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“Silence becomes complicity”: MPs and other health professionals urged to take stand on Gaza

Marie McInerney writes:

Australian health professionals, particularly those in the federal Parliament, are being urged to speak out strongly to demand an end to the atrocities being committed by Israel in Gaza, and have been warned that “silence becomes complicity when a whole population that is in extremis is deprived of food, medical care and other essentials”.

The call, from the Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia), comes as the latest report from the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied territories, Francesca Albanese, concludes that “the threshold indicating the commission of the crime of genocide” has been met now by Israel in Gaza.

“Specifically, Israel has committed three acts of genocide with the requisite intent, causing seriously serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, and imposing measures intended to prevent birth within the group,” says Albanese in the report, titled, Anatomy of a Genocide.

Israel has said that it “utterly rejects” Albanese’s report, calling it “an obscene inversion of reality”.

The MAPW wrote on Wednesday to six federal MPs who are health professionals – two of whom are Ministers with health portfolios, saying this week’s UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire “has removed any shred of justification that some might claim existed for the continuation of Israel’s actions”.

The MPs are: Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney, Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Emma McBride, Dr Mike Freelander (Labor), Dr Gordon Reid (Labor), Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah (Labor) and Dr Monique Ryan (Independent). Reid’s office has since told Croakey of the MP’s efforts to raise related concerns, including in a recent speech, and Freelander also provided a response (more details follow below).

MAPW president Dr Sue Wareham said the organisation had also written to thank independent MPs Dr Helen Haines and Dr Sophie Scamps, also health professionals, who have spoken out strongly and voted for parliamentary resolutions for a ceasefire.

Croakey last month published an article by Dr Scamps, who was a GP with public health qualifications before becoming Independent Federal MP for Mackellar, on her call for a ceasefire in Gaza and urging the Australian Government to immediately resume financial support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

In the letter to the other MPs, MAPW links to the statement it issued last week, saying that Australia is an “accomplice” to the horrors occurring in Gaza and that accountability will be required “not only for the perpetrators of the genocide in Gaza but also for those who failed to do whatever possible to stop it”.

“The Australian Government has failed to recognise multiple, credible, repeated instances of breaches of international law by Israel, and failed to set conditions for further political or military support,” MAPW said, noting that the latter involves exports of vital weapons components, and research and technology partnerships and exchanges.

“Australia is therefore complicit with this genocide,” it said, pointing to multiple parliamentary resolutions on Gaza that have been defeated, including:

  • Amendment to include condemnation of Israel war crimes, 16/10/23
  • Motion to recognise the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling, humanitarian catastrophe 7/2/24
  • Motion to recognise ICJ ruling, humanitarian catastrophe, end support for Israel 18/3/24
  • Motion to immediately end all trade of military equipment with the state of Israel 25/3/24

MAPW says the steps Australia could readily take immediately include:

  • Political pressure on Israel to achieve full and unimpeded access of aid to all regions of Gaza, and
    a permanent ceasefire and an end to the siege of Gaza.
  • Explicit prohibition on sales of weapons and weapons components to Israel.
  • Transparency on compliance with, and accountability for, all of Australia’s international obligations towards the people of Gaza, including those set out in the Genocide Convention.

“Healthcare in Gaza is now virtually destroyed, starvation is setting in and food and humanitarian aid continue to be blocked,” it says.

Quoting UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini that the Gaza assault “is a war on children”, MAPW says the situation is “particularly intolerable” for children, with starvation imposed “upon relentless bombing, multiple displacements and other profound traumas”.

“Health professionals have a profound responsibility to speak out,” it says.

“If you have not done so, the time to speak out is rapidly passing as the destruction of Gaza and her people continues.  MAPW urges you, as a health professional, to do so, with conscience, and in accordance with our shared medical and humanitarian values.”

MAPW is urging its members to also contact the health professionals in Parliament, with a message such as:

I am a [health profession]. I’m writing to you as a fellow health professional to ask you to act in accordance with our shared values, and work to stop an unfolding genocide in Gaza. We have an ethical obligation to prevent human suffering, and to not be complicit with the dehumanisation and destruction of any people, anywhere. As an MP, you can initiate and support more urgent and decisive action to protect the people of Palestine, and to achieve a permanent ceasefire. 

