Thursday, 13 July 2023
Situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory: Statements
Cuirim fáilte roimh an deis labhairt ar an ábhar seo. Is ábhar an-tábhachtach é agus tá sé tábhachtach go mbeadh seans againn labhairt faoi go háirithe chun a chinntiú gur féidir próiseas síochána a chur ar fáil agus a thabhairt ar ais. I welcome the opportunity to update the House on the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory and to view recent developments in a wider context. Allow me to turn first to the situation in Jenin.
In the early hours of Monday, 3 July, the Israeli security forces launched a large-scale military operation in Jenin and the refugee camp in the city. It involved several hundred personnel and use of significant military hardware, including drones. This was the largest Israeli operation in the West Bank since the second intifada. The stated objective of the operation, which unfolded over two days, was to target “terrorist infrastructure” within the Jenin refugee camp. Israeli forces reported several arrests and that weapons and bomb laboratories were seized or destroyed. But at what price? The presence of armed militants within the Jenin refugee camp is not in dispute. However, they are a small minority of the approximately 14,000 men, women and children residing there and going about their normal, daily lives. This operation involved air strikes and exchanges of live fire in densely populated civilian areas; the bulldozing of roads and property; the displacement of around 3,000 people from their homes; damage to critical civilian infrastructure such as water and electricity supplies; and a significant worsening of the humanitarian situation within the camp. The incursion resulted in further loss of life and in more than 100 people injured. Irish diplomatic representatives in Ramallah joined EU and other international partners in visiting the Jenin refugee camp last Saturday. They encountered stark scenes of devastation and destruction.
Like many political leaders, the statement of the EU High Representative last week clearly underlined that any use of force must be proportionate and only a means of last resort when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life in line with international humanitarian law. In his comments following Saturday’s visit to Jenin, the EU Head of Delegation in Ramallah raised very clear concerns over the proportionality of force used during last week’s incursion. I have been consistently forthright in urging Israel, as the occupying power, to comply with its obligations under international law to protect civilians in the occupied Palestinian territory line. In this context, I condemn the serious impact and devastation that this incursion has had on the civilian population, both during the operation and in view of the long-term damage it has caused. I also underline that I condemn the ramming attack that targeted Israeli civilians in Tel Aviv last week, as well as the firing of rockets from Gaza. All of this violence only intensifies the downward spiral we are witnessing as regards the political, security and human rights situation.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 147 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces so far this year. This is close to the total number reported in the whole of 2022. The UN has also reported 30 Israelis killed by Palestinians, also approaching the total number reported in the whole of 2022. I share the view expressed by many commentators and analysts over the past week that incursions, such as the one witnessed in Jenin last week, do little to bring security to either Israeli or Palestinian citizens. I am, therefore, deeply concerned that Prime Minister Netanyahu has indicated that further operations like this could be undertaken in the future.
I need not remind this House that we have addressed the deteriorating situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory on multiple occasions. In May we witnessed a dangerous escalation of violence following the death in custody of Palestinian activist Khader Adnan. The launching of rockets from Lebanon and Syria, as well as Gaza, was a reminder of the potential for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to spill over into the wider region. The raid in Jenin last week was one of several incursions by the Israeli Security Forces of increasing scale and intensity this year, resulting in significant civilian casualties. In some instances, the publicly-stated aim has not been to respond to an imminent threat. Rather, incursions into Ramallah and Nablus in June had the stated aim of demolishing the family home of a person accused of a terrorist attack. This is deeply troubling. The Fourth Geneva Convention provides that no protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Earlier this month, I was forthright in my condemnation of recent decisions by the Israeli administration to advance over 5,500 further housing units in West Bank settlements, including the retroactive regularisation of three illegal outposts.
Under international law, all Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal. The increasing pace of evictions and demolitions in the West Bank, as well as East Jerusalem, is also deeply concerning. We have also witnessed disturbing levels of settler violence and intimidation this year. In some instances, settler attacks have been perpetrated against the backdrop of inflammatory and permissive rhetoric from some members of the Israeli Government, heightening the sense of impunity that surrounds such violence. I was encouraged by the clear denouncement of such attacks by the Israeli security establishment and by a majority of the public in Israel, but we must also see clear action. I urge Israel to ensure that all perpetrators are held accountable.
