Wednesday, 11 November 2020
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
First, I send our condolences and solidarity to Saeb Erekat, who was an international spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority and who passed away a number of days ago. Our solidarity is with Mr. Erekat's family.
I wish to quote from a statement made last week by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, a colleague of the Minister of State's, Deputy Byrne, on the demolitions of a Bedouin town in the West Bank. I will not quote it in full but I will quote extensive parts of it. The Minister stated:
I am deeply dismayed to learn of the demolition by Israeli authorities on 3 November of more than 70 structures, belonging to 11 Palestinian families in the community of Humsa Al Bqai'a in the northern Jordan Valley. These demolitions include residential, livelihood and sanitation facilities.
The eviction of families and demolition of their homes is a brutal and violent act. These most vulnerable of people should be protected by the occupation authorities, not subject to further injustice.
This week's destruction of the ... [village] is a further acceleration of confiscations and demolitions this year, despite previous commitments from Israeli authorities...
The Minister further stated, in response to a question Deputy Costello asked about demolitions that were ongoing in the West Bank, and again it is quite a long answer so I will read out only a slight part of it: "The only possible conclusion we can draw from the systematic nature of these policies, especially in areas where illegal...settlements have already been constructed, is that they are aimed at forcing Palestinians off their land." It is quite an extraordinary statement by the Minister.
The photo I am holding shows some of the evidence of the bulldozing last week of the Bedouin village, with 80 Palestinians being left homeless. If one looks at this picture very carefully, it says, "Humanitarian Support to Palestinians at risk of forcible transfer in the West Bank." It can be seen that the structure is completely destroyed. If one looks very carefully, one will see the logos of agencies of a number of countries that have donated these materials to the most vulnerable people in Palestine. One of the countries is Ireland; the logo of Irish Aid can be seen.
There is no depth of cruelty that Israel will not go to in displacing people, which is an international crime by any standards. There is a pattern here because this has been going on for decades. Israel has been clearing people from particularly around the Jordan Valley, buildings in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and so forth. More Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have lost their homes in the first ten months of this year alone than in any full year since 2016. As I said, this is a forcible transfer of people who are vulnerable and now homeless, and Covid-19 hangs over these people as well. It is quite incredible to think that these materials that were funded by the European Union are literally bulldozed over and that there are no consequences for the state of Israel. Most people would say there has to be a consequence for a state doing this to taxpayers' money and government money, but there does not seem to be any consequences. I know the Government has issued a statement on moneys that it will want to be compensated by the state of Israel, €625,000 between compensation from previous demolitions and compensation arising from confiscations by the Israeli authorities.
There is lip service and platitudes regarding Israel. It is treated very differently from any other state. First, what is the Minister of State going to do? Second, has he called the Israeli ambassador in on this issue?
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta Kenny as an ábhar tábhachtach seo a ardú inniu. Tá sé an-tábhachtach go bhfuil sé á phlé againn inniu agus go bhfuilimid ag cáineadh go crua an rud atá déanta ag Iosrael le chéile.
I, too, take this opportunity to address the sad passing, as Deputy Kenny mentioned, of Dr. Saeb Erekat, the Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, PLO, and the Palestinian chief negotiator. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, apologies that he cannot be here in person. He met Dr. Erekat on many occasions during his visits to the region and in Dublin when he accompanied President Abbas on his visit in 2018. On behalf of the Government, I extend our sympathies to his family and friends at this difficult time and, indeed, to the Palestinian community in Ireland who will mourn the loss.
I am aware of the specific case the Deputy mentioned. The Minister for Foreign Affairs made a statement on it last week and it was raised with me during statements on the European Council a number of weeks ago. It is worth reiterating what we have said carefully and clearly. The demolition by Israeli authorities of private property, including in the Humsa Al Bqai'a community on 3 November, is of grave concern. Demolition and confiscation of humanitarian assets, including education infrastructure, is contrary to Israel's obligations under international humanitarian law and, in particular, contrary to the Fourth Geneva Convention. As the occupying power, Israel has clear obligations towards the members of this community, including the 41 children impacted disgracefully by the demolitions.
