A United Nations expert on Palestine has said she doesn’t blame Hamas for the conflict in Gaza, comparing it to her children misbehaving – and said the terror attacks were a ‘natural’ response to Israeli rule.
Italian lawyer Francesca Albanese, 46, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Territories, made the comparison as she addressed the National Press Club in Canberra on Tuesday.
In a speech to journalists, she admitted the surprise October 7 Hamas attack on Israel was a ‘war crime’ after it killed 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals, and injured 5000 more.
However she said Israel’s emphatic military reaction was based on a ‘non-existent right to self-defence’ and it had ’embarked on an unrelenting bombardment of Gaza’.
The comment is just one of several that has raised eyebrows around Canberra – with some of her more controversial remarks including claims Australian media is as ‘manipulative’ as Italy’s.
She also fiery clashes with journalists while answering questions from media outlets such as Sky News Australia and The Guardian.
United Nations expert on Palestine Francesca Albanese (pictued) has said she doesn’t blame Hamas for the conflict in Gaza and compared it to her children misbehaving
Ms Albanese admitted the surprise October 7 Hamas attack on Israel was a ‘war crime ‘ after it killed 1200 Israelis and foreign nationals, and injured 5000 more. A hostage is pictured being captured and taken away by Hamas
Francesca Albanese said Israel’s military reaction to the attack was based on a ‘non-existent right to self-defence’ and it had ’embarked on an unrelenting bombardment of Gaza’
Ms Albanese said in the last 38 days, Israel had killed 11,078 people, including 4,506 children, and Gaza health officials were no longer able to keep count of the dead.
But when asked if she blamed Hamas for increasing the death toll by militarising civilian areas, she said: ‘Blame is not legal language so I don’t blame anyone.
‘I blame my children when they do something wrong, but other than that…’
Under pressure from Sky News Australia political reporter Tom Connell, the mother-of-two then quickly added: ‘I condemn, I condemn… of course, of course.’
But she said Palestinians had been subject to ‘decades’ of war crimes and a ‘violent structure of dispossession, confiscation of land, and forcible displacement.
‘When it is widespread and systemic is not just a war crime, it is a crime against humanity,’ she said.
‘There were already war crimes being committed before October 7.’
Ms Albanese said the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory ‘must end’ and was ‘apartheid by default’.
‘I would like to see Gaza living in peace like the rest of the occupied territory, and Israel meaning living in peace,’ she said.
‘But this cannot happen under an illegal occupation imposed on the Palestinian people.
‘I’m not justifying this, but this is a natural force of nature. They will resist their jailer. They will resist the people who keep them subjugated.’
Ms Albanese clashed frequently with journalists during a question and answer session after her speech, and branded Australian media as ‘manipulative’ as Italy’s.
She refused to answer one question which was based on a report which ‘has been completely distorted’, she said to applause from National Press Club members.
She denied telling one journalist that it should be ‘up to Palestinians to decide who governs in Gaza, and that Israel should be open to making a peace deal with Hamas’.
Ms Albanese added: ‘I said something else – that the military response cannot be war, it must be peace and the peace must be done with the Palestinians.
‘I’m also speaking of a non-legal peace, a reconciliation with the idea Palestinians have same humanity and same entitled to rights, freedom and dignity as Israelis.
‘It was a very beautiful 55-minute conversation and this is what the journalist got. I mean, I’m sorry, but this is not what I said. It’s been completely distorted.’
Ms Albanese said in the last 38 days, Israel had killed 11,078 people, including 4,506 children, and Gaza health officials were no longer able to keep count of the dead
But when asked if she blamed Hamas for increasing the death toll by militarising civilian areas, Francesca Albanese said she didn’t blame anyone as ‘blame was not legal language’
She said the attacks on Israel by the Palestinians were a ‘natural’ response to the Israeli rule
She also clashed with Sky’s Connell – who was acting as NPC host and moderator – over whether Israel was targeting civilians in Gaza if it warned them to evacuate areas before they came under fire.
‘I beg your pardon?’ she said. ‘I mean, I don’t mean to be rude, but can you really keep a straight face as you asked me this question?
‘I will answer the question – there is nowhere to go. Gaza Strip is a 300sq km strip of land – it is the most crowded place on earth.
‘It has been carpet-bombed [with] 6000 bombs a week in an area which is so crowded.’
She also took issue with a question from a Guardian reporter who grilled her about her saying an end to ‘Israeli-Jewish domination’ would be ‘humanising’ for Palestinians.
Daniel Hurst asked if that was a helpful comment ‘in the current climate’ and called the idea of ‘domination’ a ‘trope’, but Ms Albanese fired back: ‘What do you mean?’
‘It is really real. You seem not to understand what I’m saying. There is an apartheid regime. I’m serious. This is not a trope. This is international law.
‘I encourage you to read the apartheid convention because it talks about racial domination. And this is what I’m talking about.
‘It might be a trope in the way you interpret it, but I’m using domination in a strictly legal sense.’
Ms Albanese said there was a very real concern that Israel ‘might commit the crime of genocide against the Palestinian people’.
‘In the face of all of this, the international community is almost completely paralysed,’ she said.
‘I am being generous when I say the UN is experiencing its most epic political and humanitarian failure since its creation.’
Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-chief executive Peter Wertheim slammed the UN legal expert’s claim Israel had no right to defend itself under international law.
Ms Albanese said the UN’s self-defence laws only apply in war when a country comes under threat from another state.
‘Israel cannot claim the right of self-defence against a threat that emanates from a territory it occupies, from a territory that is under belligerent occupation,’ she said.
‘What Israel was allowed to do was to act to establish law and order, to repel the attack, neutralise whomever was carrying out the attacks and then proceed with law and order measures… Not waging a war.
‘What is being done is wrong. How many more people need to die?’
Ms Albanese called for an urgent ceasefire, for the return of all Israeli hostages, and an arms embargo and humanitarian corridors to be set up.
The 239 Israelis taken hostage by Hamas on October 7 have yet to be returned, and Israel is unlikely to comply with any ceasefire demands until they are released.
She also clashed with NPC moderator Tom Connel over whether Israel was targeting civilians if it warned them to evacuate areas in Gaza before they came under fire
Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-chief executive Peter Wertheim slammed the UN legal expert’s claim Israel had no right to defend itself under international law
Ms Albanese said the UN’s self-defence laws only apply in war when a country comes under threat from another state
Mr Wertheim said it ‘beggars belief’ a UN official would deny Israel its right to defend itself ‘against armed attacks of the savagery and scale of those carried out by Hamas on October 7.
‘Did Ms Albanese expect Israel to simply sit back and allow Hamas to continue its murderous rampage in Israel unimpeded, or to return to Gaza and regroup for repeat attacks, as its leaders have openly threatened?’ he said.
‘Both the UN Charter and customary international law clearly affirm the inherent right of a State to use force in response to an armed attack, whether that attack emanates from another State or a terrorist organisation like Hamas.
‘Ms Albanese’s assertions to the contrary are the lowest kind of legal sophistry.
‘Her bizarre claim that Israelis have no right to defend themselves is as spurious as the array of legal epithets she habitually directs at Israel without even the pretence of an impartial testing of the facts.’