Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 5 April 2022
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Amnesty International's Report on Israel's Apartheid against Palestinians: Ireland Israel Alliance
Our business today is a meeting with representatives of the Ireland Israel Alliance. I am very pleased to welcome in person Ms Jackie Goodall, executive director of the Ireland Israel Alliance and Ms Audrey Griffin and former Minister, Member of the House and this committee, Mr. Alan Shatter, who are members of the alliance. Joining us remotely from New York is Mr. Yoseph Haddad, who is an Israeli Arab citizen. On behalf of the committee I welcome everybody.
The format of the meeting is that we will hear the opening statements of the witnesses followed by a discussion and questions and answers with members of the committee. I ask members to be concise in their questions to allow all members an opportunity to participate. I hope we will have a second opportunity for members to come back in should they so desire.
I remind witnesses of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make that person in any way identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of that person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory with regard to an identifiable person or entity they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that any such direction is complied with. For witnesses attending remotely from outside the Leinster House campus there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and, as such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness physically present in our meeting room does.
I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make that person in any way identifiable.
I remind members that they are only allowed to participate remotely in this meeting if they are physically located on the Leinster House complex. With that, I am pleased to ask Ms Goodall to introduce her colleagues and to make her opening statement. I again thank all the witnesses for meeting us.
Ms Jackie Goodall:
I thank the committee for inviting the Ireland Israel Alliance, IIA, to counter Amnesty International’s report that charges Israel with apartheid against Palestinians. By employing this very distinct term, a term that elicits powerful emotions in peoples and states, we believe the report to be a tactical step as part of a much broader strategy of delegitimisation to deny Israel the right to defend itself and to terminate its existence as the nation state of the Jewish people.
I am joined by two fellow members of the alliance, the former Minister for Justice and Equality and Defence, and voluntary chair of Magen David Adom Ireland, Alan Shatter, and Audrey Griffin, the author of Hey Ireland! Israel’s On The Line: Are We Prepared For A Potential Holocaust?I am also joined remotely from New York by Yoseph Haddad, a private Arab-Israeli citizen of Israel and CEO of Together - Vouch for Us, an Israeli NGO that seeks to create better understanding and co-operation between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews.
I remind the committee that the Ireland Israel Alliance, an entirely voluntarily run, non-profit organisation, was established in 2018 because a growing number of Irish citizens from across the political spectrum and from all religious backgrounds and none were, and continue to be, of the opinion that the pervasive narrative circulating in the Irish public arena regarding Israel was, and still is, disproportionately focused against Israel. Our objective remains to bring more balance to that narrative and to make a constructive contribution to the debate.
On that note, I thank the Taoiseach and the Government for refusing to adopt Amnesty’s outrageous apartheid depiction, which is one that is entirely divorced from the reality on the ground, is a gross distortion of truth and is employed to demonise and delegitimise the Israeli state. Ireland is not alone in taking this stand, as the US, Germany, the United Kingdom, Austria, the Czech Republic, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and France also reject Amnesty’s charge, as have organisations and individuals across the world, including Mansour Abbas, leader of the Arab Muslim nationalist party that forms part of Israel’s governing coalition. I will defer shortly to Yoseph Haddad, himself an Israeli Arab, who will speak about this reality.
The Amnesty report has essentially repackaged the ideologically-inspired claims of the Human Rights Watch, HRW, and B’Tselem reports that preceded it; these are baseless, ideologically-motivated claims that are, in reality, an impediment to peace between Arabs and Jews in the region. It is worth noting that the founder of Human Rights Watch, Robert Bernstein, who for several decades was president of Random House, one of the most prestigious publishers in the United States, published an article in The New York Timesin 2009 strongly criticising the organisation he founded for ignoring serious human rights violations in closed societies, for its anti-Israel bias and for "issuing reports [...] that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state".
That B’Tselem’s similar report comes from an Israeli NGO serves to illustrate that far from being the oppressive, apartheid state B’Tselem claims it to be, Israel continues to "ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; [guaranteeing] freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture", as outlined in Israel’s declaration of independence of May 1948. I encourage anyone here who may not have already read the declaration, to do so. It appealed for peace and extended a hand of friendship to all Israel’s neighbouring Arab states, which was rejected by all of them in 1948, and led to Israel being forced to fight the first of many defensive wars.
Most disturbingly of all are Amnesty’s recommendations, beginning on page 272 of the 280-page report. To say that it is effectively calling for the dismantling of the State of Israel may not be immediately obvious to some, but let us take a closer look. Amnesty advocates for the "right of return" of some 5.7 million "Palestinian refugees" to Israel, a country slightly smaller than the province of Munster, and which if implemented, would effectively mean the elimination of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. In Amnesty’s distorted view, every descendent of the original 750,000 Palestinians who fled Israel during the war in 1948 should be granted a "right of return", a demand not supported by international law. Amnesty also calls for a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, including "security equipment". This sounds very much like a call for Israel to be denied the capacity to defend itself when attacked, as well as an objection to Israel maintaining its Iron Dome air defence system. This system intercepted up to 90% of the more than 4,300 Hamas rockets fired indiscriminately into Israeli cities over an 11-day period in May 2021 and saved the lives of countless Jews, Arabs and other minorities in Israel.
At a time when many Arab countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, are developing closer commercial and defence ties with Israel, and relations between Arabs and Jews are flourishing in many parts of the Middle East, it is tragic that Amnesty, on the heels of two similarly ideologically-motivated NGOs, would produce a report that foments distrust and inflames existing tensions within Israel and the disputed territories, ignores Palestinian rejectionism and whitewashes its violence, and, via the misuse of the emotionally-charged apartheid label, advocates for the dismantling of the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. My colleague, Mr. Haddad, would like to comment next.
Mr. Yoseph Haddad:
I thank the members of the committee for allowing me to address them on this important subject. In the past, the committee has heard from several speakers about my country, Israel, and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. I am here today as a private citizen of the State of Israel to share my experience and provide the truth about what is happening in Israel from the minority perspective.
I am an Israeli Arab. I was born in Haifa, which is the largest mixed city of Arabs and Jews in the country. I was raised in Nazareth, the largest Arab city in the State of Israel. This may surprise some members of the committee after what they have been hearing about Israel. I, all my friends and all my community, however, regularly interact with Israelis from all sectors. A major part of my childhood involved playing football, and I grew up playing football with Jews, Christians and Muslims. I will tell the committee one thing: we did not see each other as being any different.
Fast forwarding to the age of 18, military service or national service is mandatory in Israel for Jewish citizens. However, every year thousands of Israeli Arabs volunteer, and this number is increasing over time. When I turned 18, I saw my Jewish friends go to the army, and I did not understand why I, as an Arab, would not also serve my country. After all, it is my home just as much as theirs.
Even more important is that the Israeli Defense Forces, IDF, does not stand for the Jewish defence forces; rather, it is the Israeli Defense Forces. This means that its purpose is to protect all its citizens, including 2 million Arab Israelis. Just before my service was about to begin, the Maxim restaurant in Haifa, which is owned by Arabs and Jews, was targeted by a Palestinian terrorist who suicide bombed the restaurant, killing 21 Israelis, Arabs and Jews, and injuring 51. I learned a painful but important lesson that day. These terrorists did not care that they were killing Arabs. They targeted us because we are Israelis; just the same as Hezbollah in Lebanon fired on the Israeli Arab city in the second Lebanon war; just the same as how nearly half of the Israeli civilian casualties from the second Lebanon war were Arab Israeli Muslims; just the same as Hamas who fired rockets on Israeli Arab towns throughout the country in May 2021, killing Arab Muslims.
When we Arab Israelis join the IDF, we do it to defend our country too. When the committee understands this, it will see that this is not a racial conflict, but a political one because we too as Arabs are targets of Palestinian terrorism. Just last week, a Palestinian terrorist murdered an Israeli Arab, Amir Khoury, in an attack where he murdered four other Israelis. Days before that, 19-year-old Yezen Falah from the Arab Druze community was murdered in another terror attack. Despite that, people from outside of Israel continue to lie about the reality that we as Israeli Arabs face.
Here is the reality that the committee did not hear from Amnesty International. Arab Israelis, both Muslims and Christians, make up 20% of the entire population and enjoy equal rights under the law, the same as any other Jewish citizens. In Israel basic laws, the right to freedom of religion is protected explicitly, as is the right to equality under the law and the democratic principle of the state. We are observing the highest level of nearly every position and, in fact, are over-represented in some industries. We are 30% of all doctors, despite the fact that we are 20% of the population. We are roughly 50% of all pharmacists. In the last round of new doctors, Arabs comprised 50%. Arab Israelis are diplomats, such as the ambassador to Azerbaijan, George Deek. They are news anchors, professional athletes, military leaders, singers, senior technology executives, such as Johny Srouji, the head of Apple in Israel. They are bankers, such as Dr. Samer Haj Yehia, who is the chairman of Bank Leumi, which is the largest bank in Israel. Yes, they are even supreme court justices, just like Khaled Kabub, who was recently elected the first Arab Muslim to serve on the Israeli Supreme Court. It is true that Israel is a Jewish state, but it is also a democratic state and I am living proof that it is possible.
