SPEECH: Hamas-Israel Conflict

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Education) (18:38): Last week, a Jewish friend of mine told me that he felt afraid to send his children to school here in Australia. The same day, a Muslim friend of mine told me that he was afraid his family in Gaza would not be alive tomorrow. We’re a long way away from what’s happening on the other side of the world, but it’s having an impact here. The fear, the angst and the anger are palpable.

It’s hard to believe that people are capable of the sort of evil that we’ve seen on display on our television screens: the murder of teenagers going to a festival, the murder of grandmothers, the murder of babies. It’s like a horror movie in real life, and we stand here together in condemnation of it. I think most of us are still reeling at the sickening barbarity of it, the indiscriminate evil of it. But as we saw those images we also knew what would come next—more violence, more death of innocent people. History tells us that, and we’re bearing witness to it again today with the destruction of the al-Ahli Arab Hospital and the death of hundreds of more innocent people. All of this just leads to more fear, more dread, more anger, more hate, there and here.

We can and we should condemn any indiscriminate attack and the targeting of civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, and we do. Australia joins with others in calling for international law to always be upheld. We are so lucky to live here in the best country in the world. I say often to my community that one of the reasons we are the best country in the world is that we are made up of people from all around the world—people from all different backgrounds, all different religions, all different cultures. We’re respectful of each other. We live next to each other, we are neighbours to each other, and we live in peace. In that sense, we are a symbol, we are a message to the rest of the world. But that is being tested at the moment too, and it will be tested even more in the days and weeks ahead if, as we suspect, more people die. We can’t control what is happening on the other side of the world, but we can make sure that what is happening there does not pull us apart here. What we do next matters. We have a responsibility, all of us as community leaders, to try to turn the temperature down.

We have an obligation to understand the fears of my two friends. They want us to know that every innocent life should be protected, Israeli and Palestinian. They want us to know that Hamas and Palestine are not the same thing. They want to be protected, and they want to feel safe here at home. In the lifetime of my grandparents, we have all seen the evil that antisemitism can reap, and in just the last few years in New Zealand we have seen what the poison of Islamophobia can produce. In the dark corners of our country, that scourge exists here too, and, where we see it, we must condemn it. But we can’t just condemn it and hope that it will go away. We have to work together to eliminate it. That’s our job as community leaders, and that’s what my two friends ask of us. Just like all of us, they dream of two countries, a two-state solution, no blockades and no terror, just two peoples living peacefully next door to one another.

That’s something we take for granted, like dropping off our kids at school and knowing they are going to come home safe, or teenagers going to a musical festival and having the time of their lives, or going to bed at night in your apartment and knowing that it won’t be rubble in the morning. The terrible truth, though, is that the horror of the last week or so means that that life for Israelis and Palestinians is now further away than ever. This moment is too important for politics or the sometimes petty squabbles of this place. This moment and this motion call on us—all of us—to come together: in grief for all those innocent lives already lost; in hope, however improbable, that there will be no more; and in belief, however hopeless things seem right now, that there is still a better world that lies ahead for my two friends.