Australia silent on Israeli damage to its war graves in Gaza

The Commonwealth Gaza War Cemetery has recently been damaged due to Israel’s offensive in the Palestinian enclave [Getty]

The Australian government knew about damages caused to an Australian war cemetery by Israeli forces in Gaza this year but did not act, a parliamentary hearing has revealed.

Senator David Shoebridge questioned a representative from Australia’s defence ministry about a “very disturbing” CNN report from January this year on the desecration of multiple graves in Gaza by Israeli forces.

Shoebridge, from the Green Party, acknowledged that 263 Australian soldiers were buried in a war cemetery in the besieged Gaza Strip, asking the defence ministry representative about what damage had been done to the burial sites.

Responding to the senator, the defence representative confirmed that the cemetery was indeed subject to damage in March, acknowledging that the cemetery had suffered “some damage” and the head gardener’s house was destroyed.

“But we have not been able to receive any additional information since that time,” she added.

Shoebridge asked if the defence ministry had requested any information from the Israeli military about the damages to the Australian war graves.

“We did not make inquiries to the Israeli military,” the representative’s response was.

Noting that the destruction of war graves in Gaza was not unprecedented, the Senator asked if, like the UK, Australia had demanded compensation for the destroyed war graves where its soldiers are buried.

Hesitantly answering and checking her notes, the defence representative’s only response was that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission oversees war graves in Gaza, including the Australian ones.

“Yes?” replied Shoebridge, seeking elaboration.

“As such, the Commonwealth War Graves [Commission], they’ll make an assessment when they’re able to get into the site,” the defence representative concluded in her response.

The New Arab has contacted the Australian High Commission in London for comment.

In 2008, the Israeli government agreed to pay for the restoration of a British war graves cemetery in Gaza City, damaged during months-long fighting in 2006 with Palestinian groups, sparked by the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier.

The UK had received around £20,000 in damages at the time.

During the Second World War and under British-ruled Mandatory Palestine, Gaza hosted an Australian hospital base as well as the First Australian Imperial Force infantry.

The Gaza War Cemetery contains 3,217 Commonwealth burials of the First World War – 781 of them unidentified – and 210 burials from the Second World War.

There are also 30 post-war burials and 234 war graves of other nationalities.

Australia is one of Israel’s oldest allies and has been a staunch backer of its war on Gaza which has killed at least 37,950 Palestinians since October, mostly women and children.

Alongside other Western nations like Canada and New Zealand, it has supported a “sustainable ceasefire” in Gaza but has not called for an outright end to the fighting.

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