Australia/Israel Review


Noted and Quoted – August 2023

Aug 4, 2023 | AIJAC staff

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Claims and counterclaims

Media coverage regarding the 12 Palestinians killed during Israel’s two-day Jenin operation, dubbed “House and Garden”, varied widely on whether they were civilians or members of terror organisations. In fact, of course, all 12 were armed terrorists. 

On ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (July 4), Palestinian Red Crescent Society spokesperson Nebal Fazarkh claimed, “According to the Palestinian health, the latest number of injuries is around seven murders in Jenin and more than around 100 injuries… Our staff has evacuated more than 500 families from the Jenin refugee camp. Everyone is targeted. I can say most of the victims are civilians.”

The next day on “Breakfast”, former aide to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Aviv Bushinsky, insisted that “as far as we know and as the report that we received here in Israel, that there are no civilian casualties.” Bushinsky said if it turned out that there were civilian fatalities, it was “due to the terrorists that are… locating themselves specifically in this area where the mosques are, where the hospitals are, where the schools are.”

On ABC News Radio (July 5), former IDF spokesperson Jonathan Conricus rejected claims the IDF had blocked ambulances and medical personnel from treating “wounded civilian Palestinians”. He explained that terrorists “are using Palestinian civilians, their homes, mosques, hospitals and schools as their launch pad for operations against Israelis. And that is unfortunately where Israel has to go in and defend itself.”

 

Over the Hedge

ABC Middle East correspondent Allyson Horn’s report on News Radio (July 4) said that “at least eight Palestinians have been killed. It’s unclear if any are civilians.”

On “AM” (July 5), Horn said, “at least 11 Palestinians have now been killed, including several militants”. Her report on “AM” the next day, said, “of the 12 Palestinians killed, many were militants.”

Meanwhile, on SBS TV “World News” (July 4), the newsreader said ten Palestinians were killed with “Palestinian militant groups say[ing] five of the dead are fighters, but it is not clear if the others were combatants or civilians.” The next day, the SBS TV “World News” bulletin claimed, “Those killed include 12 Palestinians, five described as gunmen.”

On July 5 the Hobart Mercury simply stated that “Israeli armed forces have killed nine Palestinians,” while the West Australian reported “the two-day Palestinian death toll rose to 10.”

 

Combatting disinformation

The Australian (July 11) published UK Times correspondent Catherine Philp’s report alleging that Israel shot dead unarmed 16-year-old Palestinian boy Abdulrahman Hasan Ahmad Hardan during “House and Garden”, while attempting to discredit claims Hardan was a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fighter.

Philp, who has a history of anti-Israel social media posts, reported that “video has emerged of the moment an unarmed 16-year-old Palestinian boy was shot dead by a sniper during the Jenin military operation… demolishing Israel’s claims that only combatants were killed.”

The report alleged that “Militant groups such as the relatively new Jenin Brigades, Islamic Jihad and the armed wing of Fatah have little compunction about claiming non-combatants” and, Philp wrote, “his family… were adamant: Abdulrahman… did not belong to any armed group.”

Philp also stated that “when Islamic Jihad posted photographs of its claimed martyrs, Abdulrahman was the only one not pictured with a firearm.” 

However, the pro-Israel media organisation CAMERA has exposed the fact PIJ referred to Hardan as a “Jihad warrior”, which they only do for legitimate members, and “the official Telegram channel of PIJ shows Abdulrahman was NOT the only one of the eight fighters pictured without a firearm.” In fact, five of the eight terrorist “martyrs” pictured were shown unarmed! 

Following a complaint by CAMERA, the Times deleted the claim he was the only one unarmed in the photos.

 

Clear air

ABC Middle East correspondent Allyson Horn’s live cross to ABC TV “The World” featured a rare moment of clarity regarding Israel’s Jenin operation (July 4). 

In contrast to perceptions that Palestinian residents of the Jenin refugee camp fled in terror as Israel’s operation began, Horn explained that residents were given advance notice.

“[They] were sent text messages by Israel overnight saying you need to leave and get out of your homes to evacuate because they were planning to continue with this military incursion. So, we saw hundreds of people physically leaving their homes, leaving behind all of their possessions and taking refuge in a different part of Jenin,” Horn said. 

