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Speech: Israel

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 13 Apr 2018

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (13:00): Last week the United Nations Human Rights Council passed five resolutions against state actions in territories occupied by Israel. All five resolutions passed. The question then becomes: how did Australia vote? Australia and the United States are notable exceptions in being the only two countries which voted against each resolution. Australia voted against condemning the continued expansion of the Israeli illegal settlements. Australia voted against demanding an end to Israel's human rights abuses against Palestinians. Australia voted against the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. Australia voted against the call for an embargo against the arms trade with Israel.

It seems the Australian government has forgotten that we are a signatory to the binding Arms Trade Treaty that clearly states that a state should deny any export authorisation for arms trade that will be used in the act of breaching the 1949 Geneva conventions, directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such or used in other war crimes as defined by international agreements. We are a member of the ATT, yet Australia supports our industries to enter into contracts with Israeli arms manufacturers.

Late last year it was discovered that Bisalloy Steels in the Illawarra entered into a trade contract with Israeli weapons manufacturer Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. The discovery was quickly followed by a campaign organised by students and locals in the Illawarra on the South Coast of New South Wales, including the local Greens, calling on Bisalloy to reconsider the contract. That was quickly followed by a campaign by supporters of Bisalloy to discredit local organisers and the Greens with misinformation and unfounded condemnation by uncritical supporters of Israel.

Presumably trying to distance itself from accusations of war profiteering, Bisalloy did release a statement that the steel contracted for supply will only be—and these are their words—'used in applications that provide protection for people, property and valuables'. However, Rafael also announced that the steel supplied by Bisalloy will be used in their armoured fighting vehicles. Images of these armoured fighting vehicles clearly show that they are not designed to protect; they are designed to destroy. Bisalloy's steel might not be going to the production of bullets or bombs, but there is no doubt that these vehicles that will be made with Bisalloy Australian steel are weapons.

Let us not forget that there is strong evidence that Israeli armoured forces do commit war crimes and violate human rights. Numerous United Nations inquiries and investigators have raised those concerns, but, with the repeated complaint of being singled out by the UN and the unwavering support of the US, the Israeli government manages to avoid any serious scrutiny. The US has Israel's back, and it now appears that Australia does as well. Against Australia's international obligations and against the wishes of the majority of Australian people who rightly condemn the persecution of Palestinians living under Israel's oppressive control, the Australian government continues to stand on the wrong side of history and against humanity on this issue.

I touched on the company in the Illawarra. It's worth remembering the progressive history of this issue, particularly when it comes to standing up for people who are under the threat of war. The Illawarra has a proud tradition in this country of leading the charge in the struggle for peace. From the days of Pig Iron Bob, when wharfies refused to load scrap iron destined for Japan, which was at that time aggressively bombing China, through to being amongst the first in Australia to protest against apartheid in South Africa, the people of the Illawarra have stood up time and time again for humanity and for a peaceful world. I do believe that the work many of them are now doing in relation to the Bisalloy company right in their midst is in keeping with this tradition.

The Greens certainly acknowledge the need for there to be an expansion of the manufacturing industry. But we need a manufacturing industry that is looking to a peaceful world—a world where we can deal with environmental challenges, reduce inequality and ensure that there are jobs, particularly in regional areas, and not go down this path of relying on a war manufacturing industry. This tradition, which has been so rich in Israel, is something the campaign against Bisalloy manufacturing is working to address by taking on what Bisalloy Steels and Rafael are doing.

The Greens have always supported and will continue to support our local manufacturing industries. Australia needs to protect its onshore manufacturing capacity and capabilities, and Australian workers in all regions depend on the government to continue to develop our industries so that they may participate in the local, national and global market. But, again, that needs to be in the conduct of a peaceful world without Australia going down the very dangerous and irresponsible path of contributing to arms manufacturing and war situations in other countries. But our support should not extend to manufacturing used to profit from the ugly practice of war, particularly when it is destined for use by the government of a country that has been in, and continues to be in, violation of numerous UN resolutions and humanitarian laws.

The contract between Bisalloy and Rafael implicates Australia as an active agent in the Israeli government's violation of international laws and potentially as a facilitator of war crimes. The Greens believe Australia needs to end military ties with Israel, not strengthen them. That's a policy of the Greens, and we're pleased to be supporting the action around the Illawarra, which is part of how that need for action for peace in all parts of our world plays out.

Our manufacturing plants and our workers should not and must not partake in the market of profiteering from violence, death and destruction. The contract between Bisalloy and Rafael does not strengthen Australia's position in the global marketplace. It strengthens the grip of war and violence—which, sadly, is extending to more countries—and the grip of war and violence on Palestinians. We do support the campaigners who are being attacked through a series of lies and misinformation as they stand against Australian companies producing and selling parts of weapons of war, and against turning the Illawarra into a place in Australia where arms manufacturing and military base operations will be developed.

Being against war and violence is not radical. It's not something that people should be attacked over. It's something that they should be congratulated for; that they're working to build a more peaceful and more respectful society. It's certainly not a consequence of having a bleeding heart. Being against war, violence, destruction and large-scale suffering is surely what humanity should be about.


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