No relief

Why aren’t all innocent deaths in Gaza ‘completely unacceptable’ to the Australian government?

The news that Australian aid worker Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom has been killed in an Israeli airstrike in central Gaza is desperately sad, and she dies a hero. The Melbourne-born 43-year-old was among the four World Central Kitchen workers killed, along with their Palestinian driver, when their car was hit after crossing from northern Gaza, where they had been helping to deliver much-needed aid. The incident has prompted outrage around the world, not least here at home. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese praised Frankcom, declaring her death “completely unacceptable” and demanding “full accountability” from Israel. This incident does demand answers (the IDF says it is “conducting a thorough review at the highest levels”). But where was the Australian government’s outrage and where were the demands for “accountability” following the killings of tens of thousands of other civilians, journalists and aid workers in Gaza? Where is the acknowledgement that Frankcom shouldn’t have had to be there delivering aid, but she was, because our leaders won’t stand up and do something about the fact half of Gaza is on the brink of starvation?

The Albanese government was always going to offer strong condemnation following the death of an Australian aid worker. The jarring image of Frankcom’s bloodstained passport – held alongside those of her British and Polish colleagues – is likely to dominate news in the coming days, as are clips of the aid worker talking about the life-saving work done by World Central Kitchen. The PM has sought to highlight her Australianness, noting that “wherever there are difficulties in the world you will find Australians helping out”. But comments like this ignore the fact that more than 196 humanitarian workers have been killed in Gaza since October 2023 – an alarmingly high figure that has caused barely a peep from our Israel-allied government. As The New Humanitarian reports, that figure is higher than the deadliest year ever recorded for aid workers globally, with the secretary-general of Médecins Sans Frontières telling the UN in February that the pattern of Israeli attacks on humanitarian efforts was “either intentional or indicative of reckless incompetence”. Did it not matter until it was an Australian who lost their life?

Then there is the fact that heroes like Frankcom would not have to be there, risking their lives, if leaders like ours actually did something to enforce calls for Israel to allow more aid into Gaza, and to cease using the denial of food as a weapon of war, as Human Rights Watch declared back in December. (This was the report for which journalist Antoinette Lattouf was fired from the ABC for sharing.) The UN’s International Court of Justice, whose previous orders to prevent genocide in Gaza have been ignored, last week issued yet another order for Israel to allow unimpeded access of aid into the besieged enclave. (Australia’s ICJ judge, Hilary Charlesworth, today called for Israel to suspend its military operation altogether.) The Australian Council for International Development has also called on the Albanese government to urge Israel to cease attacks on aid convoys. But our government has done little to publicly push for such calls to be enforced, only belatedly backing a tepid ceasefire motion in the Senate last week, after the UN security council had done so. As human rights campaigner and former ABC Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill posted to social media, “Shame on all leaders who have not once held Israel to account & gave it impunity to kill civilians.”

Could this be the thing that wakes Australians up (or re-awakens them) to the brutality of what is going on in Gaza? A reminder that it’s not just “supporters of Hamas” who are being killed, but journalists, aid workers, children, hospital patients and civilians, including those who cross “invisible lines”, as Israeli outlet Haaretz reported on the weekend? It’s not unusual for the Australian media to obsess over an Australian angle to an international story; Frankcom’s death certainly humanises this conflict in a depressingly local way. But the incident prompts uncomfortable questions about what we choose to focus on, coming on the back of a two-week raid of Gaza’s largest hospital, which witnesses say left dozens of corpses decomposing on the ground.

Frankcom’s heroism ought to be celebrated, and her death condemned. But so too should the deaths of all those who have had their lives cut short, simply because they were in Gaza.

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