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Thursday, 24 May 2018
Page: 4624

Ms TEMPLEMAN (Macquarie) (16:30): The last fortnight has been horrific for people in Gaza. On a single day, at least 58 Palestinians died and many thousands were maimed. Australia was one of only two nations to vote in the UN against an independent inquiry into the deaths. Our own Prime Minister has described them as tragic, yet we voted with the United States. As the heads of Christian churches wrote in December, the decision by President Trump to base the US Embassy in Jerusalem will 'yield hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division'. How true those words are proving to be. Many would see the US decision as part of the reason Palestinians have protested along the fences that cage them into the Gaza Strip. When you have deaths on only one side of a conflict, there needs to be an explanation. International law requires a proportionate response. On one side you have people with guns, on the other you have rocks. There's a responsibility for those who are highly armed and highly trained to act in a proportionate way. I struggle to understand why the Australian government would not back an independent inquiry.

Last year I visited Israel and the West Bank of Palestine for the first time, but I was not able to visit Gaza. What I saw saddened, angered and horrified me, not least because Australia has been a friend of Israel since its creation. A good friend must call out behaviour that is wrong. We are not a friend if we stand by and silently condone actions which damage the prospects of a lasting peace. Where Israeli law is clearly in breach of international law, we must speak. Israel is becoming increasingly isolated, as recent UN votes show. My time on the ground, looking at the facts of Palestinian lives and the realities of occupation, left me feeling that time is running out for a peaceful resolution and that more than ever friends are needed. Google the words 'Israeli wall' and look at the pictures that come onto your screen. The reality of what are, in fact, multiple walls that divide the Palestinians and Israelis shocked me. It's a brutal structure. In practice, it impacts on the lives of Palestinians, not just when they need to travel into Israel but in their daily lives. In many places, the wall divides towns, one half from the other. The wall is both a physical and a psychological barrier. If you want people to feel like they're in some kind of ongoing prison, then this is the way to do it.

Checkpoints dominate any journey between many Palestinian cities and towns and any trip to Israel. If you're Palestinian, to visit a doctor or hospital in Jerusalem you need a permit. To work in Jerusalem you need a permit. One of the people I spent time with was my friend Muna, who lives in Ramallah. She's my age and in a unique position in her family. As a woman over 50, she can visit her daughter and granddaughter in Jerusalem without a permit. An aid worker in the Jordan Valley told us of his conversation in recent years with local Israeli military leaders after confusion about when a checkpoint would be open or closed. The aid worker asked about the system and how effective it is. The response was: 'There is no system, and it's very effective.' That highlights for me the uncertainty with which Palestinians go about their lives. The rules can change in a heartbeat. The water and electricity might be on today or they might not be. Crossing the checkpoint might take minutes or hours or might not happen at all. Your permit might be valid or it might not be. These are the daily humiliations that Palestinians shared with us.

My visit showed me that the expansion of the Israeli settlements on the West Bank and in the Old City of Jerusalem is a serious matter. The demolition of Palestinian homes built without permits, because permits can't be issued, is a catch 22. The treatment of Bedouins, who have been relocated from their land to unproductive tracts of land, is just awful. The fact that Bedouin community schools and sanitation, funded by the European aid that comes in, are demolished is an outrage.

The military courts which Palestinians are subjected to for even minor offences are an unequal justice compared to what Israelis receive, and the human rights of children in these military courts is ignored. During my time in Israel and the West Bank—and I want to thank Lisa Arnold and Wendy Turner from APAN—I met warm and welcoming people, good people from all walks of life and all religions who want to live peacefully. They want to live without fear. Australia has a role in ensuring that both sides of this conflict have respect for each other, that each can be self-determining, that each has a state and that each can live safely within its borders. (Time expired)