New Zealand lacking principles on Israeli occupation of Palestine

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Deadly incursions by the Israeli State into Gaza and the Occupied West Bank
The deadly incursions by the Israeli State into Gaza and the Occupied West Bank has resulted in thousands of needless Palestinians deaths on their own land since it was illegally occupied by Israel in 1967. Image: Newsroom/Hosny Salah/Pixabay

COMMENTARY: By John Hobbs and Richard Jackson in Dunedin

The New Zealand government’s silence on the thousands of Palestinian deaths in the ongoing Gaza conflict with Israel fails the Palestinian people and perpetuates injustice, as this Newsroom article reports.


The recent Israeli incursion into Gaza (Breaking Dawn) has killed 49 Palestinians, including 17 children. Not that many New Zealanders would know much about this.

It has received little coverage by the New Zealand press, and the New Zealand government has made no public comments on the situation.

It was only a year ago that Israel attacked Gaza under the banner Operation Guardian of the Walls, killing more than 260 Palestinians, including 67 children.

New Zealand, by remaining silent, in effect plays its part in giving a free pass to Israel to continue with its ongoing attacks on Gaza and the other Palestinian territories it occupies.

In 2014, Operation Protective Edge killed more than 2000 Palestinian people, including more than 500 children. Operation Cast Lead in 2008 killed some 1400 Palestinian people, including 300 children.

Operation Summer Rains and Operation Autumn Clouds in 2006 were similarly destructive in terms of the loss of Palestinian life.

Indeed, Defence for Children International estimates that 2218 Palestinian children have been killed across the Occupied Palestinian Territories since 2000. Notwithstanding the sanitising rhetoric that frames them, the deadly incursions by the Israeli State into Gaza and the Occupied West Bank has resulted in thousands of needless Palestinian deaths on their own land, since it was illegally occupied by Israel in 1967.

Is the New Zealand government’s silence because the Israeli incursions into Occupied Palestine are so commonplace they are not worthy of coverage any more? Or has the loss of Palestinian life become so normalised it fails to generate the horror the loss of Ukrainian life appropriately elicits from the New Zealand public?

NZ gives Israel ‘free pass’
New Zealand, by remaining silent, in effect plays its part in giving a free pass to Israel to continue with its ongoing attacks on Gaza and the other Palestinian territories it occupies.

This includes daily military incursions into Palestinian homes in the Occupied West Bank, resulting in ongoing loss of life.

Israel is bound by the Fourth Geneva Convention to protect the human and civil rights of the individuals living under its occupation. That Israel has been able to ignore these responsibilities enshrined in international law, and the multiple resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council condemning its behaviour, is a failure of the international community, including New Zealand.

It is incumbent on New Zealand to firmly stand behind the Palestinian people, as our silence perpetuates the injustice, fails to hold Israel to account, and does not align with our stated principled and independent values-based approach to foreign policy.

During New Zealand’s time on the United Nations Security Council in 2015-2016, it played an important role in advancing a Resolution (UNSC 2334) to halt further illegal Israeli settlement expansion in the Occupied West Bank.

However, beyond this setting, and the once-in-a-generation opportunity to participate (1993-1994 being the last time), we do little to voice our concerns and remain largely silent.

Accordingly, it’s hard to know what motivates the New Zealand government on the conflict. Having successfully shepherded Resolution 2334 in 2016 we have failed to speak up as Israel has rapidly continued with its settlements programme in the Occupied West Bank and Occupied East Jerusalem.

8 Palestinian villages for demolition
As a result of a recent Israeli Supreme Court decision, eight Palestinian villages in Masafer Yatta in Southern Hebron, containing 1200 residents, will be demolished by Israel to secure it for a firing/security zone — which in turn will almost certainly become Israeli settlements.

Again, the New Zealand government has remained silent.

We have also failed to advance one of the key clauses of UNSC 2334, which calls on states to “distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”. Practically, this implies the inclusion of a differentiated country of origin labelling regime by the member states of the United Nations.

The New Zealand government has been completely silent on this requirement.

As New Zealand governments have repeatedly said, we operate a principled and independent foreign policy. But it is clear we are failing the Palestinian people in terms of our own stated values.

We either say nothing or adopt a neutral and benign linguistic position that appears to be critical of the latest human rights abuses but fails to hold Israel to account. We talk of supporting the Peace Process (Oslo Accords 1993) and a two-state solution but fail to do anything proactively to keep this possibility alive.

One might argue there is simply nothing to be gained from New Zealand seeking to advance the resolution of the conflict. After all we are a small country, and our focus must be closer to home, so the argument goes.

But this fails to explain our involvement in Ukraine, and Afghanistan in the recent past.

Risk of ‘upsetting US’
What appears to be more relevant is the risk of upsetting our key ally the United States, which is deeply invested in the conflict and its geostrategic interest in supporting Israel at all costs.

However, this position is indefensible as it implies a severely self-interested and limited foreign policy position, one inconsistent with Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s early statements about adopting a values-based approach to foreign policy — which include the values of manaaki (kindness), whanaunga (connectedness), mahi tahi and kotahitanga (shared aspiration), and kaitiaki (stewardship).

The absence of a New Zealand government voice on the conflict or its carefully crafted neutral rhetoric, designed not to give offence to its close Western English-speaking alliance friends, fails the Palestinian people miserably.

It is incumbent on New Zealand to firmly stand behind the Palestinian people, as our silence perpetuates the injustice, fails to hold Israel to account, and does not align with our stated principled and independent values-based approach to foreign policy.

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