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Francesca Albanese says Israel’s right to self-defence ‘non existent’ and is committing ‘war crimes’

A UN official has taken aim at the international community who have rallied behind Israel’s “non-existent” right to self-defence.

Israel has no right self defence against Hamas under international law and is committing “war crimes” that must be accounted for, the UN special rapporteur to the occupied Palestinian territories says.

Francesca Albanese, in an address to the National Press Club on Tuesday, said from a legal perspective, Israel’s right to self-defence was “non-existent” and the Jewish state had ignored proportionality in its “unrelenting bombardment of Gaza”.

She used her speech to criticise the international community – including Australia – for being almost “completely paralysed” amid the unfolding crisis, adding that Palestinians were facing the “most significant existential threat” and it was not enough for Western countries to back Israel’s right to defend itself.

She said Israel could not claim self-defence in the laws of war because that could only be prescribed when under threat from another state.

“Israel cannot claim the right of self-defence against a threat that emanates from a territory it occupies, from a territory that is under belligerent occupation,” she said.

“What Israel was allowed to do was to act to establish law and order, to repel the attack, neutralise whomever was carrying out the attacks and then proceed with law and order measures… Not waging a war.

“What is being done (in Gaza) is wrong … How many more people need to die?”

Francesca Albanese says ‘what is being done (in Gaza) is wrong’. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Last month, Israel’s ambassador to Australia, Amir Maimon, told the National Press Club that his country was remaining compliant with international law in its ongoing war with Hamas.

Mr Maimon said at the time Israelis were “the victims, not the aggressors”.

“We were attacked. Our people were slaughtered. We did not ask for this war,” he said.

“We are the victims and it is important to remember it while expressing your concerns about the humanitarian situation, about the Palestinians and civilian casualties.”

The conflict is now into its sixth week, with the Palestinian death toll climbing above 11,000.

The 239 Israelis taken hostage by Hamas on October 7 have yet to be returned, and Israel is unlikely to comply with any ceasefire demands until those people are released.

Ms Albanese said there was a very real concern that Israel “might commit the crime of genocide against the Palestinian people”.

“In the face of all of this, the international community is almost completely paralysed,” she said.

“I am being generous when I say the UN is experiencing its most epic political and humanitarian failure since its creation,” she said.

“Individual member states, especially in the West, and Australia is no exception, are on the margins. Muttering notable words of condemnation for Israel’s success at best or staying silent in fear of restraining Israel’s … claimed right to self-defence. Whatever that means.”.

She said the reality “epitomises” how the international community had “so ethically failed to promote peace and security for both Palestinians and Israelis, premised on international law, the end of Israel’s 56-year-old patient and the realisation of Palestinian self-determination and freedom”.

She called for an urgent ceasefire, for the return of all Israeli hostages, and an arms embargo and humanitarian corridors to be set up.

Peter Wertheim, co-chief executive of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, hit out at Ms Albanese. Picture: Supplied

Peter Wertheim, co-chief executive of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, hit out at Ms Albanese.

Executive council of Australian Jewry co-chief executive Peter Wertheim in response said it “beggars belief” that a high UN official would “seek to deny Israel, or any other member state of the UN, its inherent right to defend itself and its people against armed attacks of the savagery and scale of those carried out by Hamas on October 7”.

“Did Ms Albanese expect Israel to simply sit back and allow Hamas to continue its murderous rampage in Israel unimpeded, or to return to Gaza and regroup for repeat attacks, as its leaders have openly threatened?” he said.

“Both the UN Charter and customary international law clearly affirm the inherent right of a State to use force in response to an armed attack, whether that attack emanates from another State or a terrorist organisation like Hamas.

“Ms Albanese’s assertions to the contrary are the lowest kind of legal sophistry.

“Her bizarre claim that Israelis have no right to defend themselves is as spurious as the array of legal epithets she habitually directs at Israel without even the pretence of an impartial testing of the facts.”

Ms Albanese criticised the Australian government’s response. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Ms Albanese criticised the Australian government’s response.

Ms Albanese’s visit to Australia had been planned long before Hamas’ October 7 attacks that triggered a tidal wave of death and destruction in the Middle East.

Ms Albanese used her address to criticise vast sections of the international community and media who she said had forgotten, or tuned out, that the conflict had begun decades ago.

She said that Palestinian people had long been subject to a “violent structure of dispossession, confiscation of land, and forcible displacement”.

“When it is widespread and systemic is not just a war crime, it is a crime against humanity,” she said.

“There were already war crimes being committed before October 7.”

Ms Albanese said the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory “must end” and was “apartheid by default”.

She said a plan to end the occupation of Palestine was important.

Israel-Palestine war history

Jewish journalist and political activist Theodor Herzl – considered the father of the modern Zionist movement – founds the World Zionist Organisation in 1897. The aim of the organisation is to establish a national home for the Jewish people secured by public law.

She took aim at Foreign Minister Penny Wong, after being asked for her response to the senator’s comments in recent weeks that Israel had an obligation to observe the rules of law, but warned that the international community would not accept civilian deaths.

Ms Albanese was asked whether this was an “appropriate response” or an example of what she had previously described as “the paralysis of the international community”.

She said she called it “amnesia and myopia and living in an alternative reality”.

“Since 1967, Israel has built 300 colonies which are a war crime in and of themselves in the occupied Palestinian territory,” she said.

“This has meant establishing a system of structural violence made of dispossession, confiscation of land and forcible displacement of Palestinians.”

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