From the battle of Beersheba to the war on Syria: Australia is complicit in Israel’s crimes

American Herald Tribune | DAVID MACILWAIN: On a sunny Saturday morning in late December 2008, new police recruits were gathered outside the town hall in Gaza city for their graduation ceremony. Tensions were high in the strip because of persistent threats from the IDF that they would strike hard against Hamas militants if any more rockets were fired into Israeli territory, but it was a Jewish holiday and the recruits were relaxed.

Ten minutes later those 40 recruits lay dead, along with 180 others in 24 police stations and in Hamas offices across Gaza, mown down by a barrage of fire from Israeli jets and armed drones. So began the 22 day massacre named “Operation Cast Lead”, during which the IDF slaughtered at least 1400 civilians and laid waste to 40,000 homes as well as Gaza’s water and sewage treatment works and power station.

The inhuman generals and soldiers of the IDF used every tool in their armoury to inflict pain, not on the militants and their home-made rockets – who remained unbowed – but on all the ordinary and defenceless citizens of Gaza – old men and young girls, infants and mothers; whole families even were butchered in this sadistic and unrestrained barbarity.

While one tool in Israel’s armoury – nuclear weapons – didn’t feature in Operation Cast Lead, it was the only exclusion. Gaza was shelled from the sea, and by tanks from behind. Missiles were fired from Predator Drones, and from fighter jets, some with mere explosives and others with “Flechette” shells, DIME shells and White Phosphorus. And when a ground invasion was launched following the initial “softening up”, Israeli snipers and tanks committed more unspeakable crimes, using children as human shields.

Gaza was also hit with 5 tonne bunker busters, putting on a great show for the Israelis who had gathered on a nearby hill at the invitation of the IDF and the Defence Minister Ehud Barak. They were so proud of their skin-eating incendiaries that Barak even used video of the spectacular White Phosphorus showers in his campaign for election. It didn’t work, as Netanyahu was elected, but Israelis never got to see the horrific pictures of children with burns through to the bone caused by the illegal use of this chemical weapon.

Meanwhile in the Western world, which was already well on the way to its current state of “collective unconsciousness” of the state of Palestine thanks to the power of the Israel lobby on Western media, there was no outcry against Israel’s brutality, or calls for it to stop its attack. Israel had carefully framed the narrative months before, breaking a six-month long ceasefire by launching a provocative airstrike on November 4th. Hamas had kept to the ceasefire and controlled the militants responsible for rocket fire, which was the last thing that Israel wanted; a new rocket “attack” on Israel soon followed its provocation as expected, and Israel was “forced to respond in self-defence”.

As the birthplace of Rupert Murdoch and his paper “The Australian”, the view of Australians on Israel’s latest atrocity against its indigenous inhabitants was as ill-informed as in other Western countries. Supporters of Palestine and human rights were pilloried as supporters of “terrorism”, and both parties in Parliament supported “Israel’s right to self-defence”. This was despite near zero casualties of Israelis, who were never seriously threatened by Hamas’ rockets, and the assault went on until just before the inauguration of President Obama when Israel announced a “unilateral ceasefire”.

While there was a group of MPs in the Australian Labor party who supported the Palestinian cause, they also mostly supported groups like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, as well as the UN. These groups were consistent in calling for “both sides” to refrain from violence, as well as supporting the “Peace Process” and the “two-state solution”; all positions that failed to identify Israel as the aggressor and to hold it responsible for the death and destruction inflicted by its “most moral army in the world”.

There was however a significant amount of protest from other parts of the world, and calls for an investigation at the UN led to an inquiry visiting Gaza and later issuing the “Goldstone Report”, which accused “both sides” of war crimes. The Australian Labor government of Kevin Rudd rejected its findings as biased against Israel, when any fair-minded person could see that Israel had not only committed multiple war crimes but that it had launched the attack on Gaza’s captive population for its own entirely illegitimate reasons – not in “self-defence”.