While Israel is imperfect and racism exists, it is not systematic, but individual. Everyday Arabs and Jews are standing side-by-side working to resolve the problems in our society. Yet, does the committee know what does not help our society? White Europeans at Amnesty International telling our sovereign nation of Arabs and Jews how to run our country. Even more appallingly, Amnesty International has the audacity to define my identity as an Arab, labelling me as Palestinian, despite the fact that I am an Israeli Arab. Not only that, but according to recent polls on identity by Saharia, only 14% of Israeli Arabs define themselves as Palestinian. This is 14% of 2 million, yet Amnesty International thinks it knows better than us about how to define us. This report is about eliciting an emotional response, despite the fact that definition of "apartheid" according to international law does not apply to the State of Israel in any capacity.
Speaking of smearing my country, Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett stood here days ago and claimed there was a double standard in condemning Russia but not Israel. Even the Ukrainian president stated that Ukraine is Israel not Palestine. It is Israel that is being targeted with thousands of rockets by a terrorist organisation that wants to see the entire state destroyed. The Palestinians wants Israel to cease to exist, just as Russia wants Ukraine to cease to exist. This propaganda exercise is a cynical exploitation of the tragedy of Ukraine in an obsessive attempt to once again shift the conversation to bashing Israel. While Amnesty International and others fan the flames of hatred against Israel, it is us Israelis, both Arabs and Jews, who pay the price on the ground. Amnesty International's report is the highest of elitism of a modern-day colonial mindset that thinks, “We Europeans know better than you brown people how to manage your country”. Did they expect me not to be able to think for myself, not to have my own thoughts and my own opinion to review their ignorant misunderstanding of what is happening in Israel?
Allow me, an Arab born and raised in the country of Israel, which seems to gather much attention from this body, to explain to the committee what Israel really stands for. Israel stands for democracy, with a government that is comprised of left wing and right wing religious and secular Muslims, Jewish, Christian, LGBTQ and disabled members. Israel stands for the rule of law, where our previous Arab supreme court judge Salim Joubran, sent a Jewish president and a Jewish prime minister to prison when they committed crimes. Israel stands for freedom of expression, where members of the government can openly criticise their state, including in Arabic, in the walls of the parliament. Let me tell the committee that we speak Arabic in the Knesset. Israel stands for freedom of speech, where the press can, and does, openly criticise the government without fear of arrest and prosecution. By the way, unlike in the West Bank and in Gaza, Israel stands for humanity, where the IDF itself launched a hospital for the sole purpose of providing humanitarian aid and treatment for Syrians who were injured in the Syrian civil war, despite the fact that Syria is an enemy country. Israel stands for providing humanitarian aid to Gaza, even when Hamas bombed their own humanitarian aid convoy, which occurred in May 2021. It stands for forming new alliances with Arab states across the region, for the benefit of both people, such as in the Abraham Accords Declaration. Israel stands for accepting the UN partition plan, when the Arabs of the region said "No" and launched a war. It stands for granting full citizenship to Arabs who remain, like me and my family. It stands for taking chances and painful sacrifices for peace over and over again, even when it ends up with getting more than 15,000 rockets fired at our civilians by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It stands for Arab doctors and nurses saving the lives of Jewish patients in the hospitals and for Jewish doctors and nurses saving the lives of Arab patients. It stands for Arabs and Jews who stand side by side every day as citizens of that state. Israel, my country, stands for life.
Mr. Alan Shatter:
I want to bring a message to this meeting because I have been watching the various, repetitive sessions saying same things repetitively about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The message is that words matter. Truth matters. We learned that through 30 years of conflict on this island. Words can contribute to bridge building, reconciliation and peace and understanding. They can also distort history and today's reality, exacerbate division, ferment hatred and incite and trigger violence, murder and terrorism.
The Amnesty International report that we are discussing falls into the latter category. At a time of reconciliation and growing co-operation between Israel and Arab states across the Middle East, all of whom aspire to a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Amnesty’s poisoned, unbalanced report can do nothing other than fuel public hostility within Arab states and elsewhere to constructive engagement, the deepening of new relationships and conflict resolution.
The report purports to present itself as a detailed analysis of Israeli Government conduct since Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 and condemns it as engaged since then in the application of a system of apartheid. That is the headline-catching big lie currently fashionable within some campaigning and ideological circles.
It is designed to undermine the pivotal foundational role of United Nations Resolution 181 of November 1947, which expressly prescribed the creation of two states, an independent Jewish state and an independent Arab state, and an international regime to govern Jerusalem. Amnesty's report says nothing about the aggressive illegal war launched by Israel's surrounding Arab states to eliminate it at birth, which also sabotaged the Jerusalem governance mechanism. Amnesty is critical of Israel being the one and only Jewish state in the world and is on record asserting, contrary to the 1947 UN resolution, that it should not exist as a Jewish state. To maintain its despicable depiction of Israel, one of the most culturally diverse and blended states on the planet, as systemically racist, it studiously ignores the legal fact it is internationally designated to be a Jewish state and so created and recognised by the United Nations. It ignores the expulsion of 800,000 Jews from neighbouring Arab states who obtained refuge in Israel rendering those states judenrein. It also ignores the fact that Israel, unlike some other states and entities in the Middle East, is not only a democracy but, as Yoseph Haddad states, also fully facilitates and protects freedom of religion.
Amnesty's report entirely ignores the region's true history, including the rejection by all Arab states and the local Arab population from day one of the two-state solution structured by the 1947 UN resolution, the continued state of belligerence to which Israel was subjected in the decades that followed; that again in 1967 and 1973 it had to fight for its continued existence; that between 1948 and 1967 when Gaza was occupied by Egypt and the West Bank, and East Jerusalem by Jordan, nothing was done to establish the new Arab state the UN prescribed in 1947 or any Palestinian state. Amnesty also substantially ignores the substantive provisions of the 1993-95 Oslo Accords, which facilitated the creation of the Palestinian Authority and the specific detailed arrangements agreed to govern areas A, B and C on the West Bank, it ignores Arab and Palestinian rejectionism and the backdrop to and impact of both the first and second intifada and the terrorist atrocities perpetrated, which resulted in the murder and maiming of thousands of Israeli men, women and children of all backgrounds. Amnesty ignores the ongoing defensive and security measures required by Israel to this day to protect all Israelis from attack and atrocities, the wars as initiated by Hamas from Gaza, toxic internal Palestinian division and governance dysfunction, the multiple attempts made by the Israeli state and successive prime ministers in talks with Palestinian leaders to effect conflict resolution and implement a two-state solution.
The report grossly misrepresents the reality of daily life in Israel. As Mr. Haddad says, Israeli law applies equally to all Israeli citizens, including the 20% of Israelis who are not Jewish, that a variety of Israeli Supreme Court judgments have asserted the equality of all Israeli citizens under Israeli basic law; that interventions of that Court, much like our own Supreme Court, have prevented government and state overreach. It ignores that all Israeli citizens have access to every type of employment, to first, second and third level education, participate together in every type of sport, that non-Jewish Israeli citizens are represented and have leadership roles across Israeli society, throughout all professions, are members of the Knesset and the Israeli Government, the Israeli judiciary all the way to its supreme court, professors and lecturers in Israeli universities, doctors and nurses throughout the Israeli healthcare system, and play for, captain and coach Israeli international teams. The report totally misrepresents and distorts the Israeli political process and totally ignores the fact that the current Israeli Government is entirely dependent on a Muslim Brotherhood Arab party led by the already mentioned, Mansour Abbas, with whom the authors of the Amnesty report did not even engage. It also ignores the cross-community involvement throughout Israel of approximately 25,000 Magen David Adom professionals and trained volunteers who act as emergency medical responders.
Fundamentally, the Amnesty report misrepresents what is a territorial and political conflict relating to Israeli and Palestinian nationhood and identity as a racial conflict. It does not contain an objective, factual and legal analysis but a smorgasbord of distorted history, ideological philandering masquerading as fact and is fundamentally legally flawed. Amnesty, in its report, admits that it set out to examine the conduct of the Israeli Government through the framework of apartheid. Having acknowledged the heinous form of apartheid notoriously applied in South Africa to be inapplicable, Amnesty then proceeds to apply a new variant, ideologically spun and created to smear the Israeli state, knowing apartheid in the public mind to be synonymous with the evil inflicted by South Africa's white supremacy governments. In doing so, Amnesty misappropriates South Africa's bitter and cruel history and exploits for its own purposes the grievous wrong of many decades inflicted on South Africa's non-white community.
The report does not properly distinguish between Israel and the West Bank, between Israel and Gaza, nor between the West Bank and Gaza and presents as largely ignorant of or deliberately ignoring the widely known history of Jerusalem. Crucially, it does not properly address the distinction between international humanitarian law and international human rights law and fails to distinguish between international law provisions applicable to disputed or occupied territory and those applicable to the territory of internationally recognised states, such as Israel. It is a pity that its ideological and distorted depiction of the conflict, which reflects Soviet ideology going back to the 1950s and the infamous rescinded UN motion labelling Zionism as racism, has to date been so uncritically accepted by most members of this committee and Parliament and its language replicated.
