Slammed on ceasefire, hospitals

Jewish leaders have lamented Foreign Minister Penny Wong calling for "next steps towards a ceasefire" between Israel and Hamas.

Penny Wong on ABC Insiders. 
Photo: YoutTube screenshot
Penny Wong on ABC Insiders. Photo: YoutTube screenshot

On ABC-TV‘s Insiders last Sunday, the Foreign Minister said a ceasefire “cannot be one-sided. We know that Hamas is still holding hostages”. But she was adamant that “a ceasefire must be agreed between the parties”.

Wong also criticised Israel for targeting hospitals used by Hamas to store weapons. “Israel should do everything it can to observe international humanitarian law … we have seen a harrowing number of civilians, including children killed; this has to end. And we are particularly concerned with what is happening with medical facilities.”

The Foreign Minister said, “International humanitarian law does require the protection of hospitals, of patients and of medical staff. And we do call on Israel to cease the attacking of hospitals. We understand the argument that Hamas is burrowed into civilian infrastructure. But, you know, I think the international community … would say to Israel [that] these are facilities protected under international law.”

Since Sunday’s interview, Israel’s chief military spokesman Rear-Adm Daniel Hagari has shown footage of a Hamas weapons cache discovered in the basement of Gaza’s Rantisi Hospital for Children.

The Zionist Federation of Australia and Executive Council of Australian Jewry stated they were “highly concerned” by Wong’s comments. “Unless and until Hamas is removed from power, a ceasefire will inevitably further endanger Israel. Hamas leaders have publicly stated that Hamas will continue to repeat its October 7 massacres until Israel is eventually annihilated.”

Regarding Wong’s call for Israel not to target hospitals, the organisations stated, “We remind the government that Article 19 of the Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly states that hospitals lose their protection if they are used for military purposes. It is incontrovertible that Hamas uses Shifa and other hospitals for military purposes.”

Calling Wong’s comments “disappointing and disturbing”, Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said, “Any move towards a ceasefire without the release of the 240 hostages Hamas holds, and concrete moves to dismantle Hamas’s military infrastructure and end its rule over Gaza, amounts to a call for a victory for Hamas.”

On hospitals, Rubenstein said, “Senator Wong’s claim that Gaza’s hospitals remain ‘protected’ sites, and by implication, immune from attack under international law, even as Hamas has reportedly located its main command centre under Gaza’s Shifa Hospital, amounts to a misunderstanding of what international humanitarian law actually says.”

Contacted by The AJN, a spokesperson for Wong’s office noted that in the interview the Foreign Minister had acknowledged Hamas’ strategy of embedding itself in civilian infrastructure.

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