Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 3 September 2014
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
Situation in Gaza - Middle East Peace Process: Palestinian and Israeli Ambassadors
I was anxious to hold a meeting during the recess to discuss the ongoing situation in Gaza and the peace proposals and the situation in the Middle East. It dominated our television screens during the summer. The joint committee has taken a keen interest in what is happening in Gaza and the Middle East, and between Israel and Palestine. That is the subject matter of today’s public session.
Before I hand over to the ambassador of Palestine, I will outline the format of today's meeting. The ambassador will be present for one and a half hours and the ambassador of Israel will be here for one and a half hours. Our time is limited because both speakers have asked for at least 15 minutes for their introductions, which leaves us an hour and ten minutes for discussion with each ambassador. I would like the co-operation of all members here today in my running of the meeting in order to have a smooth process and to ensure that the meeting runs on time.
I remind members that the purpose of the meeting is to listen to the presentations by the ambassadors and ask them questions, and I will insist on questions and not Second Stage speeches because of our limited time. If members have questions I will allow some over-and-back questioning, which will make the meeting much more effective, and I am sure the ambassadors will have no problem with that. We need to increase our level of understanding of the situation in the region. Members should not attempt to avail of the opportunity to vilify any of the witnesses appearing before us today or seek to make lengthy speeches akin to statements in either House. They can make those speeches in the Houses. In the event that members have particularly strong opinions on the subject, and I am sure most do, we will listen to them. It is good to see members and non-members here today. If anybody has strong opinions we can consider a motion for next week's meeting to be submitted after today's meeting.
I appeal for co-operation from all those present.
Before I hand over to H.E. Mr. Ahmad Abdelrazek, I remind members, those in the gallery and witnesses to ensure that their mobile phones are switched off completely for the duration of the meeting, as they cause interference, even in silent mode, with the recording equipment in the committee rooms. This is particularly important today because proceedings are being covered live on television.
In addition, in advance of hearing the ambassador's presentation, I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. If they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I welcome H.E. Mr. Ahmad Abdelrazek. Since his appointment he has made a point of connecting with the parliamentary process, and is a regular visitor to the Houses to meet Members. That is very important for any ambassador, and for that I thank him.
The events in Gaza over the past few months have been widely covered on our television screens, in newspapers and on social media. Last week, following a number of truces, it was announced that a long-term ceasefire had been agreed. It is a step in the right direction for peace-loving people and is to be welcomed. We all hope the ceasefire will hold and a lasting solution can be achieved. We know there are huge challenges. If things were easy this conflict would have been settled many years ago.
We will hear a presentation from H.E. Mr. Ahmad Abdelrazek before proceeding to a question-and-answer session with members of the joint committee. Following this, the committee will suspend for a short period before resuming with a presentation from H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai, which will take a similar format. I ask H.E. Mr. Ahmad Abdelrazek to make his presentation. I welcome his assistants, Mr. Yussef Dorkhom and Ms Jilan Abdulmajid.
H.E. Mr. Ahmad Abdelrazek:
I thank the Chairman. Distinguished members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, excellencies and colleagues, I bring you the greetings of the Palestinian legislative council, whose members sincerely thank you for inviting me to brief the committee on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. Before I start, I ask the Chairman to allow me to thank the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and the members of the Seanad, which was recalled during the summer recess to discuss the situation in Gaza while the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip was ongoing. Furthermore, I would like to extend my appreciation to the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, for his statement on Monday on Israeli settlement expansion and for reaffirming Ireland's commitment to a two-state solution, which is the only solution to this conflict. I am also humbled by the enormous support of the Irish people, who have called for an end to the war on Gaza and are sending a message of hope to the Palestinian people, telling them that they are not forgotten and their pain is not theirs alone.
Ireland has gained an outstanding reputation worldwide for its stance on promoting and protecting human rights and sets an example in the field of peace building.
A ceasefire agreement was recently reached with the Israeli Government to end the war on the Gaza Strip. However, without tangible progress in peace negotiations and a set timetable for the realisation of a Palestinian state, what guarantees do we, the Palestinians, have that such a war will not be waged against us again, as has happened three times in the past six years? The Palestinian national consensus Government was based on acceptance of United Nations resolutions, the Oslo agreement and the Quartet decisions. It was welcomed by all countries, except one, Israel. The Government was sworn in on 2 June 2014, with general elections to be held in 2015. Ten days after this government took office, on 12 June, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped from an Area C zone in the occupied Palestinian territories, which is under full Israeli control. On 2 July, a day after the three teenagers were buried, Mohamed Abu Khdeir was kidnapped from East Jerusalem by Israeli settlers and evidence showed that he was brutally beaten and burned alive. Prime Minister Netanyahu accused Hamas of the kidnapping of the three Israelis, which Hamas has denied. An Israeli military operation was initiated in the West Bank for 11 days. It led to the killing of 11 Palestinians and the arrest of more than 500 others. In the Gaza Strip, six Hamas militants were assassinated, triggering a response from Hamas. More recently, Israel’s civil administration on Sunday announced the appropriation of 1,000 acres of land belonging to five Palestinian villages in Area C of the occupied Palestinian territories. I agree with the Chairman when he stated it is a nail in the coffin of the two-state solution. The move paves the way for the construction of a new settlement named Gva'ot. This move aims at expelling Palestinians out of their homes and out of a future state of Palestine.
Israel has disregarded numerous United Nations resolutions, treaties and conventions to which it is a signatory. First, since 1967 Israel has continued to colonise Palestinian lands. If the Israelis want peace, why do they continue to construct settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories? Israel has built the apartheid wall, seizing even more private and Palestinian state land within the 1967 borders. Israel is judaizing East Jerusalem. Since Israel's 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem, tens of thousands of Palestinians have lost their right to live in Jerusalem although they were born there. Unfortunately, I have a personal experience in this regard because my wife has received the letter withdrawing her Jerusalem ID. She no longer has any right although she was born there because she lived with me as ambassador for seven years outside Jerusalem.
Israel arbitrary arrests civilians, including children. On 2 November 1991, it ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNCRC, without reservation. However, since becoming a signatory to the UNCRC, it has failed to uphold the standards put forth by the convention in its treatment of Palestinian children.
Israel's policy in the West Bank is built on incursions and curfews, roadblocks and military checkpoints which all aim to render life even more difficult and restrict the freedom of movement of Palestinians.
Israeli soldiers are constantly fed the culture of impunity. They have been taught and fully believe they are above the law. On 15 May this year, Israeli army soldiers shot two Palestinian teenagers. The CCTV footage, obtained by Defence for Children International, shows that neither Nadeem Nowarah, aged 17 years, nor Mohammad Abu al-Thair, aged 16 years, presented any direct threat to the nearby soldiers at the time of the shooting.
Israel forces large numbers of Palestinians to request permits to go to school, work, pray and visit their families. It has constructed a network of bypass roads on Palestinian land that Palestinians cannot use. It cuts off and limits vital supplies of water and electricity. The average Israeli consumption of water is 300 litres per person per day, four times that of Palestinian consumption.
Israel constantly deports Palestinians, both within Palestine and abroad. In May 2002, 13 Palestinians were deported to a number of European countries, including two to Ireland under a temporary deportation agreement to last for one year. Twelve years on, these Palestinians are still hosted by those European countries, including Ireland, with no clear view on their return home. As you can see, Chairman, Israel controls almost every aspect of Palestinian life.
Like many others, I am saddened by the failure of the international community to prevent the massacres Israel committed against the civilian population in Gaza, between 6 July and 26 August this year. Over 2,000 Palestinians were killed, while over 10,000 were injured, many with permanent disabilities. The deaths included 581 children, 261 women, 101 elderly persons, 94 whole families who do not exist on the registers anymore, 23 health staff, 20 education staff, 11 United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, staff and 16 journalists. Moreover, according to data provided by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, the Israeli army killed 20 adults and three children on the West Bank during the same period. Soldiers also wounded 2,218 people, 38% of them by live fire, although there were no rockets and no missiles launched from the West Bank. Khalil Anati was from the Al-Fawar refugee camp in the southern part of the West Bank. A soldier, in an armoured jeep, shot him in the back with a live round and killed him as he was running home. He was ten years old.
Mohammed Al-Qatari was a promising soccer player from the Al-Amari refugee camp near Ramallah. A soldier shot him while he was taking part in a demonstration against the war on Gaza. He was 19 years old.
Hashem Abu Maria was a social worker and a father of three from Beit Ummar who worked for the Geneva-based NGO Defence for Children International. He participated in a demonstration against the Gaza war, trying to protect children by preventing them from throwing stones. He stood at the back of the group of protestors, shooing the children away. Some people heard him tell them:
Go home, this is dangerous. It’s not for you. You are children – demonstrations are for adults. Go home and play with your computers.He was killed by an Israeli army sniper who shot him straight in the heart, killing him on the spot, from a balcony the sniper had taken over from a Palestinian family.
Israel pretends it is a democratic country. England was considered a democratic country when it occupied Ireland. South Africa was a democratic country for the whites and an apartheid state for non-whites. For 20 years, we have been trying to negotiate a two-state solution but, I have to admit, we have failed. If there is doubt about the current Israeli Government’s intentions, then Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments quoted in the Times of Israelon 13 July remove all doubt. He said: “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan”. This clearly means not giving a Palestinian state full sovereignty.
Despite the international community’s claim that the two-state solution is the only solution, it has not acted to stop Israel usurping Palestinian land and natural resources. If the international community continues with the same approach to this conflict, then it is being complicit with the status quo. Relationships must change between Israel, the Palestinians and third-party states and be transformed into ones that centre on accountability.
We welcome the EU guidelines on settlements and the steps taken to discourage Israeli Governments from investing in settlements, but I believe more needs to be done. More tangible steps are needed that ultimately will end this unjust occupation.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, stated: “While there is an obligation on both sides to reach an accommodation, it is also the responsibility of the international community to be proactive in facilitating a long term solution.” Europe should play a more active role in the formal recognition of the Palestinian state.
Should the status quoof continued occupation persist, we will use all legitimate means to end the occupation and the cycles of massacres and destruction against our people.
I thank the ambassador very much for his presentation. Before I hand over to Deputy Smith, I would like to ask two questions. What is the political response of the Palestinian Authority to the confiscation of lands - 1,000 acres at Gush Etzion - as proposed by Israel? What has been the Palestinian Authority’s view on the extrajudicial killings of Palestinians in Gaza as a result of their collaboration with Israel?
H.E. Mr. Ahmad Abdelrazek:
Since 1967, Israel has appropriated the land and been condemned by everyone, but that does not stop it from continuing to appropriate the land. Before the Oslo agreement 20 years ago, there were 132,000 Israeli settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories and now we have more than 560,000 settlers there. The majority of settlements grew during the peace process. That is why more steps need to be taken to stop the gangrene of appropriating the Palestinian territories. That is why the European guidelines and the recent steps that have been taken are important. Radical steps in this direction should be taken that finish with the occupation of the land.
On the execution of the people accused, President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority condemn the executions because we are against any extra-judicial execution or punishment, whatever it is. We ask Hamas to stop these executions.
I compliment the Irish NGOs and their sister organisations working in very difficult conditions trying to bring humanitarian aid to people who are suffering greatly. That should be recorded.
We are talking about a crisis that is decades old and the result of political failure and the continuous displacement of Palestinians. In view of the Chairman's question, I take it that the ambassador is still very committed to the two-state solution, notwithstanding the huge expansion of settlements and the proposal on the pre-1967 borders. The proposal is one the Fianna Fáil Party which I represent has always advocated, as have successive Irish Governments. Does the ambassador condemn the rocket attacks targeting innocent civilians in Israel and what can be done to prevent them in the future? Does the ambassador accept that Israel is entitled to enjoy peaceful co-existence with Palestine? What prospect is there of Hamas disarming in order to progress a two-state solution? I understand the chief negotiator presented some proposals to the Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, yesterday. Will the ambassador refer briefly to the timetable envisaged in the proposals?
I thank the ambassador for his contribution. He outlined a very startling picture which is amplified more when we think of the casualty figures. The most recent figures I had seen for the conflict indicated that 2,116 Palestinians had been killed in the offensive in Gaza, of whom 495 were children and 255 were women. It is estimated that 70% of the victims were civilians. Equally, I condemn the murder and killing of 71 Israelis, including four civilians. I deplore violence from whatever source it may emanate.
H.E. Mr. Ahmad Abdelrazek:
Since the beginning of the Oslo agreement, we were clear about the two-state solution. That is why we do not understand why the Israelis, who started on this basis, continued to construct settlements and expropriate land in Palestinian territories. There are two explanations to this. Either, the Israelis were not serious about the two-state solution, so they lied to us. Otherwise, they are lying to their people who are they are bringing to the Palestinian territories. If they were honest and serious about the two-state solution, they have to evacuate them. Why are they bringing them there in the first place?
From the beginning, we have been calling for a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders. We want peace and we want to negotiate for it. Negotiations over nine months directed by the United States Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, who put much energy and time into them, have failed. Why? Everyone knows why. Mr. Kerry said it at the US Senate foreign affairs committee when he informed the committee that Israel failed to release prisoners on time as agreed and announced construction of 700 settlements in Jerusalem. He then made a gesture, exclaiming “Poof”. John Kerry explained how these nine months of negotiations failed and how it was not the Palestinians’ fault.
We cannot arrive at any point if we do not delineate the borders. Israel refuses to discuss the borders issue. The President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, has proposed we sit down for three to four months to discuss the borders issue. This is what Saeb Erekat brought to Mr. Kerry. When they are defined, the Israelis will then know where they can construct colonies and we will not care. They can construct the wall not 8 m high, as it is now, but 20 m high. They can construct it in their land, not ours. They can do what they want but only on their land, not ours. One cannot discuss security if one does not know one’s borders.
We are looking for a peaceful solution for our children and Israeli children, so they may live in peace. The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, condemned publicly at an Islamic conference the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers. We are against this kind of practice. The Israeli practices are different. Can one tell me of any Israeli soldier who shot a Palestinian who was indicted? Not one has been indicted. For them, Palestinian blood is cheap and does not matter.
From the beginning we have said if there were a two-state solution with a sovereign Palestinian state, it would be a disarmed state. If we are at peace, why should we need arms? Look at Germany and Japan. They became the most advanced economies in the world because they did not have arms.
We would like to be like that but one cannot occupy a people and ask them to just accept the occupation. It happened in Ireland. There were two tendencies - a tendency that did not want to fight the British and a tendency that wanted to fight them. We have the same situation but to solve this problem, the occupation must finish.
It is important that we express our sympathy and regret at all the lives lost in the recent conflict. Collectively, we regret and sympathise with all the families and those who have been injured during this conflict. I do not think anyone equivocates, regardless of whether they are Palestinian, Israeli or anything else. First of all, there is no agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis regarding the number of deaths. I do not know if the ambassador wants to comment on that. Deputy Smith spoke in terms of 2,100 people. I think one is talking about 11,000 Palestinians who have been injured. Over 500,000 have been displaced, which is approximately 30% of the population. It has been said that 13% of Gazan homes have been damaged.