Horn said Israel claims it is “ripping up the roads… they say, to look for explosive devices, to look for roadside bombs,” but then conceded that IEDs are “something that we have seen used in the recent weeks” – a reference to an incident on June 20 when two Israeli armoured vehicles were damaged by IEDs in Jenin.

 

Risky business

ABC Radio “Nightlife” (July 6) ran a long interview with NGO Monitor’s Professor Gerald Steinberg, who explained Israel’s rationale for the Jenin operation. 

Steinberg stressed that “there were no civilian deaths… in Jenin,” and that the terrorists “had stored huge amounts of explosives and weapons like Kalashnikovs and M16s” in mosques. 

He emphasised that contrary to claims, “in reality, there was very little damage… we might have a few more years of relatively lower levels of attacks and hopefully maybe a new generation, some other people within the Palestinian society will say we need to look for a different way of dealing with Israel other than terrorism and rejectionism.”

Palestinian terrorism is not a response to the occupation of the West Bank, he said, but “a continuation of the war since 1948” when Israel was created, something which “the Palestinians have never really accepted.” 

It is the absence of democracy and political freedom within Palestinian society that compels “younger people in their late teens and early 20s… to emulate what has been Palestinian practice for, again, for many generations and take up arms,” he explained. 

Acknowledging that some Israelis do oppose a Palestinian state, he maintained that “most public opinion polls show that if there was a Palestinian partner that you could rely on to provide peace and stability, 70% of Israelis would agree to a territorial compromise.” 

Israel cannot risk leaving the West Bank if it simply mirrors the result of its 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, which saw the territory “turned into a giant terror base. And that’s what [Hamas] want to do in Jenin,” he added. 

 

A militant response

On ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (July 6), UN Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories Francesca Albanese – who has become notorious for both antisemitic claims and justifying Palestinian terrorism – refused to say whether Palestinian militants killed by Israel were terrorists or the facilities Israel hit were legitimate targets.

Albanese said, “It’s very it’s very hard to say that those involved… have never committed any, anything, any act that might constitute an offence under international law.” 

Instead, Albanese preferred to refer to terrorism against Israelis as “Palestinian resistance against… an unlawful occupation. The right to resist is a flip side of the right to self-determination, which is clearly violated by Israeli occupation.”

Asked to explain her office issuing a statement calling the operation a “war crime”, Albanese asserted that “bombing civilian infrastructure, um, as I said, the launch of tear gas against a hospital, hampering access to medical personnel, trying to evacuate the wounded, uh, is constitutes a war crime under international law. Why to destroy the entire camp? 80% of the homes have been damaged. And so there has been an attack which is disproportionate in nature, even if it’s justified by an arrest operation that Israel wanted to carry out. Why to bomb this camp?” Needless to say, the claim that Israel “destroyed” the Jenin refugee camp – or even “damaged” 80% of it – is baseless. 

 

Guilty as charged

On ABC Radio “Evenings” (July 13), Francesca Albanese was interviewed again and said, “the proof” Israel had committed war crimes was so “overwhelming” that “in the… very first hours of the attack… we felt obliged to denounce what was going on like a prima facie war crime warrant.”

Albanese repeated her claim that Israel deliberately targeted “water lines, sewage… hospitals” and seemed to dismiss Israeli statements that the operation was intended to target Palestinian militant organisations and their associated infrastructure, while seeming to question whether the 12 Palestinians who were killed were even “militants”.

Technical difficulties meant the interview was cut short, but it resumed on July 17. On her return, Albanese conceded Palestinian militants were in the camp but attributed it to the fact that Jenin “has historically been this place of resistance, this place where people do not surrender to their fate.”

Albanese again asserted that 80% of the camp was damaged or destroyed. She also implied that the majority of Palestinians detained by Israel are arrested on false pretences, and that the Oslo Accords were never intended to result in an independent Palestinian state. 

 

Boul Games

On ABC Radio National “Drive” (July 5), Albanese’s UN colleague Adam Bouloukos, Director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in the West Bank, was more circumspect in his claims.

Bouloukos agreed “there are armed actors in the West Bank” but qualified this by saying, “This is an area under occupation, illegal occupation, and has been for decades… of course, that there are armed actors… our job in UNRWA is to provide services to a refugee population, those that have been pushed out in 1948. So, the discussion about the legality and who’s labelled what is really not for me to comment on.”

