During my recent cross-party delegation to the Middle East, it was clear to me that we were in Israel at a major moment in its history.
The abominable actions of Hamas on October 7, necessitating retaliatory action, threw open the window on the broader existential threats to Israel’s sovereignty and security.
As the war against Hamas continues, the powers inside the Israeli government are very conscious of the far greater threat in the north, as well as on the sea.
Iranian sponsored terrorism, deeply entrenched in the neighbouring societies, surrounds our Jewish homeland.
Sharren Haskel, the MK who is serving in the National Unity list, described October 7 as the first days of the Iran war.
Perched on the northern border lies Iran’s most powerful proxy, Hezbollah’s 35,000 highly sophisticated Radwan forces are training for an attack to the north of Israel that would dwarf the October 7 attacks.
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are displaced and unable to return home because of this – a fact often overlooked by mainstream commentary.
And along the freight routes, the Iranian armed Houthi rebels are firing heavy artillery at ships heading to Israeli ports.
Prevention of escalation is paramount at this moment.
Back in Israel, in Sderot, where only 3000 of the 30,000 civilians remain, we were taken to the police station where we were shown the CCTV of the October 7 attacks.
In Kibbutz Kfar Aza, the aftermath of the destruction is still there. We saw the bullet holes, we saw the grenade shrapnel, we saw where Hamas broke the fence line and entered the kibbutz.
After seeing firsthand what happened, I know that no country would tolerate masked murderers driving through towns committing terror and acts of extreme depravity.
After having approximately 1200 Israelis murdered, Israel’s security confronts perpetrators operating from a tunnel network longer than the New York subway.
The humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire. The Israelis are opening a new crossing, Kerem Shalom, that will hopefully increase the medicines, food and water for the people of Gaza. But this is the consequence of Hamas’s depravity.
They embedded themselves in Gaza, in schools, in hospitals, in neighbourhoods. For 16 years, they built tunnels underneath the city.
Then on October 7, they attack knowing that the retaliation will have to include their infiltration of civilian areas.
And they hide in their tunnels as the people of Gaza suffer.
It’s important to know that the senior Israelis we spoke to clearly said they do not want to hurt the Palestinian people. They want to defeat a terror organisation and assist both border communities to return home safely.
I have said consistently that a ceasefire cannot be one sided. Humanitarian pauses did result in hostages being released and there is immense political pressure in Israel that more be done to release hostages.
But as the Australian Prime Minister said clearly, Hamas cannot be a part of future governance of Gaza.
The only way this conflict ends is for hostages to be released and for Hamas to surrender.
Despite the catastrophic circumstances and danger in which Israel currently finds itself, it is important to know that there is serious consideration of what comes next, after Hamas is defeated.
The work of peace. The work of rebuilding and coexisting.
But this picture that faces Israel needs to be understood.
What stands in the way of a better future for Israelis and Palestinians is Iranian backed terror.
Iran has chosen to arm the worst actors in the Middle East. And Israel will not tolerate another terror attack on its people.
This is why our bipartisan delegation travelled to Israel. To understand the situation on the ground, to understand the pathway to peace and to be with our friends in wartime.
After four days, one thing that became very clear was the unity across Israeli society. From the young people to the experienced leaders, Israelis are thinking their way through the many threats they face.
Accompanying the unity inside Israel, we felt the warmth and appreciation for our delegation to be there with them in their difficult days.
We were welcomed as old friends, and I was proud to be there with them. Comforting the internally displaced people, from the southern and northern towns that were evacuated in a hotel in Jerusalem, lighting the Chanukah candles was emotional and uplifting.
In almost all our meetings, I told them that the Jewish community in Australia have been marching for them.
That we have stood with them calling for hostages to be released.
And that the Jewish people in Australia are family.
I return home with a clearer sense of the reality, but also with a reminder of the peace that can and must be built.
I dream of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and so do the people we met.
In the Middle East, the road to peace is complex and there are bad actors trying to disrupt it.
I said to a senior Knesset member, next time we come back, it will be in simchas, in happier times.
Until then, we stand strong against terror, we stand strong for democracy, for security, for peace and for a shared future for the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Josh Burns is the federal
Labor Member for Macnamara.