Earlier this week, Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong travelled to the Middle East. During her trip, she condemned the 7 October attacks by Palestinian armed groups and met with families of Israeli victims. She expressed to Israeli leaders the deep concern Australians are feeling about the civilian death toll and humanitarian crisis for Palestinians in Gaza.
Meeting with Israeli officials in Jerusalem, Wong described the situation in Gaza as “dire”. In those meetings, she reiterated Australia’s calls for steps toward a sustainable ceasefire. She also called for unimpeded humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Wong also announced Australia would be pledging an additional $22 million in humanitarian aid to the Middle East. The sum will be “directed to conflict-affected populations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and to address the ongoing regional refugee crisis, with a focus on women and children”.
The Australian Government is hearing our collective calls and taking a critical stand for human rights on an international stage. The increased material aid will help provide much-needed relief to those suffering in Gaza and elsewhere… And her words are evidence that Australia, and indeed the world, will not stand for the continued suffering of Palestinian civilians.
But even stronger action is needed to address the crisis in Gaza, which Wong accurately described as “dire.”
The Crisis in Gaza Today
Following attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups on 7 October, which killed around 1200 Israelis, and during which hundreds were taken hostage, Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have carried out a devastating campaign in Gaza.
Much of the city has been reduced to rubble, with street after street pulverised by bombardment. The crisis recently passed the 100-day mark, and the plight of the people of Gaza is becoming more desperate by the day. So far, 24,000 Palestinians have been killed.
Israeli government officials have claimed that they have the “most moral army in the world.” However, Amnesty International has gathered overwhelming evidence that the IDF are carrying out attacks that are indiscriminate or deliberately targeting civilians. Around 70% of those killed are women and children. Another 58,000 have been injured, and 85% of the population has been displaced.
Another serious concern is that Israeli authorities are impeding the delivery of aid through the Rafah crossing to Gaza. Despite claims that the IDF is facilitating humanitarian assistance, aid organisations say their attempts to reach those in need are being repeatedly blocked.
UN rights experts have said that “every single person in Gaza is hungry” amidst an unparallelled humanitarian crisis.
How Australia’s Stance has Changed
Though initially slow to criticise the State of Israel, Penny Wong has consistently urged all parties to respect human rights and expressed concern for civilians in Gaza. As the death toll climbed and tens of thousands took to the streets across Australia to condemn the bloodshed, Wong warned that Australia “will not accept continuing civilian deaths.”
In December, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese issued a joint statement with the leaders of New Zealand and Canada calling for a sustainable ceasefire. Shortly after that, Australia supported a UN General Assembly vote for a ceasefire.
Our Voices are Being Heard
Amnesty International has consistently called for a ceasefire to halt the devastating impact on civilians. In the first 37 days of the crisis, our petition calling for a ceasefire amassed one million signatures globally.
Our researchers have gathered and verified evidence of war crimes and called out the complicity of western powers in supporting Israel’s campaign. This evidence has been cited in South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice.
In Australia, we’ve petitioned Penny Wong and the Australian government to call for a ceasefire and strengthen their stance. We’ve supported the Palestinian community in Australia and amplified their voices. We’ve joined with other defenders of human rights to demand an end to the violence and respect for international humanitarian law.
“Steps Toward a Ceasefire” are Not Enough
Australia’s stance is growing stronger in increments. Penny Wong has called for “steps toward a ceasefire,” but language matters, and this isn’t enough. For people in Gaza, time has run out. Australia must call for an immediate and sustainable ceasefire, not only for steps toward a ceasefire.
The people of Gaza face unfathomable death and destruction. Their situation is unbearable. The Federal Government must use every power available to continue to call for a ceasefire and unfettered humanitarian aid to access Gaza.