Topics:  Joint Prime Ministers statement; Parliamentary delegation in Israel;

07:20AM AEDT
13 December 2023


Sabra Lane:  A group of Australian politicians is in Israel. The Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham, is leading the cross-party delegation, and I spoke with him a short time ago. He was in Jerusalem. Senator, do you support this statement and its calls for a sustainable ceasefire?

Simon Birmingham: Well, Sabra, I’ve had a chance to quickly review the statement. It makes a few key points about what must be in a ceasefire, and that is that Hamas would have to release all hostages, that they would have to lay down all of their arms, and they would have to stop using Palestinians as human shields. Now, ultimately, if Hamas did all of those things, I’m sure there would be a ceasefire. That is exactly what we have been calling for and we would call for. Of course, the statement does appear in some ways to try to be all things to all people in the way it’s presented, but ultimately, those are the key points.  That for there to be any chance of long-lasting peace, in any way to avoid repeats of the horrors that occurred on October the 7th, Hamas needs to lay down its arms. It needs to surrender its terrorist operatives, and it needs to release all of the hostages it continues to hold.

Sabra Lane: The leaders say that they are also deeply concerned by the scale of the crisis in Gaza and the risk to all Palestinian lives, calling for safe, unimpeded humanitarian access, saying it must be increased and sustained. You met with the Palestinian Authority today. Have they told you about what they’re seeing and do you share those concerns and calls?

Simon Birmingham: I think anyone with any sense of humanity feels enormous pain for what has been a huge loss of innocent lives of children and others from Hamas attacks on October 7th, their continuous use of Palestinians as human shields, and of course, all of the humanitarian consequences there. In discussions with the Palestinian Authority and with the Israeli government we’ve talked about humanitarian access, the fact that there are instances where Hamas commandeers humanitarian convoys. The welcome news this week that Israel is supporting the opening of a new entry point, or the reopening of an entry point, into Gaza to allow for more humanitarian access to get in. That is crucial and critical. But ultimately, all of this, of course, would not have happened if the events of October 7th hadn’t occurred and could come to an end if Hamas ceased its terrorism, its warfare, and its use of Palestinians as human shields.

Sabra Lane: You’ve highlighted the Hamas extremists and what they’ve done, but what about the innocent Palestinians caught up in this?

Simon Birmingham: Well, tragically, the innocent Palestinians are indeed caught up as Hamas is buried into a tunnel network that is larger in some reports than the New York subway system. The Hamas terrorists have used schools, hospitals and other infrastructure as means to hide their military operations. That, of course, makes this an incredibly complex and difficult situation. Now, we all want to see an end to human suffering, but nobody should want to see a situation where there is a premature end and ultimately Hamas simply regroups, rearms and recommits the types of atrocities that happened on the 7th of October.

Sabra Lane: This statement says also that defeating Hamas cannot be at the continuous suffering of all Palestinian civilians, and the forcible displacement of Palestinians and reoccupation of Gaza. Do you share those views?

Simon Birmingham: Well, that is where we have to be clear and have moral clarity about the fact that Hamas’s objective on the 7th of October and ongoing objective, which they have publicly stated, is to kill Jews. They targeted… targeted, innocent civilians, babies, the elderly and others. Now Israel is undertaking a military operation that is targeting Hamas. Sadly, there is a loss of innocent life that comes with that, and we would all wish that it wasn’t so. But we cannot lose sight of the moral reality that Hamas’s objective is not against the Israeli military, it’s against Jewish people, full stop. That is something that needs to be brought to an end, to give any chance of having both Palestinian people and Jewish people and Israeli citizens able to live peacefully side by side, which is what we all want to see.

Sabra Lane: Yeah. You’ve visited sites that Hamas attacked, and you’ve met the Palestinian Authority and you’ve met survivors of these attacks. What was your message to both?

Simon Birmingham: Well, the message has been very clearly that Australia, and particularly this delegation, is clear in our support for Israel in the right to self-defence and the right to remove Hamas as a threat, in expectations of there being due regard for international law in the way this is undertaken, the importance of humanitarian access. We have delivered all of those points, but of course, also a simple demonstration of human compassion about the horrors and the tragedies that have unfolded and were committed by Hamas, and the need to ensure that doesn’t occur again. We’ve also had very important conversations about how to tackle the rise in antisemitism, and that is something that we face in Australia and needs to be something that we all commit ourselves to, to ensure the cohesion and harmony within our own communities too.

Sabra Lane: Simon Birmingham, thanks for talking to AM.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Sabra. My pleasure.