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Australian industry’s dirty secret: it is helping Israel commit atrocities in Gaza

March 7, 2024 at 1:44 pm

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong in Melbourne, Australia on March 06, 2024 [Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images]

As we reel from the latest atrocity committed by Israeli forces in Gaza when they opened fire on a crowd around aid trucks, killing 104 people, campaigners in Australia are shining a light on a highly secretive Australian web of complicity with Israeli war crimes. The “flour massacre” is only the latest in what UN experts have said are clear violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza.

The states supplying Israel with weapons and military aid, notably the US and Germany, but also France, Australia and Canada, must stop their support for the crimes against humanity and, potentially, genocide in Gaza if their moral claims are to mean anything.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong has firmly denied supplying Israel with arms since the start of its most recent assault on Gaza, telling parliament in December that, “Australia has not supplied weapons to Israel since the conflict began and for at least the past five years.”

Yet activists, campaigners and Green politicians are telling a different story. Over the past weeks and months protesters have blockaded ports, scaled factory roofs and picketed the offices of companies that they say are directly helping Israel commit genocide in Gaza.

A group of Palestinian rights groups is bringing a case, the first of its kind, to the Australian Federal Court to make public arms export licences granted to Israel, and Green Senator David Shoebridge has been calling on the government for transparency in parliament.

Web of complicity

The Australian government may be denying its involvement in Israel’s genocidal campaign in Gaza, but publicly available information indicates that many Australian companies are implicated in Israel’s war effort.

So, let’s have a look at the culprits.

New South Wales company Bisalloy Steel has contracts to supply Israeli companies Rafael and Plasan Re’em with steel for its armoured military and police vehicles respectively. Was that one of the same armoured vehicles that Israeli forces in Gaza used this week to run over a man whose hands were zip-tied? It may certainly be one of the armoured vehicles that ran over and killed a man near Hebron in 2022 who was accused of attacking Israelis.

READ: US Democrats question arms to Israel over Gaza concerns

Then there are the many Australian companies making parts for the US-made combat bomber F-35 being used to drop heavy munitions in Gaza with devastating impact. These aircraft are made by US military giant Lockheed Martin, and serviced by approved companies worldwide.

Up to 70 Australian companies may be involved in the F-35 supply chain, with the latest contract awarded to Rosebank Engineering’s Melbourne site for repairing brakes and wheels, announced by the Department of Defence at the end of October last year. Protesters scaled the roof of Rosebank’s Melbourne factory in February to protest against its lethal involvement in F-35 combat aircraft.

Then there’s Chemring Pty, a company whose UK arms got into hot water for sending tear gas to Hong Kong to be used against civilian protesters. The company makes the counter-flares for F-35s. Queensland-based Ferra Engineering makes the parts that allow weapons to be loaded onto the aircraft, and celebrates the fact that “every Joint Strike Fighter flying world-wide will have weapon adaptors produced by Ferra.” Melbourne company Lovitt provides machining support for F-35s, and received a generous government grant to do so, a grant which is still open for tenders.

Heat Treatment Australia (HTA) provides critical thermal treatment to Australian-made parts so they do not have to be shipped to the US and back again. Protesters have been gathering outside its Melbourne site twice a week to urge it to halt its services to the lethal combat bombers used in Gaza.

These companies, as well as the Australian government, may be complicit in Israel’s breaches of international humanitarian law in Gaza, and maybe even genocide. And there is little room for denial. Lockheed Martin has confirmed that, “Every F-35 built contains some Australian parts and components.

OPINION: The ‘Flour Massacre’ and Israel’s licence to kill, maim and massacre

Israel has boasted about using F-35s in its bombardment of Gaza when it confirmed it was bombing the civilians of Gaza with huge 2000 lb bombs from the aircraft. The New York Times reported that Israel dropped these heavy “dumb bombs” (unguided) on civilians in southern Gaza, where it had said that Palestinians would be safe. They found 208 of the massive craters that these bombs cause in southern Gaza in the first six weeks of its attack on the enclave. By way of comparison, the US Air Force only dropped one of these hugely destructive bombs during its years-long campaign against ISIS/Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

Breach of international law

The Australian government seems unwilling to admit that Australian-made components are helping Israel’s egregious crimes in Gaza. After January’s genocide ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and with increasing evidence that Israel is breaching international humanitarian law, and potentially committing crimes against humanity in Gaza, it is easy to see the reason for the denials.

The ICJ decision confirms that Israel may be committing “potentially genocidal actions” in Gaza. Gaza-based legal NGO Al-Mezan has documented various instances of war crimes and acts of genocide by Israeli forces in the Palestinian territory, and has called on the International Criminal Court to prosecute those responsible. Amnesty has found that Israel is not complying with the ICJ ruling that it must act to prevent genocide in Gaza. Human Rights Watch alleges that Israel has committed war crimes in Gaza, including targeting of civilians, failure to provide aid and collective punishment. Even US President Joe Biden has accused Israel of “indiscriminate bombing” of the strip.

READ: Israel has blocked entry of 40% of Gaza aid, says UN official

Other countries supplying the Israeli military are realising that this is no time for business as usual, even in the notoriously shady arms industry. A Dutch court recently halted a shipment of F-35 parts destined for Israel, due to the risk of them being used “in serious violations of international humanitarian law”. Japanese company Itochu pulled out of its contract with Israeli arms company Elbit, citing the ICJ ruling.

It’s time for Australia to follow suit. We have all watched with horror as what looks like a genocide unfolds in Gaza in the months since 7 October. From indiscriminate bombing in civilian areas to attacking refugee convoys, to withholding humanitarian aid, to genocidal statements, to the prevention of medical teams reaching five year old Hind Rajab, to targeting journalists and medical staff, to bombing hospitals, and the latest massacre of crowds receiving food aid, each time we think Israel’s crimes can’t get any worse, they do. It’s time to end the hand-wringing and thoughts and prayers for the people of Gaza. It’s time for actions to match words and to stop arming Israel.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.