The first question that people in Ireland would ask concerns the 11,000 people who have been injured. Is humanitarian aid getting through? Are the checkpoints that surround Gaza fully open? Is medical aid and other aid getting through because when the ceasefire was called, people said the checkpoints were only partially opened? That is a difficulty in itself so could the ambassador outline what is happening on the ground and what the conditions in Gaza are like? We know the power plant was bombed and that there are only something like four hours of electricity during the day. The big question that people and politicians in Ireland are asking concerns what the Irish Government and people can do. They marched in their hundreds of thousands all across the country to express their concern about what was happening. We all want to see a peace process that works.
How confident is the ambassador that Israel will stick to this latest agreement because we have had agreements in the past that have been broken? How confident is the ambassador about that agreement? What can this country do in respect of pressure from the EU? Does the ambassador believe that Israel's actions in the West Bank in the lead-up to this latest conflict and the atrocities committed in Gaza were an attempt to break up the new Palestinian unity Government? Does the ambassador believe there is a connection here? Does he believe that international pressure is important in stopping illegal settlement building? What can Ireland do in respect of this? They are simple questions but the responses are huge and complex.
What has been the response of the US Government to the latest Palestinian Government initiative? I am thinking in particular of this peace process about which the ambassador is talking. If this plan fails - we are talking about potentially setting borders for the future - will the Palestinian Authority sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, ICC? What can the Irish Government do to support Palestinian efforts to accede to the ICC given the diplomatic pressure on Palestine not to accede?
I thank Deputy Crowe. There are about six questions there, some of which concern getting the aid in, what Ireland can do, whether Israel will stick to the agreement and the Israeli motive to break up the Palestinian unity Government.
There are also other questions about the peace process and the US.
H.E. Mr. Ahmad Abdelrazek:
In the beginning, while the attack was ongoing, it was difficult to get international aid to Gaza, but now it is a question of proceeding step by step. The situation is very difficult. It is not easy on the ground because more than 2,000 people have been killed, unfortunately. A more important question arises about the nearly 11,000 injured and the civilian injuries. More than 17,000 houses were destroyed and 29 hospitals and clinics were damaged or destroyed. Some 220 schools were damaged, as were six universities. In addition to the human losses, the economic damage and the people's suffering are very heavy.
Most of the assistance is coming through Egypt. It comes from many countries and NGOs, a number of which are working with us. I recently received a letter from the Irish Red Cross, which is sending assistance through the Palestinian Red Crescent. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has donated €500,000 to Gaza. It is not easy, however, because we have a severe problem in terms of people who will be permanently disabled from their injuries. We have asked Ireland if it can receive a number of them. We have discussed the issue with the Chairman and I have raised it with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. We hope that Ireland can also assist by receiving some of these people for treatment.
In regard to what Ireland can do, as a member state of the European Union it can do a lot. Ireland and the European Union can take practical steps to say there is no way other than the two-state solution. This is why I said it was not enough to condemn. We can condemn every day and every night without the other party responding. This is what we see with the colonisation of Palestinian land. We need clearer steps towards recognising a Palestinian state so that the Israelis understand the two-state solution based on 1967 borders. We will discuss the details and how to solve this problem between us, but the basis of a solution is the 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. When we refer to East Jerusalem we do not mean we will build a new Berlin wall. There are many examples, such as with the Vatican in Rome or Brussels, where sovereignty is divided but there is free movement inside the city.
Europe should take these steps. We do not understand why Europeans always say they want to be balanced. What does it mean to be balanced? As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, one cannot be neutral between the oppressor and the oppressed; when there is injustice, one cannot be neutral but should work to lift the injustice. We do not ask more. When we address the United Nations, we do not delegitimise Israel - on the contrary. When we asked to be admitted to the United Nations as a Palestinian state, we did not specify that it would be a Palestinian state on the whole Palestinian territory, but based on the 1967 borders, which legitimised Israel. However, we delegitimise the settlements because everybody considers them illegal. We are asking only for what everybody recognises. We need steps to crystallise the two-state solution.
We do not yet have a response from the US about the proposed peace process of Mr. Abbas. This is why Majid Faraj and Saeb Erekat went to Washington to meet John Kerry to discuss the question. On the connection between the war and the break-up of the Palestinian unity government, when we formed the government it was with the consent of Hamas and the other parties on the basis of acceptance of the United Nations resolutions, the Oslo Accords and the Quartet decisions. Hamas gave the government a mandate to negotiate the peace process. Zionists and the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, say Palestinians should choose between peace and Hamas, but why is he not negotiating with Hamas? What happened in Egypt was an indirect negotiation with Israel. There have been many indirect negotiations between the PLO and Israel. There are indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas, and it is not the first time. This is the third time Egypt has negotiated a ceasefire through indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas.
Given that Hamas has mandated the Palestinian Authority to negotiate peace, why should Hamas be excluded? Does Israel want peace or not? It cannot make peace with only one part of the Palestinian people. It must make peace with all of the Palestinian people; otherwise, it will be unsustainable. We must include Hamas in the peace process. The Zionists say they will not accept Hamas until it changes its charter. When we signed the Oslo Accords, the PLO did not change its charter. The PLO changed its charter five years later when President Clinton visited Gaza in 1998.
I was in the national council when it voted on the articles concerning the non-acceptance of Israel only five years later. The most important thing is to conclude a peace. They did not accept. I will not make it through them.
The war against Gaza was to topple the unity Government. We do not understand the Israelis because during the negotiations with them, they always used to say to Americans and Europeans:
Why should we negotiate with President Abbas? He doesn't represent all the Palestinians so if we negotiate with him, the other party will not accept that. It is nonsense so there is no need to negotiate with them.Now that all Palestinians are agreed to go to negotiations, we do not understand why the Israelis are rejecting the Government that represents all the Palestinians and would go to peace negotiations for a two-state solution.
I welcome the ambassador. I would like to ask about diplomatic initiatives, particularly the Euro-Med agreement covering trade between Israel and EU. Human rights protocols are attached to that agreement. I have consistently called for them to be monitored but they have not been; nobody is even watching them. What steps is the state of Palestine taking to ensure the EU monitors these protocols in light of the fact that there is universal international agreement that not only human rights violations but war crimes have been taking place? Would it not be better to remove these human rights protocols, which are just a fig leaf, if they are going to be completely ignored? What is Palestine doing to ensure they are at least monitored and then acted upon?
The pretext Israel gave for starting a war was the kidnapping and appalling murder of three Israeli teenagers, which everybody condemned internationally. The ambassador stated that Hamas has denied any involvement in this. I would like further information in light of the fact that I have also had the opportunity to read quickly through the submission of the Israeli ambassador, who is present in the Visitors Gallery. He says on page 1: "...a Hamas Politburo member living in Turkey, [he names him so it is very specific] Saleh Aruri, took credit for the abduction and killing of the teens; then a few days later the movement’s leader, Khaled Meshaal, also acknowledged that it was involved." There is a clear contradiction here. Could Mr. Abdelrazek clarify this?
I notice that sometimes ambassadors refer to our troubled history with the United Kingdom. That is not helpful and I would avoid that in future; it is populist. I particularly point to the fact that the Queen of England is more Irish by descent than half the IRA.
I gave the Senator that leniency because he just asked two questions. I welcome him back to the committee following his recent procedure. I am delighted that he is back, as he is an active member. It is good that he is back as active as ever.
I will hand over to the ambassador to deal with the two questions on trade and human rights protocols and the contradiction relating to the kidnapping and murder of the three teenagers.
H. E. Mr. Ahmad Abdelrazek:
The Senator spoke about England, talking about history and I hope that one day what has happened between Ireland and England will arrive with us. This was only a reference for history.
About the kidnapping and what has happened in that, at the time of the kidnapping President Abbas condemned publicly it. He asked the question to Hamas, "Did you that?" They said: "No." So important information from Hamas he answered. This is the first point. Then, as the Senator said, Mr. al-Arouri in Turkey declared that Hamas was behind this kidnapping. A few days ago President Abbas went to Doha to meet with Meshaal and he asked him the same question: "Why did you tell me that you were not behind the kidnapping and you were behind the kidnapping?" He told him exactly: "I didn't know. We are not aware of that." So what has happened until now we do not know exactly because either the people who kidnapped the teenagers acted on their own or by orders, which level of orders we do not know. These are the answers that we have. We acted upon these answers and we are still acting upon these answers. Clearly whoever did it, we condemned it because we are against it.
About the Euro-Med agreement, every time we remind the Europeans of their engagements, their agreements, with Israel and to respect these agreements. That is what we can do. What else can we do? I think the people here, who are aware of that, should also remind the Europeans of their obligations towards this question because we do not understand. In other countries immediately sanction is taken. When it comes to Israel all kind of sanction is stopped. It is hermetic. We do not understand this attitude. Now they have started to understand this politics of colonisations is harmful for everybody, we hope that they will start to apply what they have decided.
I said it in the end; we will not accept the status quoanymore. We have to find a solution. If not, we will address the United Nations organisations. I can tell the committee that Hamas has signed the paper which permits us to go to the Rome treaty. It means that Hamas will be responsible also to the court - Hamas or other one, or me or anyone. They signed - they accepted that they go with the Rome treaty. We are not looking to go for tomorrow for the Rome treaty.
We cannot accept that every two years our people will be massacred and that the economy and infrastructure will be put back to zero. The European Union has financed most of the infrastructure in Gaza. Everything is being destroyed, but it has not asked what has happened to the infrastructure which it financed through its taxpayers.
If there is no action, we will take all legitimate action permitted by law. That is our right. As President Abbas has always said, we have always tried to find a negotiable solution and we are following that strategy. We need a response.
I thank the ambassador for addressing the committee. To what does he attribute the failure or breakdown of the peace talks? Was it a lack of commitment on the part of any one or more of the bodies in the negotiating groups? Was there a lack of support from or a commitment on the part of the international community? Was there evidence of manipulation of any of the participants by people outside the immediate negotiations? What does the ambassador see as a prerequisite for the restoration of the peace talks on an ongoing basis? When is that likely to happen?
There is another question related to the activities of ISIS or related bodies in the region of the Golan Heights, from where we have heard reports in recent times. To what extent does the ambassador believe such activity is influencing the issue between Israel and Palestine? To what extent does that influence extend beyond normal boundaries?
My last issue has also been raised by others and involves the two-state solution. Are all of the constituent bodies committed to the two-state solution? Is everybody on board and is there a wish for the two-state solution to succeed? Have some people come to the conclusion that it will not work or be achieved and that there is no use in pursuing it?
H.E. Mr. Ahmad Abdelrazek:
The Deputy asked why negotiations had failed. We have two big problems because the Israelis have constantly indicated that they will only negotiate with Palestinians. This means that the Israelis hold the balance of power. They are not sure if they want to evacuate Palestinian territories. Most importantly, there is no confidence between the two parties, the Israelis and the Palestinians. Unfortunately, it is like that, which is why we have said there is a need for a third party; an honest and just broker. For example, in the nine months of negotiations the Israelis rejected the presence of any third party. How can we know the points on which we agree or disagree?
When I presented my letters, I remember President Michael D. Higgins telling me that if there was no secretariat for the negotiations, they would never succeed. He also said this publicly and he is right. We do not have a secretariat to record what is ongoing; therefore, everybody can say what he or she wants.
When there is a secretariat, a third party can say, "No, stop. You have agreed on that or you are disagreed on that. Let us continue." I can give an example. There are demands from Prime Minister Netanyahu that, for security, Israel will not leave the Jordan valley. Last February, Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli Prime Minister said the proposed peace deal in 2008 included no Israeli presence in the Jordan valley, contrary to the current Israeli demand. Do not tell me that the security needs have changed, because they have not. The political level that decides security is the security people. At that time, the security people who decided they did not need to be in the Jordan valley knew what they were saying and doing. I cannot imagine any Prime Minister in the world who can take a decision on security questions without the agreement of security people.
The second obstacle has been recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Israel is registered in the United Nations as Israel. Israel has an agreement with Egypt as Israel. It also has an agreement with Jordan as Israel. Israel signed the Oslo Agreement with us as Israel. Why is it asking us now to recognise a Jewish state? I also point to the contradiction that the former President of Israel, Shimon Peres, has said that Israel does not need the Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Peres also said, in a television interview as Israeli President, that he was on the brink of a historic peace agreement with Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu stopped it. The agreement was reached with the Prime Minister's knowledge.
I mentioned what Mr. Kerry has said. Our demands are really clear. We want a state based on the 1967 borders. Of course, we also talk about the refugees. The Israelis say the Palestinians will submerge Israel with refugees. It is not that. We have said it is a negotiated question but, in principle, of course there is the problem of refugees. I am a refugee. If I say there is no problem with refugees, who am I given where I came from? However, to solve the problem is another question. I have the right to have my identity recognised. That is what I am asking for.
H. E. Mr. Ahmad Abdelrazek:
About ISIS, to blur the situation and to escape the negotiations, now the Israeli Prime Minister is combining Hamas with ISIS. That is not true. Even the Americans said it is not true. Why? Hamas is fighting on the Palestinian land. We agree and we do not agree on other things. Regarding the role of Hamas, a member of the legislative council on the list of Hamas is a Christian, so it does not discriminate against Christians. It does not discriminate against people who are not Hamas people or are from other religions.
It is not the same. It is wrong to fall for this misunderstanding, combine Hamas and ISIS and say one is defending the free world against the jihadists and the extremists. One cannot defend the free world when one is occupying another country. To defend the free world, one must follow the values of the free world.
I thank the ambassador and applaud his statement that, "Relationships must change between Israel, the Palestinians and third party states and be transformed into ones that centre on accountability," because that is the essence of what we are trying to achieve. He mentioned European taxpayers. Gaza must be rebuilt. The figure for emergency aid is already $367 million. Does the ambassador support an independent external body monitoring the reconstruction programme in Gaza to counter what is alleged to have happened in the past, namely, corruption? Can he again assure the committee - I know that he has attempted to do so, but I will ask him again in the light of the previous question - that there is Palestinian political will to work together as a consensus government, to rebuild Gaza and represent all Palestinians on the West Bank, in Gaza and east Jerusalem? Is there a satisfactory consensus government in place?
The 1967 borders were mentioned. Palestine has progressed to having non-member state observer status at the United Nations. Will the ambassador give us a commitment, as his state concept is recognised, that will he support joining the International Criminal Court which would allow claims to be lodged against Israel or Palestine?
H.E. Mr. Ahmad Abdelrazek:
On the first question on EU taxpayers, I emphasise that last year there were talks on corruption and the European Union and the World Bank investigated. They said everything was going okay, but we are always supervised by external organisations to monitor the world assistance provided. If they want to control it, I am not against it. For us, the most important thing is to rebuild what has been destroyed. It is up to the donors to decide how it is rebuilt. We do not have any problem with monitoring from outside.
