operates would amount to war crimes only serve to demonise the state of Israel and its supporters. These libels are central to Hamas’ objectives as a terrorist organisation, and are reverberating across the world in a new wave of antisemitism.  The Government of Australia should not be lending any credibility to this false and harmful narrative.”

Here are some more of Senator Wong’s words:

“But we can also say that Israel should do everything it can to observe international humanitarian law. We have seen a harrowing number of civilians, including children, killed. This has to end.

“And we are particularly concerned with what is happening with medical facilities … I would make this point in relation to hospitals and medical facilities – that international humanitarian law does require the protection of hospitals, of patients and of medical staff.

“And we do call on Israel to cease the attacking of hospitals. We understand the argument that Hamas is burrowed into civilian infrastructure. But, you know, I think the international community looking at what is occurring in hospitals would say to Israel ‘these are facilities protected under international law’.”

Senator Wong said there was no doubt that Hamas, which she said was responsible for the October 7 attack on Israel, was using citizens as human shields but declared this did not obviate the requirement to observe international law.

“Many friends of Israel around the world and in Australia, will be saying, we want civilians (and) hospitals to be protected. And we would urge Israel to do so.”

Since the beginning of the War the Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon Israel has been hit several times by Hamas rocket attacks including a children’s centre.  Rockets directly aimed at civilians trying to cause mass casualties.  This is a war crime.  Yet there has not been a word of condemnation of this by Senator Wong, nor any other Labour Minister (who all seem to have other things to say to Israel).  Israel has been targeting terrorist infrastructure, not civilians in hospitals, it is yet condemned by Senator Wong as above.  What part of this moral distinction does Senator Wong and her Government not understand?

Israel is not bombing hospitals.  They are surrounding them and engaging them in on-ground combat. The chief Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said the forces were not besieging Shifa Hospital but allowing a safe exit point on the hospital’s eastern side. He said the army was in touch with hospital officials and would help to move babies being treated there to a different hospital Sunday.  So Ms Wong, there is fighting around the hospital with Israel facilitating an exit to allow non-combatants out.  Maybe you should be pointing out to the protestors in our street accusing Israel of genocide that Israel is in fact protecting the people they supposed to be annihilating.  The very opposite of what Hamas is doing. 

Since the start of the war more than 10,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza, Lebanon, even Yemen, into Israel.  Approximately 12% of these have fallen short and landed in Gazan territory.  Any casualties relating to this activity are blamed on Israel and counted by Hamas in their death toll.  Hamas has damaged hospitals in Gaza at least twice with defective missile launches.  Which they have blamed through media propaganda on Israel.  In one instance this was reported by the media and condemned by Governments before being retracted. 

Israel has not targeted the bombing of hospitals.  They have issued warnings to evacuate hospitals.  They have dropped leaflets, made phone calls, sent SMS messages, communicated clearly about their targets and done more than would be reasonable in a ferocious war and combat situation to facilitate an exit passage.

If what happened to Israel on October 7 happened to Australia, and the perpetrators were hiding beneath a hospital, Australia would be targeting terrorists in exactly the same way as our citizens would demand.  However, would we put our troops at risk through a ground incursion or would we just bomb the perpetrators from the air?  Would we hold ourselves to the supposed higher standards that Ms Wong demands?  “Oh, it would never happen in Australia” is the response.  But the reality is that it has happened in Israel, and the ethics and morality of how to respond need to be contextualised against these same Australian values before we can even try to understand Israel’s existential complexity and awful necessity of needing to obliterate Hamas at any cost.

Sorry Senator Wong but your remarks are sadly way off track.  Even though Israel is going above and beyond what would be expected in its pursual of Hamas, it does not have the luxury of the precaution and proportionality that you demand. Unlike the Government of Australia Israel is fighting a war against Hamas, not a war for the public opinion of the electorate. 

Perhaps it is Hamas that you should be calling out about the need for a higher moral standard?  Maybe asking them nicely to stop hiding in hospitals, schools and playgrounds may be a good place to start?  Or maybe even dare to suggest to them that all humankind needs to be held to the same standard, with “thou shalt not murder” being one of humanity’s basic values.  Would you perhaps be willing to use some of Anthony Albanese’s frequent flyer points to travel to Gaza and tell them yourself?

As for your statements making excuses for the violent protestors in Caulfield on Friday night, and your statement that “We cannot allow this conflict to divide us. We have to remember each other’s humanity.”  I submit that you have pivoted away from understanding and supporting the humanity of the Jewish people.  You have demanded that Australia has no tolerance for anti-Semitism, albeit you are unable to utter that sentence without an equivocation to Islamophobia, which with great respect has not led to fear, violence, intimidation and calls to kill people.  Yet your statement today positions the public of Australia to further alienate and isolate Israel based on an immoral and factually incorrect condemnation. 

I would feel a lot safer and protected if your Government and the media of this country stopped talking in defence of a prescribed terrorist organisation and stopped repeating their lies about Israel’s response to the worst example of inhumanity seen this century.  Until then, please refrain from your platitudes of zero tolerance for anti-Semitism. 

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