NZ must play its part on ending genocide

Smoke rises from Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist...
Smoke rises from Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Israel’s border with Gaza. PHOTO: REUTERS
New Zealand needs to take a principled approach to support Palestinians in Gaza, Richard Jackson and John Hobbs write.

South Africa has further appealed to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), urging it to undertake additional measures, in light of the unfolding starvation of the people of Gaza.

Given that Israel has failed to implement the previous measures required by the ICJ and Gazans are now experiencing starvation, all of which are in breach of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide by the State of Israel, it is time for the New Zealand government to play its part and act now.

South Africa first brought its case to the ICJ on January 26, arguing that Israel is committing genocide and called for an immediate and permanent ceasefire. The court found that there was evidence of a plausible breach of genocide being committed and issued a series of measures to halt Israel’s slaughter of Palestinian civilians.

Since the court’s finding of a plausible breach of genocide, a further 5000 Palestinian men, women and children have been killed (and many remained buried under rubble). The overall total of recorded deaths since October 7 is now above 31,000.

Shocking images of famine and death through malnutrition are being aired on New Zealand television, for the first time, and New Zealanders are now witnessing the horror of the genocide in real time. The New Zealand government’s response to the emerging genocide has been passive at best. While it makes the "right noises" in the United Nations (UN) setting, it does very little domestically.

This is not new. Successive New Zealand governments have often spoken out in the UN setting. The UN provides New Zealand governments that performative opportunity to ingratiate itself with the international audience. It is designed to underscore New Zealand’s own view of itself, one which prides itself on being a principled and independent voice in international affairs.

Successive New Zealand governments reference with pride their position on fighting for a nuclear-free Pacific, their resistance to South Africa apartheid and their refusal to send troops to support Iraq, as examples of this.

However, these moments are few and far between and now decades old. There is little to be proud of now. While the New Zealand government has called for a humanitarian ceasefire, made a joint statement demanding as much with its allies, Canada, and Australia, called in the Israeli ambassador to express its concerns with the immediate situation it has done nothing to censure Israel for ignoring its protestations.

What it suggests is that New Zealand is playing to a number of different audiences. Foremost its 5 Eyes alliance partners (US, UK, Canada, and Australia), which it will not move in advance of — it is inconceivable that New Zealand might confer statehood on Palestine as a means of giving support to the Palestine people in advance of its allies doing so.

Successive New Zealand governments speak of a "two-state solution" but do nothing of substance to make it happen. In 2016, New Zealand co-sponsored UNSC 2334 demanding a cessation of illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian occupied territories but it has done nothing to implement the resolution.

The New Zealand government has failed to do the few things within its power if it was truly committed to ending the genocide, including imposing trade and other sanctions on Israel (as it has done against Russia) and expelling the Israeli ambassador. How else can New Zealand drive home its message that what Israel is doing is unacceptable to the people of New Zealand and take a principled stance against genocide?

Finally, one of the authors placed an OIA request to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade seeking copies of advice received from government officials on New Zealand’s responsibility under the Genocide Convention.

The purpose of the OIA was to understand if New Zealand could be accused of not doing enough to support the Genocide Convention and thus be considered complicit as it stood by. The response to the OIA request was a blanket refusal to indicate what advice had been received and what it had said.

While in many ways the response to the OIA is not a surprise, given the general lack of transparency around New Zealand government decision making, the response is quite alarming given New Zealanders’ interest in understanding the implications of the passive approach being adopted by the government and whether New Zealanders are effectively participating in the latest genocide in the 21st century.

Because it is the right thing to do, New Zealanders must demand of the government that it does everything within its power to seek a permanent ceasefire and save the Palestinian people from certain death.

 - Richard Jackson is a professor of peace studies at the University of Otago; John Hobbs completed his master’s degree at Otago.