On the government issue, I think Deputy Durkan asked if everybody agreed with the negotiations with Israel. Of course, they do not. There is always a difference between people because it is different for everyone.
President Abbas has said clearly that if we arrive at an agreement with Israel, it will be put to a referendum and the Palestinians will vote on this agreement. Hamas said that if the Palestinian people agree to this treaty then it will abide by that. We cannot determine who will accept the agreement before it is reached. Of course, even in democratic countries when the government says it is one way, the opposition says "No, it is not this way, it is another way". I cannot guarantee the future without knowing the future. That is why we are negotiating. We know that there will be a referendum of the Palestinians and that nobody will reject the result of the popular referendum because the population will reject them. I think this point is obvious. Hamas and the others mandated President Abbas to negotiate. That is all we agree about. They said "We don't believe in these negotiations because you are losing time but, okay, you can go and negotiate". That is why we say we cannot keep the status quoindefinitely. We have to arrive at a solution.
If there are no crimes, why should we go to the court? As members here know, if I am not wrong, the court takes evidence only after admission. Do I think that Israel will continue to commit crimes in the future? I do not know. I hope not but if they commit them, it is our right to go to the court. We hope we will arrive at a solution before we go to court because that will solve all of the problems but if the occupation continues we will go because settlement is a crime. If the settlements continue, we will go to the court, yes. I will not tell you we will not go and then after the vote, we go. No, I tell you clearly, if they continue, we will go to the court because the settlements are a war crime.
I welcome the ambassador and join others in offering my condolences on the loss of innocent life in Gaza and the West Bank in recent months. Is the new found co-operation between Fatah and Hamas sustainable, given that an election is due next year? I welcome that co-operation because unless the Palestinians are united, they will find it very hard to reach an agreement that is sustainable. I also think that the Israelis should welcome it too. Are there any talks taking place within that framework to get Hamas to disarm? Can the ambassador explain why Hamas would bomb Israel, knowing the brutal retaliation that would ensue from that?
The ambassador spoke about the international community failing to respond effectively and I concur with that point and do not dispute it in any way. However, given international law, UN resolutions and agreements which have been entered into with Israel, all of which have been ignored, what does the ambassador want the international community to do? Obviously calling on the Israeli Government to respect international law is ineffective. I would like the ambassador to comment specifically on the conversations concerning the banning of settlement goods. Have we gone past that now? Should the international community be looking at imposing a complete ban on Israeli goods so that pressure is brought to bear to kick-start the negotiations?
Third, the ambassador spoke about the cutting off of vital supplies like water and electricity. I ask him to give us a brief indication of the manner in which housing, sanitation and health services have been affected from a humanitarian perspective. I would like to mention the issue of child prisoners in this context. I recently saw a report indicating that over 8,000 Palestinian children have been detained by Israeli authorities. I was very concerned to read in the report that Israeli soldiers and ISA officers have used sexual threats and have sexually abused children they have detained. Can the ambassador comment on that and on the threats of rape and sodomy that have been made against women? These are significant human rights issues. Women are systematically stripped, body searches are done on them and they are often threatened with rape. These serious issues do not seem to get the amplification in the international media that I would have thought crimes of that nature would merit. There needs to be a focus on them so they can be eradicated.
I am on my second last question. The risk associated with DAISH has been raised. Many people, including representatives of non-governmental organisations that are involved in human rights, say that Fatah is losing public support because it does not seem to be able to make progress with negotiations with Israel. Hamas is also losing support because of what it has done, which has attracted the bombing. Some people are concerned that this could create circumstances in which the radicalisation of young Palestinian people becomes the focus of DAISH and others. A far more serious situation would arise in such circumstances.
I will conclude by saying I do not understand why the Palestinian authorities are reluctant to go to The Hague to invoke the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court with regard to the war crimes that have been committed in Palestine.
Many of the issues I had intended to raise have been dealt with. I welcome the ceasefire, which must be a huge relief for the ambassador, for everyone in Israel, and particularly for those living in appalling conditions in Gaza. As the ambassador said, the ceasefire is only the first step. The real imperative now is to develop some kind of international initiative to ensure there are peace talks that bring about some kind of sustainable solution. I am sure the ambassador will agree that one had to despair when an inexplicably provocative extension of settlements, across 1,000 acres of land, was announced this week. I think the timing of the announcement was entirely provocative.
I was going to ask about the welfare of citizens in Gaza, but many people have already done so. Gaza was not a pretty place before the war. I am sure it is absolutely intolerable now from the perspective of food, water, medicine and shelter, etc. If there is anything the committee can do, I would support it. As the ambassador mentioned, it has been suggested that some of the injured could be sent to Ireland for treatment. I would like to help if there is anything I can do in that regard.
I want to ask about the massacre of those who collaborated with the Israelis in Gaza. This pretty savage act appalled the international community. Similarly, the capture of the Israeli teenagers, regardless of who did it, was an appalling act. It may seem like a small thing compared to the death of 2,000 Palestinians - including 600 children, appallingly - but it needs to be emphasised that such a savage and calculated act offends against all the norms of civilised behaviour. I was glad to hear the ambassador say that those killings have been condemned, certainly by the Palestinian Authority and I think by Hamas as well. Will the perpetrators be brought to justice? Will they be allowed to do that kind of thing with impunity? I am placing an emphasis on this incident even though the number of deaths might seem small by comparison with the number of deaths of Palestinians in the war itself.
Such killings damage the Palestinian cause. They are so savage and calculated that they make it very hard for those of us who would support the Palestinian cause to fight the Palestinians' corner. Is there an understanding that this type of behaviour is unacceptable?
I welcome the ambassador and his colleagues. I ask him to comment on the allegation made on a number of occasions that Hamas hides behind citizens and uses them as human shields. Will he also comment on the allegation that one fifth of the missiles fired by Hamas landed within Gaza?
What was the purpose of the tunnels? It has been alleged that they were to open up in Israeli villages in order that civilians could be kidnapped and held as hostages or, worse, murdered. What is the purpose of the tunnels and how does the ambassador respond to the allegation that it is to kill civilians?
H.E. Mr. Ahmad Abdelrazek:
On co-operation between Hamas and Fatah, when we decided to form the unity government we stated that there would be elections. People will decide between Hamas, Fatah and others. President Abbas has stated that if Hamas wins he will give it the keys, because the people will have made their choice.
On whether the unity government is sustainable, while Hamas and Fatah do not agree with each other ideologically, they are both part of Palestinian society and must therefore work together. Ultimately, however, they will both try to win the presidency.
This morning I read the results of a poll which showed that support for Hamas had increased and that if Abbas and Haniyeh presented themselves for election today, the latter would win the presidency. However, we do not know what will happen tomorrow, as this always occurs after conflicts. We stated that we must hold elections to allow the people to decide what they want. They will decide whether they want to continue the negotiations or, if they consider the negotiations to be useless, to go a different way. That is a choice for the people. Hamas and Fatah understood that they did not have any choice but to go the way of elections. We cannot foresee what will happen or what will be the results if the elections take place next year.
The question to be asked is not "Who started it?", because when two children fight they both say, "I did not hit him; he hit me." The question is whether Israel wants peace. If we are serious about peace and ending the occupation, the "I did not hit him; he hit me" argument will finish. The core problem is occupation. Throughout history, occupation has brought conflict and violence.
There is no history of occupation without violence and violent actions. We have seen it and lived with it for almost 50 years. It is time to finish with violence by establishing peace, but establishing peace is impossible without ending the colonisation. That is what we meant when I said the international community should take more serious steps. It takes steps when it considers a situation is incorrect. We are calling for a boycott of the settlements and anything related to them because they are illegal. The Israelis should understand this cannot continue; therefore, we are calling for a boycott of settlements of all kinds. Some say a boycott is not politic. Why is it politic with other countries and does work and why does not it work with Israel? Why do they consider it legitimate to boycott countries which are considered to have breached the law when Israel is not treated in the same way when it breaches the law? We do not understand this. We are not calling for anything extreme. We say countries should boycott what is illegal in order that Israel will understand this really is illegal because up to now, it has considered it to be right.
The Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr. Lieberman, said yesterday that Israel stood behind its decision to appropriate West Bank land, adding that the official policy of the Government of Israel was, first and foremost, to focus on the settlement blocs which would clearly remain under Israeli sovereignty under a future settlement. Its focus officially is on the settlements. What can I say? This is the Minister for Foreign Affairs; it is not a member of the party. I do not mention the members of the parties who want to expel Palestinians or see them in the sea. I do not care about this; I am talking about officials in the government. I am talking about the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for the Economy. They are decision makers.
The Israelis take our water from the West Bank. We have the right to only one quarter of the quantity they use. One cannot dig a well on the West Bank without Israeli authorisation. One cannot even do this in Area A. That is why I was not creating or inventing something when I said Israel controlled almost all aspects of our lives. That is the reality. Even the Israeli NGOs which are working on the issue human rights will tell us that.
Amnesty International reports that 90% or 95% of the drinking water in the Gaza Strip is contaminated and unfit for human consumption. Do you know why? It is because normally Gaza gets its water from the mountains of the West Bank, but the Israelis dug wells to intercept the water to transfer it to Israel. That is why sea water and sewage has entered the water system causing nephrotic problems.
H.E. Mr. Ahmad Abdelrazek:
There was a question about the prisoners. Harassment and torture is known about but as for sexual harassment I do not know because I do not have information. I cannot say what I do not know. Anyway, torture is known about. It is not new and the harassment of prisoners and people is not new. It is mentioned in social media but I do not have information.
H.E. Mr. Ahmad Abdelrazek:
There was a question about why we do not go before the International Criminal Court. It is because we want to give an opportunity and a chance for peace. The day we go to the ICC will mean the door is closed and for the moment we do not want to close the door. That is why we are asking that the international community does more to change the status quo. In my last sentence I was clear about it and I said we still have hope, but for how long?
Deputy Mitchell asked a question and I agree with her. We all agree with her. It is not only a question of image; it is a question of what we believe. We believe in justice and we cannot accept injustice. As I said, we condemn and we are against extrajudicial punishment whatever it is, whether killing or any kind of punishment. Are we going to bring them to justice? I do not know because the situation is confusing. We do not know who did it. Are they going to apprehend them? We do not know. Like Deputy Mitchell I am sorry to see it but I repeat what I have said. It is not only me or other officials who take this view - all officials of the Government condemn this practice. However, when I talk to ordinary people on the telephone in Palestine it is clear to me that they are against it. Their view is that if tomorrow someone suspects them and claims they are collaborating with Israel then someone will come and kill them. Nobody accepts that.
There was a question concerning human shields. We do not have any evidence that Hamas has used people as human shields.
I do not know if it does and there is no evidence of it. Nobody has reported that it has happened, but we will wait and see. That is why we await the United Nations Human Rights Council Commission which will go to Gaza and find out what is really happening. At the same time we are sure that, as the committee heard at the beginning, Israel has destroyed one quarter of Gaza. We can now see the scale of the destruction. Why was that? It was because of the Hannibal law that there would be no Israeli prisoners. They have to kill everybody. That is why I think they could not identify certain soldiers who had been killed at the beginning. They used the DNA because they had destroyed everything. That is why they say they do not believe they are prisoners as Hamas states and consider them to be lost. They consider them to be dead because they found parts of their bodies. All quarters were so heavily bombarded that nobody survived - no Israeli soldiers, nobody. That is why the casualties were very heavy among the Palestinian civilians and houses were destroyed.
I hope there will be no tunnels. When the Algerians resisted the French, one of the Algerian French army officers arrested a member of the Algerian resistance and asked why they were putting bombs in baskets with the potential to explode. The answer was, “If you give me your fighters, I will give you my baskets.” I do not justify this, but I say everyone considers the means by which we agree or do not agree on something. That is why the only solution to all of these questions is peace; there is no other way. Israel cannot destroy Hamas and knows that it cannot destroy it. Hamas is part of the people in Gaza and the committee has seen how people supported it, although they are in a catastrophic, disastrous situation because they are their people. The only solution is peace. All the power of Israel cannot destroy Hamas. It can kill many people in Hamas, but it cannot destroy it because it is part of the people and so it must destroy all the people. That is why President Abbas always says that even when there is a war against Gaza, we must go to negotiations to find a solution.
I welcome the ambassador and his delegation and join in extending the sympathy of the Irish people to the families of the more than 2,000 people on both sides who lost their lives unnecessarily.
I hope the recently negotiated ceasefire will help to bring about a situation in which not another life will be lost.
The ambassador raised a major concern I have - I may have misunderstood him, but he might clarify his statement - namely, the process for conducting the peace negotiations. He referred to the lack of a secretariat or structure to progress the peace negotiations. Did I understand that point correctly? If that is the situation and a structure needs to be put in place, does the ambassador see the EU or the USA having a role in helping to put in place an internationally recognised structure which would help the peace negotiations to make real progress?
Will the Palestinian Authority support efforts to seek a long-term political solution based on structural changes to the status quo, including an end to the occupation and a full adherence to international and human rights law? That is a very basic question.
Given the significant damage done to water and sanitation facilities, is there now a major public health issue in Gaza?
The ambassador said he was still hopeful that there could be some chance of a two-state solution and a negotiated settlement with Israel, but also hinted that hope was running out in that regard. Why does the ambassador have any hope that Israel is serious about the two-state solution or has any interest in a peaceful solution? A large number of people think Israel has shown nothing but contempt for the two-state solution. Since Oslo it has, as the ambassador said, accelerated illegal settlements and continued them in a brazen manner, while totally disregarding international law, provoking the Palestinians at every single turn and engaging in three massacres in Gaza, claiming thousands of lives. It has shown not a whit of interest in serious, meaningful negotiations about a two-state solution.
I agree with Desmond Tutu, who is a Nobel peace prize winner, that the time has come to draw a line and say that Israel is not interested in peace and we should no longer contribute to a sense of normalcy by doing business with it. He said the time had come to break all relations, not just with the settlements but with Israel, at economic, political and cultural levels. Should we ask the Irish Government and European governments to isolate Israel until it behaves like a civilised member of the international community?
Is the ambassador, like me, enraged at how, when Israel is criticised for its appalling actions against the Palestinians, including massacres and mistreatment, instead of responding to the substantial allegations it tries to cover them by calling anybody who criticises it anti-Semitic? It is an absolutely outrageous accusation against such people, 99% of whom are motivated by opposition to racism. They abhor racism, and that is why they abhor what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. Yet Israel continues to call people who criticise it anti-Semitic. I would like the ambassador to comment on that because it is a point that needs to be repeated ad nauseam. The representatives of the Palestinian people are not anti-Semitic because they themselves are Semites. It makes no sense and is a disgraceful and dishonest allegation for Israel to make. For Israel to allege that those who criticise its policy are anti-Semitic is dishonouring the memory of the Holocaust in the most appalling way. Does the ambassador agree?
I will be very brief. The ambassador is being slightly polite and perhaps too respectful.