The work of civil society organisations, both in Israel and Palestine, is indispensable to building fairer and more peaceful societies and to the pursuit of accountability. I was particularly concerned by the recent proposal of the Israeli Government to introduce a tax targeting NGO funding. I welcome the fact this was subsequently withdrawn following international pressure from Ireland, the EU and other international partners.
These are all issues that I have been addressing in this House on a regular basis. Ireland continues to be a leading voice at the UN and within the EU in highlighting these issues and concerns. For example, we have used all opportunities that are available to us at the Human Rights Council in Geneva to raise concerns, both during regular sessions of the Human Rights Council and also the recent universal periodic review of Israel. We support and engage with the various UN mandate holders carrying out work in this area, including calling on Israel to facilitate their access. In June, we welcomed both the UN commission of inquiry and the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, Francesca Albanese, to Ireland. I welcome that, in addition to meeting senior officials in my Department, they also engaged with Members of the Oireachtas. Ireland voted in favour of the request by the UN General Assembly for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice and we have supported the Palestinian Authority in raising awareness of this process among the wider UN family. I look forward to attending the UN General Assembly in New York in September. Engagement with UN and international partners on Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be a priority.
I have taken good note of the contributions made by Deputies during our various exchanges on these issues. I welcome the deep-seated concern that is shared across the House at the direction of travel. Indeed, this strengthens my mandate when I engage on this within the European Union and internationally. However, I have also consistently heard calls for Ireland to take unilateral actions. In particular, I have responded frequently on the issue of recognising Palestine. I do not believe that this is the time to take that step. As the Government set out, it is necessary to assess whether the resulting loss of influence would be matched by a commensurate benefit for the Palestinian people and a positive impact on a sustainable peace on the basis of a two-state solution. While it is a judgment call, I am concerned that moving alone, rather than as part of a group, would diminish Ireland’s influence and undermine our continuing efforts to build international consensus at EU and international level.
To this end, Ireland continues to be at the forefront of EU discussions on this matter. It is an important point that we continue to work to build consensus at EU level and grow the number of EU states that would be closer to our view on issues in regard to Palestine. It also involves strong support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, which Ireland continues to be a very strong supporter of and contributor to, and that we would strengthen the European commitment to the Palestinian Authority, particularly in terms of more regular structured dialogue between the Palestinian Authority and the European Union into the future. As events unfolded in Jenin last week, I was engaged in consultations with the EU Special Representative on the Middle East Peace Process here in Dublin. I expressed my strong support for his efforts to forge initiatives that restore a long-term political horizon. This work includes follow-up on the commitments made by the EU High Representative in February of this year, following his trilateral meeting with the Saudi Foreign Minister and the Secretary General of the League of Arab States. At that meeting, it was agreed that there is an urgent need to revive Middle East peace efforts based on the Arab peace initiative, United Nations resolutions and established international peace parameters.
In this regard, I welcome the priority being afforded by the EU and by the EU Special Representative to initiatives that involve close co-operation with partners in the region and the wider international community. Regional partners, as well as the United States, continue to play a central role in efforts to de-escalate tensions, including through the efforts undertaken in Aqaba and Sharm El-Sheikh earlier this year. However, it is also important to introduce a longer-term perspective to these efforts that seek to bring the two sides back to the table. This is a message that I have also consistently conveyed to the US in my bilateral contacts as Minister for Foreign Affairs and one that I will continue to underline at EU level. I have also worked to ensure a consistent focus on this issue at the Foreign Affairs Council. I welcome, in particular, the engagement that EU Foreign Ministers had with Prime Minister Shtayyeh and Foreign Minister al-Maliki in January. At this meeting, the EU committed to stepping up its political engagement with the Palestinian Authority, providing renewed momentum to EU work in this area.