Ireland's representative office in Ramallah visited the site of the demolitions on 6 November along with other diplomatic representatives. We have, therefore, a keen eye on this and we are looking closely at the situation. Ireland, the EU and the wider humanitarian community are ready to support those impacted. I reiterate the call on Israel to cease this practice immediately and to live up to its sacred responsibilities to protect local communities rather than demolish them.
The destruction of the Humsa Al Bqai'a community is part of a significant acceleration of confiscations and demolitions in 2020, despite commitments from Israeli authorities not to target Palestinian residential structures during the pandemic. The only conclusion we can draw from the systematic nature of these policies, especially in areas where illegal Israeli settlements have already been constructed, is that they are aimed at forcing Palestinians off their land. The demolition of Palestinian homes and the demolition or seizure of related structures such as water tanks, wells, solar panels, schools and animal housing are cruel and unjust actions. These practices also cause suffering to ordinary Palestinians and impinge on the right of children to an education.
In answer to the Deputy's question, Ireland regularly conveys its views to the Israeli authorities both directly and through the European Union. In his statement on the 16 October, the Minister called on Israel to halt the demolition and allow for legal construction for Palestinian residents. The Minister and others, including my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, who visited Israel some years ago, have raised these and other issues regularly.
Irish officials continue to follow the issue closely on the ground. Ireland's ambassador in Tel Aviv has raised the issue with the Israeli authorities in recent weeks along with a group of EU and non-EU colleagues. Our representative office in Ramallah has visited a number of sensitive sites in recent weeks, including the Ras al-Teen school. The Irish Government and people in Ireland are committed to reducing the vulnerability of Palestinian communities living in area C of the West Bank. Ireland is a member of the West Bank Protection Consortium which plays a leading role in supporting threatened communities and co-ordinating the provision of essential services to them, including material assistance and legal aid.
I will address some of the other issues related to money in a moment.
I do not doubt the bona fides of the Government with regard to the plight of the Palestinian people. We have a good record in this country. Our history is one of being colonised and brutalised and we always have a historical context for supporting the Palestinians. That is great but we must go beyond that. What are the consequences for Israel? The first consequence should, at a minimum, be the recovery of the €625,000 sought by the UN and Ireland to compensate for the destruction of some of the buildings. The second is that the Israeli ambassador should be called in and asked why his army is doing this to people in Palestine. These are simple things.
My more substantial question is on the occupied territories Bill. The Government has failed to send out the right signal to the international community that brutality and occupation are wrong. Ireland should stand up for the Palestinian people, not with platitudes or by paying lip service, but with real deeds, namely, calling in the Israeli ambassador, recovering the moneys owed and passing the occupied territories Bill.
It is important to remember that Ireland has a proud record of supporting Palestinian communities. This year marks 40 years since Brian Lenihan Snr., as Minister for Foreign Affairs, declared support, in what I believe was the first time in the western world, for an independent Palestinian state. That support is developed, enhanced and put into action by the likes of Irish Aid, which the Deputy mentioned, and our people on the ground.
The Deputy is right that it is of significant concern that the structures being demolished are donor-funded by Ireland in particular. It is extremely important that recompense for humanitarian relief be pursued. The European Council is due to discuss Israel and the Mediterranean neighbourhood in December. It is important that we pursue this issue consistently through the West Bank Protection Consortium. We are doing that. It is the practice of the consortium to raise the issue directly with the Israeli authorities. To date, we have seen €625,000 recovered in respect of demolished assets. That continues; it has not ended.
The Government fully supports the right of both Israelis and Palestinians to live in freedom, prosperity and security under governments of their choosing in states of their own and at peace with each other. We continue to work with our EU and international partners to support the realisation of this goal. Ireland will continue to engage on this issue and we will be tough. I will pass Deputy Kenny's comments on to the Minister but it is the case that the Irish authorities are in regular contact on this matter with the Israeli authorities at the highest level. We will support political efforts to encourage a resumption of direct negotiations, which are the only way to achieve peace and the two-state solution.
Our support also includes action on the ground on human rights and justice issues affecting Palestinians under occupation, including civilian deaths. The longer these continue, the more they progressively endanger the prospects of an agreement. Ireland provides financial support to NGOs which are active in bringing to light and combating human rights abuses in the area. Our missions work closely with NGOs, including through regular reporting and monitoring visits. I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. The Government is absolutely committed to raising these issues.