I will pick up on the last few points in the ambassador's speech and seek greater clarity on how the ambassador thinks Europe should play a more active role in the formal recognition of the Palestinian state. He should tell the joint committee exactly what he means by that and how he thinks Ireland should play a part in this regard. In other words, this is an opportunity for the ambassador to tell members what they should do to support that statement formally. I would like him to be less vague about that.
The second question pertains to the Irish Government in particular. In the view of the ambassador, is the Irish Government doing enough with regard to the conflict? I refer in particular to the vagueness regarding the boycott, divestment and sanctions process. Is the ambassador telling members that it pertains to the settlement goods or is it in respect of Israeli goods? While the ambassador was obliged to show respect to our Minister, as do all members, he should make absolutely clear to the joint committee whether he is in favour of Ireland stepping up and formulating a clear policy on boycott to divestment and sanctions. Does this pertain to settlement goods or to Israeli goods?
I thank the ambassador for his attendance and wish to re-emphasise one point that was made earlier in respect of Israel. One does not expect much from dictatorships or countries that are engaged in terrorism, which is why there is no point in bringing before this committee representatives of some countries in the Middle East. That is what dictatorships do - they wage war against democracies and their own people. However, one expects a lot more from Israel, which is a democracy, albeit limited because some of its people living within its borders are not allowed to vote. Members expect a lot more of democracies than of terrorists or dictatorships.
My question to the ambassador pertains to the European Union's trade agreement with Israel, namely, the Euro-Mediterranean agreement, which has within it a humanitarian clause and a human rights clause. What does the Palestinian Authority want Ireland to do in invoking that clause because one has seen many times the European Union engaging in talks but not in actions? The Euro-Mediterranean agreement allows Israel, as well as illegal settlements and the produce produced therefrom, access to European markets. The aforementioned human rights clause was included to be invoked in the event that Israel was engaged in violations of human rights, as members have seen happen. Members do not expect much from Hamas. They fire indiscriminately and wish to kill everyone they see. Members do not expect much from dictatorships or terrorist organisations. They expect more from Israel and expect more from the European Union, in that if it has a trade agreement with a democracy, it should invoke and revoke that trade agreement and the human rights clause within it as a punishment for its activity. I seek the ambassador's views in this regard.
H.E. Mr. Ahmad Abdelrazek:
I will start with the last question. It is what I stated at the outset, which is that Israel considers itself as a democratic country and so must respond to the international community. The Senator is right that one cannot ask a dictatorship because it is a dictatorship. It is like that. However, when one states that one is a democracy, one must behave like a democracy and not like a dictatorship or a coloniser. I agree completely with the Senator in what he has said about the description of the situation. The United States, the European Union, the United Nations and the Russian Federation have constituted the Quartet and it has put forward a kind of roadmap to solve the problem.
They should normally supervise the negotiations between Israel and Palestine, but the Israelis refused to allow the Quartet to participate in the negotiations. What we do not understand is why the Quartet accepted the Israelis' condition. For example, Mr. Martin Indyk was charged with participating in the negotiations by the United States, but he was not allowed to participate in them. He was briefed after them and nobody can register what went on between us and the Israelis. That is our big problem. That is why we think that when the Quartet supervises the negotiations, there will be great progress.
On many occasions I ask our representatives who go to negotiations how they have gone. They say they do not agree, that they start, stop, restart, stop and restart; every time they go they have nothing because nothing is registered, as there is nobody to witness what is going on. Of course, everyone, whether Israeli or Palestinian, states their version of the negotiations, but we do not want that; we do not want people to believe our version. If one wants to have serious negotiations, we want the Quartet to witness and supervise them.
We are seeking the solution and asking for the protection of the United Nations. We ask for it because we do not know what to do. The Israelis have the military power. In the face of this problem we can only ask for the United Nations' protection. We have a right to this and will ask for it - I repeat - if there is no change in the attitude towards this problem.
To answer Deputy Boyd Barrett on why we still continue in negotiations, it is because we think to have a sustainable peace we have to negotiate. We cannot keep fighting because we will keep fighting for generations, which is not in the interests of anybody. It is not in the interests of our people.
I have lived as a refugee all my life. I was born a refugee. I do not want my children to remain in this position. I go to Palestine with a French passport; I do not have the right to go there with a Palestinian passport. I go with a French passport, as a tourist; otherwise I cannot go there. I want to be normal like everybody else. I want my children, at least, to be normal like everybody else. That is what we are looking for, which is why we keep hope. However, as I said, the hope now is, after what happened in Gaza, that we will not keep the door open infinitely. We have one way - to choose another way - and I think we will choose it. We have started to choose it. We started to prepare for it in case going for serious negotiations failed. That is another choice for us.
Really, we do not know because we are negotiating with Israelis. We are trying to live side by side with Israelis but we ask the European Union to apply the agreements with Israel, the partnership with Israel based on respect for human rights. We ask the Europeans to respect the agreements with Israel. We are calling only for the boycott of the settlements because we Palestinians are negotiating with Israel. We are not going to take the step in question as long as we are negotiating with Israel. As I said, the settlements are illegal. We are clearly calling for a boycott of them. We did not decide yet on the next step we will ask for if one day the door of negotiations closes.
H.E. Mr. Ahmad Abdelrazek:
On the question on anti-semitism, the answer is "Yes". I read every day the Israeli newspapers. Fortunately, there are some Israelis who are aware of what is occurring and who are afraid of it. They are warning the Israelis about the abuse of the anti-semitism claim. Of course, there are anti-Semites; we cannot deny that, but, as was said, we are against racism. When I was in France and Hungary before coming here, I refused categorically to have any relations with extreme-right racist parties even if they supported the Palestinians. I said I could not support them or work with them if they said they were with me but against the Arab, African or others. I said I could not morally accept their support. Our cause, before anything else, is a moral cause. If we are looking for justice, we cannot deal with unjust people. Unfortunately, the circumstances are as I have outlined. Fortunately, there are people in Israel who recognise this and are telling people not to engage in an abuse in this regard.
H.E. Mr. Ahmad Abdelrazek:
On the Senator's point, I feel we should support the existence of a real Palestinian state. The Israelis should understand they are occupying another state's territory, not, as they claim, a disputed territory. It is not disputed. To be clear on this, it should be defined. The borders of the Palestinian and Israeli states should be defined. If, then, we are arguing this point, we believe the Israelis will be obliged to be serious about peace negotiations, as they were in respect of Jordan and Egypt.
I thank the ambassador and his fellow diplomats for agreeing to attend today's meeting, even though we are not back in full session yet. We had a most interesting and engaging discussion. I will suspend the meeting for five minutes to give people a chance to refresh themselves. We will then meet the Israeli ambassador.
The committee is considering recent events in Gaza and the Middle East peace process. To that end, it has invited both the Palestinian and Israeli ambassadors. I thank both of them for agreeing to attend the committee before the Dáil is back in plenary session. The purpose of the meeting is to listen to the presentations by the ambassadors and ask them questions so as to increase our level of understanding of the situation there. Members should not attempt to avail of the opportunity to vilify any of the witnesses appearing before us today or seek to make lengthy speeches akin to statements in either House. In the event that members have particularly strong opinions on the subject, we can listen to them and can consider a motion for next week's meeting to be submitted after today's meeting.
I remind members, those in the gallery and witnesses to ensure their mobile phones are switched off completely for the duration of the meeting as they cause interference, even in silent mode, with the recording equipment in the committee rooms. This is particularly important today because proceedings are being covered live on television.
In addition, in advance of hearing the Israeli ambassador's presentation, I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. If they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him or her or it identifiable.
I welcome H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai, Israeli ambassador to Ireland, and the deputy ambassador, Ms Nurit Tinari-Modai. The events in Gaza in the past two months have been widely covered in the media. We have seen a number of truces, but last week's long-term ceasefire which was negotiated by Egypt was a step in the right direction. We hope the ceasefire will hold and that both sides will move forward.
As we have noted, the format of the meeting is that we will hear a presentation by the ambassador which will last no longer than 15 minutes. We will then have a question and answer session, similar to the first one. I appreciate that members will show the same courtesy to the Israeli ambassador as they did to the Palestinian ambassador. That is important. Without further ado, as it is getting late in the afternoon, I thank Mr. Modai for the communications he sent to us. Particularly in my role as Chairman, he keeps in touch with me on what is happening. Even during the 50 days of the war in Gaza, he kept in regular contact to update me, as did his Palestinian counterpart. I thank him for this and his regular meetings with us. I invite him to make his presentation.
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
I thank the Chairman and members of the joint committee for giving me the opportunity to speak to them and give them the Israeli perspective on Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip. Let us start with the background and the chronology of events.
On 12 June three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped from near their school. For two and a half weeks the whole of our country was led to believe they were alive. A wide-scale search for them took place in large areas of Judea and Samaria, concentrating mainly on the area of Hebron. From day one Israel stated Hamas, a terrorist organisation and also the regime which rules the Gaza district and forms part of the relatively new unity government of the Palestinians, was behind the abduction of the three innocent youngsters. For a long time the Hamas leadership denied categorically that it was responsible for this cowardly terrorist action. Only two weeks ago did it finally admit responsibility. First, a Hamas politburo member living in Turkey, Saleh Aruri, took credit for the abduction and killing of the teens; then a few days later the movement’s leader, Khaled Meshaal, also acknowledged that it was involved. Again, Israel was right. On 30 June the bodies of the three youngsters, Naftali Frenkel, Gil-Ad Saher and Eyal Yifrach, were discovered. During these weeks the launching of missiles continued from the Gaza district towards civilians in the south of Israel. After the discovery of the three bodies, the situation escalated, with growing numbers of rockets and mortar shells. For a long time Israel tried to contain the situation and responded with minimal force. It told Hamas that quiet would be met with quiet.
By 8 July, 330 missiles had been fired into Israel. On that day, after several meetings of the Israeli Cabinet, it was decided to retaliate forcefully in order to deter Hamas and the other terrorist organisations. On 14 July the Egyptians proposed a ceasefire to the two parties. This was accepted by Israel but rejected categorically by Hamas. On ten further occasions in the following weeks, with much appreciated Egyptian mediation, the two parties were offered ceasefires. Some of them were described as humanitarian ceasefires, but all of them were accepted and respected by Israel.
All of them were rejected or violated by Hamas. Hamas rejected or violated ceasefires 11 times. Hamas wanted war. During this cycle of violence, the world has witnessed an asymmetric war. Consider what we find on the two sides of the conflict. On one side we have a democracy, a country of law which respects the freedom of its citizens, Jews and Arabs alike. Israel is a democracy in which freedom of speech, freedom of the press and all the other rights enjoyed by people in the free Western world are respected. We do not execute opponents of the government in the street, nor do we throw them from rooftops. We do not torture and kill people because of their sexual orientation. In our cities, women are equal to men and can wear what they like without fear of being stoned by a mob if they wear the wrong clothes or look at a man they are not married to. Israel is a country that has contributed so much to humanity in many fields, including medicine, high-tech, agriculture, environmental science, cinema and literature. On the other side is a terrorist organization that claims to have won the election in 2006. Unfortunately, my colleague H.E. Mr. Ahmad Abdelrazek will not freely express his views and those of the Palestinian Authority regarding the freedom and fairness of these elections. Hamas and the other terrorist organisations have never had any respect for human life. All the members will remember how, during the second intifada, just over a decade ago, they sent their young men and sometimes even women to blow themselves up in buses, restaurants, shopping malls and coffee bars, with only one mission - namely, to kill as many Jews as possible. I deliberately say "Jews" and not "Israelis" because anyone who reads the 1988 charter of Hamas will notice the chapter calling for Muslims to kill any Jew, wherever they are. Almost 1,200 Israeli citizens were murdered during the second intifada and to my knowledge not one Oireachtas Deputy asked for a moment of silence in their memory.
During the latest operation in Gaza, Hamas and the other vicious radical Islamist terrorist organisations spared no effort in committing a double war crime. They launched rockets, missiles and mortar shells towards Israeli cities, towns, villages and kibbutzim with the clear purpose of killing our civilians, and they did so while hiding behind civilians, by using their civilians as human shields. And what was the reason for all this aggression by the Islamist terrorists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad? That is a very hard question, because it has no logically understandable answer.
My colleague the Palestinian ambassador talked about occupation. Nine years ago, in the summer of 2005, Israel withdrew unilaterally from every square metre of the Gaza Strip. Not even one Israeli soldier or civilian remained behind. It was the first time in the history of the Palestinian people that they were given a piece of land on which to build a sovereign, independent entity. They received much support from the world, huge sums of money from the UN, the Americans, the EU and other countries. The evacuating Israeli civilians left behind $14 million worth of high-tech greenhouses which could have been used to develop their agriculture, to bring back the flower and fruit export industry for which Gaza had once been famous. Instead, they destroyed them a few months later. The next year, 2006, elections were held in the Gaza Strip and Hamas came to power. During and after this process, they got rid of their Palestinian Authority opponents by throwing them from high rooftops, or disabled them by shooting their knees off.
Given that, as I have explained, Gaza has not been under Israeli occupation since 2005, what other reason could there be for the aggression of Hamas and the others?
Wait a minute: Hamas claims it was the occupation. What it states is that Israel, since its establishment in 1948, has been occupying Arab or Muslim land. In other words, as long as Israel exists, Hamas has an excuse or a reason from its point of view to fight it. During the 50 days of Operation Protective Edge, a war that Israel did not want and was dragged into, a large number of people lost their lives. The very nature of this war, with terrorists hiding behind and shooting at civilians on the other side, created a very unbalanced moral equilibrium.
For Israel, any loss of life was a tragedy and Israeli leaders expressed their sorrow on many occasions at the loss of the lives of innocent civilians. The Palestinian civilians of Gaza are not our enemies and we did not want them dead or to be hurt. For the Israeli Defence Force, IDF, the only role of which by definition is to defend Israel, each time a civilian was killed unintentionally was seen as a failure. Our army checks itself all the time, on a regular basis. For the terrorists, on the other hand, any loss of life is a victory. I do not need to explain why the death of an Israeli civilian is seen as a victory, but, in addition, Hamas sees every killing of a Palestinian woman, child or elderly person as a great success, a PR victory. This is because the coverage on our television screens day after day showed little about the war, apart from civilians being rushed to hospitals.
Now we come to the numbers of the dead. The figures for the casualties in Gaza put about by the media in this and many other countries relied on Palestinian sources, since no others were available. To judge by this data, one would get the impression that during these long days of violence, not a single man, woman or child died of a disease or by accident and that nobody was killed by a misfiring Hamas rocket or by one of the one fifth of rockets fired which landed within Gaza itself. Looking at the figures, one would think not even one man died from old age. It seemed that every person who had lost his or her life was a victim of Israeli fire. If it were not for one Italian journalist, we would not know that the nine children killed at the Shati refugee camp on 28 July were victims of Hamas rockets that blew up on the launch pad. The fact that even though males aged between 17 and 30 years make up 10% of the Gaza population, their proportion among the dead was 44% did not seem to raise an eyebrow in the media. These men were, of course, Hamas terrorists. It is quite strange because it shows a lack of interest on the part of news editors in doing real investigations and giving their readers and audiences a real understanding of the conflict.
