Tuesday, 11 May 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Apartheid is defined as "inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them". Human Rights Watch has published a key report on this issue, of which I am sure the Minister is aware. It follows reports from Israeli human rights organisations B'Tselem and Yesh Din, not to mentioned respected Palestinian human rights organisations and the concerns of the UN, that Israel is basically operating an apartheid state. This report refers to "'forcible transfer,' 'expropriation of landed property,' 'creation of separate reserves and ghettos,' and denial of the 'the right to leave and to return to their country, [and] the right to a nationality'". It is a damning report. Does the Minister agree with it?
Most people watching tonight's debate will be asking themselves what Israel needs to do for a country like Ireland, or any others, to start treating it as a normal state. According to this document from Human Rights Watch, Israel practices "the crimes of apartheid and persecution". It is a state that exists on division, racism and state violence and a state that uses subjugation as a weapon to oppress the Palestinian people. Over the past 36 hours, the Israel Defense Forces, IDF, have killed 30 civilians, including ten children. How can the Minister stand over that? What did he say to the Israeli ambassador today? What consequences will the Israeli state face for murdering those children today?
Something the Minister said earlier stuck with me. He said he was glad to be able to use the United Nations to talk about how this situation has worsened, but the reality is what we are seeing is not new. It has been going on for a long time. I was in Palestine as a human rights observer in 2014 and I witnessed all the things the other Deputies have spoken about and which we are seeing on the television. They were not new then either. This conflict and all that has gone with it, including the dispossession, the apartheid, the house demolitions, the expulsions and the denial of human rights, has been happening for a very long time. We are basically watching a deliberate inflicting on the Palestinians of a way of life that is designed to remove them from certain parts of the territory, from East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank, to make way for settlers. This is not new and we need to act.
What is happening in Jerusalem is deeply disturbing. It is clearly an act of ethnic cleansing. As usual, the apartheid Israeli Government is using brutal force and acts of aggression to carry out this land grab. Not only is the Israeli Government using its rockets and artillery to slaughter innocent families in the Gaza Strip while the world looks on, it is also using medical apartheid to punish Palestinians with the roll-out of the vaccine. How many atrocities and war crimes must happen before the Israeli ambassador is expelled or sanctions are imposed on Israel? When will this Government use its place on the UN Security Council to stand up to the rogue state that is Israel? I hope that the Minister will not be twiddling his thumbs tomorrow on the UN Security Council or doffing his cap to the big global powers, because that is what we are doing and what we have been doing. It is just words and talk. We need action, sanctions and divestment. How much longer will the Government stand by and watch the brutality of apartheid Israel?
First, I restate my profound concern at the overall human rights situation in Israel and Palestine.
I am aware of the recent report from Human Rights Watch. As I stated earlier, the report is a lengthy and complex document and it is being reviewed by officials in my Department. Human Rights Watch is a respected NGO, and I value the role it and other civil society organisations referred to by Deputies, such as B'Tselem and Yesh Din, play.
There is no doubt that Israel's actions have violated Palestinian human rights. Israeli policy and practices, which discriminate against Palestinians, result in unequal and unfair treatment. More broadly, unilateral actions have undermined trust between Israel and Palestinians, which in turn undermines the viability of a two-state solution. That in my view is the only permanent, sustainable solution. I am deeply concerned by the violence of recent days in East Jerusalem. I condemn the launch of rockets from Gaza into Israel and the aggressive and disproportionate response by the Israeli Defence Forces in their attack on Gaza. These events are terrifying for civilians on both sides, and deeply tragic for the families who have lost loved ones or whose relatives have been injured. The number of child casualties is particularly shocking. Civilians on both sides deserve much better.
As I mentioned earlier in replying to questions, I met the Israeli ambassador this afternoon and conveyed my concerns to him in the strongest terms. In response to the escalating violence in East Jerusalem, Ireland yesterday co-sponsored a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the situation. At that closed meeting, we underlined that the Israeli actions in East Jerusalem and at the Al-Aqsa compound were not acceptable and were provocative and we called for Israel to comply with international law. The provocations and clashes in East Jerusalem, which led to many injuries at the holy site of Haram al-Sharif, or Temple Mount, are deeply worrying.
