Focus on ‘human catastrophe’ of Gaza war, not politics

Dominic Giannini |

Foreign Minister Penny Wong says the human suffering in Gaza cannot continue.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong says the human suffering in Gaza cannot continue.

There is not enough focus on the humanitarian side of the war in Gaza, an independent senator says, as major parties fight over Palestinian statehood.

While all sides of politics had condemned Hamas’ attack against Israel, the major parties needed to, at the same time, say “what Israel is doing is unacceptable and it has to come to an end,” Senator David Pocock said on Monday.

“Put this unfolding human catastrophe ahead of our allies and not wanting to tread on anyone’s toes,” the ACT senator said as he urged the government to take a stronger stance and joined the call to sanction Israeli officials. 

A headshot of Sanjay Adusumilli.
Dr Sanjay Adusumilli has told of the horrors he saw in Gaza on a recent visit. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Sanjay Adusumilli, who works as a surgeon in Western Sydney, described images he saw during a recent trip to Gaza of dismembered and disembowelled children coming in for medical treatment for bullet and shrapnel wounds.

He talked about toddlers who had been shot in the head and children who died of dehydration, saying this highlighted the need for more aid and better protection of civilians.

“We need to take a stronger footing,” Dr Adusumilli told reporters alongside Senator Pocock in Parliament House in Canberra.

Australia had a role to play in the push for peace as a middle power, Senator Pocock said, as Foreign Minister Penny Wong took a careful stance on the government’s policy at a parliamentary hearing on Monday.

Senator Wong welcomed a US-led deal that called for a ceasefire and the release of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners.

“The death and destruction is horrific and the human suffering is unacceptable,” Senator Wong told the estimates hearing.

“We reiterate to the Netanyahu government, this cannot continue.”

Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, killing 1200 people and taking more than 200 hostages, according to Tel Aviv.

Israel’s counter-offensive has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians and injured more than 80,000, Gaza’s health ministry says.

At least 17,000 children are unaccompanied by families, about 10 per cent of infants under the age of two in Rafah have malnutrition and more than 50,000 children across Gaza are malnourished, Australian official Rod Brazier said.

Senator Wong also defended Australia’s vote in support of Palestine at the United Nations.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong has welcomed a US-led ceasefire deal. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Labor and the opposition remain split on the timing of recognising a Palestinian state after the federal government supported a motion in the United Nations General Assembly that gave it extra rights but did not determine statehood.

Australia is willing to consider recognising Palestinian statehood during peace negotiations to lock in a two-state solution as opposed to waiting for a peace settlement to be reached with Israel.

“A two-state solution is ultimately the only path to peace and security for Israel,” Senator Wong said.

Roadblocks to this also included violent Israeli settlers in occupied Palestinian territories targeting Palestinians and blocking aid from reaching Gaza, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Middle East branch first assistant secretary Marc Innes-Brown said. 

“These settlements are illegal and they’re an obstacle to peace,” he told the estimates hearing.

Violent settlers would not be able to get a visa to Australia on character grounds as it “wouldn’t be in the national interest for these people to be here”, department deputy secretary Craig Maclachlan added. 

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham.
Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham has attacked moves for Palestinian statehood. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham criticised the government’s support for the UN motion.

It jumped the gun as it paved the path for statehood without addressing issues such as Hamas remaining a threat, he said, reaffirming his view recognition should be part of the negotiated peace process with Israel.

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