The stepping up of the EU’s bilateral relations with the Palestinian Authority is an important priority that can sometimes be overlooked. The close and constructive bilateral relations that Ireland enjoys with the Palestinian Authority are something that I would like to see more consistently reflected at EU level and we are working with a number of other like-minded states to enhance this. The high-level political dialogue, envisaged for later this year, will provide an opportunity to highlight the significant role that EU funding and support plays in supporting the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people. The week before last, I met with the European Commissioner for development and I again stressed the need for the European Union not just to maintain, but to continue to strengthen and increase its support for UNRWA and for the humanitarian needs and requirements of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people. That high-level dialogue will also provide an opportunity for the EU to communicate important messages to the Palestinian side, including on the need for democratic renewal. There has been much talk about the absence of elections in Palestine for some time. In our view, there should be elections in Palestine and there is a need to give voice to Palestinians in the occupied territories through the electoral and democratic processes. I understand the challenges and the constraints that have been placed on the Palestinian Authority in terms of the holding of elections but it is an important issue. We discussed this with the Palestinian Authority when President Abbas came to Dublin last year and when Palestinian Authority representatives came to the European meeting and when I met them bilaterally.
I am also eager that Ireland continues to lead by example within the UN system. I have referred to our support for the request by the UN General Assembly for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice. I have asked my Department to prepare a written statement in advance of the court’s deadline of 25 July. The court’s advisory opinion should provide a useful framework for future discussions and engagement with both parties.
I understand that recent developments do not give rise to optimism. I have stated honestly and openly in this House that the prospect of a two-state solution has never seemed more remote. Against this backdrop, building EU consensus and reinvigorating international efforts to restore a genuine political horizon are more important than ever. I am convinced that Ireland must be a key part of these efforts. The dire events we have witnessed over recent weeks and months are a direct consequence of the failure to address the root causes driving the conflict. Furthermore, recourse to the type of policies and actions we have seen only serves to inflame tensions further. Respect for international law, including the UN Charter and UN Security Council resolutions, is the bedrock of international peace and security. This will continue to be the guiding principle for Ireland’s approach.
It is the only way to ensure the long-term security of both Israelis and Palestinians. These principles underpin my approach to our bilateral relations with Israel and the Palestinian National Authority. I welcome opportunities to engage in constructive and frank exchanges with my counterparts. I hope to visit Israel and Palestine in the early autumn.
I wish to emphasise to the House that the principled role that Ireland plays in respect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be valued by the international community. I have said "Ireland" because this encompasses not only the active role that the Government plays, but also the long-standing engagement of the Oireachtas as well the vital role that our civil society organisations and representatives play here in Ireland and on the ground. I assure the House that working towards a just and sustainable peace for Israelis and Palestinians remains a central priority for me, for my Department and for the Government.
Cuirim fáilte roimh na ráitis seo agus go bhfuil seal agam le labhairt faoi chúrsaí sa Phalaistín.
The refugee camp at Jenin in the West Bank is a perfect, albeit tragic, symbol of Israel’s brutal occupation of and aggression against the Palestinian people. I ask the House to imagine a child of Palestine in 1948. Imagine that this child was one of the 700,000 Palestinian children, women and men who were forcibly removed from their homes during the Nakba. This child lost everything – their home, their security, their future and their homeland. They were forced into a refugee camp and waited for the world to act. The world did not act.
That first refugee camp was destroyed in a snowstorm, and so it was that this child was forced again to move to what became known as the Jenin refugee camp. Again, the child hoped that the world would act to allow them to return home, but the world did not act. This child grew up in that refugee camp, depending on charity when all they wanted was to go back to where they came from.
Imagine that child had a child. The child's child was born just 52 miles as the crow flies from the birthplace of Jesus Christ. That child was born in time for the Israeli invasion of the West Bank, including Jenin. The child and their child again lived under Israeli occupation. Another Palestinian generation was to live through that occupation, discrimination and the denial of the most fundamental of human rights. The child and their child, still wanting to return home, waited for the world to act, but the world did not act.
Imagine the child’s child had their own child, born at the time of the intifada and the ongoing Israeli raids that left three generations living in constant fear. They watched as their camp was subjected to Israeli attack after Israeli attack as vital utilities were destroyed on a systematic basis. They were subjected to collective punishment and persistent breaches of international law. In 1993 and 1995, they witnessed the signing of the Oslo Accords and they hoped against hope that the world was finally acting, but it was not. From day 1, Israel breached the condition of the accords that transferred control and administration of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority. The hope was finally shattered in April 2002 when Israel launched what it called Operation Defensive Shield. Four hundred homes were destroyed and hundreds more were severely damaged. Estimates suggest that 500 people were killed by Israeli forces. A UN envoy at the time compared the camp to an earthquake zone. The BBC reported that 10% of the camp was "virtually rubbed out by a dozen armoured Israeli bulldozers." The child, their child and their child waited again for the world to act, but it did not.
