The failure to value the Palestinian lives in Gaza subjects us to violence everywhere

The narrative across Western officials and media has been overwhelmingly one-sided. Not only did they rush to uphold Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’ while denying  Palestinian’s the same right, but turned a blind eye to Israel’s genocide in Gaza. As Israel’s missiles rained on the largest open prison in the world, Australian leaders — echoing their counterparts in the UK, US and France, rushed to proclaim their allegiance with Israel. This is in spite of the countless reports by international institutions detailing decades of Israeli’s war crimes and transgressions in Palestine. Remarkably, the Australian government and other nations in the West illuminated their landmarks in the colours of the Israeli flag offering a national nod to a coloniser at the same time, sprinkling salt to the decades’ long wounds of the Palestinians, abroad and at home.

On the 16th of October, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese introduced a motion in the House of Representative unequivocally condemning the attacks on Israel by Hamas on 7 October and recognising the ‘right of Israel to defend itself.’

The leader of the Australian Greens, Adam Bandt, supported the motion but highlighted that it failed to recognise war crimes committed by Israel against the Palestinian people and urged Australia to also extend its mourning to all those Palestinians killed. Bandt warned that Israel’s response was ‘moving beyond self-defence into an invasion,’ and he stressed that ‘it is up to Australia as a peace-loving country to join the push to stop it.’

Bandt then moved a significant amendment to the motion replacing ‘stands with Israel and recognises its inherent right to defend itself’ with a condemnation of war crimes perpetrated by Israel, ‘including the bombing of Palestinian civilians.’ He also included a call for an immediate ceasefire, an end to the war on Gaza, and an end to Israel’s ‘illegal occupation of the Palestinian Territories’.

Australia’s federal parliament overwhelmingly rejected the amendment by a margin of 107 to 7. Predictably, the seven MPs who supported the motion were subsequently vilified in the media.

What does it say about the extent of Australia’s support for Israel as it carries out massive bombardment of Gaza when 107 MPs refused to condemn war crimes committed in the name of ‘self-defence’? What does it mean when 107 MPs rejected the call to prevent further loss of human lives in Gaza? What does it mean when 107 MPs stood against a call for a ceasefire — a call for peace? What sense does it make for107 MPs to vote in favour of revenge, and the collective punishment of civilians? More critically, how can these 107 MPs justify their support for the root cause of this violence — namely, Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestine and its ongoing land theft to facilitate more illegal settlements?

The rejection of Bandt’s amendment highlights one-sided nature of Australia’s bipartisan alliance with the United States and, by extension, the State of Israel. It is not a surprise since Australia has been secretively supplying military exports to Israel, in spite of Israel’s continual violation of international law and human rights. This has produced an indifference in Australian politics to the sanctity of Palestinian life and a callousness toward their ongoing suffering. Moreover, it has betrayed the trust of those Australians of Palestinian, Arab and/or Muslim backgrounds whose belonging is tested by such policy stances.

Australia’s unwavering support for the policies and conduct of Israel reflects a deeper disregard for numerous reports produced by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations detailing decades of discrimination, oppression, violence, and illegal expansion in Palestine. It demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of Australian parliamentarians believe that the killing of Palestinian civilians is an acceptable form of ‘collateral damage’ in Israel’s quest for security and territory.

This bipartisan approach is perhaps best expressed by opposition leader, Peter Dutton. On the same day that Prime Minister Albanese introduced his motion in support of Israel, Dutton proceeded to demonise and dismiss pro-Palestinian demonstrations calling for the recognition of the lives of the residents of Gaza and for some restraint in the aerial bombardment that threatens to rise to the level of ‘mass ethnic cleansing’, according to the UN Special Rapporteur. Dutton went on to declare that his party:

supports — and proudly supports — Israel’s right to do what is necessary and needed in the circumstances with every asset available to safeguard its sovereignty, to bolster its borders, to protect its people, and to thwart threats it now faces — the existential threats. There must be no restraint shown to those who showed no restraint themselves in committing these vicious and vile acts of terrorism.

Dutton thereby gave his blessing to the decision of Israeli Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, to cut off water, food, fuel, and medical supplies to the Gaza Strip. The welfare of innocent Palestinians is of no consideration at all.

