My speech in Parliament on the 70th anniversary of Nakba (Hansard) - 24 May

Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (16:50): I rise today to speak on the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, known to the Palestinians as the day of catastrophe, which refers to the uprooting and expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinian refugees from their normal place of residence in Palestine during the period from 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948. They lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.

Seventy years later, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, notes that nearly one-third of the five million registered Palestinian refugees, more than 1.5 million individuals, live in 58 recognised Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Palestinian refugees in these camps do not own the land on which they reside, and UNRWA describes their socioeconomic conditions as generally poor, with high population density, cramped living conditions, and inadequate basic infrastructure such as roads and sewerage.

The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 has unfortunately, for 70 years, left an ongoing legacy of the displacement and occupation—brutal at times—of the Palestinian people. On 11 May 1949, Australia was amongst the 37 countries in the UN General Assembly which voted in favour of admitting Israel into the UN.

Today Australia remains one of Israel's closest friends. Australia also supports a two-state solution. As a matter of fact, the current government's position is: 'Australia remains firmly committed to a two-state solution, allowing Israel and the Palestinian state to exist side by side in peace and security within internationally recognised borders.' However, 70 years have passed, and the Palestinian people have yet to be granted their statehood. One hundred and thirty-eight countries have already recognised the State of Palestine, and it's surely now time for Australia to do the same. It's time to put into place our long-held policy of a two-state solution. It's important to do so because it's the right and decent thing to do. This issue is a moral imperative for all who believe in the sanctity of human rights, rule of law and democracy.

Now is the time to realise that the window of opportunity for a two-state solution is rapidly closing, and we are running out of time for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Events as recently as last week confirmed the urgency of resolving this conflict, which has challenged international diplomacy for 70 years. Many Australians come to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with good intentions, and indeed the Australian community is supportive of the recognition of a Palestinian state. On Tuesday night, the Parliamentary Friends of Palestine hosted a screening of the documentary From Under the Rubble—A Story from Gaza, directed by the very talented South Australian filmmaker Anne Tsoulis. The documentary tells the important story of the Samouni family, a peaceful, close-knit farming family in Gaza who, during the 2009 Israeli-Gaza war, lost 48 members of their family. On 4 January 2009, the Samounis were herded into a house by the Israel Defence Forces and fired upon. This massacre, known as the Zeitoun incident, has become one of the gravest and most horrific incidents of the conflict. Whatever people's convictions are on the conflict, I strongly recommend that they see the documentary and ask the perpetrators to explain why this unthreatening, innocent family was targeted in such a brutal, disproportionate and criminal manner. I want to finish with a quote from Amal Samouni, who is featured in the documentary and who was nine years old at the time when the house she was sheltering in was bombed. Amal was buried under rubble for four days, surrounded by the dead and rotting bodies of family members, until aid workers were finally permitted to enter the area and rescue her. She still lives with more than 15 permanent pieces of shrapnel in her head. They are too deeply embedded to be safely removed. Amal says, 'When I think about the world, I start wondering why we live like this in Gaza, why the people outside live in safety in peace. Here, there is always soldiers and war and sieges and closed borders.' We should do whatever we can to bring peace and safety not only to Amal but to all the suffering Palestinians and Israelis who need our support to bring a lasting peace to this conflict.