3 August 2023

During the winter break, I had the pleasure of taking part in a parliamentary delegation to Israel hosted by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, commonly known as AIJAC by many in this place. The purpose of the delegation was not just to familiarise many of us with the realities of Israeli social, economic and political life but also to get a better understanding and appreciation of the broader Middle Eastern landscape. I was joined on the parliamentary delegation by the Deputy President, Senator McLachlan, as well as the member for Holt, the member for Menzies and the member for Hughes. When we came into Jerusalem, after checking in to our accommodation, we were met by a humble rabbi, Danny Sinclair, and, like many of these delegations, went on a tour of the city.

It was truly an incredible place. It was my first time in the state of Israel, and I was overwhelmed by how much history there was. I appreciated the dynamics within the old city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem certainly is an incredible place and the ancient spiritual centre of the world, from my point of view. As a Christian, I was incredibly moved by where we were taken, understanding the places that, for many Christians, are the places of Jesus Christ. He would have walked on many of the paths that were part of the tours in Jerusalem. I appreciate, a lot more, the interactions between Christianity, Islam and the Jewish community and how all three can work together and appreciate the history that goes back for thousands of years.

We also had the pleasure of meeting with Dr Becker, a veteran member of successive Israeli peace-negotiating teams. He was a lead drafter and negotiator of the historic peace and normalisation agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, which are known as the Abraham Accords. It was fascinating to hear Dr Becker’s perspectives, and I think the delegation greatly benefited from meeting with him.

We also toured Gush Etzion settlement block and then heard from the local mayor of Efrat. The mayor is a staunch advocate for coexisting and fostering improved relationships with neighbouring Palestinian villages. On this theme, we then heard from the Roots project. Roots is a network of Palestinians and Israelis who recognise each other as partners that both need to make changes to end the conflict and find a peaceful way of coming to an agreement. Their work aims to challenge the assumptions held by Palestinians and Israelis through dialogue and by forming long-lasting relationships. Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is often seen as an impossible goal. Of course, achieving peace is an incredibly complex task that will take a lot of effort from both sides and all parties involved. But these efforts must all stem from a desire for peace, and this desire is clearly evident in the Roots project.

We were also fortunate to get a tour and speak to a number of members of the Knesset, which is Israel’s House of Representatives. I always find it fascinating to see the parliaments of other countries. It’s very much a highlight for me, as a political nerd and geek. My partner keeps saying to me, ‘Can’t we just go see more churches or galleries?’ but one of the highlights for me is always getting to explore how democracy and the institutions of democracy work in other countries around the world. While there, we received a briefing from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and I appreciate the time taken by officials to talk to us about the work they do. We also had a chance to visit the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. This, I must say, was a very moving part of the delegation’s visit. The centre is a memorial for six million Jews who were killed by Nazis and Nazi collaborators. Importantly, it commemorates those who had the courage to stand up against the Nazi regime. We must never forget the horror that was the Holocaust. We must honour those who stood against it at the cost of their own lives. We also paid tribute at the Be’er Sheva ANZAC Memorial Center. This centre obviously commemorates and tells the story of hundreds of horsemen from Australia and New Zealand who fought in the Sinai and Palestine campaign against the Ottomans. On that note, I want to say thank you very much. The delegation, like many, want to thank AIJAC for putting together the program and thank all the people involved.