The defining point in the Australia-Israel relationship however occurred in June 2009, when Deputy PM Julia Gillard visited Israel, as reported in the Melbourne Age:

In front of an elite audience of Israeli politicians, academics and cultural figures at a dinner at the landmark King David Hotel, senior Israeli minister Isaac Herzog paid a warm tribute to Ms. Gillard for her support for Israel during the Gaza conflict in January.

“You stood almost alone on the world stage in support of Israel’s right to defend itself,” enthused Mr. Herzog, an act of courage he said would never be forgotten by the people of Israel.

Ms. Gillard was Acting Prime Minister when Israel launched a three-week offensive against Hamas that resulted in the deaths of more than 1300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

At the time, Ms. Gillard condemned Hamas for shelling southern Israel, but pointedly refused to criticise Israel’s response, although she did urge it to be “very mindful” of civilian casualties.

Lest we forget!

Because the Australia-Israel relationship blossomed last week in a way that should offend the senses of all decent Australians and Israelis, as well as alarm the citizens of Syria and Lebanon who find themselves in Israel’s firing line. Marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba, in which allied forces including hundreds of Australian horsemen overran Turkish defences in the town, marking the beginning of the end of Ottoman control in the Levant, Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull interpreted it like this, for the benefit of his Israeli friends; (no Palestinian representatives were invited to the celebration and re-enactment, despite “Arabs” being partners in the Allied campaign.) – and referencing the Balfour agreement that followed:

“Had the Ottoman rule in Palestine and Syria not been overthrown, the declaration would have been empty words. But this was a step for the creation of Israel.

“While those young men may not have foreseen — no doubt did not foresee — the extraordinary success of the state of Israel, its foundations, its resilience, its determination, their spirit was the same.

“And, like the state of Israel has done ever since, they defied history, they made history, and with their courage they fulfilled history. Lest we forget.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the Anzac soldiers for their bravery, saying the liberation of Beersheba, “allowed the Jewish people to re-enter the stage of history”.

Mr Netanyahu used his address at the solemn ceremony to warn against attacks on Israel, saying, “We attack those who seek to attack us.”

Nice sentiment!

While Turnbull and Netanyahu have evidently forgotten that Israel wasn’t created for another thirty years, or would rather that we “remembered” it as something our brave forbears fought for, neither the Palestinians who were subsequently evicted from their lives in Beersheba and into the Gaza “refugee camp”, nor the Arab cameleers who took part in the assault have forgotten the betrayal. This came with unseemly haste, as the Balfour declaration was issued a mere three days later.

In the days before the Beersheba ceremony, the Australian contingent led by Turnbull, but including the current Labor leader Bill Shorten, had worked hard to forge new partnerships and business links with Israel in the things that Israel does well – surveillance, counter terrorism and defence, and IT industries. Australia already has significant links with Israel in these and other areas, which has made it the focus of some BDS activity at home. But even as conditions in Gaza and the West Bank have continued to worsen and illegal settlements grown into effectively an annexation of Palestinian land, the BDS movement has been stifled.

All of this does not augur well. Australia and Israel are already “collaborating” in Syria, as far as they are both indirectly and directly supporting terrorist groups fighting the Syrian Army and its Hezbollah allies. As recent Israeli actions on the Lebanese-Syrian border and in the occupied Golan Heights demonstrate a bull-headed approach to a conflict that Israel should now be withdrawing from, these moves towards strengthening the alliance with Australia – which already has close links with the UAE and other Persian Gulf states – look all too much like forward planning for a long-feared new war on South Lebanon.

And who could forget the last one, where Hezbollah successfully prevailed against the IDF in 2006? The children of South Lebanon, who lost arms and legs to “dud” cluster bomblets for years afterwards have not forgotten. And those who learnt of his crime at the time have not forgotten the “retribution” commanded by Moshe Kaplinsky, where Israeli aircraft dropped an estimated 3.7 million cluster bombs in the last three days of the assault, and after ceasefire terms had been agreed.

While there were decent men in the IDF who at least recognised this monstrous war crime they had been ordered to commit, it had no ill effect on General Kaplinsky’s “executive” career. Rather the opposite in fact, as an examination of the records of Israel’s leaders would show. It’s not something we should forget.

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