The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), the peak body for the Australian international aid and humanitarian sector, is deeply concerned by recent developments in Israel and Palestine. As advocates of peace and stability, the sector urges all Australian political parties to prioritise calling for peace and safety for all civilians, and for all parties to abide by international humanitarian law (IHL).
ACFID unequivocally condemns Hamas’ killing and kidnapping of civilians. The actions of Hamas in carrying out assaults that led to the deaths of 1,200 Israelis and the taking of numerous hostages are abhorrent acts.
The Australian Government has a critical role to play as a member of the international community, and must use its voice and influence to call for the protection of civilians.
ACFID calls for the following actions:
- The Australian Government should urgently raise with the Israeli Government the need to protect civilians trapped in Gaza, where half the population are children.
- Australia should call for unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance, a humanitarian corridor and abstention from any actions that will exacerbate civilian suffering. This includes siege tactics that deny water, food, medicine, and electricity to the vulnerable population in Gaza.
- There must be clear and consistent messaging from the Australian Government, Opposition, and other political parties on the importance of upholding the rules-based order, specifically calling on warring parties to adhere to international conventions on human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL) in protecting civilians.
- Australia could work with close neighbors like Indonesia and Malaysia, and regional actors like Türkiye and Egypt, to have them intercede to ensure the protection and release of all Israeli hostages. Such negotiations could help reduce the number of civilian casualties overall.
Said ACFID CEO Marc Purcell:
“We unequivocally condemn Hamas for their horrific attacks, killings of 1,200 people and kidnappings.
“The humanitarian conditions in Gaza are deteriorating and this is causing great harm to civilians.
“The international community, particularly Australia, as a champion of the rules-based order, needs to ensure that Israel upholds international humanitarian law and protect civilians in the days and weeks ahead.
“Right now, all civilians are at grave risk. Australia must advocate that denying water, food, and medicine, while bombing targets where civilians are at risk, including children, is not acceptable.
The IDF’s shelling of targets and blockade of the Gaza Strip, including shutting down critical infrastructure — water and electricity; preventing food and medical supplies from entering, threatens the survival of 2.3 million civilians. A ground assault will cause a massive escalation in civilian deaths. Women, children, the elderly and the disabled will be disproportionately impacted.
Australia as an important middle power should pull out all stops with regional actors to intercede to seek protection and the release of the hostages held by Hamas.”
International Humanitarian Law (IHL)
ACFID calls on the Australian Government to redouble its support for the laws of war during this conflict, which apply to all parties.
These laws, also known as International Humanitarian Law (IHL), require that actions comply with the principles of proportionality and distinction: meaning that attacks that may be expected to cause incidental civilian harm excessive to the anticipated military advantage are banned. Additionally, all parties to armed conflicts must distinguish between military objectives and civilian objects.
Hostage-taking is prohibited under international humanitarian law. Parties to armed conflict must also take constant care to spare the objects necessary to produce food and drinking water and they must never target civilians.
According to the United Nations Secretary-General, at least two UNWRA schools have been hit by strikes. The IHL states that all feasible precautions to minimise harm to civilians and civilian objects, such as homes, shops, schools, and medical facilities, must be taken.