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UN expert slams western governments as ''paralysed'' in Gaza crisis

Australia's response to Israel-Gaza crisis

Source: The Guardian

A United Nations expert has accused Australia and other western governments of paralysis over the Israel-Gaza crisis, saying leaders are either “muttering inaudible words of condemnation” or staying silent in fear.

Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, said in a speech in Canberra on Tuesday that “violence begets violence” and warned that Palestinian children were being left “without hope” for their future.

She also argued that under international law, Israel “cannot claim the right of self-defence against a threat that emanates from the territory it occupies – from a territory that is kept under belligerent occupation”. Israel disputes the characterisation Gaza is occupied, although the Australian government has said it recognises that “the occupation continues”.

Albanese has previously been accused of bias by Israel, a charge she denies. The Israeli government has long demanded Albanese’s dismissal and refused to cooperate with her, contending that her language was symptomatic of an anti-Israeli mindset that underplayed the country’s legitimate security concerns.

The Italian lawyer told the National Press Club on Tuesday that Israel’s response to the Hamas attacks of 7 October was not proportionate, and described the order to 1.1 million people to flee northern Gaza as “absurd” because there was nowhere safe to go.

With the death toll in Gaza rising above 11,000, she said Israel was “clearly incapable” of respecting the international humanitarian law principle of distinguishing between civilians and combatants.

Albanese said the international community was “almost completely paralysed” in its response, while the UN was “experiencing its most epic political and humanitarian failure since its creation”.

“Individual member states, especially in the west and Australia is no exception, are on the margins, muttering inaudible words of condemnation for Israel’s excesses at best – or staying silent in fear of restraining Israel’s self-proclaimed right to self-defence, whatever it means,” she said.

“So here is where we are, staring into the abyss where the Palestinians face most the significant existential threat and – in a different way – the Israelis, especially Israeli Jews as well, as a society informed by human values that are getting lost as the country gets enveloped in genocidal cries.”

Albanese, who has a master of laws in human rights, was appointed last year to be the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.

Albanese said the international community had “so epically failed to promote peace and security for both Palestinians and Israelis”, which she argued would be “premised upon international law, the end of Israel’s 56-year-old occupation and the realisation of Palestinian self-determination and freedom”.

The Australian government has repeatedly affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself, but has said the manner in which it does so matters.

The foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, has condemned Hamas as a “craven terrorist group that has burrowed itself in civilian infrastructure”. Wong also warned Israel that the world would not accept ongoing civilian deaths and has called for the observation of international law.

When asked about this stance, Francesca Albanese said: “This is what I call amnesia and myopia and living in an alternative reality because before 7 October there was already plenty of evidence of violations of international law.”

Albanese said since 1967 Israel had “built 300 colonies” – or settlements – in the occupied Palestinian territories, which she described as war crimes that violated article 49 of the Geneva conventions.

Albanese also said Gaza had long been under blockade, “which was a war crime, a collective punishment on the entire Palestinian population”. Israel says the blockade is for its own security, citing repeated Hamas rocket attacks and incursions.

Pressed on Israel’s right to respond to the Hamas attacks in which more than 1,200 people were killed, she said that “in common language self-defence might be understood as the right to protect oneself, which Israel clearly has”.

But she said that article 51 of the UN charter was “not just the right to protect itself, it is self-defence under international law – it is a legal term of art”.

She said Israel was not threatened by another state, but by “an armed group within the occupied territory”. Israel disputes that Gaza has been occupied since it withdrew its troops and evicted 9,000 settlers in 2005. Critics argue Israel’s control of Gaza’s borders and other government functions amount to continued occupation.

Israel’s ambassador to Australia, Amir Maimon, told the National Press Club last month that the world must not “look away” from the atrocities committed by Hamas on 7 October. He said Israel was “absolutely” complying with international humanitarian law.

Albanese ended her speech by saying “ending Jewish Israeli domination would be a re-humanising act for them as well”.

Asked whether it was helpful to use language about “ending Jewish Israeli domination”, she responded: “I wonder whether it is helpful to pretend that apartheid doesn’t exist, because this is what we are talking about.”

Albanese cited the international convention on apartheid, which defines it as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them”.

“I said domination, not existence,” Albanese said. “If we are unable to envisage Jewish Israelis living without being on top of the other, I think this is a problem.”

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have concluded in recent years that Israel has “perpetrated the international wrong of apartheid” against Palestinians.

The Israeli government strongly dismissed such claims as being “divorced from reality”.

Cyprus  |  UN  |  Gaza  |  Israel  |  war

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