On Friday, Julia Gillard, the social democratic Prime Minister of Australia, said that her government ”condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip and calls on Hamas to cease these immediately”.
On Sunday, Barack Obama, the social democratic President of the United States, said much the same thing. He described the ”precipitating event” in the present crisis between Israel and Hamas as the ”ever-escalating number of missiles that were landing not just in Israel territory but in areas that are populated”. Obama added that ”there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders”.
The positions adopted by Gillard and Obama have bipartisan support in their respective countries from the political conservatives. For example, last Thursday the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, commented that ”Israel has every right
to defend itself”.
Around this time last year, I visited Sderot in south-west Israel, not far from the Israel/Gaza border. Sderot is within the Green Line. That is, it is part of the state of Israel that was created by the United Nations in 1948.
During this visit, I stood on a shell-damaged mound on the outskirts of Sderot. The tall buildings of Gaza City were clearly visible to the naked eye. It was a bit like viewing North Sydney from Sydney Tower. Fortunately, it was a time of relative peace. However, the bomb shelters and emergency warning signs spoke testimony to the fact that Sderot
– along with other cities and settlements in south Israel – had been under attack from the Gaza Strip.
The Gaza Strip was controlled by Egypt from 1948 until 1967 when it was occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War. I visited the area when it was Israeli territory and, subsequently, when it was governed by Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority. In 2005 Israel completed its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and full power was transferred to the PA. However, Hamas defeated Fatah in the 2006 election and soon turned the Gaza Strip into a dictatorial one-party state.
From 2007, Israel considered the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip as a hostile entity and initiated sanctions. The following year rocket attacks on southern Israel – including the cities of Sderot, Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva – commenced.
As is unavoidable at times of war, there
have been civilian casualties. Israelis have been killed by rockets from the Gaza Strip. Some Gaza Strip civilians have been killed by Israeli air and drone attacks and others, apparently, by misfiring rockets targeted at Israel. It is known that Hamas and Islamic Jihad deliberately place their rocket sites within the deeply populated areas of the Gaza Strip. This means that, when Israel strikes at military targets, there are likely to be a number of civilian casualties.
The consciously indiscriminate attacks from the Gaza Strip are deliberately aimed at terrorising and, where possible, killing and wounding the civilian population of Israel. The most recent attacks have seen some shells fall on Tel Aviv and even the outskirts of Jerusalem. This means that close to half the Israeli population is now threatened by missiles based in the Gaza Strip.
In 2010 the Greens and other members of the left in Australia condemned Israel’s interdiction of the Turkish ship the M.V. Mavi Marmara off the Gaza Strip coast. The operation was not a technical success and there was loss of life among those attempting to break Israel’s blockade-controlled area.
Even so, it is now clear what Israel was on about. Namely stopping the importation of larger and more effective rockets to such terrorist entities as Hamas and Islamist Jihad for use against Israeli cities – including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Next Saturday, the NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon and the NSW State Labor parliamentarian Lynda Voltz are reported to be scheduled to speak at a rally in Sydney called to protest at Israel’s response to attacks on it. It’s impossible to imagine the likes of Rhiannon and Voltz protesting against a military operation to stop indiscriminate missile attacks on inner-city Sydney. Obama’s recent comments point to the double standard involved here.
Gillard and Obama have proclaimed the long-term policies of their countries and their parties with respect to the right of Israel to exist within secure borders. As Daniel Mandel documents in his book H. V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel, the Chifley Labor government was an early supporter of the creation of the state of Israel. This is not a case where Australia followed the lead of its American ally.
Most Australians and Americans support a two-state solution to the present conflict. A viable and prosperous democracy in Israel alongside a viable and prosperous democracy in an entity called Palestine. This will not be achieved while terrorist organisations attack Israel with rockets aimed at the civilian population.
Gerard Henderson is executive director of The Sydney Institute.