Imagine somewhere along the line yet another child was born - the child of the child of the child of the child who was forced out of their home during the Nakba. The Nakba became a daily, lived and horrendous reality for each generation, with Israeli invasions virtually on an annual basis. Ostensibly, these were raids targeting Palestinian militants, but every single objective observer who has reported on the instances has described indiscriminate and collective punishment operations that serve to destroy lives, homes and hope. The child of 2023, just like the child of the 1990s, the child of the 1960s and the child of 1948, waited and waited for the world to act, but the world did not - not when other children were killed in Israeli attacks, not when services, often funded by the international community, were destroyed, and not even when, in May 2022, Israeli forces murdered the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was simply doing her job in telling the truth of what was happening in the Jenin refugee camp. The world did not say "Stop". The international community turned away. As the world did not say "Stop", Israel did not stop. Another child of Palestine and another generation of Jenin were abandoned to Israeli occupation and apartheid.
Imagine what it must have been like for the child of 1948 and their child and their child and their child when, on 3 July: Israeli forces again invaded the refugee camp; the estimated population of 14,000 refugees was again terrorised; according to the Palestinian Red Crescent, 3,000 of those had to be evacuated; according to Médecins Sans Frontières, Israeli military bulldozers destroyed multiple roads into the camp, "making it nearly impossible for ambulances to reach patients" and meaning Palestinian paramedics were "forced to proceed on foot, in an area with active gunfire and drone strikes"; Israeli forces fired tear gas into a government hospital; at least 12 people were killed, including five children; and more than 100 people were seriously injured, with 20 of them in a critical condition.
Imagine for one minute what hope remains for that child of 2023. What does their grandparent of the 1960s tell them? What would their parent of the 1990s tell them? What lesson would they take from the lived experience of their great-grandparent who was forced from the place they called "home" in 1948? Was it that the world would finally act? Most likely not.
I want to send a message to the Palestinian child of 2023 and to today's children of Jenin. That message is crystal clear, namely, that the people of Ireland stand with them. We stand against the aggression, the annexation, the occupation and the apartheid that defines their existence. However, the words of our message must be met with actions. The world must finally respond appropriately to Israeli war crimes. We know others will refuse to do so, and shame on them, so Ireland must lead the way. We must lead the way with our words, which this House is generally united upon. I welcome the Tánaiste's speech, in which he unequivocally and rightly placed primary responsibility for the deteriorating situation on the occupying power, namely, Israel. However, we must also lead the way with real, tangible measures that show the world and, most importantly, the children of Jenin that we want no hand, act or part in the systematic destruction of the Palestinian people.
We should, of course, seek to build consensus and support among others, particularly within the EU, but we should also be clear that, if they will not move, we will. As a starting point, the Government must move immediately to progress the Illegal Israeli Settlements Divestment Bill 2023, which was introduced by Deputy Brady of Sinn Féin. The Bill simply prevents Irish taxpayers' money from being invested in companies that profit from Israel's illegal occupation and settlement expansion. It is shameful that our moneys were invested in such companies in the first place, but it is inexcusable that the Government has sought to frustrate and delay the Sinn Féin Bill. "Wait nine months", says the Government, just as every child of Palestine since the Nakba of 1948 has been told to wait. Likewise when it comes to recognising the state of Palestine, which is the official position of this House, the Government says, "Wait".
For the Palestinians, it is always a waiting game. Meanwhile, our Government complies with EU accelerated procedures when it suits Israel. Israel actually enjoys what is officially called "a preferential trading relationship" with the European Union. This is worth billions of euro in trade to a state that ignores, disregards and breaches UN resolutions and international laws every single day. Why do we not tell Israel to wait - to wait until it complies with international law, to wait until it ends its occupation, its annexation, its expansion of illegal settlements and its ongoing, brutal apartheid of the Palestinian people and to wait until it engages constructively with its Palestinian neighbours and reaches a peace settlement that upholds the rights of the Palestinian people to their dignity, their human rights and their own state free from apartheid, occupation and military aggression? It is simply not conceivable to tell another generation of Palestinian children they must wait. It is time for the world to act; I tell the Tánaiste it is time for Ireland to lead the way.
