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Wednesday, 29 October 2003
Page: 17114

Senator NETTLE (1:12 PM) —I rise to speak about a matter of international importance: the ongoing tragedy surrounding Palestine and Israel. Sadly, the situation in the strife torn region between Jordan and the Mediterranean throws up new tragedies every day; but it is for a more positive reason that I speak on this matter today. Recently the Sydney Peace Foundation unanimously voted to award this year's Sydney Peace Prize to Palestinian peace activist Dr Hanan Ashrawi. The decision represents a positive move within the Australian community to recognise those who are seeking a genuine peace in Israel and Palestine, and it has raised the profile of the issue beyond its usual audience on a note of optimism and hope. The Greens welcome this move.

Dr Ashrawi has distinguished herself through an unwavering and principled commitment to finding peace with justice not only for her Palestinian people but also for others who are suffering from the ongoing injustice and violence that blights the region. Some have criticised the Sydney Peace Foundation for its decision to award the prize to a former minister of the Palestinian Authority. In their criticisms they miss the point. Peace prizes are not awarded to individuals of unassailable purity or to saints or angels; peace prizes are awarded to those who consistently rise above the failings of the human character and in difficult and complex circumstances move the objectives of peace forward, sowing the seeds of hope in fields of despair. This has been the distinction of Dr Ashrawi, so she is a worthy recipient of the prize.

More important than the individual chosen is the fact that the prize has gone to someone who is articulating a message of peace and hope in relation to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The timing is particularly important in the light of the recent escalation of violence in the Palestinian territories and the seemingly unbridled willingness of both the Israeli government and suicide bombers to kill innocent civilians. The time for a major shift in the political balance in the Middle East is long overdue. The message of peace and dialogue that Dr Ashrawi brings simply must be heard if there is to be any hope for the children of Palestine and Israel in the future. Hope remains whilst brave voices on either side of this conflict are prepared to criticise the dogma of war and call for practical justice and peace.

Recently, the former Speaker of the Knesset in Israel and former Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Avraham Burg, wrote in Israel's main daily paper Yedioth Ahronoth about the need for this change. He said:

Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated.

We could kill a thousand ringleaders and engineers a day and nothing will be solved, because the leaders come up from below—from the wells of hatred and anger, from the “infrastructures” of injustice and moral corruption.

... ... ...

The time for illusions is over. The time for decisions has arrived. We love the entire land of our forefathers and in some other time we would have wanted to live here alone. But that will not happen. The Arabs, too, have dreams and needs.

These voices of peace are struggling in a world deafened by the drums of war—drums beaten loudly by the key allies of the Israeli government in the United States administration and foreign policy establishment. It is for this reason that it becomes all the more important that international voices are raised in solidarity with these messages of peace, and remain unafraid to condemn the culture of violence, whether it be from stateless splinter groups or from well-financed states and their military machines.

The Greens are a worldwide party found-ed on four clear principles. One of those principles is a commitment to peace and the resolution of conflict through non-violence. This is the perspective that we bring to the conflict in Palestine and Israel. At the national conference of the Australian Greens, which was held two weeks ago here in Canberra, we passed into policy the Greens' position on the conflict in Palestine and Israel. This policy has been developed over a long period of time with the benefit of much expertise coming from Greens members in both the Palestinian and the Israeli communities in Australia. It gives the Greens the opportunity to do what all concerned with peace in the Middle East should be doing—that is, to speak out for a just peace, just as Dr Ashrawi and Avraham Burg do.

What do we mean by a just peace? The Greens policy focuses on the legitimate rights of Palestinians and Israelis to live in their own respective independent sovereign states in peace and security. It also recognises the ongoing injustice that has been done to the Palestinian people and opposes the continued occupation of Palestinian territories and the illegal establishment of settlements on this land. The Greens policy calls for the respect of international law, the Geneva conventions and the resolutions of the United Nations as a first step towards a fair resolution of the conflict. Of course, there must also be a total withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories, the removal of all Israeli settlements in those territories and an immediate dismantling of the separation wall.

There should be no impediments to the commencement of these actions, but the Greens recognise that, just as these actions are necessary, so is the cessation of all violence against civilian populations, including state-targeted assassinations and suicide bombings. These are obvious measures but, nonetheless, are difficult to achieve because of their obviousness. The Greens policy is informed by that difficulty in calling for the establishment of an international commission under the auspice of the United Nations to effect a settlement of the conflict. It calls for a peace negotiation to be facilitated by the commission, leading to a schedule for implementation of the goals that I have discussed.

The Greens know that, by articulating our position, we will attract the scorn of those who react to any criticism of the state of Israel with accusations of anti-Semitism. But we will not be cowed by such outrageous and unwarranted accusations any more than we resile from our condemnation of those who target civilians with suicide bombers. The need for courageous calls for peace in Palestine and Israel is too important to let the aggressive lobbying of loud, but not necessarily representative, voices silence it. I cannot continue to hear of the deprivations of the Palestinian people and remain silent. It is simply unacceptable to see the use of military force against children and civilians and remain unconcerned. It is simply not right to stand by and watch a state with one of the most powerful military machines in the world wage war on an occupied and stateless people—many of whom are penniless and brutalised—without calling for justice.

Just as the world quite rightly voices its outrage when bombs destroy buses and cafes, killing and maiming civilians, so we should condemn acts of violence when perpetrated by a state. Indeed, the fact that these actions are perpetrated by a state, and not some shady fanatical group, should leave us all the more incensed. Our democratic tradition includes the expectation that states and executives within them uphold the rule of law. The fact that violent political groups inside and outside a state have no interest in this principle does not absolve the state of that responsibility. This expectation, which is enshrined in international law, is currently under strain, largely because of the actions of the United States administration. The obstinate refusal of the United States to sign up to the International Criminal Court, their refusal to ratify the international convention against torture, and, of course, their willingness to invade and attack other nations against the will of the United Nations undermine the standing of our international law. Whilst this state of affairs continues, it is much easier for the Israeli government to also flout international laws and international bodies such as the United Nations.

As one of the closest allies of the US administration, the Australian government has a responsibility to do all that it can to turn this situation around. We must speak out against the continued flouting of international law by the United States. An important first step in relation to the Middle East would be to add to our condemnation of suicide bombers a strident and determined criticism of the Israeli leadership for its aggressive actions in the Palestinian territories and the region at large. The Australian government should also be adding its voice to a call for a UN-brokered peace in the region, doing something positive to end the violence and return a rule of law. Australians should be proud that the only international peace prize originating in this country is going to Dr Ashrawi. As a tireless advocate for justice and peace—an advocacy that has seen her attract significant criticism from her own people—she sets an apt example to our political leaders of how to deal with these most fundamental issues of justice and peace.