Anatomy of a Genocide

Releasing her report this week, ‘Anatomy of a Genocide’, the UN’s Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese implored UN member states to abide by their obligations, in the wake of the UN Security Council resolution, which start with imposing an arms embargo and sanctions on Israel.

Under international law, genocide is defined as a specific set of acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.

Albanese told the UN that an analysis of the patterns of violence and Israel’s policies in its onslaught on Gaza leads to the conclusion that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating Israel’s commission of genocide is met”.

“One of the key findings is that Israel’s executive and military leadership and soldiers have intentionally distorted jus in bello [international humanitarian law] principles, subverting their protective functions, in an attempt to legitimise genocidal violence against the Palestinian people,” the report says.

You can watch a media conference with Albanese here, and also see this brief video address by Francesca Albanese via X/Twitter).

Israel’s statement in response to the report, shared by the UN, said the very attempt to level the charge of genocide against Israel “is an outrageous distortion of the Genocide Convention”.

“It is an attempt to empty the word genocide of its unique force and special meaning; and turn the Convention itself into a tool of terrorists, who have total disdain for life and for the law, against those trying to defend against them,” it said.

Israel said its war is against Hamas, not Palestinian civilians.

New fears as Rafah bombed

Media reported today that Ireland is to seek to widen the definition of genocide to include blocking humanitarian aid in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) case against Israel launched by South Africa.

“First of all there needs to be accountability for what has happened in Gaza, but secondly we want to influence the future conduct of war,” Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin was quoted as saying, warning that half the population of Gaza is facing famine and all are experiencing food insecurity.

Overnight Israel was reported to have bombed at least four homes in Rafah, “raising new fear among the more than a million Palestinians sheltering in the last refuge on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip that a long-threatened ground assault could be coming”, Reuters reported.

MSF International’s head of mission in Gaza Léo Cans warned that any attack on Rafah would be “catastrophic and inhuman and lead to mass civilian causalities”, saying there are “way too many people trapped in a small area” and describing the situation as a whole in Gaza as a “nightmare”.

“If there is an attack on Rafah, we just don’t know where to put the patients. There is no place for the patients to go,” he said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is warning that Gaza health system is “in tatters”, while the UN Children’s Fund, (UNICEF) says at least 212 schools have been directly hit by Israeli bombardment , with 53 schools “totally destroyed”, since conflict began on 7 October 2023 with the Hamas attack on Israel.

UNICEF spokesman James Elder tweeted overnight there had been “so much hope” in Gaza following Monday’s UN Security Council resolution.

“That hope, night after night is being drowned out by bombs,” he said.

Responses from MPs

Croakey has approached the six MPs contacted by MAPW and will publish their responses below.

Dr Gordon Reid’s office (MP for Robertson, NSW) replied:

Dr Reid had requested and receives updates from MSF (Doctors Without Borders) and regularly raises this information with his colleagues in Caucus.

Further, Dr Reid recently provided a speech in the Australian Parliament on the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, which you can view below and here.

Dr Mike Freelander (MP for Macarthur, NSW) replied:

Like many, I am greatly concerned by the terrible tragedy on both sides and I support measures that will lead to a peaceful outcome.

I do not believe the present Israeli Government should be supported and I am very concerned about its actions.

There are major issues about a longer term peace and the continuing actions of the Israeli Government, such as expanding West Bank settlements and other anti-Palestinian actions, and the failure to understand the human rights of Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin are major roadblocks to lasting peace.

I believe more should be done to provide aid for those in Gaza who are innocent victims of this conflict but I also believe that the Australian Government is doing its best to provide support and aid to the people of Palestine when considering the logistic difficulties, nevertheless, we are committed to providing aid. It is also clear that we will need to help foster rebuilding efforts with financial and material support once there is peace.

I have met with constituents and local organisations who have been affected by this conflict and I am doing my best to support them during this challenging time, such as advocating to the Department of Home Affairs for Palestinians to receive safe passage to Australia.


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