Mr Chris Hayes MP, Member for Fowler talked on Wednesday 13 February regarding his experiences during the cross-party parliamentary delegation visit to Palestine in January 2019.
From a young age, my upbringing caused me to know that the Jews have historically been a much persecuted people. For this reason, I’ve always supported the right of a Jewish state to exist.
However, I’ve become increasingly concerned about the hostilities in the Israeli-occupied territories, as well as the lack of progress being made for the creation of a Palestinian state.
Palestinians, too, have the right to exist and enjoy statehood.
Last month I had the privilege of visiting Palestine as part of a cross-party delegation led by the member for Calwell. For the most part, the visit centered around the Israeli-occupied areas of Palestine and the need for greater efforts by the international community to break the stalemate in the peace process so that a two-state solution may become a reality.
Entering Palestine via Jericho, I saw the profound impact that the settlements were having on local Palestinian communities, including critical elements concerning access to water, land, roads, infrastructure and their effect on local economies.
Apart from being significant violations of internationally recognised human rights, these issues are an affront to humanity. Discussions must be about ending the occupation based on the 1967 territorial borders. Labor has already determined that, unless genuine efforts are made in this respect, a move to recognise Palestine is inevitable.
My visit to Palestine reinforced the need for a renewed commitment to security.
Recognition of Palestine is not a rejection of Israel but rather a recognition of the rights of the people of both Israel and Palestine to live in peace and security.
During my visit, I had the opportunity of speaking to Breaking The Silence. This organisation comprises former military members of the Israeli Defence Force who served in the occupied territories. It offered a confronting perspective of the methods and rules of engagement of the IDF, including the strong relationship between settlers and the members of the IDF in the West Bank.
I was told that Israeli settlers are regularly involved in operational activities that involve carrying out violence against Palestinians and their properties.
These courageous Israelis who spoke out did so because they are patriots. They strongly believe that Israel’s future security can be guaranteed only by living in peace with their Palestinian neighbours.
They emphasised the importance for Israel to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians to reach a two-state solution, noting the implications for peace, democracy and security if a just solution is not achieved.
The nature of the Israel-Palestinian conflict was certainly highlighted in Hebron, where I was taken to visit a number of Palestinian homes. It was particularly disturbing to see that for some the only access they had to their houses was through a back entrance or via an adjacent property of their neighbour’s due to the segregated areas and Israeli-only streets. As Australians, we cannot contemplate this type of discrimination or this level of separation, control and restriction of movement.
While the Labor Party has held off recognising Palestine, believing that this is an issue that should be properly part of the final negotiations, the recent escalation of violence and the growth in settlements have seen the balance of power shift disproportionately in favour of the Israeli government, which now seems to lack a genuine commitment to a just settlement.
It is very hard to understand how a country based on religious belief can lack such compassion for the rights of others. My visit reiterated the fact that this issue is not one of religion but rather one of human rights.
We must continue to ensure that the plight of Palestinians remains firmly in the focus of the international community if we are to work towards progressing lasting peace between these two great states. In the words of Pope Francis:
The time has come for everyone to find … the courage to forge a peace, which rests on the acknowledgment by all of the right of two States to exist and to live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders.