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The (Un)Safe Zones: An Update on the Gaza Crisis and Australia’s Stance

Section Editor Zaynab Khuder summarises the ongoing conflict in Gaza and the rising death toll of civilians, while addressing the position of the Australian government in the UN’s call for a ceasefire.

This article does not reflect the views of the Publisher or Macquarie University.

As of January 1st 2023, the number of Palestinian people in Gaza killed by Israeli attacks since October 7th has accumulated to a death toll of over 21,672 with over 56,165 injured. [1]

Shelter and sanitation in the areas of Gaza labelled as safe by Israel are, in reality, scarce and lack adequate sanitation. James Elder, a spokesperson for the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF, emphasised “it’s a safe zone when you can guarantee the conditions of food, water, medicine and shelter… Only a ceasefire is going to save the children of Gaza right now.” [2]

In the pursuit of destroying Hamas, the disregard Israeli forces have demonstrated for the lives of civilians has significantly impacted the quality of life of the Palestinian people in Gaza. 

“They have pulverized street after street of residential buildings killing civilians on a mass scale and destroying essential infrastructure, while new restrictions means Gaza is fast running out of water, medicine, fuel and electricity. Testimonies from eyewitness and survivors highlighted, again and again, how Israeli attacks decimated Palestinian families, causing destruction that surviving relatives have little but rubble to remember their loved ones by,” reported Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. [3]

The Palestinian Ministry of Health released documentation of the names, ages, and ID numbers of the 6,747 Palestinians killed by Israel between October 7th and October 26th. This does not include the names of 281 victims who, at the time, were still in the process of identification by the ministry. Since the publication of this list, the death toll in Gaza has risen significantly, and it is estimated that there are thousands of more Gazans that are trapped under the rubble of destroyed homes and buildings, unidentified and unknowing if they ever will be. The ministry’s list also reported that tens of Gazan families have been completely wiped off the Palestinian population registry, meaning that Israel’s apartheid and acts of genocide has eradicated entire bloodlines. It was also reported that in three weeks, the number of children killed in Gaza surpassed the annual number of children killed in zones of conflict since 2019. [4]

In the UN’s pursuit in calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, on December 12th, 153 countries voted in favour of the resolution, while 23 countries abstained. These countries include: Argentina, Bulgaria, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Netherlands, Palau, Panama, Romania, Slovakia, South Sudan, Togo, Tonga, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Uruguay. Notably, prominent U.S allies Australia, Canada, and Japan who previously abstained, were among 30 countries who switched their positions. [5] 

The Albanese government’s stance on calling for a ceasefire in Gaza has been largely credited to the pressure and public outcry of pro-Palestine rallies across Australia. Speakers at the pro-Palestine rallies in Sydney have criticised the Labor government for their position in abstaining and not calling for a permanent end to the conflict in Gaza in the previous UN’s call to ceasefire in October. “Although it is too little too late, what this shift in the government’s public position shows us is that our collective action is working,” Wiradjuri student Ethan Floyd told the crowd in Sydney. [6]

Foreign Minister Penny Wong has also been preparing to visit Israel and other countries in the Middle East to play a role in securing peace in the region. [8] “Australia has been working with countries that have influence in the region to help protect and support civilians, to help prevent the conflict from spreading and to reinforce the need for the just and enduring peace that all of us want,” Foreign Minister Penny Wong said at a press conference in Adelaide. [7]  

Colin Rubenstein, the executive director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council expressed, “we trust that the foreign minister will maintain the government's strong and sensible stance, as she and colleagues have stipulated, the dismantling of Hamas will be required as part of any enduring peace” and that the group was “very pleased” that Wong would be visiting both Israel and other regions of the Middle East. [7] President of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network Nasser Mashni also commented: “we’re encouraged by the foreign minister’s plan to visit the Middle East, but this mustn’t just be a visit to offer Australia support to Israel. She must give equal time, equal attention to Gaza, where Israel’s genocidal mission continues for its 62nd day, and the West Bank, where Israel is embarking upon unrelenting expansion of illegal settlements.”

However, as we enter the New Year, Israel has yet to stop the bombing that has destroyed 70 percent of homes in Gaza while displacing more than 90 percent of Palestinian people in Gaza. [8] This hasn’t stopped pro-Palestine campaigners in their protests for a ceasefire, as the global Countdown2Ceasefire campaign emphasises the importance of shifting the traditional New Year’s countdown into one that focuses on a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, “as we enter 2024, we look forward to it being the year that our New Year’s resolution, of a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, is fulfilled.”

[1] Gadzo, Mersiha. Siddiqui, Usaid. Israel-Hamas war updates: Death toll climbs as Israel ramps up Gaza attacks. Al Jazeera, 30 Dec 2023.,killed%2C%20the%20Health%20Ministry%20said. 

[2] Farge, Emma. Tétrault-Farber, Gabrielle. Situation in Gaza ‘getting worse by the hour’- WHO. Reuters, 5 Dec 2023.

[3] Damning evidence of war crimes as Israeli attacks wipe out entire families in Gaza. Amnesty International, 20 Oct 2023.

[4] Mondoweiss Editors. This is a list of the names of more than 6,000 Palestinians that Israel has killed in Gaza. Mondoweiss, 30 Oct 2023.

[5] Masih, Niha. U.N resolution on Gaza cease-fire: Which countries voted for and against it. The Washington Post, 13 Dec 2023.

[6] Beazley, Jordyn. Pro-Palestine rally leaders credit public ‘pressure’ with Labor’s shift on Gaza. The Guardian, 17 Dec 2023.

[7] Knott, Matthew. Israel-Hamas war: Penny Wong to visit Israel, West Bank. Dec 8 2023. she-ll-get-the-red-carpet-penny-wong-to-visit-israel-west-bank-20231208-p5eq5k.html

[8] Pro-Palestine campaigners call for Gaza ceasefire on New Year’s Eve. Al Jazeera, 31 Dec 2023.


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