Israel of course, like Ireland, is far from perfect. Much can be validly criticised and should change or be reformed, but Israel's flaws cannot be correctly depicted as derived from a system of apartheid any more than Ireland's. Is it the view of this committee that our country is applying a system of apartheid because of our failure to address the issue of Traveller accommodation, the shortage of affordable accommodation for young people, the plight of those in direct provision, delays in accessing healthcare experienced by those who lack private health insurance, the lack of adequate timely services for children with disabilities, the inadequacy of psychiatric services, the almost total absence of non-white presenters in State media such as RTÉ, the existence of superior facilities in some private schools compared with public schools and the delays and difficulty experienced by non-EU foreign residents in Ireland effecting family reunification? Does that justify Ireland being internationally labelled and demonised as applying an apartheid system or being an apartheid state or does it simply illustrate we are not perfect and much remains to be done?
Some members of this committee and other Oireachtas Members have frequently depicted the Israeli security wall or fence, which is referenced by Amnesty in its report, as an apartheid wall. The necessity for the wall derives from the fact that more than 1,000 Israelis died during the second intifada between 2000 and 2005 and the Israeli Government was compelled to protect its citizens from Palestinian terrorism. In Northern Ireland, peace walls still exist to this day to protect local communities from sectarian violence. None of those who reference an apartheid wall in Israel similarly label the peace walls nor label Northern Ireland, whatever its governance failures, as an apartheid state. Incidentally the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, is in reality a great deal more diverse than is this Parliament or Stormont.
The ideological intellectual gyrations through which the Amnesty report travels to substantiate the false charge of a new form of apartheid would be laughable if not designed to demonise and delegitimise the only Jewish state in the world, the state to which the Jewish people are indigenous, the state recreated and arisen from the ashes of history to always be a safe haven for the Jewish people who have not, in a single century over 2,000 years, been free of persecution. It is the safe haven this State refused to offer persecuted Jews attempting to escape Nazi Germany and emaciated survivors of German concentration camps.
This committee in its deliberations, as I have watched them, is on the wrong side of history. As far as I know, to date, it has had nothing positive to say about the Abraham accords, historical meetings taking place and agreements between Israeli leaders and leaders of Jordan, Egypt, UAE, Morocco and Bahrain or the real advances in peace, reconciliation, economic co-operation and environment protection taking place throughout the Middle East.
It has had nothing, ever, to say about Palestinian rejectionism of every advance achieved and Iran’s malign role in the Middle East. Nor is anything ever said about Palestinian political parties, terrorist and civil groups celebrating in Gaza, Jerusalem and in the West Bank murderous terrorist atrocities, when committed, such as those of the past three weeks that resulted in the death of 11 people and the maiming of many others. Those murdered include two Ukrainian men, a 19-year-old Druze police officer, a Christian Arab police officer, four Jewish women and a rabbi wheeling a child in a pram. It is equal-opportunity terrorism with cross-community tragic impact.
Too many members of this committee advocate boycott, divestment and sanctions, BDS, and are supportive of Irish NGOs opposed to normalisation of relations between Israelis and Palestinians when from everything we have learned on this island they should encourage dialogue and engagement. Of course, if it chose, this committee could positively contribute to conflict resolution by encouraging the Government to apply the lessons of our own peace process to the conflict and exploring what positive steps it could take to encourage and foster dialogue, trust and confidence building, cross-community engagement, reconciliation and to increase Palestinian economic development.
The unquestioning acceptance in previous hearings, by most members of this committee, of the deeply-flawed, ideologically-inspired report leads to three simple questions I will put to this committee. I regret the absence of some members who have been vociferously critical of Israel in the past. What is the objective of this committee in holding these hearings? It is not clear to anybody. Is it the objective of some to recreate in Israel the terrorist violence and atrocities perpetrated over a period of 30 years on this island by the Provisional IRA and loyalist paramilitaries and in Israel, the terrorist atrocities of the second intifada? How many members of this committee seek the de-legitimisation and destruction of the world’s only Jewish state? These are serious questions that only each member of this committee can answer.
I have final questions about Amnesty and its report. Why did Amnesty spend so much time on creating this toxic, selected edifice of half-truths and lies? Why not use that time positively? Why not spend that time encouraging dialogue, engagement, conflict resolution and reconciliation?
Ms Audrey Griffin:
I thank an Cathaoirleach and members of the committee for the opportunity to speak. A major indictment against the report is the deliberate decontextualisation of a conflict. According to Amnesty, Israel was born out of the 1947 to 1949 conflict, thus creating the illusion that Jews used military aggression to take over the land. This is not true. Rather, the international community voted, in November 1947, in favour of the UN partition plan to provide a state for the Jewish people in their ancient homeland, alongside another state for the Arabs.
It was the Arab leaders' rejection of the 1947 UN partition plan and their subsequent goal to annihilate the fledgling State of Israel in May 1948 that was the source of the conflict that ensued. Indeed, as many as seven nations on today's atlas, whose populations totalled 140 million formed an alliance and attacked Israel within hours of the implementation of its statehood. Despite the odds being 200:1, Israel, with its meagre population of 650,000, survived the genocidal attack and somehow emerged victorious, not forgetting, that 1%, or one out of every 100 Israelis, was killed in this, the war of independence.
Incidentally, the majority of Arabs who were living there at the time, were recent immigrants from other parts of the Middle East and North Africa who had heard of the amazing restoration of the land by Jewish immigrants, a land that had been virtually uninhabitable for centuries. According to author Mark Twain, who toured what was then called Palestine in 1866, this was a desolate country and a mosquito-infested swampland. There had been no interest in reviving it before small Jewish colonies began to arrive from Europe from the late 1800s onwards.
Arab-Israeli journalist, Khaled Abu Toameh, explains how his ancestors were the ones who refused to take the advice of Arab leaders in 1947 to 1948, to temporarily leave their homes and lands until the Jews had been eliminated, after which they were promised they could return. In solidarity, the State of Israel subsequently granted full Israeli citizenship to these Arabs and to other minority groups that had not abandoned it or sought its annihilation. Other loyal native ethnic groups, such as Arameans, also became Israeli citizens.
The Arabs, however, who took the advice of their conspiring and genocidal leaders and left the land became the original 720,000 refugees, known since the 1960s, as Palestinian refugees. It is important to understand and yet it is omitted from the report, that prior to 1964, the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza were not designated Palestinians. Those who call themselves Palestinians today are non-distinguishable in culture and language from other Arabs. The strategic designation was devised and applied by the terrorist leader, Yasser Arafat, when he formed the militant Palestine Liberation Organization, PLO, in 1964.
This report has ignored the historical context in which the conflict is embedded. Amnesty International has proven that it is neither interested in history nor in truth and it is certainly not interested in the reconciliation of the groups in question. There are those who seek peace and reconciliation, such as Fr. Gabriel Naddaf, who boldly declares that Israel is a shining example of human rights in the Middle East. Fr. Naddaf is a native Aramean Israeli who encourages young Israeli Arabs to join the Israel Defense Forces.
One can read the testimonies and quotations of numerous Arab Israelis, Palestinians and many other brave advocates of Israel in my book, Hey Ireland! Israel's On The Line: Are We Prepared For A Potential Holocaust?Muintir na hÉireann, will we turn a blind eye, as Amnesty has, and be on the wrong side of history? To quote Fr. Naddaf, "end ... [the] witch hunt of [Israel] the only free country in the region".
Before going to members of the committee for questions, observations or submissions, I remind our witnesses that it is in response to an invitation from this committee that they are present before us. I very much welcome their contributions to a debate that is a frequent agenda item on our committee. I reject any criticism of this committee. While criticism might be reserved for individual members of this committee, we are always keen to give every opportunity to groups such as the Ireland Israel Alliance to make their submission and attend our hearings.
Our witnesses will be aware of the fact that since the Amnesty report was published earlier this year, Amnesty had an opportunity to brief senior officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The issue was the subject of a Dáil debate. The report was the subject of an extensive Seanad debate, and Amnesty International sought an opportunity to present the findings of the report before this committee. I along with other members of this committee are very keen to ensure balance in the context of our deliberations. This is why following the submission of Amnesty International to our committee, the members and I, as Chairman, felt it only appropriate that the Ireland-Israel Alliance would have an opportunity to join us this afternoon in order to, in the words of Ms Goodall, refute aspects of the report or, perhaps, even the report in its entirety. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the committee should be the subject of criticism such as that which we have just heard. I am pleased to go to members for their questions.
I welcome the fact that the Ireland-Israel Alliance has come before us to give testimony. It has contended that it believes this report is wrong in stating that Israel is an apartheid state. I will direct my questions to Ms Goodall. She obviously accepts that Israel has been occupying Palestinian lands for approximately 55 years.
This is the ground that has been taken since 1967. There is no sign of this occupation being lifted. We have also had what people have termed relentless land confiscation. Approximately 700,000 people in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are Israeli settlers.