When Dutton affirms Israel’s right ‘to do what is necessary’ in its retaliation against Hamas, or when he insists that there ‘must be no restraint shown to those who showed no restraint,’ what is it that emboldens him to be so dismissive of the cost to Palestinian civilians? Dutton, and indeed most of our parliamentarians, acted as the ultimate arbiters of human fate, taking drastic decisions on which human lives should be sacrified at he altar. With a blatant display of overblown privilege and unwarranted entitlement, they considered the lives and welfare of Palestinians dispensable

The message the parliament has sent is clear: the lives of Palestinians in Gaza — half of whom are children — are expendable, and worthy of forfeit in order to permit Israel’s to retain its domination of Palestinian territories. By refusing to condemn Israel’s war crimes or call for a ceasefire, Australia’s parliament — itself an institution established on stolen, unceded land, secured through the near genocide of First Nations peoples — continued to embody the coloniser’s logic when dealing violently with a defiant Indigenous population.

This language echoes beyond the walls of parliament. Reports show that displays of Islamophobia have tripled in the UK and increased ten-fold in Australia from their levels before October 7. When world leaders fail to value the lives of Palestinians, should we be surprised by reports that a seventy-one-year-old landlord in Illinois stabbed a six-year-old Muslim child twenty-six times and his mother more than a dozen times?

Almost all Australian-Muslim organisations came together to issue a joint statements calling out politicians to ‘Speak Up and End the Double Standards in the Commentary on Palestine.’ Similarly, the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network AMAN expressed its concerns regarding the bipartisan divisive and one-sided rhetoric which ‘devalues Palestinian lives, putting them and anyone that is associated with them in danger in Palestine and Australia.’

For so long, Australian Muslim organisations have called out the dehumanising political rhetoric on Islam and Muslims. When asked what is Islamophobia, and how does it manifest, my research shows that Muslim organisations believe that Islamophobia is the legitimisation of anti-Muslim hate enabled by both the negative political language on Islam and Muslims and the indifference by the same actors to call out overtly Islamophobic narratives and people. As the founder of an interfaith Muslim organisation puts it: ‘[Islamophobia] doesn’t manifest at the grassroots level. It manifests from high above, but it trickles down to the grassroots level.’ In other words, the consistent negative Australian political language and their silence on Islamophobia has mainstreamed and legitimised Muslims’ dehumanisation and inferiority.

The weight of politicians’ language and words is immense, especially within a nation as diverse as Australia. The head of AISO Mike Burgess warned of the potential for opportunistic violence urging all Australian parties and officials to ‘consider the implications for social cohesion when making public statements.’ He added:

In this context, it is vital that all parties reflect on the implications for social cohesion when speaking publicly. As I’ve noted before, words have weight. ASIO has observed a direct link between inflammatory language and heightened community tensions.

It is clear that the political failure to uphold the dignity and inherent value of the lives of the residents of Gaza — the refusal to call for a reprieve from Israel’s relentless bombing campaign and ongoing daily acts of violence and humiliation — gives a greenlight to others to enact a violence and oppression of their own. We must not forget that Australia would not recognise our humanity until we were the victims of a brutal terrorist attack, as we were in Christchurch just four years ago.


Image: Tim Dennell

Sara Cheikh Husain

Dr Sara Cheikh Husain is a passionate early career researcher. Her PhD funded by the UNESCO Chair for Comparative Research on cultural diversity and Social Justice, explores Victorian Muslim Community Organisations’ perceptions of and responses to Islamophobia. Sara has published in academic journals and presented at various conferences. She worked with the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network AMAN to co-produce a supplementary document to AMAN's input to the report on Anti-Muslim hatred and discrimination by the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief (2020). She volunteers at various academic and community bodies. She is currently the General Executive at the Australian Association of Islam and Muslims Studies AAIMs, an Associate Member at Centre for Resilient and Inclusive Societies CRIS and Member of the Advisory Committee at the Scanlon Foundation Research Institute. She works as a research assistant/ Fellow at various Australian Universities. She is invested in human rights and diversity areas of inquiry particularly social injustices facing refugees, migrants, and women.

More by Sara Cheikh Husain ›

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  1. I am not aware of any prominent politician in the West who says “Palestinians have the right to defend themselves.” They always trot out the line in reference to Israel and never the victims of one of the most powerful military regimes on earth. As far as I’m concerned, when you have hundreds of nuclear weapons at your disposal, you don’t get to don the mantle of victimhood.

  2. I don’t agree with the portrayal of the indifference and bipartisanship in Australian politics suggested here, one that relies on an excess of references to Peter Dutton’s words. There has been world-wide criticism of Israel’s aggressive actions in Gaza causing the deaths of now more than 8000 Palestinians. To not know that is to do a further harm to Palestinians.
    The Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s most recent statement reported in The Guardian today (Nov 3):
    “Penny Wong urges Israel to ‘listen’ to friends and warns world won’t ‘accept continuing civilian deaths’” And, “Australian foreign minister’s call comes as six former prime ministers issue joint statement expressing solidarity with Jewish and Palestinian communities”.

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