Nick Rockel: RIMPAC 2024 training – NZ’s sabre dance with Israel ͏

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HMNZS Aotearoa, which returns this year, sails into Hawai'i’s Pearl Harbour
HMNZS Aotearoa, which returns this year, sails into Hawai'i’s Pearl Harbour at RIMPAC 2022. Image: NZDF

COMMENTARY: By Nick Rockel in Tāmaki Makaurau

This morning I did something I seldom do, I looked at the Twitter newsfeed.

Normally I take the approach of something that I’m not sure is an American urban legend, or genuinely something kids do over there. The infamous bag of dog poo on the front porch, set it on fire then ring the doorbell so the occupier will answer and seeing the flaming bag stamp it out.

In doing so they obviously disrupt the contents of the bag, quite forcefully, distributing it’s contents to the surprise, and annoyance, of said stamper.

So that’s normally what I do. Deposit a tweet on that platform, then duck for cover. In the scenario above the kid doesn’t hang around afterwards to see what the resident made of their prank.

I’m the same with Twitter. Get in, do what you’ve got to do, then get the heck out of there and enjoy the carnage from a distance.

But this morning I clicked on the Home button and the first tweet that came up in my feed was about an article in The Daily Blog:

Surely not?

I know our government hasn’t exactly been outspoken in condemning the massacre of Palestinians that has been taking place since last October — but we’re not going to take part in training exercises with them, are we? Surely not.

A massacre — not a rescue
A couple of days ago I was thinking about the situation in Gaza, and the recent so-called rescue of hostages that is being celebrated.

Look, I get it that every life is precious, that to the families of those hostages all that matters is getting them back alive. But four hostages freed and 274 Palestinians killed in the process — that isn’t a rescue — that’s a massacre.

Another one.

It reminds me of the “rescues” of the 1970s where they got the bad guys, but all the good guys ended up dead as well. According to some sources, and there are no really reliable sources here, the rescue also resulted in the deaths of three hostages.

While looking at reports on this training exercise, one statistic jumped out at me:

Israel has dropped more bombs on Gaza in eight months than were dropped on London, Hamburg and Dresden during the full six years of the Second World War. Israel is dropping these bombs on one of the most densely populated communities in the world.

It’s beyond comprehension. Think of how the Blitz in London is seared into our consciousness as being a terrible time — and how much worse this is.

Firestorm of destruction
As for Dresden, what a beautiful city. I remember when Fi and I were there back in 2001, arriving at the train station, walking along the river. Such a fabulous funky place. Going to museums — there was an incredible exhibition on Papua New Guinea when we were there, it seemed so incongruous to be on the other side of the world looking at exhibits of a Pacific people.

Most of all though I remember the rebuilt cathedral and the historical information about the bombing of that city at the end of the war. A firestorm of utter destruction. Painstakingly rebuilt, over decades, to its former beauty. Although you can still see the scars.

The ruins of Dresden following the Allied bombing in February 1945
The ruins of Dresden following the Allied bombing in February 1945 . . . about 25,000 people were killed. Image: www.military-history.org

Nobody will be rebuilding Gaza into a beautiful place when this is done.

The best case for the Palestinians at this point would be some sort of peacekeeping force on the ground and then decades of rebuilding. Everything. Schools, hospitals, their entire infrastructure has been destroyed — in scenes that we associate with the most destructive war in human history.

And we’re going to take part in training exercises with the people who are causing all of that destruction, who are massacring tens of thousands of civilians as if their lives don’t matter. Surely not.

NZ ‘honour and mana stained’
From Martyn Bradbury’s article in The Daily Blog:

It is outrageous in the extreme that the NZ Defence Force will train with the Israeli Defence Force on June 26th as part of the US-led (RIMPAC) naval drills!

Our military’s honour and mana is stained by rubbing shoulders with an Army that is currently accused of genocide and conducting a real time ethnic cleansing war crime.

It’s like playing paintball with the Russian Army while they are invading the Ukraine.

RIMPAC, the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise, is held in Hawai’i every second year. The name indicates a focus on the Pacific Rim, although many countries attend.

In 2024 there will be ships and personnel attending from 29 countries. The usual suspects you’d expect in the region — like the US, the Aussies, Canada, and some of our Pacific neighbours. But also countries from further abroad like France and Germany. As well of course as the Royal NZ Navy and the Israeli Navy.

Which is pretty weird. I know Israel have to pretend they’re in Europe for things like sporting competitions or Eurovision, with their neighbours unwilling to include them. But what on earth does Israel have to do with the Pacific Rim?

Needless to say those who oppose events in Gaza are not overly excited about us working together with the military force that’s doing almost all of the killing.

“We are calling on our government to withdraw from the exercise because of Israel’s ongoing industrial-scale slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza”, said Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa (PSNA) national chair, John Minto.

“Why would we want to join with a lawless, rogue state which has demonstrated the complete suite of war crimes over the past eight months?”

Whatever you might think of John Minto, he has a point.

Trade and travel embargo
Personally I think we, and others, should be undertaking a complete trade and travel embargo with Israel until the killing stops. The least we can do is not rub shoulders with them as allies. That’s pretty repugnant. I can’t imagine many young Kiwis signed up to serve their country like that.

The PSNA press release said, “Taking part in a military event alongside Israel will leave an indelible stain on this country. It will be a powerful symbol of New Zealand complicity with Israeli war crimes. It’s not on!”

Aotearoa is not the only country in which such participation is being questioned. In Malaysia, for example, a group of NGOs are urging the government there to withdraw:

“On May 24, the ICJ explicitly called for a halt in Israel’s Rafah onslaught. The Israeli government and opposition leaders, in line with the behaviour of a rogue lawless state, have scornfully dismissed the ICJ ruling,” it said.

“The world should stop treating it like a normal, law-abiding state if it wants Israeli criminality in Gaza and the West Bank to stop.

“We reiterate our call on the Malaysian government to immediately withdraw from Rimpac 2024 to drive home that message,” it said.

What do you think about our country taking part in this event, alongside Israel Military Forces, at this time?

Complicit as allies
To me it feels that in doing so we are in a small way complicit. By coming together as allies, in our region of the world, we’re condoning their actions with our own.

Valerie Morse of Peace Action Wellington had the following to say about New Zealand’s involvement in the military exercises:

“The depth and breadth of suffering in Palestine is beyond imagination. The brutality of the Israeli military knows no boundaries. This is who [Prime Minister] Christopher Luxon and Defence Minister Judith Collins have signed the NZ military up to train alongside.

“New Zealand must immediately halt its participation in RIMPAC. The HMNZS Aotearoa must be re-routed back home to Taranaki.

“This is not the first time that Israel has been a participant in RIMPAC so it would not have been a surprise to the NZ government. It would have been quite easy to take the decision to stay out of RIMPAC given what is happening in Palestine. That Luxon and Collins have not done so shows that they lack even a basic moral compass.”

The world desperately needs strong moral leadership at this time, it needs countries to take a stand against Israel and speak up for what is right.

There’s only so much that a small country like ours can do, but we can hold our heads high and refuse to have anything to do with Israel until they stop the killing.

Is that so hard Mr Luxon?

Nick Rockel is a “Westie Leftie with five children, two dogs, and a wonderful wife”. He is the publisher of Nick’s Kōrero where this article was first published. It is republished here with permission. Read on to subscribe to Nick’s substack articles.

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