Except the refugees who lost their homes in 1948 and are still alive probably number only in the tens of thousands, if that.

To his credit, Bouloukos said that “the water mains were destroyed in an Israeli effort with kind of bulldozers and heavy equipment to rip up the streets looking for unexploded ordnance.”

He also repeated the claim that Israeli forces shot at and tear-gassed the hospital in Jenin.

On ABC TV “7pm News” Victoria (July 5), Middle East correspondent Allyson Horn explained the reality behind the bogus hospital claim made by people like Bouloukos and Albanese: “Outside a hospital in Jenin, angry Palestinians gathered. Some threw stones at the army who responded with tear gas.”

 

Nour -alogical

During and after the Jenin operation, former Palestinian Authority (PA) spokesperson Nour Odeh made regular appearances on ABC Radio. 

However, Odeh’s past employment by the PA was not always disclosed. 

On ABC News Radio (July 4), Odeh was introduced as “a Ramallah-based political analyst and commentator.”

Interestingly, Odeh admitted that Israel was targeting Palestinian fighters, saying, “From a Palestinian perspective the attack is targeting Palestinian activists who are involved in armed attacks against Israeli settlers inside the West Bank… the fact [is] that these fighters are there.” 

On ABC Radio “Evenings” (July 13), Odeh denied that she directly worked for the PA, claiming that she was an “independent consultant”. In any case, her talking points were indistinguishable from PA propaganda.

 

Radio-active 

On community radio station 3CR (July 11), pro-Palestinian lobbyist Noura Mansour said the operation was “the essence of the Zionist project as a settler colonial project that aims to exterminate or empty and remove the indigenous population to make way for settlements.”

Mansour claimed that “over 5000 Palestinian families have been made refugees for the second time.”

In fact, it was 500 families that were temporarily displaced – and most were able to return home after the conclusion of Israel’s two-day operation.

 

Both Sides Now

SBS TV “World News” showed it is possible to present both Israeli and Palestinian perspectives on settlements and let the audience make up their own minds.

An SBS TV “World News” (June 20) report noting that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “deeply alarmed by the Israeli Government’s decision to speed up the construction of settlements in the West Bank” included the important qualification, “many countries deem the West Bank to be occupied territory, while Israel considers it to be disputed.”

On June 22, 24 and 27 the program again was careful to ensure the different perspectives were heard. 

A report on SBS TV “World News” (July 1) noting Australia, Britain and Canada had criticised an Israeli announcement that 5700 units will be built in West Bank settlements, included a statement from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, saying, “it is critical to understand that a Jewish civilian presence in the disputed territories has never been the cause of the conflict. It is a symptom of it. This conflict will endure until the Palestinians can come to terms with Israel’s legitimacy and permanence.” 

SBS reporter Gareth Boreham added, “Settlement expansion is one of the most contentious issues in the region. Many countries deem the West Bank to be occupied territory, while Israel considers it to be disputed territory.”

 

Recognising reality

In the Canberra Times (June 26), the Zionist Federation of Australia’s Bren Carlill castigated Labor Party members pushing for the Albanese Government to recognise a non-existent state of Palestine.

Dr Carlill wrote that too many proponents of recognition are “skim[ming] over the difficulties.”

These include “the fact that control of Gaza and the West Bank has been split between two Palestinian factions for almost 20 years, so one would have to determine which Palestine one is recognising.”

He also noted that the argument that “recognition would improve the Palestinian mismatch [in power versus Israel] in negotiations is very weak” because “Palestinians have always felt comfortable saying no to things they don’t like at the negotiating table.”

The main reason to deny recognition is the basic reality that Palestinian leaders have consistently refused all offers of a state made to them dating back to the 1930s and “premature recognition… rewards bad behaviour,” he said.

Two days later, the paper ran an article by Izzat Abdulhadi, the Palestinian Authority’s representative in Australia, demanding immediate recognition of a Palestinian state, which included easily disproved assertions aimed at discrediting the genuine and credible offers Israel has made over the years to create a Palestinian state. 

Writing in the Courier Mail (July 6), AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein also pointed out that recognition would undermine the peace process by encouraging “rejectionist behaviour” by Palestinian leaders.