During the recent cycle of violence in Gaza beginning on 8 July, 4,396 rockets were launched at Israeli civilians. Had Israel not invented, developed and used our anti-missile IRON DOME system, the number of Israeli civilians dead or wounded would have been in the hundreds, if not thousands. If Hamas had not diverted the billions of euro it had received for the people of Gaza into building bunkers under mosques, hospitals and schools and digging miles of terror tunnels to open under Israeli villages and kibbutzim in order to kidnap civilians as hostages or commit mass murder and if it had not armed itself with many thousands of rockets but had instead built bomb shelters for its people, there would have been far fewer casualties, but then it would not have been Hamas, cruel terrorists that they are.
There are people in this country who believe Hamas, a terrorist organisation which is designated as such by the European Union and the Americans, was fighting for the rights of Gazans. If that was the case, why would it not allow its people any freedom? Why did it fire from their schools and hospitals and dig tunnels under their homes?
Why has it not called for elections since 2006? Why does it permit its leader to live in five-star hotels in Qatar while his people suffer misery? It is very likely that at least some of those executed in the street by Hamas, as so-called collaborators with Israel, were in fact people who raised their voices against being dragged into war by Hamas.
If Hamas cared about its own people as much as Israel does, it would have spared the Gazan people the terrible damage they have suffered. During the period of war with the Government of Gaza - Hamas is the Government of Gaza - Israel permitted 4,178 persons to enter Israel from Gaza and almost 3,000 persons to exit to Gaza. More than 5,500 trucks filled with goods and humanitarian supplies entered Gaza via the Kerem Shalom border crossing since 8 July. Some 967 tonnes of medicines and medical supplies were delivered in these trucks. All this happened during a state of war while an average of 100 missiles a day were being launched at Israel from Gaza, some of them to the very same crossing border I just mentioned.
However, that is not all. During the war, the IDF went a long way to try to avoid the deaths of innocent people. It sent messages through radio and television; it sent e-mails and called the homes of people asking them to stay away from buildings it was about to target. The high moral standards exercised by the Israeli Defence Force prevented the loss of many more Palestinian civilian lives. The decorated British colonel Richard Kemp, who was the commander of the British forces in Afghanistan, has stated that "Israeli forces have taken greater steps than anyone else in the history of warfare to save the lives of innocent civilians".
So what is next? Israel has not violated the ceasefires even once. As long as the terrorists do not attack us, the calm and tranquillity will continue. As we have been saying from the beginning of the summer, if Hamas wants quiet, all it has to do is to stop shooting. Now - what a surprise - since the latest ceasefire was announced last week and the terrorists stopped shooting, it is all quiet now.
The next stage is to help the Gazan people to rebuild the houses and infrastructure ruined during the operation. Israel welcomes the call by the European Union Foreign Ministers to demilitarize Gaza. As long as Hamas and the other terrorist organisations can retain their arms and control the materials, goods and money coming into Gaza, there will be no lasting rehabilitation for the area because Hamas will not allow it.
In one of the rallies, which took place near the Israeli embassy a few weeks ago, some foolish people raised a sign saying "Free Gaza". The last thing Hamas is interested in is freedom as Hamas like IS, Islamic State, oppresses Christians, persecutes homosexuals and violates women's rights. Indeed, it is about time for Gaza to be free - free of Hamas.
Before I conclude, and since I have mentioned the demonstrators, I must say that some of their slogans are familiar to Jews from this very continent only 70 or 80 years ago, while other placards demonstrate only ignorance, an unbalanced approach and a hatred for the only state for the Jews in the world. Others who so proudly call for my expulsion from this country show no respect for democracy, for dialogue and for the hospitality for which this country is so famous. To those people, who represent a minority - a vocal and hostile group who nevertheless do not represent the people of Ireland - I have nothing to say. They are a shame and a disgrace to this country. These words of mine come from a person who is ready for dialogue at any time and with anyone, since that is what democracy is all about. Unlike this minority, the majority of the people of Ireland support Israel and the thousands of e-mails, letters and telephone calls of support the embassy received are true evidence of the deep understanding and empathy, which many people in Ireland have towards Israel.
I thank the ambassador for his statement. I have two questions before I bring in Deputy Smith. Reports from Israel today indicate that it may not send an envoy to Cairo to follow up on the ceasefire. Are those reports true? They are supposed to have come from Prime Minister Netanyahu. Will the ambassador comment on the statement earlier this week regarding the confiscation of 1,000 acres south of Bethlehem? Is this something to provoke Palestinians at a very sensitive time?
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
With regard to the question about Israel participating in dialogue in Egypt, as far as I understand it - I was updated only three and a half hours ago - Israel is interested in continuing this dialogue. We want Gaza to be rehabilitated, as I stated. Our conditions are clear. I stated that as long as Hamas controls the area, we have a problem. A few times it was declared by foreign affairs Ministers from EU countries that Gaza must be demilitarised. We certainly support this approach and believe that when that happens, the sky will be the limit, and the generosity and openness on the part of Israel would be very significant.
The Chairman asked about the land at Gush Etzion. I saw the reaction around the world and the lack of proportionality amazed me. While radical Islamic terrorism is taking over the Middle East - and on its way to Europe, by the way - large parts of the world are dealing with a decision that is the beginning of a long bureaucratic process. I will elaborate on that. I should explain that we are talking about the land located at Area C of the West Bank, Judea and Samaria. According to the agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Area C is fully under Israeli responsibility. There were never any claims to this land, either by Israelis or Palestinians, and nobody has ever claimed to be the owner of this land. This land was never cultivated. We are speaking about an area which is approximately 1.5 sq. m., or 0.08% of the territory of Judea and Samaria. It is located at Gush Etzion, one of the two Israeli Jewish centres that in any future agreement would remain under Israeli sovereignty. There is an understanding by the Palestinians of that.
Gush Etzion also has an interesting history that members may not know. For thousands of years it has had a Jewish presence, and the first time it was taken from Jews was during the war of independence, when the area was taken by the Jordanians and other Arab militants from the region. Some 127 men and women went out with a white flag to give up and were executed. As a result, this place has an emotional importance for all Israelis.
I want to put these issues in proportion. The area taken by Israeli villages and towns from Judea and Samaria is approximately 1.7% of total area. People have a different and wrong impression about this, as less than 2% of the area is being held by Israelis. The area we are speaking of is really tiny. We are not speaking about taking land, and that is a mistake I have seen too often in the past two days. It is a decision to describe the land differently.
This is the beginning of a long bureaucratic process. Incidentally, this type of process has existed since the time of the Ottomans, more than 100 years ago. Its aim is to define the ownership of land. During this process, which usually takes a good few years, all aspects of the ownership and the rights to this land are investigated by the civil administration. At every point during this bureaucratic process people, both Palestinians and Israelis, have the right to submit an appeal to the civil administration by showing or proving through documents that they are the owners. If at the end of this process not even one person is found to be the owner of the estate, only then will the whole area be described as state land.
Another thing that I should mention is the fact that all of the declarations regarding any lands in Israel as state land go through authorisation by the attorney general of Israel and, like any juridical or administrative procedure, every description of land as state land is subject to Israeli juridical review. At the end of this process, people can appeal all the way to the Israeli supreme court.
That is the situation. I hope it explains the points you raised.
Before asking Deputy Smith to speak, I ask members to adhere to the same format. It is questions, not Second Stage speeches. I ask members to show the same courtesy to the ambassador of Israel as they showed to the ambassador of Palestine. I do not want any personal opinions, but for this to be a positive meeting.
I welcome the ambassador. He mentioned that the Israeli Defence Force tried to avoid the deaths of innocent people. That does not add up when one considers that the hospital was bombed and that UN centres where people were advised to go to seek refuge were bombed and innocent people lost their lives. He refers to that as high moral standards. I radically disagree with that.
I also refer to the ambassador's concluding sentence in regard to the correspondence, e-mails, letters and the contacts made with his office. With all due respect to the ambassador and to the office of any ambassador to our country, I believe that I or any other Member of the Oireachtas would receive mail, correspondence and contacts from constituents and from people throughout the country that would be more representative of the views of the people of Ireland than what an embassy would receive. The correspondence I received regarding the desperate behaviour and savage attacks on innocent people showed that people abhorred the attacks on innocent people in Gaza.
It is important to put that on the record. The ambassador has had a long time to respond to initial questions. Equally, the people who contacted me abhorred the firing of rockets at innocent Israeli targets as well. That should also be put on the record.
Will Israel contribute to the cost of rebuilding vital and strategic infrastructure in Gaza, such as hospitals and schools? The ambassador referred to that in his speech as the next stage. Can he tell us with conviction that Israel is still committed to a two-state solution? How can he marry Israel's latest plans to develop more settlements in the West Bank with the stated aim of a two-state solution? I did not clearly follow the response he gave to the Chairman and I look forward to reading it in the Official Report later, but how does the recent decision by the Israeli authorities to annex or appropriate almost 1,000 acres of land, which will be the largest annexation of land in almost 30 years, tie in with the Oslo Accord and the different zones of A, B and C? In addition, as it is clear that the blockade on Gaza must be lifted completely to allow for the full movement of people and goods in both directions, which would be in line with Israel's obligations under international law, how soon can we expect Israel to adhere to the conditions of the ceasefire agreement?
Can the ambassador inform us of what proposals Israel has to provide compensation for victims of the recent conflict in Gaza, given that under international law Israel is the occupying power and is therefore obliged to provide for the welfare of the occupied population?
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
Yes. First of all, regarding the hospital, Deputy Smith may have missed it but I said in quite a few interviews on radio that the main hospital, Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, was used as the centre for Hamas. The base was under the hospital. That is to give some perspective.
In those cases in which Israel was hit by people shooting from hospitals or from places very near to hospitals, we made sure people evacuated a place before we targeted it. By the way, if the Deputy looks at the Geneva Convention, Article 48 states that as soon as a place, even if it is a civilian one - it could be a school, a mosque or something else - is used to shoot from or to bomb the enemy, which is Israel in this case, it can be looked at as a legitimate target. This is how we behaved in this case.
The Deputy mentioned UNRWA. He probably knows that at least three times - we know of a few other cases - Hamas used UNRWA schools as locations for armaments, missiles and so on.
I refer to the people who approached Deputy Smith. I hope the Deputy told them that Israel was not targeting civilians and that Israel was retaliating to its own civilians being fired at. People express views, which I really respect. I am a human being and a father. When I saw on television children being rushed to hospitals, it burned my heart. It was terrible. I can really understand people who care for the lives of other people, especially when it comes to innocent people. The thing is that a lot of people deliberately take things out of the real context, as if Israel is on one side with the strongest army in the area and maybe even in the Middle East, while on the other side is the poor Palestinians, and only civilians. But there is something in between. Israel was first shot at by Hamas and the other terrorist organisation, and only then did we retaliate. Israel did not use even a small part of its power. We were blamed for deliberately killing people, but if that is what we were doing we were doing a very bad job, because if the Israeli army had wanted to kill civilians, the results would have been completely different. One can understand that was not the aim. We should look at both sides and check what was the aim.
Israel is still very much committed to the two-state agreement for the two peoples. It has been said many times by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but I think we have to go back a little bit to understand where all this conflict comes from. This conflict is not about land but about completely different things. It is about the Arab world. I am speaking about the Palestinians accepting Israel as a neighbour in this neighbourhood, because we have been there forever. There are people in the Arab world who say that Israel does not belong there, including Hamas. I think I explained that quite clearly.
During the Oslo talks in 1993 and 1994, the issue of the settlements was never mentioned. It was never agreed that Israel would stop building. When it was a matter of signing a peace deal with our neighbours - for example, in Egypt - there was no problem with Israelis being evacuated from parts of the Sinai and different areas near the Gaza district. We did that. I remind members of what I said before.
In 2005, Israel made a lot of efforts in this regard, which were not accepted well by the people involved. We made a unilateral decision to redeploy from Gaza and evacuated 9,000 settlers, for whom we had to find other places to live. That was not easy, as some here will remember. There were a lot of rallies and demonstrations, but eventually we did it, for peace. We believed that this was an opportunity.
Deputy Smith mentioned compensation for damage, but I think it is better that we do not get into that because then we will have to ask for compensation from our opponents, rivals and enemies for many years of killing, maiming and damaging Israeli cities. We believe that Gaza has to be rehabilitated, and it will be, as soon as it is demilitarised.
I have read the ambassador's speech but I do not think either his speech or some of his answers today have actually helped Israel's cause. In fact, for many of those listening at home, his answers on the land question in particular will be infuriating. It reminds me of the cowboy films from years ago, with the Red Indian and the white man and the expression, "The white man speaks with forked tongue". A lot of those films were about land and about the white man moving in on people's land. The ambassador's excuses were similar to many of the excuses that were given in those crappy Hollywood films, those old B movies. It is scandalous what the ambassador has said about people not having leases on lands and so forth when we are talking about lands that they have lived on for generations. That is part of the difficulty.
The ambassador has said that if we see the demilitarisation of Gaza the generosity of Israel will be forthcoming, but why have we not seen such generosity in the context of the West Bank and the occupied territories? The militarisation in those areas is coming from Israel. What was the rationale behind the Israeli attack on Gaza's power plant? That is a simple question. We know that at the moment the population of Gaza has very limited access to water. Trócaire has issued a report which says that on a daily basis the population of Gaza is only getting 10% of its water needs. The ambassador has said that the checkpoints are open and he gave figures in that context, but are they at full capacity? What is happening in the context of those seeking to access Gaza? Is Israel allowing international humanitarian aid to get in? Is Israel allowing international visitors and politicians to visit the area?
Does Israel favour an inclusive peace process which includes all groups? Does it not make sense, if Israel is looking to reach an agreement, to get as many people as possible involved in the discussions? I ask because many people around the world believe it is a positive development that Hamas has agreed to take part in a government of national unity. In that context, when negotiations take place and agreement is reached, all sides in the conflict are involved. That in itself is an enabler for a long-term peace process.
Does the ambassador accept that the latest agreement is based on an agreement that was reached in November 2012 and that, rather than moving on, the process is actually moving backwards? All that has been agreed in Cairo was actually agreed at that time.
It was agreed at that time that the blockade would be lifted and that fishing rights would be extended, etc. I understand there was a shooting involving a Gaza fisherman last night. That is the backdrop to this debate.
Many people in Ireland genuinely want to see an inclusive peace process. There is no indication that the current Israeli Government, which is the most reactionary government that country has seen, wants to see such a process there. I do not believe it wants to see it. On a previous occasion, I privately asked the ambassador whether he was aware that the expression "mowing the grass" was used in the Israeli army. I think he said at the time that he was not aware of it. Is he aware of it now? Is what happened in Gaza part of the strategy of "mowing the grass"? We are talking about 2,100 civilians who died and 11,000 who were injured. Tens of thousands of people were displaced from their homes.
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
I thank Deputy Crowe for his evaluation of my speech and my talk. I know I do not convince everyone. I believe I have convinced many people who want to know the facts.