The approach of the Israeli authorities and security forces is not acceptable, and Israel must comply with international humanitarian law. Peaceful worshippers must be allowed to exercise their right to freedom of religion and to worship freely and without threats, violence or provocation in accordance with the status quo, especially during the holy month of Ramadan. The right to peaceful protest must be upheld for all, and the Israeli security forces must be held accountable for any acts against peaceful protesters. Ireland made these points in yesterday’s Security Council discussion. We will obviously also be participating very actively in tomorrow’s discussion, because things have developed significantly since yesterday.
I echo calls for all parties to refrain from violence and provocative acts, including the firing of rockets and incendiary devices from Gaza into Israel. I also raised the matter at the EU Foreign Affairs Council yesterday. I expressed my deep concern at the violence and threatened evictions in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. The increase in evictions and demolitions across the occupied Palestinian territories is alarming and is no doubt contributing significantly to tension on the ground. Members will know I have been forthright in expressing my concerns regarding the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Ireland’s position on this issue is and will continue to be based on international law and Israel’s obligations as the occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the relevant resolutions passed in recent decades by the UN Security Council. Ireland has repeatedly made its position known at the Security Council, where the issue is discussed each month.
Finally, our approach is rooted in the illegality of Israel’s occupation and the right of Palestinians to self-determination. Restrictions imposed on Palestinians undermine the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, a right which is at the heart of the two-state solution
In the 1980s, the Dunnes Stores' workers started confronting the apartheid regime then in power in South Africa. Ireland then led the way in taking on that regime. Here we are today, and we cannot even ban goods from the criminal, illegal settlements in the occupied territories. That is what we have become. From a giant in the 1980s, we have become a minnow. The challenge now is for the Minister to stand up to this apartheid state, as Ireland has done in the past.
Unfortunately, I find the Minister's words hollow. Expressing his concerns to the Israeli ambassador is a weak response, to say the least. His counterparts in the EU are weak as well. Consider what is happening with the EU and the deal with Israel regarding economic development. It is incredible. Israel is not a normal state. It is a racist state, and it exists on racism.
We have spoken about this issue many times. I reiterate that the Minister speaks very well on this issue, and I believe he is sincere. He has been very good at supporting Palestine with Irish aid, and in that way. The frustration for the rest of us comes from that activity seeming not being followed through with the strong action needed to confront this sort of situation. For example, if the Minister believes in a two-state solution, then why not recognise the state of Palestine? It seems the two-state solution may be dead and gone, and without recognition of the state of Palestine it will definitely be dead. I ask the Minister to even follow through on that aspect.
Our position on the UN Security Council gives us a platform to finally do what is right for the indigenous struggle in Palestine. We saw what happened in South Africa when the world stayed silent. This time, however, we have a chance to be on the right side of history and to do what is right by the millions of people who have been killed and forced out of their homes and who live under occupation. Until this State recognises the state of Palestine in the same way we recognise the state of Israel, we are complicit in this ethnic cleansing.
The Deputy must understand how sanctions work. Ireland does not have the legal capacity to introduce sanctions. We have had this debate repeatedly regarding the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018. We cannot legally do that. The EU has competence in trade issues, and it is not up to Ireland to make its own decisions. I am not going to do something which is not legally sound in response to this issue. What I will do is try to build strong consensus where it matters and where that can be the basis of requiring and pressuring change.
That is exactly what we did last summer, by the way, when Ireland, with Luxembourg and others, led the EU position regarding a clear statement and warning to the Israeli Government that if it moved ahead with annexation of the Jordan Valley, then there would be significant consequences for its relationship with the EU. That was a significant contributing factor in Israel not going ahead with that annexation. That is what Ireland does. Rather than standing up here and saying what some people want to hear, I am interested in trying to save lives in cities like Gaza, where some of us have had the privilege to visit at different times. I have been there on multiple occasions.
The Deputy does not want to hear this, but I am interested in trying to use Ireland's privileged position on the UN Security Council, as we have been doing this evening, to try to get a debate tomorrow to ensure we can raise our concerns where it matters and where we are likely to get a real dividend, initially in respect of-----