What I propose is that Deputy Ó Murchú puts his questions and I will then give an opportunity to other members to put their questions. For ease of discussion, I will then come back to the panellists.
These are Jewish-only settlements. There is a dual legal system within them. People have been thrown off these lands. There is an absolute separation and gap regarding the living conditions of these Israeli settlers and those Palestinian people. There is an absolute separation in respect of political rights, home demolitions and collective punishment. If all this is accepted, it is difficult to see how Israel is not operating apartheid rule - even if we just deal with these particular areas. Could I get a response on this?
I also resent the criticism of the committee as a whole. This committee has always tried to be balanced in everything it has done. I had a wonderful meeting with the Israeli ambassador yesterday and listened to many of her concerns about the future of the relationship between Ireland and Israel. I reject the notion of apartheid straight off. I do not take any side in the conflict. It is deeply distressing to see some of the TV pictures coming back. The issue of the disputed territories needs to be resolved quickly.
I am a bit concerned about the direction in which the debate has moved in Ireland over recent years, especially in recent months. The story has become one-sided instead of two-sided. I do not live in a city or a village that would be likely to be attacked by rockets at any time of the day or night. I defend Israel's right to have hardware that would allow it to take rockets down as they come in. I do not for one moment defend some of the, shall we say, rather brutal approaches taken by the Israeli defence forces. I think it is a pity. I wore a uniform and I know how easy it is to probably be more brutal than you should be when you are afraid and under pressure.
Maybe I am outside the majority on this, but what can we do to change the narrative about the region - not about Israel the state but about the region? The story is becoming very one-sided. I do not accept that it is a one-sided issue. Mr. Shatter referred to 40 years experience in this country. I was on the receiving end of it myself for a period. There are no right sides in a conflict; there are just different sides. My concern is that for some reason or other in this country, one side is getting much higher-profile recognition than the other. I want you guys to tell us what we need to do to assist a peace process. Some of my colleagues might disagree with this, but we got a peace process here in Ireland in the late 1990s, sat back and clapped ourselves on the back and said "Job done, let's forget about it". Peace needs to be worked at all day, every day. We need to figure out what it is we have to do to get that peace.
I was really impressed by Mr. Haddad's presentation because I know there are Arabs who want to work in Israel, live side by side and engage on a regular basis. I know there are many hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who work and live in Israel and live their lives normally. It is very hard not to take the side of the lesser - the Palestinian group. I have criticised Israel openly and have been quite vociferous in that criticism in the past. I recall an incident in Brussels where they laid out the shoes of children who had been killed as a result of Israeli attacks on the West Bank and Gaza. I was critical of Israel at that time. Since then, I have spent a lot more time looking at the conflict. I am convinced there is no right side here. There are two sides that need to find a way to come together.
I thank the witnesses for attending. It is not easy to come in here and face people who have been extremely critical of the state the witnesses love. If the witnesses were Palestinians, I would say the same thing to them. I really want to know what we can do to build relationships. I also want to know what damage we have done with some of the things that have been said in our Parliament.
I welcome our guests, especially our former parliamentary colleague, Alan Shatter. I agree with the Chairman that the committee is doing its best throughout the process to be on the side of truth and objectivity. I certainly know the Chairman is doing his best in this regard. I would like to think that we, as members, are or should be.
At the outset, a few things need to be said because I want to get to the substantive things in the Amnesty International report.
While they have not been made today, suggestions that people who are critical of Israel are in some way anti-Semites could not be further from the truth. I can assure our guests of that. I can also assure them that, as the distinguished Chairman is aware, I studied history in college and enjoyed it. I am painfully and tragically aware of the history of the Jewish people. There is no escaping that one. It is the reality. Obviously, it has been an issue and might have prevented straight talking in the past and still does because nobody wants to deny that history.
I refer to the essence of the points made in the Amnesty report. I accept the point that, for Israeli people living in it, Israel is a model of democracy and a very progressive modern state with liberal values and so on. The real point here is that Amnesty says there is a distinction in the context of how Arabs within the Israeli state are dealt with and that it is not quite as draconian there, although the report refers to the displacement of the Bedouin Palestinians in the Negev or al-Naqab area. It cites that as an example of an internal issue. The real issue is not Israel itself but, rather, the occupied territories. That is what we are discussing. First, we are discussing the recent allegation that there was discrimination in the context of the provision of vaccines to 5 million Palestinians, which would be in breach of UN laws for occupied territories. It is alleged that a distinction was made in that context.
There is the issue of dispossession and resettlements in that area and a suggestion that those dispossessions and resettlements are making it impossible to have a two-state solution. Due to the way they are situated across the occupied territories, one could not smoothly create a two-state solution unless the people who have settled there were resettled back into Israel, which would be a difficult situation. It has been suggested that the purpose of that is almost to prevent a two-state solution and that we may have to come up with another solution.
The Amnesty report suggests, as does the recent report of Michael Lynk, the UN special rapporteur, that there are problems with water supply, natural resources, electricity and services such as garbage collection and so on in the occupied territories. It suggests there is a discriminatory set-up there, with military rule, with checkpoints, dispossession and a whole discriminatory process. Gaza has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. It is sort of a completely different economic zone. It is all these differences in the human rights and administrative regimes, as well as services, along with the dispossession of people, that leads to the charge of apartheid. Amnesty suggests this is being done on three levels. It is supported by the UN report.
I hope our guests will be the first to say that the present situation cannot continue. I know that one of the points they make relates to violence emanating from the occupied territories. Nobody supports such violence but, at the same time, the response is totally over the top and it is nearly providing a blanket situation for discrimination. Those are some my initial points to our guests. I am interested in their responses. The committee is genuinely in the business of finding out the truth and we are listening carefully to what they say. I had a very good meeting with the previous Israeli ambassador. I have no problem with anything like that. This is not about the demonisation of any race of people. As Senator Craughwell stated, it is about getting the right thing done. It is not in the interests of Israel or humanity to retain the status quoand the kind of regime and conditions that exist in the context of the 2 million people in Gaza, or on the West Bank or in Jerusalem. It is not in the interests of humanity for that to continue. Ultimately, as we know only too well from this island, such situations result in constant flare-ups. I ask our guests to address those issues.
I welcome our guests. It is important that when a report such as the Amnesty report is sent to the committee and we hold hearings on it, we also have balance. That is the purpose of this meeting - to listen to the other side and give it an opportunity to refute some of the issues put forward. I want to move on from the report, although I know we are here to discuss it. Last week, Professor Lynk appeared before the committee. I described his presentation as amounting to grim reading. I am interested to hear what Ms Goodall has to say in respect of that report. It may not be appropriate for her to comment on it today but she may be able to do so another day or in writing. The report of the special rapporteur makes strong allegations that apartheid does exist in the occupied territories. He refers to officers of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights being refused visas to visit the occupied Palestinian territories. Why is that the case? He cites people such as Ban Ki-moon, Desmond Tutu and a former Attorney General of Israel mentioning apartheid. His report is very strong. It contains three recommendations. He refers to the UN re-establishing a special committee against apartheid to investigate all and any practices of systematic discrimination or oppression purportedly amounting to apartheid anywhere in the world, including in the occupied Palestinian territories or disputed territory. He recommends that the international community accept and adopt the findings of Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organisations that apartheid is being practised by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory and beyond. It is a hard-hitting report. In the interests of balance and fairness, I would be very interested to hear what Ms Goodall has to say about that report and, if she can, to refute each of the points it makes. If she cannot do so today, I ask that she do so in writing.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his kind welcome. I do not normally attend committees of which I am not a member. I welcome the delegation to the committee. I am not one bit surprised that our guests sought to come before the committee to give an alternative view to the one that seems to be most propagated in these Houses. I am not referring to this committee per se. The committee has its work to do and the Chairman does a great job. There is a remarkable pro-Palestine lobby in these Houses. I use the word "remarkable" because human rights offences are being committed across the globe, such as in the eastern bloc countries, China, Russia and Cuba, but none of those things ever seem to come up before us on such a regular basis. My view is that there is an obsession with this issue in these Houses. I do not know if that is reflected in the community. It is certainly not reflected in the community in which I live. I am proud to come from a town that has possibly the only Holocaust memorial outside Dublin or the east of the country. It was opened many years ago by a predecessor of the Chairman, former Deputy Mervyn Taylor, who was Minister at the time. I chaired the Seanad last week in the absence of the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach and I listened to two speakers challenging and attacking the Israeli position on certain issues. As I was in the Chair, my hands were tied and I was unable to contribute. On the same day, however, it was announced that a sizeable number of Israeli citizens had been massacred.
It was weird and surreal to listen to that.