The Deputy asked me to explain what was behind the Israeli attack on Gaza. All I can do in response is suggest that the Deputy should read my speech, in which I explained the exact position, again. There was no Israeli attack. Israel attacked after it was attacked by terrorist organisations. I am not going to elaborate on the meaning of "terrorist" here in this country. The Deputy asked me the reason behind it. I would like to ask him a question. What would Ireland do if a rocket was launched towards Dublin, Limerick or Cork? I do not think there is any other country in the world-----
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
It must be understood that no other country - at least, no other country I know of - would fail to retaliate if it were attacked. I have said many times in articles I have written and in interviews that if anyone has a brilliant idea that would help us to solve this problem, I would be more than happy to hear it. We have heard nothing. We have been told to sit quietly without retaliating, which is not a reply.
The Deputy asked why we are opposed to the Palestinian unity government. We find it almost impossible to think of a government that uses one hand to shake our hands during meetings and the other hand to keep launching missiles at us. It just does not work this way. When the Deputy referred to an agreement that was reached in 2012, he failed to mention some other parts of the same agreement. It was decided that the blockade would not be lifted. The main thing was that the area would be demilitarised. Hamas and other terrorist organisations were supposed to be completely disarmed. That was part of it. It did not happen. The other part of the same agreement did not happen either.
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
There were. I know the Deputy did not read about them in the media. Hundreds of rockets were launched towards Israel every year. By the way, Israel is the most bombarded country. After we left Gaza in 2005, we were bombarded by more than 17,000 rockets, missiles and mortar shells. At this moment, over 100,000 rockets are being directed towards Israeli cities. No other country in the world is faced with such a threat. I think the Deputy should acknowledge that, at least.
According to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center in Israel, Hamas did not fire any rockets out of Gaza from 21 November 2012 until 1 July 2014, yet according to B'Tselem, Israel killed 20 people inside Gaza during that period.
I would be grateful for an opportunity to place on record my background, as it has been impugned. I have spoken not only on Israel but also on Tibet, East Timor, Nicaragua, Syria, Bosnia, Guatemala, Iraq and Iran - I could go on forever. I am interested in human rights. I also supported the evacuation of Jewish people from Russia and continually supported Israel when it was in the right.
The ambassador asked if anybody stood up and asked for a minute's silence for the victims of car bombings. While I did not ask for a minute's silence, I condemned the car bombings and got a letter from Yasser Arafat condemning them. That is what I did, so let nobody call me anti-Semitic.
With regard to the seizure of land, I presume the ambassador is aware that the Israeli Minister of Finance, Yair Lapid, condemned it. A member of the Israeli Cabinet condemned the expropriation of land and stated that the security cabinet had not even been consulted about the decision. Mr. Lapid stated that the "announcement, which wasn't brought to the security cabinet... harms the State of Israel." The person who made that statement is an Israeli Cabinet Minister. Mr. Lapid continued: "Maintaining the support of the world was already challenging, so why was it so urgent to create another crisis with the United States and the world?" Why was it so urgent to create another crisis by acting in such a blatantly illegal manner?
I may say, in passing, that I am rather surprised that the ambassador has chosen to ventriloquise for the Palestinian ambassador, who is here. I have never come across a case of one ambassador putting words into the mouth of another ambassador.
I am asking a question. Was it appropriate for the ambassador to ventriloquise for someone who is here and who, having spoken, is not in a position to answer?
On what basis does the ambassador make the statement that because males aged between 17 and 30 make up 10% of the Gaza population and their proportion among the dead was 44%, "[t]hese men were Hamas terrorists"? Is it now the logic of the Israeli Government that one can declare somebody a terrorist on the basis of his or her age? That seems extraordinary. How can one possibly say that these people were terrorists?
The miles of terrorist tunnels to which the ambassador referred have been in place for years. He stated they were "to open under Israeli villages and kibbutzim in order to kidnap civilians as hostages or commit mass murder". All I can say is that they have been remarkably unsuccessful.
I would have thought that the role of an ambassador was to transmit accurate information to the government at home. This has not been done. To take a few examples, the deputy ambassador, Mr. Modai's wife, described protestors as "ignorant, anti-Semitic, with an intensely rooted hatred of Jews." She also referred to people who defend Israel as "the righteous among the nations in modern terminology," which is an oblique reference to the Holocaust and in my view inappropriate. She referred to heathen hordes, agitated, anti-Semitic, with a crazy, deeply rooted hatred of Jews. These statements were made in a broadcast with the Israel Defence Force. I wonder if the ambassador considers them appropriate for diplomatic personnel.
The ambassador referred to Egypt's proposal. Hamas was not included in the discussions leading to that proposal. How can one possibly-----
A negotiation was made without reference to Hamas. The ambassador stated that he had not heard one solution or positive suggestion. I will give him one. Israel should talk to Hamas, the appropriately elected Government of Palestine, regrettable as that may be, in the same way as it speaks to the regime in Egypt. Every time an Islamic government is elected, the United States, the West and Israel combine to subvert it.
I find that quite extraordinary.
With regard to hospitals, schools, mosques and the rest, I am sure the ambassador will be aware that the rockets are often fired by flying columns and the Israeli army knows perfectly well that they have left by the time it responds. Let us consider the UNRWA school into which 3,000 Palestinian civilians were directed. The co-ordinates were given 17 times to the Israeli army but the Israeli army blitzed it. I find that extraordinary. I wonder if he has any comment to make on it.
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
I am sorry I had to disappoint the Senator in terms of seeing me today because only a few weeks ago he demanded my expulsion from this country. I am still around and I will be staying for another year. He asked me about human rights. He said he was a person of human rights and I want to ask him whether Israelis also have human rights or if, according to his judgment, only Palestinians do so. If so, Israelis have the right to live in peace and quiet-----
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
-----and not be exposed. Along with our children, I spent a large part of this summer in Israel under these attacks. I do not recommend it to anyone. That is something for which we will have to pay a lot to psychologists in the future.
In regard to why Israel made this decision and the comments by Mr. Lapid, I also read what he said. He was not against it; he asked about the timing. Perhaps there could have been better timing or we could have postponed it. Israel is a democracy. I know that it is not very common in our area but it is possible for any politician, even if he is in the same government, to say anything he wishes and it is fine. People accept that. I do not think one will hear any opposition to Haniyeh in the government of Hamas.
In regard to my reference to people between the ages of 17 years and 30 years, I am not saying all of them were in Hamas but there was a much better chance that they were. We have a considerable number of photographs which show Hamas people after being killed or injured. The uniforms were taken from them, as were their rifles, and they were rushed to hospitals as civilians. Sorry, we do not believe the figures that were publicised by Hamas and were taken by the press as facts.
The Senator asked me about the hospital. I remind him that in 1999, NATO bombed Kosovo and 2,000 civilians lost their lives. Dozens of hospitals and schools were demolished but, as far as I recall, nobody saw the face of even one person who was injured or taken to hospital.
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
Civilians. When I speak about hitting a hospital, it was after the people there were notified in advance and were asked to leave the premises because missiles were being fired from it.
I am not saying that every person who criticises Israel is an anti-Semite. People who know me a little better know I am ready for any kind of criticism.
I once said to an editor of one of the newspapers here that he should not try to compete with the Israeli press because they criticise our Government better than any other press in the world. Anyway, there is a difference between that and people going all the way and saying that Hitler was right and that Hitler did not finish the work - we have Facebook. That is anti-Semitism, I do not know any other way to describe it. That is when people single out Israel and say that Israel has no right to defend itself or criticise it for many other things while at the same time they do not criticise other countries. The singling out of Israel by the EU at the time was decided as anti-Semitism. We know the tricks. It is not politically correct to be anti-Semitic or to speak against the Jews but people speak against the only state of the Jews, namely, Israel. I am not saying that everyone does that, not at all. That is not the motive behind every criticism, of course. However, I am saying that there are people who go from criticising Israel to claiming that Israel has no right to exist. From there, it is a very fine line to anti-Semitism. That is actually what it means.
Those in Hamas are not partners for peace. I am sorry. I know that some committee members may think differently. That is the position as long as Hamas has its charter. If the committee wishes I can send on the charter translated into English. One of the chapters states that as long as there are Jews, it is the mission of every Muslim to kill them. As long as this is in the charter of that organisation I do not believe there is anything to speak about, except the fact that they keep on using terrorism and violence against Israel. As long as there is violence we are not going to sit and speak with anyone.
There is no parity of esteem. I believe that Israel has an obligation in this regard. It is engaged in trying to find a solution to the conflict in the Middle East. I am not only referring to the conflict with the Palestinians. We would like to see a comprehensive agreement between us and all the moderate countries that still exist in the area. After the Arab spring some of them cannot really be seen as functioning countries. We would have far preferred to have seen something like that happen and we believe it is possible. I am optimistic. Just like H.E. Mr. Abdelrazek I believe there will be a solution. The question is how long it will take. I hope it will be in our generation. If not, it may take until the time of our children or grandchildren but it will come at the end of the day because there is no other choice for the people who live there.
I wish to draw Mr. Modai's attention to page 5 of his script, which states:
That is what the ambassador said. He did not say, "A proportion..."; he said, "These men..."
The fact that, even though males aged 17 to 30 make up 10% of the Gaza population, their proportion among the dead was 44%, did not seem to raise an eyebrow in the media. These men were of course Hamas terrorists.
That is fine. I have before me the script that was supplied.
Reference was made to talking to Hamas. I am sitting next to my good friend, Deputy Seán Crowe. Some 30 years ago, the organisation of which is a member condemned me to death and threatened to kill me. I still maintained that section 31 of the Broadcasting Act that forbade them air time should have been removed and I advocated talking to them. It is because of reaching out. One talks to one's enemies, one does not talk to one's friends. That is the only solution. How can they possibly end the war if they only talk to one side?
I thank the ambassador for coming before the committee and addressing it. We are all good historians, we have read our history fairly well - some of us better than others, probably - and we remember it. I suggest to Mr. Modai that regardless of who is to blame in the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, it can only end in disaster. Some moments ago he made reference to the possibility that peace might not happen in our generation or in his generation - my generation is a little ahead of his. To defer a solution or an attempted resolution to other generations is a dangerous practice. Does Mr. Modai accept that it could be a dangerous practice? Does he accept that as a result of that postponement we could find ourselves with a major conflict, international in scale, on our hands?
We should not agree to the postponement of a possible resolution to the conflict in the Middle East because if Israel or Hamas and the Palestinian people postpone, it will result in a major conflagration on an international scale which will make us very sorry. Does the ambassador accept that is a possibility?
How committed is Israel to the two state solution? We have all talked about this and it seems very simple and acceptable at a distance but when we make on-site visits it does not look so readily applicable. Does Israel see others in the region who are not committed to the two state solution and, if so, for what purpose; and does Israel see that as a major obstacle? I asked the Palestinian ambassador the same question.
Regardless of the cause or causes, there have been very provocative situations in the past and we have regularly condemned the suicide bombings in Israel over the past few years. We do not stand over any of those actions. Does Israel accept that the recent campaigns against Gaza represent a humanitarian and human rights disaster that can only provoke the people against whom its forces are directed to retaliate, which will create further conflagration?
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
I agree that we should not postpone it and as soon as we can find a solution we should commit ourselves to a serious negotiation. We were committed to such a negotiation and we spoke for a few months with the Palestinians. I am sorry but I am to some extent accusing the international community as a whole. The Palestinians unfortunately came to the conclusion that they may achieve more by putting international pressure on Israel rather than by committing themselves to compromise in a direct dialogue. That is how I see the situation. I hope the last cycle of violence will bring them back to the negotiating table and convince them that the only partner for dialogue is the Israelis. We are their neighbours and it should be solved only with us. We are ready for compromise. I hope that the Palestinians are ready too. When I said that it might take another generation that is not my wish. I wish it to end as soon as possible and it might, even though it is dangerous.
We are very much committed to the two state solution - two states for two peoples. When I hear Palestinian dignitaries speak about two states for two peoples they omit one important word, peace. It is very important that these two states live with each other in peace, otherwise it will not work. Certainly, I think there are others who are not committed. After the last cycle of violence everybody knows that Hamas has no commitment to peace. It wants the destruction of Israel. As long as it is part of the unity government with the Palestinians we have a problem. I say that with regret but that is the situation.
Yes, the situation in Gaza is a humanitarian disaster. There is no doubt about that. It is a pity.
It is not Israel which should be blamed. As I said, if Hamas stopped firing and agreed to the ceasefire offered by Egypt on 14 July there would not have been a continuation of the conflict and it would not have been a disaster. It happened because Hamas wanted the fire to go on. Why? It is difficult for me to explain and understand but that is how we look at it.
The situation is reversible and Gaza can get back on its feet. It will take time; it may take years. With the help of the international community it will be done as soon as the military power of Hamas is removed from this territory.
I thank the ambassador for coming before the committee. I wish to raise two issues. One is the ambassador's assertion that Israel was entitled to retaliate and fire at the school despite the fact that its co-ordinates had been given to the Israeli defence forces 17 times. Is the ambassador aware of protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention 1949 which refers to the event of an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects or a combination thereof which could be excessive in regard to the concentration and direct military advantage anticipated? Why, in his response, did he state Israel was entitled to do something when it is in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention 1949?
I refer to the assertions and comments of the deputy ambassador. Is it now the policy of the Israeli foreign Ministry or the Israeli Embassy in Dublin to have a strategy of humiliation and shame in regard to pro-Palestinian activists in Ireland? Is the current policy to publish photographs to cause embarrassment for their friends in Israel and their families and to sow suspicion among them?
I join in the welcome to the ambassador. I accept and recognise Israel's right to defend its people. All right-thinking people would regard the actions taken, in particular the damage done to schools and hospitals, as being disproportionate. Any other description would be less than accurate. I was hopeful earlier when I heard the Palestinian ambassador's anxiety to get peace negotiations going quickly and productivity. I am very concerned that H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai is giving an indication that it could take a very long time to reach a peaceful resolution of this horrific conflict which has claimed so many lives over the past number of decades.
In light of that, to enable some semblance of life to resume in Gaza for those who have been under siege does Israel intend to adhere to the conditions of the recent ceasefire and lift all restrictions on the free movement of goods and people through crossings into Gaza? I am concerned, in particular, that people are able to move freely and construction materials could be brought into Gaza, subject to suitable security arrangements being put in place.
In regard to the intention of Israel to fund the reconstruction of key buildings and facilities, can the ambassador give us some positive indication that is likely to happen?
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
Senator Daly asked about the UNRWA school. I was not referring to it when I spoke about deliberately hitting places that were used for launching rockets. When it comes to this school, I heard the figure of 17, which I think someone just threw into the air and it was used. This is something that still is under investigation by the Israeli Defence Force, and I have no information to give to the Senator at present. However, I know it is being checked. I do not know to what the Senator was referring when he stated that we try to embarrass the people who oppose us. We certainly do not. The only thing we try to do is to give facts, and sometimes we take an action that is not favourable for many people. We put a mirror in front of their faces and many people just do not like it. They do not wish to be confronted with the mirror.
