Gaza: Australia must hold Israel to account

12 Apr 2024

In the wake of the six month anniversary of the escalation in Gaza, executive director of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Jennifier Tierney discusses the horrors facing those in the Gaza strip.


A convoy of aid trucks in Gaza. November 2023. © MSF

It has taken the tragic killing of Australian aid worker Zomi Frankcom to finally trigger the Australian Prime Minister to call out the Israeli government and demand an independent investigation into the atrocities committed by Israel.

Actions by the Israeli government have caused Zomi's family, friends, and co-workers horrific pain, and I want to extend my condolences to them and to the families of all aid workers killed in this assault on humanitarianism.

As we mark six months in this latest war on the Palestinian people, we are witnessing the worst atrocities since October 7, 2023. Over the past fortnight, the Israeli forces have systematically destroyed Gaza's largest hospital—Al Shifa—where MSF has been providing lifesaving assistance for 30 years.

Our staff in Gaza share reports of the absolute horror of patients and health workers caught up in an Israeli "kill zone" in and around the hospital where everything that moves is targeted. Hundreds of people have been killed, including medical staff. Their bodies are lying in the street, some shot point blank with their hands tied behind their backs, bodies mutilated, crushed by tanks. In recent weeks the Israeli government has blocked food supplies from entering northern Gaza through land border crossings, resulting in the US undertaking risky air drops and forcing the EU and aid agencies to open maritime routes for the delivery of essential food supplies.

The condemnation we see for the WCK incident is right and just, but where is it for every other humanitarian worker, for every hospital that is destroyed?

Jennifer Tierney
Executive Director, MSF Australia

World Central Kitchen (WCK) had just unloaded 100 tonnes of food aid by one such sea route when their staff were targeted and killed by Israeli missile strikes. The staff, travelling in three clearly marked vehicles, were in a "deconflicted area" and had confirmed their coordinates and planned movement with Israeli Forces. The precision strikes on their vehicles bear the same pattern of deliberate attacks on humanitarians, health workers, journalists, UN personnel, schools, and homes. 

This pattern of attacks is either intentional or indicative of reckless incompetence. This, and the countless other attacks on aid workers in Gaza, must be thoroughly and independently investigated. 

The condemnation we see for the WCK incident is right and just, but where is it for every other humanitarian worker, for every hospital that is destroyed?

According to the United Nations, Israeli forces have now killed at least 196 aid workers in Gaza since October 2023. This number is extraordinary, yet it is but a fraction of the total number of people killed so far—nearly 33,000 Palestinian men, women and children.


Displaced Palestinians wait in line to get the clean water from a water station in Tal Al-Sultan, a neighborhood in the southern Gaza town of Rafah. January 2024. © MSF

The war in Gaza is indeed a war on healthcare, and a war on assistance to Palestinians. This is evident through the siege which is depriving over a million Palestinians in Gaza of essential food, water, shelter and medical care. MSF's staff, shelters and vehicle convoys have also been repeatedly attacked in this war, despite being clearly marked and despite co-ordinates being shared with Israeli authorities. 

Five MSF staff have been killed—some while providing care to their patients—and countless of their family members killed or injured, the survivors now facing starvation. Our very own medical staff who have themselves been displaced multiple times, living in precarious and makeshift tents, show up to work every day, despite the relentless attacks on medical care. Now, they are retraining to treat malnutrition after being specialists in intensive care. Our medical data confirms that malnutrition is rising—and it's the first time our teams have seen these cases in their hospitals. 

Israel continues its attacks on civilians and medical personnel and hospitals in Gaza in brazen defiance of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and for the unimpeded entry of humanitarian supplies into Gaza. 

All states that continue to support Israel's reckless and disproportionate attacks in Gaza are morally and politically complicit in the atrocities being committed.

Australia needs to stand on the right side of history, the side that upholds rather than undermines international humanitarian law.

Jennifer Tierney
Executive Director

Australia must be more vocal in its condemnation of Israel and the US and demand compliance with the UNSC resolution. Beyond words, Australia and other like-minded states like New Zealand, must take immediate concrete actions on holding Israel to account.

For the sake of humanity, states need to force Israel's hand to stop this catastrophic assault on Gaza. Australia should take every measure to ensure that Australia's military support and trade with Israel does not, in any way, enable attacks on civilians, healthcare and aid workers. Australia must apply appropriate sanctions, as we would to any other global State that refuses to comply with UNSC resolutions.

Whilst the government's appointment of Mark Binskin, former head of Australia's Defence Force, to examine Israel's investigation of the WCK killing is a welcome initiative in showing responsibility for its own citizens, it does not go far enough. Australia should extend this independent investigation to the 196 humanitarian aid workers who have been tragically killed. 

Australia needs to stand on the right side of history, the side that upholds rather than undermines international humanitarian law.

This article was first published by The Canberra Times.

Join us in calling for an enduring ceasefire

We call for an enduring humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza to prevent further civilian deaths and allow aid workers unrestricted access to provide lifesaving medical care. 
MSF is calling on governments to unite in their call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.