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Children and Teachers Lead the Way on Gaza

ByRobert Silverman
Melbourne school students March down Swanston St protesting in support of Palestine. Source: www.instagram.com/schoolstudents4palestine

The Author

Robert Silverman is the pen name of a journalist and academic with extensive Australian and international experience in teaching, researching and writing on politics and history.

Having trampled on teachers’ human rights in 2022, by sacking hundreds who refused injections they did not want, the Victorian government is at it again, this time over their opposition to genocide in Gaza.

If anyone should have the right to speak against the massacre of children it is surely the teachers of children, but they are being threatened with disciplinary action if they raise the issue within the school grounds.

The most heinous crimes – war crimes and crimes against humanity – are being committed by Israel in Gaza. They are the worst the world has seen since 1945. Many of them are so hideous that the ‘international community’s’ refusal to intervene is incomprehensible. They are supporting genocide. How on earth can they? No one can understand.  

Proportionally, Gaza has been bombed more intensively than anywhere during the Second World War. Even the hospitals are being bombed. The people and all their means of survival are steadily being obliterated. The sight of these atrocities day after day is traumatising people around the world.

Apart from mass killing, most of Gaza has been destroyed: apartment buildings, government offices, schools, mosques, churches, even agricultural land. None of this is ‘collateral damage’ or the inevitable consequences of war but rather deliberate destruction advertised in advance by the politicians and generals. The criteria of the 1948 genocide convention are met in every detail. 

In an age of social media we are unable to protect children from these horrors. In Sydney and Melbourne they have already come out on to the streets in their thousands to protest.  They did not need to be told. They reacted in the right way, with outrage at the slaughter of children like themselves.

In late November two inner sub-branches of the Australian Education Union called for protests on behalf of the Palestinians from November 27 – December 1. Flyers called on teachers to wear badges and the Palestinian headdress, the chequered kuffiyeh, and invite Palestinian advocates to speak at schools. 

The Victorian education minister, Ben Carroll, described the planned action as “inflammatory,” and as risking division and disharmony in the classroom. Mr Carroll did not even mention the crimes that had created such an ‘inflammatory’ situation. 

Warning that teachers taking part in action for Palestine could face charges of misconduct, Carroll invoked the Victorian Teaching Profession’s Code of Conduct, which stresses objectivity, integrity, respect and responsibility.

The Victorian school curriculum includes civics and citizenship, history and ethics. There is no actual ban on discussing Palestine under any or all of these headings but the teacher trying to be objective will clearly be walking on eggshells.

David Howes, the deputy secretary schools and regional services, sent the teachers a message saying they should not use their “privileged position in the classroom to advocate particular views on political topics.” Telling students that Palestine was ethnically cleansed in 1948 and that Gaza has been under constant attack by Israel since then is the objective truth, not a ‘particular view,’ but teachers who dare speak it will be putting their jobs on the line. 

The Herald Sun homed in on one Prahran high school teacher, Jason Wong, who spoke at a rally outside the school and in his own time. He said Hamas on October 7 “was doing exactly what they have to do” by breaking through the Gaza fence and attacking settlements built on Palestinian land ethnically cleansed in 1948.

Mr Wong held up a poster saying “what is the point of teaching our students history and teaching them we must avoid repeating its disasters if we are not able to identify one which is happening right in front of us.” 

Israel’s lobbyists demanded his dismissal for committing a hate crime. David Southwick, the Liberal member for Caulfield said that “anyone who tolerates Hamas’ murderous filth shouldn’t be anywhere near a classroom. Suspend the teacher.” In fact, Mr Wong kept his job. 

Another teacher who spoke at the rally said staff had been discussing the humanitarian situation in Gaza in hushed voices for seven weeks. Younger teachers could not understand the lack of international response to what was obviously a humanitarian catastrophic. It should not be hard to understand why. 

All the moral and legal principles they had been brought up to respect and believe in, the foundations of ‘western civilisation,’ were being shat upon before their eyes and none of the bearers of that civilisation were lifting a finger to stop it.

As someone who had been involved in anti-war and anti-apartheid protest movements this teacher felt compelled to provide staff with background material, which consisted of leaving three sheets of paper on a table linked to UN reports and academic studies referring to war crimes and genocide being incited and committed by Israel.  

The teacher was subsequently called in and given a verbal warning for violating Ben Carroll’s directive. There will be many other similar stories.  

Teachers and School Staff for Palestine called on Carroll, Lizzie Blandthorn (Victorian Minister for Children) and Jason Clare (Federal Minister for Education) to respond to more than 900 signatories on an open letter of concern by teachers, school staff and education affiliates regarding Palestine and condemn the genocide, “not reprimand teachers for adding their voices to the international groundswell demanding an end to the catastrophe.”

The teachers said that in line with their professional and ethical responsibilities, students needed to know that adults, school communities and government officials do not approve of the slaughter of children. They warned of further collective action if the education department’s threats were not rescinded.

It is crystal clear that international law is firmly on the side of students and teachers, not Ben Carroll and the posturing Southwick. The Australian government has a treaty-bound obligation to prevent the crime of genocide but is doing nothing to stop it. It refuses even to name the crime and will not even condemn the perpetrator. Children have shown the moral fibre that supposedly responsible adults lack. 

On November 16 the office of the UN human rights commissioner referred to genocide in the making, genocide incitement, Israel’s overt intention to destroy the Palestinian people under occupation and the failure of the international community to mobilise to prevent genocide. 

On December 21 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said it was deeply shocked by the intensified buildup of brutal and indiscriminate attacks on Gaza from air, land and sea and by the racist speech, incitement to violence and dehumanising rhetoric coming out of Israeli politicians and government officials. 

Craig Mokhiber, who resigned his position as director of the UN’s New York office of the Commissioner for Human Rights in protest at the inaction of world governments, said Gaza was a textbook case of genocide. Raz Segal, and other academic scholars of genocide, agree. 

Margaret Harris, a spokesperson for the World Health Organisation (WHO), said, “it is beyond belief that the world is allowing this to happen.” UN officials working in Gaza, like the teachers in Victoria, are staggered that the genocide continues unhindered and even encouraged by the US, which is blocking ceasefires so that Israel has the time to finish the job, which seems to be the complete destruction of Gaza and the expulsion of all its people if it can get away with it. 

Writing in the Guardian, two anti-Zionist Jews, Ellen Brotsky and Ariel Koren, referred to the genocide unfolding in Gaza and the “pageantry of death” embraced by Israel’s politicians and, it has to be said, its people. Many are calling for an even greater level of violence to be used against the Palestinians.

Apart from the destruction or damage to nearly 100,000 buildings, by December 24, 20,424 Palestinian civilians had been massacred, mostly women and children, with at least 8000 children dead, apart from uncounted numbers entombed in rubble that cannot be shifted because there is no fuel for bulldozers and graders. 

More than 50,000 people have had been injured, many maimed for life with missing limbs. The genocide includes more than 100 journalists targeted by Israel and 136 UN staff. 

In Australia some journalists have banded together to defend the violated principles of their profession but their employers, their editors, their hired hand commentators and the politicians continue to defend Israel’s ‘right’ to defend itself by slaughtering civilians in the territory it is occupying. 

In other words, they are helping along the genocide being committed before our eyes.  These are the people running Australia. No wonder it doesn’t seem to know what it is or where it is going.   



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