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Pacific Island leaders criticised for silence on Israel-Hamas conflict

Saturday 11 November 2023 | Written by Joanne Holden | Published in 52nd Pacific Islands Forum 2023, National, Pacific Islands


Pacific Island leaders criticised for silence on Israel-Hamas conflict
Pro-Palestine protesters demonstrated outside the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting at the Cook Islands National Auditorium in Rarotonga on Wednesday. LOSIRENE LACANIVALU/23110808

Protesters who implored Pacific Islands leaders to condemn Israel’s ongoing attack on Palestine are ‘hugely disappointed’ the issue was not raised during a five-day meeting between the region’s leaders in the Cook Islands.

With six Pacific Islands having voted against the United Nations (UN) resolution for a ceasefire in the Middle East conflict, businesswoman Ellena Tavioni said she and fellow protesters decided to demonstrate outside the Cook Islands National Auditorium – the venue for the 52nd Pacific Islands

Forum Leaders Meeting – in an effort to “change their minds”.

However, when the official Forum Communiqué outlining discussion results was released on Friday, there was no mention of the war.

“If they haven’t discussed it at all, then that is truly sad,” Tavioni, who owns fashion brand Tav Pacific, said.

“I’m hugely disappointed. Pacific leaders and Christians around the Pacific who support Israel’s initial attack on innocent Palestinian civilians, should be reconsidering their support if they’re true Christians.

“Does it mention in the Bible that others can take lives, including children, as they wish?”

After Palestine armed resistance group Hamas massacred up to 1200 Israeli citizens and took more than 220 hostages on October 7, Israel launched an ongoing offensive that has killed more than 10,000 people in Gaza – including more than 4000 children and 100 UN employees – to stamp out the group.

Tavioni said her knowledge of the conflict was limited until last month, when she discovered it dated back more than 75 years when Palestine was colonised to establish Israel.

“We Polynesians value our traditional lands where our ancestors are buried, and one day we will join them. I’m sure that applies to a lot of indigenous people out there.”

Fiji, Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, and Tonga made up six of the 14 countries to vote against the UN resolution, while Australia, Kiribati, Palau, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu abstained.

“Basically they’ve condoned the killing of innocent civilians and children, and continue to do so,” Tavioni said.

“There is another way to sort it.”

The resolution passed with support from 120 countries, including New Zealand and the Solomon Islands, on October 27.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially rejected the resolution. However, the White House said Thursday Israel agreed to put in place four-hour daily humanitarian pauses in its assault on Hamas in northern Gaza.

While the Cook Islands does not have a vote at the UN, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration released a statement saying the Government “stands firmly” with those in favour of a humanitarian truce in the Middle East.

“The use of violence and the loss of civilian lives on both sides can never be condoned, and we call for an immediate, durable, and sustained humanitarian truce that leads to a cessation of hostilities from all parties involved. The suffering caused by this conflict is immeasurable, and our unwavering belief is in the necessity of peace through dialogue.”

UN General Assembly president Dennis Francis was questioned about whether Pacific leaders would discuss the conflict during the Leaders Meeting at a press conference on Monday, to which he replied: “If it is raised, it will be dealt with.”

“The Forum is to devote their attention on the priorities and needs of the Pacific Island states,” Francis said.