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
The Senator asked me whether this was the position of the foreign Ministry. I usually am a very modest person but were I to tell members that our embassy won a prize for best embassy in 2013, it would tell them something about how the foreign Ministry in Jerusalem sees our activity. I think they are very much in favour of it.
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
No. The only thing is that we expose people who show ignorance, who show a one-sided approach and sometimes who show anti-Semitism, because that phenomenon also exists. We take this liberty we have, since we run the networks of the embassy, and we put things forward. The Senator referred to the radio interview given by the deputy ambassador to Israeli radio, which someone mentioned earlier. I think it was mistranslated deliberately by people who speak Hebrew in this country, and they want the message to be conveyed as it was said. However, let us leave that aside. I do not think it is right.
Regarding Senator Mullins's comments about a disproportionate reaction by Israel, I must tell him something. On the first day, 8 July, I was invited on RTE television to give an interview. In the course of that first interview, I was accused, on behalf of my country and army, of using excessive and disproportionate force. In my opinion, the use of "disproportionate" on the first day of a battle that had just started simply showed a tendency of the interviewer, but that does not matter. The other question I would ask the Senator is this: what would he consider to be proportionate? Let us presume that almost 4,500 rockets were launched towards Israel indiscriminately. Were Israel to retaliate by responding in the same way, by launching 4,500 missiles indiscriminately towards Gaza, would that have been a proportionate use of force? I am sure members are aware that the results would have been much worse than the large number of casualties in Gaza anyway. The results were terrible because, as was mentioned more than once, the terrorists were using civilians as human shields. They were shooting from within them and there were many cases in which we asked and advised people to leave the places in which they were and take shelter. However, Hamas people told them clearly that they should remain where they were, as this was Israeli propaganda. Ten, if not more, operations by the Israeli air force were cancelled at the last minute when the pilots spotted civilians on the ground.
These things happened. I know that often the media here, even though we send them the information, do not ensure it arrives to every person who follows them, but that was the situation.
I am not saying I want it to take a long time. On the contrary, as I said, if we could get agreement with the Palestinians tomorrow morning, we would be the first to applaud. I am only saying it might take more time than we would wish. I am sure Ambassador Abdelrazek and I would like to see it in our lifetimes and I hope we will be that fortunate. Actually there was somebody in this room who told the Palestinian ambassador that he had no hope and to call it off because the Israelis were not serious. I am not trying to say the same about the Palestinians. I believe there are many among them who want real peace with us, which we will achieve it because of this.
I was asked if Israel would allow goods to get into Gaza. That is a tough question, but we allow it. I mentioned the figures - the committee has them in my paper - for the amount of trucks that travel into Gaza on a daily basis. I remind the committee that there were times when we were convinced by the international community to let cement into Gaza. Much of it was used to build the terror tunnels under Gaza. Not many people know that there are two Gazas - one above ground and the other underground, with hundreds of tunnels. We discovered 30 tunnels that were directed towards Israel - they passed under the border to Israeli villages - and ensured they were destroyed, but there are still a lot of others. Only this morning, I read that there was a terrorist action against Egyptian forces from a tunnel running from Rafah, from the Gaza district. We have to be very careful with the goods we allow people to bring into Gaza. We let a lot in, but we have to monitor them. We will not make the same mistake again.
First, I congratulate the Israeli ambassador on the award. However, as I said to the Palestinian ambassador, we do not expect anything from dictatorships or terrorist organisations. We do not expect Hamas to be up to the standards of the United Nations and countries which believe in democratic principles. That is why we expect a lot more from Israel.
The Israeli ambassador made a number of points. I am surprised and quite amazed that he would come before an Irish committee and state he did not know who had picked the figure of 17 for the number of times the coordinates had been given for the school.
It was not a question. I am informing the ambassador that the person who gave the coordinates was Mr. John Ging of the United Nations who comes from Ireland. I am amazed that the ambassador said so before the committee. The Israeli ambassador also made a statement-----
Thank you, Chairman. One of the points made concerned who had made the translation of the comments made about humiliating and shaming activists in Ireland who would be Irish citizens. This seems to be a policy of the embassy. They were translated by the Israeli Channel 10 news. I am also amazed that the ambassador was not aware of this. They were the ones who carried out the translation.
I seek clarification on one other issue. Is the Israeli ambassador aware that the three UN schools to which he referred in his submission were unoccupied, had been decommissioned and were no longer being used by the United nations?
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
Yes. First, there was confusion because we thought that Senator Daly had referred to another matter when he spoke about humiliation. It was translated here by people who speak Hebrew.
I thank him for that and I take it for granted, but we do not ever compare ourselves to them. We compare ourselves to western countries.
The figures are not that clear but we believe almost half of the people killed in Gaza were people who belonged to Hamas and the other terrorist organisations. It still means hundreds of innocent people died which, of course, is terrible, but if one compares that to different actions taken by the Americans or British, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, one notes there were many operations in which, for every terrorist killed, 19 civilians were killed. When one speaks about that kind of warfare, one must realise it is different from any other. When the terrorists are among the civilians, these things happen. It just shows how much effort we made to try to avoid that. I mentioned Kosovo already. The number of civilians killed there was quite enormous, but I take the point.
Four hours later. I welcome the ambassador. The ambassador’s suggestions today read to me as if everybody in the world is marching out of step except Israel on the plans to expand or develop new settlements. The ambassador condemned the position of the Irish Government, which has condemned the Israeli position. The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has condemned it, and the European Union has condemned it. It begs the question as to how we could all be out of step in interpreting international law, international agreements, UN mandates, etc.
The ambassador could start by rebuilding our trust in the embassy through instructing his staff to stop posting silly, childish posts of the Molly Malone statue dressed in a burqa. It is provocative, unnecessary, childish and silly. What we are dealing with here, as the ambassador will have heard in the contribution by the ambassador from Palestine, is a serious issue of life and death, the regional politics of the region, the Middle East, and what is evolving.
Does the ambassador concur with the statement of the Palestinian ambassador that relationships must change between Israel, the Palestinians and third-party states and be transformed into a relationship centred on accountability? I am around a reasonably long time. We believed when Mr. Yasser Arafat addressed the United Nations, the PLO had reached an agreement and the Oslo Accords were negotiated that we were on the road to a two-state arrangement. The ambassador condemned Mr. Arafat so viciously. The PLO is now divided, and one constituent group is Fatah. There is now Hamas, and on the border is ISIS. The security of the region, from an Israeli perspective, is becoming increasingly threatened because of the failure of diplomacy. I argue that Israel’s right-wing Government and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Lieberman, do not seem to be interested in diplomacy. That the ambassador can come in here and condemn us all as being out of step with Israeli thinking on what constitutes a development of a settlement really begs the question as to whether Israel can be so correct, in the order of 100%, in its interpretation of international events.
The ambassador says Israel will not speak to Hamas. I would not like to go to bed with Hamas either. The Irish Government did so with a terrorist organisation. The ambassador will have heard some contributions from a member of Sinn Féin. We had to deal with terrorists in this country for 30 years. There were 3,000 deaths. This number is not comparable to that in the countries in the Middle East but we have to talk to the terrorists. Former US President, Ronald Reagan, went to Russia and opened dialogue with the Russians, which was unheard of. People did the same with China. The enemies have to be spoken to.
I appeal to the ambassador to recognise that we in Ireland applaud and play a very important role in the peace process.
We are up on the Golan Heights where our soldiers' lives are in danger. We have lost many soldiers in the region and hope we do not lose any more. We ask the witnesses to recognise that sooner or later the Palestinians will gain their statehood and receive recognition through the United Nations - they only have observer status at the moment - as a matter of historical inevitability and that we are moving towards the day when the shaking of hands will be consolidated between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
The Deputy is right. It surprises us too that the whole world is very worried about this decision on beginning the bureaucratic process of calling a piece of land "state land" and that only Israel is not. However, the Deputy knows Israelis a little bit and he knows that they agree about nothing. One can say that about Jews in general; we do not agree about everything. We say that we could have millions of prime ministers because everybody knows better than Mr. Netanyahu what Government policy should be. However, 95% of the Jewish population supported the operation in Gaza. That could not be seen from the outside. It could not be seen from Dublin, Paris or New York. Why is that? It is because people in Israel felt they were in a war for their survival. That was the feeling. I know it is difficult to explain that. I spoke on my flight back from Israel to an Irish citizen whom I had never met before. We spoke about it and he said "I now understand you much better than I ever did." For just three days, he heard the sirens and experienced the running to the shelter. This is the case.
When it comes to Molly Malone, the Deputy is right to say we are speaking about a very serious issue. We took that down after a few hours because somebody, who happens to be a friend of the embassy, said he thought it was not the right place. We said "You know, it is not a must," and we took it off. What we were trying to say, which a lot of people did not understand, and what I can say now openly without hiding anything, was actually said by the King of Saudi Arabia, who invited all the ambassadors serving in Riyadh to a meeting a few days ago. He told them the West should do something about Islamic State because it is a terrorist organisation that has no limits. Today, it is here. Within a month, it will get to Europe and within another month it is in the United States. This is what we were trying to say. If you do not help us oppose the terrorists of Hamas, it will be something else next time. There is no difference between Hamas, Islamic Jihad, al-Qaeda and ISIS. They are all the same, with the same way of thinking and similar methods. It does not matter if one beheads someone or shoots him in the head in the middle of the street.
In some countries around the world, it was well understood that the Arab Spring changed people's understanding, making them realise it is not Israel or even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that makes the Middle East tremble that way. Things that happened in Syria had nothing to do with Israel. What happened in Yemen, Libya and Iraq had nothing to do with Israel or the Palestinians. It still happened, because the region is getting more and more radical. When Prime Minister Netanyahu has to make his decisions or even think about the dialogue with the Palestinians, he cannot focus, as the media here sometimes does, only on this conflict, but must consider the broader picture. In the broader picture, Israel faces a lot of risk and threats surrounding it and it must take all of them into account. That is the difference.
I agree with the Deputy on dialogue with the enemy. As someone said, one makes peace with one's enemies, not with one's friends. However, I remind him that we had a dialogue with Yasser Arafat for years. He was considered by Israelis as the terrorist for years. He brought Palestinians into world affairs.
His organisation, the PLO, Palestine Liberation Organization, which was meant to put pressure on Israel, was created in 1964. On 1 January 1965 it had already committed its first terrorist action. This was before 1967, before Israel took the territory in what is now called an occupation. There was a little problem with this, but we did speak to Mr. Arafat, as the committee will remember. The Palestinians engaged in dialogue with Israel, some of which brought them close to signing an agreement. Ehud Barak promised 90% of the territory, while Ehud Olmert, Prime Minister in 2008, offered the Palestinians 98% of the territory, plus other concessions which, if they had been known at the time, would have put a lot of pressure on him. While he agreed to this, unfortunately, it was not enough for the Palestinian side. That could have been the opportunity, but it was missed. It was once said by an Israeli Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, that the Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. It was proved in the past two decades that they had had many opportunities. Some in Israel already believe the Palestinians have no interest in having their own state. They prefer the situation as it is without taking responsibility. We hope Mahmoud Abbas or someone else will take the responsibility and bring the two sides closer to a peace agreement.
I sympathise, as I did earlier with the Palestinian ambassador, with the Israeli ambassador on the loss of civilian life in Israel caused by some of the rockets fired into it. That was wrong.
The ambassador stated in his submission: "...the Palestinian civilians are not our enemies and we did not want them dead or hurt ... each time a civilian was killed unintentionally was seen as a failure." Size wise, Gaza is approximately 10 km wide and its length is similar to that of the coast of Wexford, a county with which the ambassador is familiar. There are 1.8 million people living in Gaza. I cannot see how Israel could indiscriminately bomb that area without killing many civilians. The number of children killed during the recent conflict was in excess of 500, representing one third of all civilian casualties. Does the ambassador agree that this indiscriminate bombing can only serve to radicalise young Palestinians who for the third time in the space of six years have seen such conflict occur? What does he say to the fathers and grandparents who lost their children and grandchildren or to children who lost their parents? Is he prepared to condemn it as a war crime? Is Israel prepared to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court for independent investigation? I see the ambassador’s colleague, Ms Nurit Tinari-Modai, deputy ambassador, smiling, which means, presumably, she does not see it as a war crime. However, many of us do. Why can a reputable international court not arbitrate on whether my contention is correct?
On Israel’s policy on the political separation of Gaza, the reaction to the election of the government of Hamas and the blockade, does the ambassador accept that the blockade has caused untold humanitarian difficulties for the people living in Gaza?
Is it part of Israeli policy to continue this or is Israel prepared to engage constructively in ending the blockade of Gaza?
In November 2005 Israel signed an agreement on movement and access, with which I am sure the ambassador is familiar. It would, inter alia,have permitted the continued operation of the crossings into Gaza. There were commitments to build a sea port in Gaza to allow access and to the reopening of the airport in Gaza, all of which would have helped in the provision of humanitarian aid and food.
I noticed that the ambassador mentioned that Israel was ready for compromise. Can he indicate anything that would illustrate to any of us that Israel intends to compromise in any way on its apparent intention, based on what has happened in the past 40 or 50 years, to maintain the status quoand not give an inch - a phrase with which we in this country are very familiar?
The ambassador mentioned Area C and made great play of the fact that it was under the control of the Israelis. Will he comment on why Israel has not implemented the Oslo accord and reneged on it? Areas A, B and C on the West Bank were to have been merged by this stage under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
I know that the ambassador will contest some of the questions I have put to him. Why does Israel continue to construct settlements in the occupied territories? Does the ambassador accept that, under international law, the construction of these settlements is illegal?
My final question is-----
Is Israel prepared to enter into negotiations on an agreement on the basis of reverting to the pre-1967 borders? Obviously, everybody subscribes to the view that the interests and future of Israel should be secured within them, but I do not detect from anything the ambassador has said that would give me confidence or change my deep conviction that Israel is simply not interested in moving to reach an agreement with the Palestinians until at some stage in the future when it will be forced to do so.
I am one of the people who thinks the ambassador should be expelled from the country. This has nothing to do with him personally, rather it concern the policies of his state. Like Desmond Tutu, I think the time for treating Israel as a normal state is over because it is not behaving as a normal state. I want to ask the ambassador questions about that contention. For the record, it is certainly not motivated by anti-Semitism in my case. For example, when disgraceful attempts were made to downplay the horrors of the Holocaust by people like David Irving, I brought a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz to this city to organise meetings and get her on national television to remind the Irish people of the horrors of the Holocaust. I would do so again if anybody tried to downplay the horrors of what was done to the Jewish people, but it is precisely because I am opposed to racism that I oppose what the ambassador's state is doing and what it stands for. I want to ask him a few questions about this.
I lived for one year in the moshav called Ne'ot HaKikar on the Dead Sea before the first intifada broke out in 1987. That leads me to my first question.