I refer to what I call the obsession with Israel or being anti-Israel in these Houses. To the witnesses' knowledge, is that replicated in other parliaments around Europe and across the western world in general? Is there such a movement elsewhere? If so or if not, what is the reason for that? Why are we an outlier in this? It would appear that anything Israel does that is in any way contentious will be highlighted but things which are done to the Israeli community and public seem to be ignored. I had the great pleasure of listening to Mr. Haddad when he came here. I am delighted to see him again on the screen. He made a compelling case and anyone who went to see him was very impressed. We need more of that. The Chairman will join me in welcoming, in prospect at any rate, the establishment of an Ireland-Israel parliamentary friendship group, which is being headed up by Deputy Carroll MacNeill. I would encourage members to get involved in that. I am slightly disappointed at some of the more vocal members of the Dáil and Seanad, not necessarily members of the committee, have chosen not to be here today when there are people who are very competent to give them the answers that I cannot give.
I am grateful to be here, and those are my few words. I would like to see balance in this debate in Ireland. We are an outlier on this and it has become politicised and associated with a particular type of political campaign. I am not sure how sincere a lot of the pro-Palestinian people are. Are they concerned about the Palestinians or is it a movement which helps them get together, organise politically and get a profile? Some of these things are fronts in many ways. I am not saying all the pro-Palestinian groups are fronts by any manner or means, but there is an overlap in political behaviour there that I find objectionable.
I am going back to the panel. There are a number of questions on a diverse range of issues so Ms Goodall has the unenviable task of dispersing the questions among her panellists. I will allow her full discretion to try to get through as many questions as she can. I suspect that Deputy Ó Murchú would wish to come back in again. I hope we will have time to allow for that.
Ms Jackie Goodall:
I am very pleased. I want to reiterate that we are happy that we have been able to come here to discuss this matter. There were a lot of questions, as the Chairman pointed out, and I thank the Deputies for their interest. I will answer one of the questions from Senator Craughwell, who is not here anymore as he had to leave. He asked what we can do to change the narrative about this region in Ireland. As I said before, we started up the organisation in 2018 and things looked pretty dire at that time. That happened as a direct result of ordinary Irish citizens thinking and saying that the narrative was far too biased against Israel. I have seen some improvements. As Senator O'Sullivan has correctly pointed out, a new friendship group has formed and we are pleased about that. We were pleased to invite Mr. Haddad to speak to the Oireachtas two months ago. Things are moving in the right direction but a lot still needs to be done.
I do not want to waste this opportunity with Mr. Haddad coming in from New York. He is an Israeli Arab and knows a lot more about the reality on the ground than any of us here. I would like Mr. Haddad to have the opportunity to address some of the questions that have been asked this afternoon as he sees fit. Mr. Shatter would also like to answer a number of questions. If there is anything Ms Griffin would like to add I would like her to have that opportunity as well. If we could start with Mr. Haddad that would be wonderful.
Mr. Yoseph Haddad:
I am more than delighted to be here and to have the opportunity to speak. I am even more than delighted to hear that the members of this committee want to hear the full picture and not only one side. I am an Arab-Israeli and I live in Israel; I am just visiting New York. I ask members not to get the impression that I am from New York or something like that. From the questions and from some of the data I have been hearing I understand how much of a job we have in order for us to give the full picture.
I would like to start by talking about the occupied territories, which is how they are defined according to the law. We need to understand one thing about the territory on the West Bank and in Gaza. Way before the current situation, which was agreed on at the Oslo Accords by the Palestinian Authority and the State of Israel, the West Bank was occupied by Jordan and Gaza was occupied by Egypt, not Palestine. It was never Palestine. Palestinian passports and identity came about during the British Mandate of Palestine, when Jews and Arabs held the same documents. If one thinks about the Palestine pound it was inscribed with the words Aleph Yud, Israeli land. If you search the Internet for a soccer game between Palestine and Australia you will see the Star of David on the t-shirts of the players because the Palestine team was Maccabi Tel-Aviv and it was made up of all Jewish players. More than that, if you look at the passports, our first and only female Prime Minister, Golda Meir, addressed that and said she held a Palestinian passport just like any other. To come and talk about an existing country and to say the Palestinians were ruling these territories is twisting the facts and the history. I have never heard anyone talking about why Jordan never gave away the lands and created Palestine or why Egypt never did that with Gaza. Israel did that with Gaza and withdrew from every inch of it. What did we get because of that? We go thousands of rockets that are harming us and that have been shot at Arabs and Jews in Israel. Even more than that, during the last conflict, Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021, it was the Israeli Iron Dome missile defence system that saved Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem when Hamas fired rockets towards Jerusalem. Some of them were even meant to land close to al-Aqsa Mosque and east Jerusalem. The Iron Dome saved the lives of Arabs and Jews. Please do not understand that I am a fan of Muammar al-Gaddafi, the former Libyan leader, but he said that he blamed all the Arabs as they ruled those territories. He asked why they never gave the Palestinians a country or gave them the territories. This is a very important question.
Then there is the question of why Israel is there. I am telling the committee simply, as an Arab who lives in Israel and who is subjected to terrorist attacks, just like every other Israeli, that we are there because we do not have any choice.
Israel has proven itself capable of doing a lot of things in order to promote peace. We gave up the Sinai Peninsula in 1979 just to have peace with Egypt. It was the same thing with Jordan. We did something like this in Gaza, we did it in Amona and a number of settlements just to have peace. The only reason we are in this status quois because it being said everywhere and everybody is chanting "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" and "We don't want two states, we want all of it". This is what is going on. If members are asking if right now the IDF is where it is to keep security of its citizens, both Arab and Jews, and if I have a problem with that, I say proudly "No". I do not have a problem with that because it is for the security of the Israeli State as a Jewish and democratic state and of the Arab citizens who are subject to terror attacks from Palestinians. It is happening; it is fact. Just check it.
History does not end with Jordan or Egypt. Going back before the Ottomans and further, back to the beginning, there were Jews in Jerusalem. If members want to go back to the history, that is the history. That is the first thing I needed to address regarding the terms "occupied territories" or "disputed territories".
There was another claim about the Amnesty International report. From what I heard and based on a couple of comments from the honourable Deputies, they agree there is no apartheid in Israel, but there is apartheid in the West Bank and in Gaza. According to the Amnesty International report, there is apartheid in Israel. That means, as I think members agree, that they lied. Let us start from there. Knowing that, I will tell members the truth about how they based their report when it comes to Israeli Arabs. They are lying because in the committee that Amnesty hosted, they said, and it is recorded, that they focused on the Negev area, which an honourable Deputy mentioned. They focused on that area of 100,000 Israeli Arabs, which is 5% of the Israeli-Arab population. Amnesty International took 5% of the population to get the answers it was seeking and came to the Parliament and represented it as if it represented 100% of the population.
Are there discrimination and problems in the Negev? I tell members that 100% that there are, but look at what happened in the past year. I always say it needs two to tango. As a proud Israeli-Arab citizen living in a democratic state, I criticise my country, but I also criticise my society and the Arab political leaders in that society that, until last year, refused to sit in the coalition and be part of the Government. That was until Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamic movement in Israel, came. As absolute proof of how Israel wants to help and be partners with Israeli-Arab society, in the last year we managed to get a 53 billion shekel budget to the Israeli-Arab society. More than that, recently Israel declared it would declare three towns in the Negev area and make sure they become official villages, cities and towns in Israel. That means it is possible. If it is not and Israel is an apartheid state, then 100% they would say "No". We could not be in the parliament or in any aspect of life. We need to understand this.
I will address what is going on in Gaza and the West Bank. I have many Palestinian friends in Gaza. They are brothers. I have many friends in the West Bank. Let us start with Gaza. Israel withdrew from Gaza and we got only terror attacks from them. Not only that, but Gaza has a border with Egypt and, because of the terror activity, Egypt closed that border a number of times. Has anybody called to ask why Egypt is doing this? Has anybody asked why nobody wants to deal with the existing leadership in Gaza? It is simply because it is a terrorist organisation.
We are talking about the situation of the Palestinians who live in Gaza and forgetting that they get hundreds of millions of dollars, some of it coming from Europe. What do they do with it? They build terror tunnels. They put it in their own pockets. They send the young people of Gaza to the border with Israel knowing that, in the event of any violation or attack on the border, they will get shot because Israel needs to protect its border. Do members know what they will never do? They will never send their children. Ismail Haniyeh's children learn in London. The kids of those terrorist leaders are not in Gaza. If they are, they will never go to the borders because they know it is dangerous but they are sending other kids and using them. This is the reality. In May last year, when Hamas celebrated the win over the IDF, I got a call from my friends in Gaza and they said: "Yusuf, they are forcing us to go out and celebrate. What are we celebrating about? Gaza is half destroyed, but we have to go out and play it like we are celebrating a victory just to present it to the world." That is the harsh reality of dealing with a terrorist organisation. They are building rockets instead of using that money for the benefit of their people.
