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Kennedy Graham’s speech on the Government motion on the situation in Gaza

By Kennedy Graham

Yet again we have a round of mutual lethality between Israel and Hamas, except that the military asymmetry means that the death toll runs against Palestinians by a factor of several hundred to one.

Some 500 Palestinian civilians have been killed, of whom 80 percent or more are children and elderly. Here are some: Hiji-ziya Hamed al-Hilu, aged 80; Saber Sukka, aged 80; Salah Awad al-Nawasr, aged 6; Nidal Khalaf al-Nawasra, aged 5; and Mohammed Khalaf al-Nawasra, aged 4. Then we must mourn as well the murder of the teenagers. On the Israeli side: Eyal Yifrah, aged 19; Gilad Shaar, aged 16; Naftali Fraenkel, aged 16; and, on the Palestinian side, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, aged 16. This is an unmitigated tragedy all round.

So how should New Zealand react to the latest crisis? What should the New Zealand policy be? The fundamental issue at stake in this crisis from 1948 to 2014 is the occupation of Palestine by Israel. Everything emanates from this: the refusal to implement the UN framework for peace under the Oslo accords, the continuing and expanding settlements, the wall, which is judged by the World Court to be illegal, and the excessive use of force by Israel.

This is not to condone the firing of rockets by Hamas. We do not condone violence by anyone. But let us recognise the violence of Hamas for what it is: a desperate attempt at resistance by an oppressed people. And so following we must recognise Israel’s violence for what it is: a continuation of oppression for an illusory kind of security.

As it happens, the UN charter requires a member state when exercising self-defence to immediately report it to the Security Council. I have scrutinised the formal communications to the Security Council over the past week, by both Israel, as member state, and Palestine, as observer state. Each advances its own case. Palestine on 14 July appeals for all possible measures by the international community to provide immediate protection to the Palestinian civilian population throughout the occupied State of Palestine “against the ongoing savagery and military aggression being perpetrated by Israel.” On 16 July Israel calls on the international community to stop the attacks on Israeli citizens by unequivocally condemning Hamas and supporting Israel’s right to defend its citizens.

Israel justifies its actions in Gaza in the name of self-defence. The inherent right of self-defence, sanctioned in international law for several centuries now, does not justify what Israel is currently doing in Gaza. Most jurists around the world are describing the Israeli actions as an excessive use of force and a violation of humanitarian law.

If this is self-defence, it is time the principle evolved in a manner that precludes this kind of response, for we all know that whatever the principle of self-defence might justify, it does not justify the kind of collateral civilian damage to Palestinians that we have been witnessing this past week.

The Green Party is calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and for Israel to withdraw its military forces. We condemn the violence and invasion of Gaza and the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli military. We call on the United Nations Secretary-General to establish a fact-finding inquiry into the events and submit the report to the General Assembly and to Switzerland as the depository Government of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

We call on the New Zealand Government to call for a consideration by the UN of economic and other sanctions against Israel, as occurred with South Africa in the 1990s and 1980s. If the Security Council, in its ineffable wisdom, is unable to address the issue, perhaps the General Assembly can consider such a course of action under the Uniting for Peace precedent.

We call on the Government to increase New Zealand humanitarian aid through appropriate UN agencies, targeted at relieving the human suffering in Gaza. We support the idea of Palestine acceding to the Rome Statute and referring a complaint to the International Criminal Court alleging individual leadership crimes against humanity by certain named leaders in the conflict. If Israel feels justified in referring Palestinians to the International Criminal Court, it has only to accede to the Rome Statute and join the court as well.

There will be no end in sight to this conflict as long as there is a relationship of oppressed-oppressor in Israel and Palestine. Israel has a right to exist peacefully and securely, but it will not find this in continuing the sustained, brutal, and dehumanising oppression of Palestinians.

There will be no end in sight as long as the only options open to Hamas are surrender or resistance. The accord between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas went some way to recognising the legitimacy of each. I say this not to offer support for all policies of each, but to reiterate that although the struggles and opinions of some might stir distaste, the grievances of a people deserve to be heard with open ears and to be engaged with respectfully.

I do not think that power over others will ever lead to lasting peace for Israel. Work needs to be done to build mutual respect for the lives and livelihoods of Palestinians and Israelis. This will need an abundance of empathy and a re-humanising of each other in the other’s eyes.

No doubt crimes have been committed against civilians by both military groups, and both require condemnation, but in the longer term peace requires a political realignment and a refashioning of mind-set, perhaps on all our parts, before a settlement is achieved and peace is finally secured.

07/22/2014 – 00:00


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