Gaza - Private Members' Statement

Gaza - Private Members' Statement

(5:32pm 8 February 2024, Private Members' Statement, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

Today I talk about the heartbreaking issue of the war unfolding in the Middle East, which a number of constituents continue to raise with me. Unfortunately we have seen the conflict cause division and a rise in antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of racism in the community. Today I had to request police to remove antisemitic graffiti in my electorate. On October 7 last year Hamas launched a series of brutal and gratuitous attacks on people in Israel. Over a thousand innocent people, including 695 Israeli civilians, 36 of whom were children, and 71 foreign nationals were killed. Hundreds of innocent civilians, including about 30 children, were taken hostage, and numerous accounts of rape and sexual assault by Hamas fighters have been reported. The attacks terrified the world for the people of Israel and for the stability and safety of all in the region.

This Parliament, this State, and this nation acted swiftly and rightly to condemn the attack and show compassion for the Israeli people and the State's Jewish communities during this difficult time. It was also a distressing time for Palestinian Australians, those who support Palestinian independence and many others as they were unfairly and cruelly linked to the terrorist group Hamas and accused of supporting its brutality. Palestinians with friends and family in the region feared that the safety of their innocent friends and families in Gaza would be threatened, and they were right. Across New South Wales many also expressed their concerns for Palestinians. New South Wales thrives on its diversity and the contribution of our Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Israeli and Palestinian residents, none of whom are to blame for the violence and war that is raging and all of whom need our support and compassion. I acknowledge the work of the Minister for Multiculturalism to that end.

In our response to the war in the region, we must not conflate our support for the people of Israel with unconditional agreement with the State of Israel and its government's actions. Israel is a rare example of a liberal democracy in the Middle East—the only place in the Middle East I would feel safe as a gay man—and Australia's closest ally in the region. As such, we must expect more from the Israeli Government and a better response than the brutal and indiscriminate killing of thousands of innocent people and the destruction of homes, infrastructure and essential services in both Gaza and the West Bank. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that between 7 October and 7 January at least 23,000 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, a huge proportion of them children as well as many journalists. During the same period, 58,000 Palestinians were reportedly injured. Israel has also suffered further deaths in both armed forces and civilians.

Israeli and Jewish people in Australia, and around the world, are also concerned over the Israeli Government's military response to the Hamas attack and deeply worried about its hardline approach. Political voices within Israel are arguing for a deal that will bring home the hostages and work towards peace. I continue to be contacted by constituents and others from across the country still horrified by the deadly Hamas attack on Israel, by the mass destruction and loss of life in Gaza and by the long and protracted failure to secure peace and safety for all in the region. War is horrific. Many of us have family stories and family experience of war and its terrible impacts, including my family during the Second World War. Right now there are Israeli and Palestinian partners, parents, children, families and friends who do not know if their loved ones are alive. No amount of war, bombardment or killing will resolve this conflict. War is the failure of politics, and I fear that in the current geopolitical environment in the region, continued militarised actions are making lasting peace impossible and further mass deaths inevitable.

But we cannot give up. There is growing global pressure for a negotiated ceasefire, which I strongly support, and the restoration of talks for a permanent solution that acknowledges the right of both Israelis and Palestinians to a home and self-determination. History shows that this is much easier said than done, but Australia and our allies must do all we can to keep this goal in sight until it becomes a reality. Australia and New South Wales can start by being a leader for peace and unity on our soil. As parliamentarians, we must recognise the hurt, fear and humanity of all our constituents, be they connected to Israel, Gaza or the West Bank or not. While this Parliament will not be able to achieve peace in the Middle East, we can achieve harmony amongst our communities in New South Wales, and that must be a priority for all of us.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!