I will shock members with some unbelievable information concerning the politics of Fatah, which is the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, to understand why we have problems in Gaza when it comes to water and electricity. It is simply because they refuse to work together. Fatah, the Palestinian Authority, will never recognise Hamas as a legitimate leader of the Palestinian people. In fact, they hate each other more than they hate Israel. What that report did not say was that in order to have better infrastructure for electricity and water pipelines, they need to pay money. The Palestinian Authority refuses to pay that money because Hamas is controlling Gaza. Then the easiest thing is to blame Israel. The Palestinian Authority refuses to pay fuel, gas and other costs and the picture drawn for everybody is that the Palestinians are suffering because of Israel. A number of times, Israel has tried to help. If Israel wants, even behind the scenes, to speak with Hamas, the Palestinian Authority denies it the opportunity because it would make them legitimate leaders and representatives of the Palestinian Authority. Has anyone thought about the inside politics of the Palestinian Authority?
When it comes to the West Bank, there are many things to talk about. It is physically impossible, because the water pipelines are connected, to say that because of the settlements the Palestinians are not getting water supply or better infrastructure. They are the same pipelines. It is not being supported or not supported because of settlements but every time there is a new settlement or they expand them and build new pipelines, it is helping because it is the same system.
Another thing they did not say is that in the pipeline going from Jenin all the way to Hebron and Ramallah, villages in the West Bank are piratising this, digging holes in it and taking water illegally in order not to pay.
On the general treatment of Palestinians, Israel is granting permits to tens of thousands of Palestinians and allowing them to come from the West Bank to work in Israel. Those Palestinians can earn more than twice or three times the salary they can earn under the Palestinian Authority. Not only that but Israel has established seven different checkpoints across the West Bank to ease the process for Palestinians entering Israel. In terms of roadblocks, if one is travelling from Jenin to Ramallah in the West Bank, one might only be interrupted by one border and that is for security reasons. We have seen what has gone on in the past week. Palestinian terrorists are using holes in the fence to come and carry out terror attacks. We are seeing that time after time.
There has also been unbelievable talk about vaccines. It is false information. Under the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the healthcare of Palestinians. It has a ministry for healthcare. The Palestinians are responsible for providing the vaccines yet Israel vaccinated many Palestinians. Magen David Adom has come into east Jerusalem and into the West Bank to help with vaccinations. Some people have even spoken about the fact that Israeli Arabs were not getting the vaccine because they want to add fuel to the flame. The bottom line is that there have been many lies. I am obviously not calling any Deputies liars but there has been misinformation about what is going on and this is my opportunity to reveal that information. There is a wrong understanding of the fact that the Palestinian Authority has its own healthcare system. Israel did help with vaccination more than once. This is something we also need to address.
I wrote down some comments when the questions were being asked because this is an opportunity for me to give the committee all the information that I know. When it comes to what we can do and how every honourable Member of the Irish Parliament can help, we first must understand that this conflict must come to an end. We must understand that we are all human beings. We also need to understand that Israel has sought peace more than once. We saw it in 1946 and 1947 when the partition plan was rejected. We have seen in the course of history that time after time, peace agreements have been rejected. There is a saying that is unfortunately true. We say that the Palestinians never miss a chance to miss a chance. Unfortunately, I feel the cost of that in myself and in my community. We have seen this happen.
People are asking why there has been an escalation. Look at what is happening in the Middle East. We call it the new era. Morocco, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and more Arab countries, including Egypt and Jordan, are joining forces and entering partnerships with Israel to do something different for the betterment of the people of the region. That is making the extremists very angry and dissatisfied. The escalation we are seeing now is a result of the fact that Arab countries are welcoming Israel as a part of the Middle East. I can honestly say I am a proud Arab and Israeli. I am proud to live in Israel because it is a country that gives me opportunities. Look at me. I can criticise my country here. I can say whatever I want. In fact, some members of the Knesset speak harshly of Israel but are allowed to do so because they live in a democracy. If we keep saying that Israel is an apartheid state, not only is that inflammatory and a twisting of the facts but by doing so we are only helping extremists to accomplish their mission. We are not helping the vast majority with a silent voice who are afraid of the extremist minorities on both sides. We must not allow that to happen. Calls such as "From the river to the sea, Palestinian will be free" only help the extremists. Saying that one does not want the two-state solution but instead wants all of the land helps only the extremists. Join the silent voice. Help us to make this possible. It is already happening in Israel. More and more Arab Israelis are living in what we call in Arabic shiraka, which means partnership. We live in partnership. We see it day to day. I am living proof of that partnership. I am proud to be living proof of it.
I will be at the service of the committee to answer any questions its members wish to ask at any time. If there is anything they would like to ask me about the reality of what is going on, I will be more than glad to help, both at this meeting and later. I thank the committee from the bottom of my heart for the opportunity to speak aloud. I am excited. I always speak from the bottom of my heart on these matters. I thank the committee for listening.
Mr. Alan Shatter:
I will try to be brief because Mr. Haddad has covered a lot of ground. There are some specific things I wish to address. I will start where Mr. Haddad finished. It comes back to a question that was asked earlier. What can this committee, the Parliament and the Irish Government do to change the current reality and to end conflict? There are two things that can be done. We can avoid pandering to extremism and we can use the lessons of our own peace process. What is going on between Israelis and Palestinians is different but the lessons from our peace process are clear. If we genuinely want to see conflict resolved, as opposed to engaging in political point-scoring or running the narrative of one side or the other, we must encourage Israelis and Palestinians to engage in dialogue; encourage them to engage in normalising their relationships; and encourage them to discourage terrorism. On the Palestinian side, speak truth. We must tell them that when people were getting blown up and were dying on this island, it created greater division between communities, apart from the inhumanity of the atrocities that were committed. End the terrorism. End the sorts of events that took place in Israel in the past three weeks that not one member of this committee has yet referenced. Young mothers, a young Rabbi and two 19-year-old police officers were murdered on the streets. Tell the Palestinian Hamas leadership to stop celebrating death and destruction. Sweets were handed out in Gaza and the West Bank to applaud the knifing to death of three women. They were so happy about it they filmed the handing out of the sweets. Those videos are available to everyone on social media. Encourage them to stop celebrating death and encourage people to live. Encourage dialogue.
What is happening here, and I make no apology for saying it, is that there are Members of this Parliament, not only on this committee, who discourage the normalisation of relationships. They advocate the boycotting and demonisation of Israel. They damage the jobs of Palestinians created by joint Israeli-Palestinian companies. They foment discord and create obstacles to people engaging.
Having learnt from Ireland's peace process, let us encourage the Palestinian Authority to engage constructively with the Israeli side. Let us recognise reality. I never hear members of the committee address the issue of the granting of permits that Mr. Haddad has just addressed, which I will not raise again. I never hear members of the committee address the problem of Hamas in Gaza. The dreadful tragedies played out in Gaza are always depicted as caused by Israel. I have probably visited Gaza more frequently than some members of the committee. I have probably talked to more senior Palestinian leaders than some members of the committee. A terrorist organisation, Hamas, controls Gaza. It has no interest in a two-state solution. In Ireland we ignore that for 14.5 years there has not been a single Palestinian governed entity. There are two separate entities, one in Gaza and one in the West Bank and, as Mr. Haddad depicted, they are effectively at war with each other. The Fatah Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, deprives Gaza of resources because he does not want resources to be used by Hamas. The tragedy of Gaza is created by Hamas.
I was one of the Members of the Dáil who, in my many visits to Israel and in meeting Palestinian leaders, pre-2005, had meetings and discussions with Israeli Government ministers encouraging Israel, as a first step towards a two-state solution, to withdraw from Gaza to allow it to develop its own independent economy and to create an atmosphere for future engagement. A section regarded as the Israeli right wing opposed that. It said no, that doing that would be a disaster. Many other European political leaders made the same statement to Israeli leaders, and the Israelis withdrew from Gaza.
Gaza is a disaster in certain places. It is very well developed in some areas, which members of the committee do not realise. The disaster that is Gaza, for many of the people living in Gaza, derives from one thing and one thing only, that is, that Hamas denies the legitimacy of the Israeli state, feels free to fire rockets at it when it so chooses, has created a series of different wars and, instead of using the massive international aid it has received to develop Gaza, has spent multiple mullions of euro and dollars on constructing tunnels.
I think some members of the committee do not realise that things said on occasion in the committee do not reflect even mainstream Palestinian views. The Palestinians have some legitimate issues over which to criticise Israel, and I have personally voiced those criticisms in the past to Israeli ministers. What members of the committee do not realise, however, is the first obstruction and blockage to conflict resolution and to addressing the issues Deputy Ó Murchú raised. He said the occupation has been going on for 50-odd years. I would probably be a year out if I were to repeat the number, but he said the occupation has been going on for a very long time. The occupation of Gaza ended in 2005, and then Gaza was taken over by a group that the entirety of the European Union recognises as a terrorist group, which then proceeded on a nihilistic journey down the route of continuing wars with Israelis, arbitrarily and indiscriminately firing not just rockets into Israel, killing civilians, but also a series of incendiary devices that, environmentally, have destroyed thousands of acres of Israeli afforestation. The committee never discusses that. If Deputy Ó Murchú is serious about his interest in this issue, I would love to hear members of the committee say we should have reconciliation between the warring Palestinian groups and have the first election held in the Palestinian territories since 2006. Mahmoud Abbas was elected for a period of five years in 2005 and he is still there in 2022. Let us have constructive engagement to improve economic development in both Gaza and the West Bank.