On 3 July the Israeli military began its largest and most violent raid on the heavily-populated Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank in over 20 years. Its forces came with tanks, planes, missiles and killer drones. They killed at least a dozen people, displaced thousands and, according to the deputy governor of Jenin, they destroyed, burned or damaged at least 80% of homes in the refugee camp. These forces came in the name of the Israeli Government, which is a government committed to the expansion of its programme of colonisation of Palestinian territories through a campaign of terror, discrimination, intimidation and apartheid policies against the Palestinian people. It is a far-right government intent on fragmenting Palestinian territory and displacing Palestinians to the degree the concept of a Palestinian state can no longer exist as a political objective within a two-state solution. The Israeli Government is intent on reducing the Palestinian people to a disparate entity clinging to existence in a series of Bantustans.
I have no doubt we will hear unanimity across the House on the condemnation of the actions of the Israeli military in the service of the Israeli state. There will be strong words, noble words and words that will attempt to express the horror of all who have witnessed the latest round of Israeli terror. Then the Government will seek to move on, but this simply cannot be allowed to happen again. Israel is an apartheid state guilty of war crimes and breaking international law. It is, in effect, a rogue state and must be called out for what it is. Despite this, the Government has done nothing to defend the human rights of Palestinians or to even attempt to hold Israel to account for its crimes, war crimes and contempt for human rights and international law. Worse than inaction is the appeasement policy of this Government. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has admitted the Government is looking to hire a business development consultant in Israeli. Fathom that. This rogue state is a breaker of international law and we are seeking to appoint a business development consultant there.
This is all taking place alongside the shameful and disingenuous actions of this Government in its attempts to delay the Illegal Israeli Settlements Divestment Bill, which was introduced to the House on First Stage in March and moved to Second Stage in May. To remind the Tánaiste and the Government, that Bill is designed to end a shameful practice by which the Tánaiste’s Government, in contravention of international law, allows the Irish Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, to take money raised from the taxpayer and invest it on behalf of the State in a series of business entities operating in the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. That Bill would compel the ISIF to divest itself, and thereby taxpayers’ money, from holdings in nine businesses that were in the UN database of 112 companies operating in the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.
Instead of supporting a logical, simple Bill to end the practice of using taxpayers’ money to prop up businesses profiteering on the back of international war crimes and the breaching of international law, the Government has deployed spurious rationales to justify its failures to initiate any actions in defence of the Palestinian people. In this instance, the Government has opted to kick the Bill down the road for nine months to allow a review of the legislation to take place because it did not view the database as a live document. It argued the database was not going to be updated and was not capable of being updated. Shamefully, it has adopted the same language and arguments as the oppressor, which in this instance is of course Israel. Since then, continuing engagement and dialogue between the UN and business entities that were on that list have led to the removal of 15 business enterprises from that same database as they no longer have involvement in the business activities listed in our Bill, or were in the process of ceasing their involvement. It is, therefore, a live, evolving and changing document, so the very argument the Government used to stop this Bill moving forward has been completely undermined. Of the 15 business entities removed from the database, only one, General Mills, was on the original list of business entities the ISIF had invested in. That leaves eight businesses on the list. Those businesses are actively operating in the occupied territories and we, as Irish taxpayers, are invested in them through this Government and through the ISIF.
If the rhetoric is to mean anything here, it must be matched by action. The Tánaiste and his Government cannot continue to hide behind the same fig leaf they have hidden behind on the advancement of the occupied territories Bill, because commencement and forward motion on the Illegal Israeli Settlements Divestment Bill is in their hands and their hands only. If the Tánaiste’s rhetoric of condemnation is to mean anything it must be followed by action. Words of condemnation are great. The Tánaiste must take great pride in his Government coming out time and again condemning, and rightly so, the illegal actions of Israel. However, if that rhetoric is to mean anything, there are three simple but critical things the Government must do. First, it must officially recognise the state of Palestine. Second, it must immediately divest from the businesses operating in the illegal settlements, which are making us complicit in the war crimes taking place. Third, it must move forward with the occupied territories Bill.