 

On the Low down

ABC Radio gave anti-Israel activist Antony Loewenstein repeated opportunities to promote his new book The Palestine Laboratory, which claims that Israel exports to oppressive regimes hi-tech surveillance products that have first been tested on Palestinians.

Much of what Loewenstein said was wild supposition – he freely admitted he doesn’t really know what spyware is being used for – combined with extreme loathing for Israel.

On ABC Radio Sydney “Evenings” (June 16), Loewenstein said, “What I guess particularly concerns me about this issue is not just that we have no clue really about how it’s being used or where or by whom, but that the genesis of this tool is essentially an Israeli company… the people behind it have spent years and years and years in the Israeli military… perfecting the art of occupation of Palestinians.”

Loewenstein nonchalantly claimed that politicians and journalists have been wary of investigating and questioning Israel’s exports to repressive regimes “because people are scared of being accused of antisemitism simply for raising these legitimate questions around human rights and how Israel is massively breaching those rights in Palestine.”

On ABC Radio “Drive” (June 22), Loewenstein claimed Israel uses tech products like Pegasus which lets governments hack into mobile phones as “a diplomatic tool” to establish relations with countries like the “UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain” which use it to “repress their own people… what I show in the book is that the occupation has become exported. So, when Israel talks about being, as I said, a self-described democracy, there are countless people around the world and of course, including Palestinians within those borders, that have felt what that means in a practical sense. And it’s brutal.”

 


In Parliament

The following exchange occurred in the Senate on June 21.

Greens Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Senator Jordon Steele-John (WA) – “Israel’s government is the most far-right and extremist in the nation’s history. Two of its most senior ministers, Ministers Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, are proud and open racists and bigots… When will the foreign minister issue a boycott of any Australian government representative meeting with these two individuals?”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator Penny Wong (ALP, SA) – “The first point… given the question goes to Israel, is to express that we are obviously deeply saddened by the murder of four Israeli citizens in a terror attack overnight. We condemn this act and make the point that terrorism and violence against civilians can never be justified, and we urgently call upon all parties to exercise restraint… The fact that we engage with a country does not mean we agree with every statement made by an officeholder… We will continue to engage with members of the Israeli government as is appropriate and necessary, and we intend to judge the government on the policies it pursues and to make our views known when we need to. Australia has been and is a friend of Israel, and that means we can also indicate our view on matters on which we disagree.”

Senator Steele-John – “Speaking of the policies pursued by the state of Israel—these individuals are members of a government which is enacting a system of race-based oppression and domination towards Palestinians. There is a name for such a system, Minister: apartheid… When will the Australian government recognise the reality of Israel’s system of apartheid?”

Senator Wong – “I would also urge all parties now not to use sensitive issues to play domestic political games. This is a very difficult issue…”

Senator Steele-John – “The racism and oppression that Palestinians are subjected to every day, the system of race-based separation, dispossession and discrimination, and the system of Israeli apartheid must be recognised for the crime against humanity that it is. It’s a crime against humanity which requires an immediate international community-led response.”

The following debate was in the NSW Legislative Council on June 28.

Anthony D’Adam (ALP) – “I move: (1) That this House notes that:

(a) the seventy-fifth anniversary of Al-Nakbah commemoration event was held on Saturday 3 June 2023, at the Australian Palestinian Club, Guildford…

“(2) That this House recognises the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to live in peace and security within their own State, as part of a two-State solution.

“For Palestinians, the Nakbah did not end in 1948; it is an ongoing occurrence and the everyday reality for the Palestinian people. Millions of Palestinians remain under illegal occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip… There is an unrelenting drive to supplant the Palestinian people from their land… the Palestinians have no army. They have no capacity to resist.”     

Chris Rath (Lib.)“I move… In paragraph (2), omit all words after “Palestinian people” and insert instead “to co-exist in peace and security alongside the State of Israel, as part of a two-State solution; and supports both States living side by side within recognised, secure borders.”

Abigail Boyd (Greens) – “The Palestinian people have thousands of years of connection to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The formal dispossession of their land by the State of Israel following years of atrocities like massacres, bombings, looting, land confiscation and razing of Palestinian towns by Zionist militia is an atrocity that continues to be felt to this day.”

The amendment and the motion as amended were agreed to. 

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