What could Ireland do? Every Member in this room is familiar with the multiple millions of dollars that went into the Ireland Funds from the European Union, the United States and the United Kingdom, contributed by this Government and donated. The Ireland Funds made a huge contribution to economic development in Northern Ireland and to bringing Northern Irish communities together. A replica of the Ireland Funds was created by the United States Congress approximately 18 months to two years ago, with $250 million put into it for joint Israeli-Palestinian ventures to encourage intercommunity dialogue and engagement and to create economic development. When that fund was created, like our own funds, it laid down a foundation to enable other countries across the world to join into it. It is not a fund solely governed or administered by the American Government. We in this country could engage with that fund to encourage dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. That is just some of what we can do. I plead with members of the committee not to be in denial. Yes, there are things the Israeli Government has got wrong over the years - I readily admit that - but not all the difficulties and faults lay on the Israeli side.
When I was Minister for Justice and Equality, visiting the West Bank and Gaza, one of the great problems was the multiplicity of police forces, the lack of training of police forces and the lack of functioning civil institutions. Shortly before I ceased to be Minister, when visiting the West Bank and meeting the Palestinian Minister of Justice, I arranged that 50 Palestinian policemen would come to be trained in Dublin by An Garda Síochána to deal with civil issues. I do not know whether they ever came because I ceased to be Minister. Those are practical things. I refer to institution-building within the West Bank. The courts there are not independent. People are being tortured by their fellow Palestinians. Women are being assaulted. Individuals are being murdered within the Palestinian Authority territory. No one in the Irish Parliament ever speaks on their behalf.
Interestingly, there is a very interesting, very recently published Amnesty International report on the plight of Palestinians in 2021 in Gaza and the West Bank and the failures and corruption of the Administrations in both the West Bank and Gaza. Practically none of that information is contained in the Amnesty report that came before the committee. Why is that? Because the reports are prepared by different groups within Amnesty.
I hesitate to interrupt, but I see there is a vote in the Seanad and I am sure Senators O'Sullivan and O'Reilly wish to be excused. I thank them for their contributions. Maybe they will be back.
Since I have interrupted you, Mr. Shatter, may I ask you a question? In October of last year the Israeli Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, announced the designation of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organisations. They included organisations in receipt of funding from Irish Aid. Do you agree with the Israeli Defense Minister in his designation of NGOs in receipt of funding from Irish Aid? Is that an issue the Irish Government might look at?
Mr. Alan Shatter:
I never do talk about issues in respect of which I am not privy to the full information. I do know as a fact that one of those groups has also been banned by the Dutch Government because it is concerned about misuse of funds, but I am not in a position to comment on that.
Finally, and this will be only four sentences, I wish to address the issue of vaccines. I am chairman of the Irish branch of Magen David Adom, which is the emergency medical response group in Israel.
Any suggestion the Israeli Government deprived Palestinians of the Covid-19 vaccine is complete nonsense. At an early stage, the Israeli Government offered vaccines. The Palestinian National Authority turned them down having initially said it would accept them. Then, when months passed and the Palestinian National Authority had not yet acquired vaccines, the organisation I represent in Ireland, Magen David Adom, vaccinated 120,000 Palestinians on the border between the West Bank and Israel proper. Interestingly, one of the issues raised in the separate Amnesty International report on the Palestinian territory is that "The health ministry in the West Bank [this is the Palestinian National Authority health ministry] confirmed on 2 March  that it had distributed about 1,200 Covid-19 vaccines to high-ranking officials rather than to health workers." That is just one of the difficulties that arises in dealing with issues within the Palestinian territories.
Mr. Yoseph Haddad:
Basically, it is very simple. Those NGOs were involved in terror activities. Some of them were also convicted terrorists. Further to that, some of the money they used was for terror activities within Israel and the West Bank and Gaza. The question everyone asks, or that we need to ask, is, if Israel categorises them as terrorist organisations or identifies them as supporting terrorism and how it allows this to happen to a human rights organisation, do we or does anybody know how many anti-Israel NGOs there are that are not categorised as terrorist organisations? So many organisations that are completely against Israel say so out loud, yet Israel never categorises them as terrorists. The simple reason is they are allowed to be an NGO, say what they want and carry out any activity they want as long as they do not approach carrying out terrorist activities. Further to that, we are seeing NGOs within Israel speak out against Israel. This is only another piece of evidence for how Israel is not an apartheid state. If Israel was an apartheid state, there is no way it would have allowed NGOs within Israel to speak and work against the state. Knowing the fact that many NGOs are not categorised as terrorist organisations and work against Israel is the only evidence everyone needs. If Israel categorises them as terrorist organisations, it means they are carrying out illegal activities and terror activities. That is my answer to that question.
I will make a few points. First, obviously, it is very welcome that work is going on to normalise relations between Israel and certain Arab states, which has been mentioned. We always welcome that and look for more of it to happen, if possible. Second, it possibly goes without saying but it might need to be said that we reject violence from every side. Something we have always done in this committee is reject violence as a means to an end.
I asked a question with respect to the report by Professor Michael Lynk. We may not have time to go into it now; it is quite detailed. It does seem to back up the Amnesty International report, however. Professor Lynk is a special rapporteur appointed by the UN and his report would carry a lot of weight. Perhaps not today but maybe another time we might get some kind of response from the Ireland Israel Alliance on that. The report is quite detailed and we spent quite an amount of time on it here last week. It is grim reading and Professor Lynk is quite clear in what he said. I would be very interested in getting a written report on that later from the Ireland Israel Alliance. It would be useful for balance to make that happen.
I believe we have learned much today. It is important to have this kind of dialogue in order that we can learn and give all sides an opportunity to put forward their case and points of view, especially from the witnesses' colleague in New York. It has been very enlightening and informative. I thank the witnesses for being with us today.
There has obviously been a considerable amount of conversation with regard to Israel and its security. My argument or contention is that security can only be delivered if people can share a land and they will only get that when they have a deal with those with whom they share that land. The fact is people do not necessarily pick the leadership they deal with. Yes, there are huge issues with the Palestinian leadership and a split leadership does not really help anybody.
I will go back to some of the questions. At the end of the day, we are dealing with people who are living under military occupation. There is a huge power differential; that is it. Israel is a nuclear power with a huge military capacity. One can make arguments as to why that is the case but those are the facts. How do people make peace at a time when Israel is increasing the settlements and taking land from Palestinians, even if we leave every other issue out of it? The argument that will be made is that the Oslo Accords were to a degree - I am not saying they were but that argument was put out there - almost a cover that gave a facility whereby the reality on the ground could be changed literally by putting people in place. I am not stating that is the case. I believe it was probably a lost opportunity in the 1990s. We are where we are now, however. I do not hear or see anything, particularly from an Israeli Government point of view or in politics within Israel at this point, that looks anything like it will move towards any sort of accommodation that can end this or that serves anybody in that particular part of the world and beyond. Nobody wants to make political points about Palestine. We want to see a situation where it is de-escalated and people can have their rights. The fact is they must be given human rights and an element of legal rights. They cannot believe they are absolute second-class citizens in the land they were born. That is very difficult when people are under military occupation, especially the occupation they are under at this time.
I particularly want an answer to the question on the annexation of lands. It is very difficult to see how they can get a settlement as this happens. It is very difficult to see it as anything other than Israel taking as much ground as it possibly can, which changes the reality for whenever a deal is done and maybe changes the nature of the deal. Many people believe the two-state settlement is gone. I cannot make a determination in that regard but that is just because of the size of the settlements. I do not think us having a conversation serves any purpose with regard to who the Palestinian people are and whether they are Arabs and not Palestinians. The fact is a sufficient number of people in Palestine see themselves as Palestinians, so that is the reality. We can all go back and throw facts from before and after 1948 or any which way we want; it will not serve any purpose.
I thank the Deputy. We will go back to Ms Goodall. I see former Deputy Shatter offering. I am sure Mr. Haddad would also like to come in. I will give him the floor now by way of final comment, perhaps to answer issues that have not already been covered.
Mr. Yoseph Haddad:
I wish to have a private discussion with him if he agrees. If Ms Goodall can make that happen, that would be amazing. I think we can achieve much understanding - and this is the key word - by dialogue.
Second, I was able to bring some information that is usually not said by Arab Israelis because of the fact we are afraid of the minority of extremist voices in our community. I thank the committee for this opportunity. I am here for any questions in the future.
Ms Jackie Goodall:
On Deputy Stanton's query, I will of course reply in writing. I read Michael Lynk's report and watched the video of the debate. I would be very happy to do that. I think Ms Griffin would like to answer Deputy Ó Murchú's comments. I do not know whether we have time. Mr. Shatter might like to come in as well, depending on whether we have time.
Ms Audrey Griffin:
There are actually some Palestinians living in this country who are very much in favour of Israel and are advocates for it. I know of a lady who is afraid to speak up about it. I know of two others, who I have not met, but some on this panel know them, have met them or been emailed by them. I was speaking at a church some time back about my book, Hey, Ireland! Israel's on the Line. If members want some answers, there are an awful lot of them in there, as well as a lot of personal testimonies.