The ambassador has tried to cover over what Israel has done - the killings of innocent people in Gaza on three separate occasions in recent years, the seizure of Palestinian land and so on - by attacking Hamas. Why does the ambassador not admit that Hamas did not exist when the first intifada took place? It did not establish an armed wing until the early 1990s. There was a reason; the PLO was exiled in Tunis at the time - effectively not present. However, the ordinary Palestinians rose up because Israel denied them basic rights. I lived there. It was apartheid. Racism was endemic; it was rotten. I was shocked within weeks of living there to see how Israel treated Palestinian people.
Is it not a fact that the law of return, which is the basic law of the Israeli state, is a racist apartheid law because it confers rights on Jews that it denies to Palestinians? For example, if I was Jewish and had never set foot in Israel, I could claim citizenship there tomorrow, but 6 million people whose origins are in what the ambassador now calls Israel who were forced out in 1947 or 1948 do not have that right. Is that not part of the reason that the Palestinians are in dispute with Israelis? It is because Israel denies them the right to return to their homes, their land and their villages. They have a legitimate claim, even under international law, to return but Israel denies them that right. Why does Israel deny them that right? Why does it give that right to other people who have no connection whatsoever with the land, whether one calls it Israel or Palestine?
If Israel is serious about the Oslo Accords and the two-state solution why does it continue to seize land which under that agreement is designated to be Palestinian land? This has affected 500,000 people mostly since the signing of the Oslo Accords. Why does Israel allow that to happen if it is serious about giving this land to the Palestinians? It is absolutely extraordinary. Is the ambassador not just taking us for idiots if he can say with a straight face "We're serious about peace, but while we're serious about peace we're going to seize Palestinian land"? He expects the Palestinians to sit back and do nothing about that and he expects the world to regard that as an acceptable way to behave.
The ambassador asked earlier if we could have some constructive solutions. He knows what the Palestinian people have been requesting, which is far less even than some people would request because I believe the whole apartheid system should be dismantled. What they have requested is the lifting of the siege of Gaza. Let them have an airport. Let them have ports. Let them not be dictated to by a Government, for which they do not vote, as to what can go in and out of their territories, and whether they will have power, clean water and medicine. What makes the ambassador think that Israel is allowed to have nuclear weapons and the fourth biggest army in the world, and visit destruction on the people Gaza when they have no rights to defend themselves? They have no territorial sovereignty over that land.
How does the ambassador justify that? How does he justify those double standards?
As people such as Archbishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela have done, I would certainly describe the Israeli state as an apartheid state with different laws for people depending on their race or religion. For example, at checkpoints going into the West Bank, there is a channel for those who are Israeli or European and a separate channel for Arabs. If the ambassador was stopped when coming into Leinster House and told he could not come through the same entrance as Irish and European people because he was Jewish, he would call it racism and apartheid. However, Israel practises that with its checkpoints, military barrier and apartheid wall. How can the ambassador justify that?
I thank the ambassador for giving us his time today to deal with these issues. It is a very complex area. I have visited Gaza; I was there in 2009, four weeks after the hostilities in that year. There was a huge amount of damage done at that time with many people killed.
I thought that after that event progress would have been made to try to come to a long-term solution, but that does not appear to have occurred.
I refer back to the issue of proportionality and reasonable force in 2009. This time the hostilities were much worse, but in 2009 Israeli forces used white phosphorous and cluster munitions, which were no different from the nail bombs used in Northern Ireland. That does not equate to reasonable force. In particular, the number of children killed or seriously injured in the past five years exceeds 1,000. How can Mr. Modai say proportionality was exercised in dealing with this issue?
One of the places I visited was a cement factory, which the Israeli forces detonated in the hope that if they stopped the manufacture of cement, they could stop the construction of tunnels. However, it did not stop; likewise, the hostilities of the past eight weeks will not stop the building of tunnels or the acquisition of arms as long as people see the area as being locked down. In real terms it is an open air prison for 1.8 million people. Does Israel not realise at this stage that there has to be a different way of approaching this issue from what has happened in the past ten years, in particular? It appears that for every step forward, ten steps have been taken backwards. I thought that after 2009 a considerable effort would be made on all sides to take steps forward, but people on both sides are now more entrenched than at any time previously.
I would like to ask about new ways of dealing with the issue because a one-track approach appears to have been adopted. A large number of people were killed and injured during the recent clashes. What direct support is Israel giving in the provision of health care by the international community which is giving assistance to those who were seriously injured? That is the test of how genuine Israel is about trying to see if there is a better way and clearly showing it is concerned about those who were injured.
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
If I understood Senator Walsh's question correctly, he asked if I was not concerned that more young people in Gaza might become even more extreme and hostile towards Israel. The main reason they were, are and will be hostile is the incitement by and the education system of Hamas for them. What Hamas calls summer camps have children as young as five years being told how to use a rifle and throw a hand grenade. One could see this in one of the newspapers two days ago when during the celebration in Gaza one very young person was holding a rifle and another a pistol. As this is the way they celebrate, they do not need us or any operation to make them more hostile and radical than they are.
I say to the people who lost their children that I am sorry. It is not that I take responsibility. I am sorry they were killed by Israeli forces, but I remind these people that they were murdered by Hamas. Eventually, it was Israeli fire, but they were murdered by Hamas because these children and young people were used as human shields. If the members are asking about war crimes, this is a war crime. There is no war crime that is worse than using civilians as human shields. It is probably the worst war crime that exists.
We are not at the point of speaking about the International Criminal Court, but I assure the committee that if and when issues are discussed there regarding the Middle East, there will be a very long list of organisations and people that should be interrogated.
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
I do not know. It is not up to me and I do not work for the court. We have nothing to worry about because our actions were in self-defence. Perhaps some members think not every country has the right to defend itself, but according to our understanding, Israel deserves that right at least.
The question was asked of whether the blockade caused misery for people. We must remember how this started. In 2005, Israeli withdrew unilaterally for peace purposes from the whole Gaza district. I mentioned this already and members can read about it in my submission. Very soon afterwards, the flow of armaments for Hamas in Gaza came through the tunnels, specifically from Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula, as well as through vessels. There is no port in Gaza. If the port is to be used to receive armaments and ammunition, there will be no port. I have mentioned time and again the issue of demilitarising Gaza. If the area were demilitarised, the chance of a port would be high. Perhaps there could even be an airport - I do not know. If Palestinians feel that misery and suffering was caused, they should look to Hamas, which caused it.
Signing and implementing an agreement is right, but there are two sides. One cannot expect Israel to allow something which would endanger its security. The Senator may believe that Israel is not ready to give one inch, but we have proven otherwise many times in the past. We gave the Sinai Peninsula, which is three and half times as big as Israel, as well as fields of oil to the Egyptians, only because we believed Anwar Sadat when he spoke about peace. We knew Egypt to be a serious country and that when we signed a peace agreement, it would be respected. That is not the case today with Hamas or yet with the Palestinian Authority, although I hope that one day we will be able to trust them completely. When members speak about not implementing the Oslo Accords, I repeat that there were two sides.
There was a question of whether Israel would continue building in the occupied territories. We should ask ourselves why we use the wrong terminology and call these the "occupied territories". How is it occupied?
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
The result of the war was that we found ourselves with a considerable area that we never planned to have. Immediately after the war, our Minister responsible for defence, Moshe Dayan - everybody remembers the name - suggested that we give back the land for peace purposes. Members may remember the three "No's" of the Khartoum conference in Sudan, referring to "No peace, no negotiation and no recognition of Israel". That is the reaction we received and we have since been trying to solve the problem. The only card we have in our hands is these territories.
As I have said previously - and I am ready to say it again to the Palestinian ambassador - the future Palestinian state will be based on that, as long as Israeli security is guaranteed. Yes, I know we are obsessed when it comes to security, but we have all the reasons in the world to be. The destiny of our people was in the hands of others only 78 years ago and we remember the results. We will not let it happen again. We must make sure that our own army, the IDF, and our own government protect our citizens, and that is what we will always do from now on.
If the dialogue is based on 1967 in principle, it will be around these lines, but where exactly they will be will not be solved now. We have had a bad experience with the Palestinians because, in the past, whenever we met the ambassador mentioned here and described the lines, that became the new starting point for another negotiation, like in what we call a Turkish bazaar, in which one must negotiate all the time. We will not do that. Prime Minister Netanyahu has said time and again that he will not repeat the same mistake. Everything will be discussed together, including, and mainly, Israeli security, which is very important to us.
In response to Deputy Boyd Barrett, I have not heard so many cliches in such a short time for a long time. He belongs to the group that thinks I must be expelled from this country. I am sorry to delude him too. The fact that he mentioned a few times already this afternoon that he is not an anti-Semite raises questions. I am not saying that he is.
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
The Deputy said he lived in Ne'ot HaKikar and it was very hot and dry there. I know the area very well. He said he saw that Israel is a racist country. I know what he has seen. He has seen the buses which only Ashkenazi Jews can enter, because the buses for Ethiopians, Russians and Mizrahi Jews are different. He probably saw the supermarkets which only Israelis can enter - Arabs are not allowed. He did not see that, because these things do not exist in Israel. He knows damn well that Israel is not a racist country. Israel is a country in which everyone has the same rights.
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
-----to vote and be elected. In Israel there are politicians that represent the Arab minority. There are judges at different levels of the juridical system, army officers and diplomats who are Druze, Bedouin or other types of Arab. We are very proud of that because Israel is a democracy that respects the rights of everyone. The Deputy can say that he does not believe me but-----
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
The Deputy hinted that Israel was trying to mass-murder the civilians of Gaza. In 2000, the population of Gaza was 1.2 million people. Today, there are over 1.7 million people, which means we are doing a very bad job of trying to commit the genocide of these people. Israel proved the opposite. Israel proved that it tries to avoid the loss of life of innocent people. The fact is that this huge army of Israel did not cause more than that. I say again that it is a terrible figure and hundreds of people died, but it could have been much worse than that if Israel had not been very careful when it was retaliating against Hamas.
The Deputy mentioned the right of return, which is another interesting phenomenon. What he is speaking about is the destruction of the State of Israel. Giving the right of return to every Palestinian-----
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
I am trying. In 1948, there were no Palestinians. They were called Arabs, because everybody who lived in Israel was a Palestinian, including Jews, until 1948.
Members may not know that but that was the situation. More than 700,000 Arabs left their homes, many because of a promise by Arab leaders and the leadership of the Arab population there that if they left, they could come back after the Jews were thrown into the sea. We all remember that. More or less at the same time, 850,000 Jews were expelled from, or were forced to leave, Arab countries, including Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and many more countries.
If one is speaking about refugees, there were more Jewish refugees, but the difference is huge. The Jewish refugees immediately became citizens of the State of Israel. They were well absorbed into the society and now their children and grandchildren live as Israeli citizens. The Palestinians were never rehabilitated because it was the purpose of the Arab world to use them as a political tool. That is why we think the organisation, UNRWA, which is in charge of Palestinian refugees, creates a big problem. From the 1950s, there were 50 million refugees around the world. The other refugees do not exist anymore; they were absorbed into different societies all around the world. I am not only speaking of those who left but about the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who are considered by members to be refugees who have the right to go back to their homes. If that is the case, my deputy has the right to go back to her home in Poland because that is from where her family was expelled. Millions of Israelis may have that right, so this is not how it works.
During the previous century, tens of millions of people moved from one area to another as a result of different wars, so if one is speaking about the right of return - by the way, this is a special innovation - and the right of return to a different country, if people asked for the right of return to the future Palestinian state, it would make sense, but the right of return to a different country makes no sense to me.
Reference was made to Arabs having to stand in different lines. When I entered this country, I had to stand in line, not with EU passport holders but with others because this is the law. There were too many cases in which Arabs tried to blow themselves up in airports, ports and other places, so we took measures. It does not mean anything in terms of their rights and it does not show any kind of racism.
After the war in 2009, we also expected progress and that things would get calmer but, unfortunately, it did not take more than three years before we were attacked again. The number of children dead is terrible. Let me ask a question. I do not know if members have children or grandchildren but let me presume they do. If they walked out onto the street with their child and somebody pointed a gun to their head, would they hold a little child in front of them in order to protect themselves? Of course not. Nobody would do so. Nobody with any sense would do that.
H.E. Mr. Boaz Modai:
That is not the point. The point is that the results of this usage of civilians as human shields makes the number of casualties among innocent people larger.
I was asked if there was any other way. I think this is something that should be asked of the Palestinians and Hamas. How do we avoid the next cycle of violence? Nobody in his or her right mind would like to have another cycle of that kind. As I mentioned, people on both sides of the border suffered. When it comes to war, those who suffer are the civilians. In any case, this is something we should avoid.
I have given the example already - as soon as Hamas stopped shooting, there was no more fire. This can also happen in the future. The question is whether Hamas is ready to disarm and the Palestinian Authority would be a partner in that regard.
A question has been asked about the assistance Israel gives to the Palestinians. That gives me the opportunity to mention some things that were impossible to get into the media. The mother-in-law of Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas commander in Gaza, was treated in an Israeli hospital. I do not know if the ambassador knows that the wife of Mahmoud Abbas was also treated in an Israeli hospital. This was done in good faith because we believe that is our job in the world - we try to save people. A few days after the military operation started, Israel built a field hospital near the Erez crossing. We did not have many patients because people were warned by Hamas not to go to get treatment. There were doctors in place and all of the infrastructure needed was provided, waiting for people to come. We were ready to help and do help. I have already mentioned the thousands of people who crossed the border between Gaza and Israel, many of whom did so in order to receive treatment in Israel. We take our share, although I know it is not enough. The international community will also have to help.
I am not happy with many of the answers given by the ambassador. However, as he did offer in a recent letter to meet me privately, I am happy to do so. It is welcome that he is here and has been made aware of the strong views of the committee on the issue. These views are not anti-Israel. While they may be pro-Palestinian, it does not follow that they are anti-Israel. It is welcome that the ambassador has engaged in dialogue with us. We should continue that dialogue.
I thank the Senator for expressing his personal views. I thank everyone for being here for just over four hours. I particularly thank the two ambassadors for coming. Credit is due to both of them for accepting our invitation. I also thank them for being present for the full meeting. They listened to each other, which is very important. I also thank the other members of the diplomatic corps who came.
This has been an important meeting, from which we can learn a lot. Members now have a better understanding of the situation as viewed from both sides. We have a clearer picture which will assist us in our work programme in the coming months in the context of dealing with this very serious problem. Like everyone else, I hope we can move forward and be positive. Sometimes we look back at the past too much; we need to move forward. If a solution was easy to find, it would have been settled many years ago. The issue is complex and full of challenges, not least the many other difficulties in the Middle East. As the two ambassadors said, the rise of ISIS is extremely worrying for all of us and is an issue which the committee will discuss further at future meetings.
I hope we can keep in touch with the two ambassadors who have been very forthcoming, which is appreciated. They have been honest, open and frank in giving their side of the story, which is what this is all about.
I thank members for their co-operation. We have had a very constructive meeting and they asked very pertinent and straight questions. We have learned a lot today.