John Minto: Time for NZ to speak up clearly for Palestinian rights and international law

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Palestine, West Papua and Western Sahara are places where the indigenous people are struggling for freedom and human rights. Cartoon: © Malcolm Evans

ANALYSIS: By John Minto

When Nanaia Mahuta was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, there were hopes for a change in government thinking towards the struggles of indigenous people. The minister said she hoped to bring her experience and cultural identity as an indigenous woman to her role on international issues.

Palestine, West Papua and Western Sahara are places where the indigenous people are struggling for freedom and human rights and early on there was hope New Zealand would join the 138 member states of the United Nations that recognise Palestine.

However the hope has faded and Mahuta finally spoke on Tuesday, via a tweet, saying she was “deeply concerned” about the deteriorating situation in Jerusalem and Gaza. She called for a “rapid de-escalation” from Israel and the Palestinians, for Israel to “cease demolitions and evictions” and for “both sides to halt steps which undermine prospects for a two-state solution”.

Speaking with reporters later she said she did not want to apportion blame and in a further statement on Thursday said New Zealand officials had raised Israel’s “continued violation of international law and forced evictions occurring in East Jerusalem” with the Israeli ambassador.

Mahuta speaks as though there was some kind of political or military equality between Israel and Palestinians. But there isn’t.

In reality, it means the minister is appeasing the highly militarised state of Israel, with which we have extensive bilateral relations, against a largely defenceless indigenous Palestinian population that lives under Israeli occupation and/or control.

She is addressing only the symptoms of the problem. The heart of the problem is that for the past 53 years Israel has run what the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organisation Human Rights Watch has called “crimes of apartheid and persecution” against Palestinians.

NZ Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta
NZ Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta speaks as though there was some kind of political or military equality between Israel and Palestinians. But there isn’t. Image: Dom Thomas/RNZ

Their detailed 213-page HRW report on Israel’s systematic abuses of Palestinians across the entire area of historic Palestine was released earlier this year.

With tensions rising, Israel this month mounted an extraordinary brutal attack on Muslim worshippers as they were praying in the Al Aqsa mosque in occupied East Jerusalem. This mosque is the third holiest site for Muslims and this was seen around the world as an outrage against all of Islam.

Isradeli apartheid in HRW report
The heart of the problem is that for the past 53 years Israel has run what the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organisation Human Rights Watch has called “crimes of apartheid and persecution” against Palestinians. Image: APR screenshot HRW

From there the Hamas leadership in Gaza, after issuing an ultimatum to Israel to withdraw security forces from Al Aqsa, began firing rockets into Israel, which has responded with heavy bombing of the densely populated Gaza strip.

I have a T-shirt that says “The first casualty of war is truth, the rest are mostly civilians” and so it has been this past week, with Palestinians bearing the brunt of casualties with many dozens killed, including at least 60 children.

Despite all this, anyone reading the minister’s comments would think both sides are equally to blame when the problem lies with Israel’s denial of human rights to Palestinians over as many decades as the issue has remained unresolved.

So what should a small country at the bottom of the world do to influence events in the Middle East? The answer is simple. New Zealand should implement its existing policy on the Middle East and give it some teeth.

It is a policy based on respect for international law and United Nations resolutions. These should be at the heart of our response and direct what we say, how we say it and what we do.

This means the government should demand the following:

  • An end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land (UN Security Council resolution 242) and the right of return for Palestinian refugees expelled by Israeli militias (UN General Assembly resolution 194 – reaffirmed every year since 1949).
  • The end of the more than 65 laws discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel (These are illegal under the crime of apartheid as defined by the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court).
  • Israel stop building Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land (UN Security Council resolution 2334 which was co-sponsored by New Zealand under John Key’s National Government). These settlements are illegal under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Initially Israel will take not a blind bit of notice and these calls will need to be followed by escalating sanctions.

It’s time for the minister to speak up unequivocally for Palestinian human rights and bring Aotearoa New Zealand on to the right side of history.

John Minto is the national chair of the Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa (PSNA). This article was first published by The New Zealand Herald and is republished by Asia Pacific Report with permission.

Palestinian children and Gaza bomb site
[Following an attack on the Islam’s third most holy shrine by Israel security forces] the Hamas leadership in Gaza, after issuing an ultimatum to Israel to withdraw security forces from Al Aqsa, began firing rockets into Israel, which has responded with heavy bombing of the densely populated Gaza strip. Image: Said Khatib/AFP/Al Jazeera
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