Ms Audrey Griffin:
To be honest, I am really not in it to make money. There are people speaking out against the human rights situation the Palestinians are suffering. There is no doubt that the Palestinians are suffering from some human rights violations. The question is at whom we direct the accusation. Is it really truly at Israel? I was at a church meeting some weeks ago sharing about the book. Afterwards, I saw a Middle Eastern person walking up to me and I was wondering how this conversation was going to go and what he was going to say. He said he was Iraqi and that all Christians - I happen to be a Christian - should be pro-Israel. That is not to say they are not pro-Palestinian, because I am pro-Palestinian, but all Christians should be pro-Israel. He said if people only knew how much Israel has done for the Iraqi people and other Arab peoples in the Middle East, it could make a difference.
The Deputy said there is a huge power differential. I would like to zoom in on the power struggle in Gaza. We could look at so many other power struggles in the Palestinian authority under Abbas but we will just look at Gaza. According to Israeli and Palestinian estimates, approximately 20% of Gaza's annual budget is spent on the preparation and execution of attacks against the Jewish nation. That is a whopping $100 million. The $4 million home of Ismail Haniyeh, the Prime Minister of Gaza, covers an area of 27,000 sq. ft and overlooks the beautiful Mediterranean sea. The affluence enjoyed by his henchmen is sure to disillusion any honest and hard-working Palestinian. Hundreds of the terror groups' bosses have become millionaires by commanding a shadowy smuggling industry and depriving their own people of the chance to prosper. To enjoy access to 24-7 electricity from Gaza's sole power plant, one must be a Hamas leader. The rest of the populace tolerates a mere four-hour supply a day. While the 2 million citizens of Gaza are subjected to substandard and insufficient medical services, wounded Isis fighters from the Sinai Peninsula receive medical treatment in Gaza hospitals. I could go on. There is so much more to say. It is important to look at the human rights issue but we must also ask ourselves who is really to blame. That has come out in so many ways today and it is important to underline it again.
Mr. Alan Shatter:
I will come back to one issue Deputy Ó Murchú raised. There could be multiple meetings talking about the history of this region and this conflict. I would share a view the Deputy expressed, which is that we are where we are. There is a Palestinian people who self-identify as Palestinians. They are as entitled to self-determination as the Jewish people. There is only one viable solution to this conflict and it is the solution the United Nations, as I referenced, attempted in 1947. It has been attempted on multiple occasions since. President Clinton, who was of huge assistance to this country and everyone in Northern Ireland in bringing to an end the conflict there, had a meeting at Camp David in 2000 involving Yasser Arafat and the then Israeli Prime Minister. A deal was about to be signed that would have resulted in Israel vacating 95% of the totality of the territory that then fell within the Palestinian authority area - in other words, the West Bank and Gaza. In Clinton's autobiography, he says the only reason that did not happen was because Arafat said "No". As to how we bring this conflict to an end, we have to get people to engage. We have to get people to stop killing each other. We have to get all the resources that go into the West Bank and Gaza to be used for housing construction, economic development and hospital construction.
The settlement issue is enormously straightforward. Settlements occupy about 5% of the total area of the West Bank. A lot of them are contiguous to Jerusalem. The odd thing about the settlements is, although occupied largely by Jewish people, a lot of the Jewish people who live in the settlements work with local Palestinians and a lot of the Palestinians work with the local Jewish people. I know that because I have been there to see it. There are joint Palestinian-Israeli industrial parks on the West Bank. The apartheid appellation is ludicrous because in some of those parks, some of the Jewish workers are under the management of Palestinian managers and owners. I have been to date farms where Palestinians and Israelis engage in agriculture together and pick dates. The Palestinians attend the bar mitzvahs of the Israelis' 13-year-old children and the Israelis attend the weddings of the Palestinian daughters. This is not apartheid. It is nuts to talk about it that way. The settlements are not the obstacle to a resolution of all of this. The obstacle is the incapacity of people on the Palestinian side to constructively engage in conversation, and the right-wing politicians in Israel who do not want to engage because they saw what happened as a result of the Gaza engagement and Israel moving out of Gaza. They lack confidence and trust in any Palestinians they can engage with. Finally, Hamas does not want to engage at all.
I was in Israel some years ago having breakfast in the kitchen of one of the then Palestinian negotiators with the Israeli side. He was very well known but I want to keep confidence as to who it was. At that moment, he was optimistically of the view that there would be some resolution, at least between Fatah, the Palestinian authority and the Israelis, even though Hamas would not engage. He said to me that he was optimistic but if the deal that he thought possible was done - and tragically, ultimately, it did not prove possible - he would be dead in ten weeks. He said they would assassinate him. The people he was talking about were Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
This was a man who remained in a position in the Palestinian leadership for a number of years after we had met and talked. He and I had met on a number of occasions. This is the problem; we have to change the narrative. Sadly, and unfortunately in this country, we have occasionally copperfastened that narrative.
My apologies. I said I would mention settlements and I will say one thing about them. These series of meetings commenced with a discussion about Israeli apartheid. As Mr. Haddad so well illustrated, Israel has a population of just over 9 million people, 2 million of whom are Arabs, with a variety of other people, approximately 300,000, of other backgrounds, who live in what is a multi-ethnic melded state where everybody does everything with each other and engages. I do not understand why there should be objection to Jewish people living on the West Bank. If the suggestion is that Jewish people living on the West Bank is completely inappropriate, that is advocating apartheid on the West Bank. What we need to do is encourage Christians, Muslims, Jews, Israelis and Palestinians to engage, build confidence, work together, socialise together and share schooling together, as happens with a school in the centre of Jerusalem which has both Israeli-Arab children and Israeli-Jewish children attending. Do not drive them apart. Encourage them and do not make the settlements the barrier to reconciliation because I can tell the committee that they are not if one visits them.
Ariel University, which was created on the West Bank, has a large number of Palestinian students getting third level education together with Israeli students who live on the West Bank. Not only is that not apartheid but it is advancing these students into third level education and giving them great opportunities they would not otherwise have in an atmosphere - I will finish on this, Chairman - of communal engagement between young Israelis and young Palestinians who get on with each other. That is what we need to be encouraging, not separation, division or pillory.
Of course, we do not want extremism on any side, whether that is Palestinian or Israeli extremism. There is a problem of a small group of extreme Israelis in the West Bank who make life very difficult for the Palestinian side. That is an issue but it is not the major issue as to why we do not have conflict resolution.
I had intended to ask Mr. Shatter if he would deal with the settlement issue. He has given his answer and I am not exactly buying it. The issue is greater. I agree with him in the sense that engagement obviously works but we are only going to get to that level of engagement when we can take the sting out of the situation and when there is a proper settlement.
The other issue I was going to raise, to which Mr. Shatter alluded, was a change in Israeli politics and the rightward move that makes things rather difficult. The argument as to whether Israelis or Jews can live on the West Bank could bring us into a conversation on the right of return and so forth. None of us will agree on this. I am happy enough to leave the discussion at that on the basis that there needs to be a settlement and this needs to end. I contend that the taking of land is a problem and the increase in settlements does not help. It is very difficult to see it as anything other than a ploy in the long-term game of creating a greater Israel, for want of a better term. I am not expecting Mr. Shatter to agree with me on that.
We should also have regard to the fact that in the past number of weeks, the Israeli Supreme Court has handed down a verdict in favour of a number of Palestinian families, in allowing them to stay in their homes pending completion of the very vexatious and controversial land settlement process.
I said that I was bringing matters to a conclusion and perhaps I will give the last word to Ms Goodall or, indeed, to Mr. Shatter or Ms Griffin, whichever of our witnesses wishes to do so. I thank them for coming in.
Ms Jackie Goodall:
I thank the Cathaoirleach once again and I thank all of the members of the committee for inviting us. We would very much like to take up the committee’s offer to come back at some future juncture. I hope that Deputy Ó Murchú might take up Mr. Haddad’s offer to have a private conversation with him because this is a very complex situation and there are so many different things coming into it. There are the settlements, the apartheid claim and we could be here all night and all day tomorrow speaking about it. We all wish it to come to an end.
I thank Ms Goodall. Lest there be any misunderstanding or misinterpretation of this committee, we always advocate an end to violence and the promotion of stability, dialogue and reconciliation. We strongly advocate the viability of the two-state solution, however remote that indeed might be at this point in time. In any event, on behalf of the joint committee, I thank the representatives of the Ireland Israel Alliance for meeting with us, Mr. Haddad from New York and our three other guests for coming in to give of their time, engaging with us and answering the questions of our members in such a direct and competent manner. I have no doubt we will have the opportunity of a future engagement. I remind members of the meeting of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence scheduled for Tuesday next at 10.30 a.m. to consider Committee Stage of the Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019.
Mr. Alan Shatter:
I thank the Cathaoirleach and members of the committee. It is a little surreal for me being on this side of the house, having sat on this committee for so many years on the other side. It was an interesting and constructive engagement and I am glad we had the opportunity to have it.