I welcome the Dáil allocating time to address the unfolding horror we are seeing in Palestine due to the violence by Israel. It has been several years since I visited the Gaza Strip, but the destruction I witnessed then will never leave me. Gaza is actually an open-air prison. There is the wall that stops any movement, whether that is people coming or people going. People are only permitted to go a few kilometres out to sea. F-16 fighter jets fly overhead regularly and bombs are frequently dropped on sites in the Gaza Strip. I was recently invited to take part in a conference in Ramallah on the great crime of the Nakba.
There is one simple reason why I cannot attend. It is because the apartheid government of Israel has barred me from entering Israel or Palestine. The reason I am barred is because, along with other activists, I was part of a flotilla that was bringing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. When we were on the boat during that journey, I was taken hostage, along with the other activists, by the Israeli special forces. We were held at gunpoint for a number of hours, until we were brought to the port of Ashdod, where we were then imprisoned for more than a week by the apartheid Israelis. Does that sound like a "vibrant democracy"? Does the Government not challenge the President of the EU Commission's description of the state of Israel? Ursula von der Leyen described Israel as a vibrant democracy that made the desert bloom. It is hard to understand how anybody could stand over that. For an EU official to use such racist tropes and to face no repercussions shows all that is wrong with the Commission.
While I welcome the time the Dáil has allocated to address the brutal system of apartheid that Israel is inflicting on the Palestinian people, it does deeply frustrate me that despite how vocal dozens of Members of the Dáil, across all parties, have been on these crimes, we see no action from the Government, bar the odd statement of condemnation. The Tánaiste talks about maintaining a consensus. The difficulty is that the consensus is one that believes Israel is good and Palestinians are bad; that Israel is a friendly state to the EU and that the state of Palestine is not worth backing. That is the reality. The consensus in the EU is that when it comes to Palestine and Palestinians, it is not worth taking a stand for human rights. Human rights breaches happen daily and weekly. The Israeli Minister, Mr. Ben-Gvir, is a racist, who is encouraging the settlers to inflict more and more violence on Palestinians. What will it take for this Government to use its position in Europe and say enough is enough; that it is time to stop arming and empowering an apartheid government?
The EU Commission views Israel as a friend and ally. That is the consensus. Ireland must say that Israel is not a friend. It is not an ally. We must tell Israel and tell the EU that we are going to take an independent stand; that we are not going to go along with the consensus any more. Perhaps it is time the Commission did what any decent friend would do, which is to tell apartheid Israel some home truths. It should tell Israel that it is an apartheid state and that the EU does not want to be friends with a government built on racism and hatred; that the EU will not be friends or allies with a government built on a brutal system of apartheid. It is time to stop this brutality and to start treating Palestinians as equals.
In his closing remarks, the Tánaiste articulated a desire that all of us share for a just and sustainable peace in Israel and Palestine, especially for the Palestinian people. The events in Jenin on 3, 4 and 5 July make that goal, which was already so far distant, appear even further away. This is an escalation in the conflict that we have not seen in probably 20 years. This is not a continuation of the existing oppressive security activity or attacks that Israel has been carrying out on the Palestinian people; this is a marked escalation. A combination of factors exist. There is the most right-wing government we have seen in Israel in many years, with a Palestinian Authority that is losing the respect of young people in areas like Jenin and Nablus in the West Bank. There is a policy of the expansion of the occupied territories and the displacement of the Palestinian people. We saw the intense barrages in Jenin and in the refugee camp. It is a clear message from Israel that if the Palestinian people of Jenin and the West Bank do not move and become displaced, what we will see is the "gazafication" of the West Bank and cities like Jenin and Nablus: the control and suppression of a population in a besieged environment, such as exists in Gaza.
We are in a very worrying space. The eyes of the world seem to be diverted. It is no coincidence that Israel carried out the attacks on Jenin on 3, 4, and 5 July, when the eyes of the United States, its biggest ally, were focused domestically on its Independence Day celebrations. This is something the Israelis are dab hands at doing when carrying out such attacks over many decades. Obviously in our region, the Ukraine-Russia war is taking up an awful lot of our attention. Israel is a past master of identifying moments in the geopolitical calendar in which it can carry out its most egregious attacks. This has been one of them, but it is one that is not just going to hang over those few days, it is one that has changed the security environment and the outlook of the region.
We have witnessed the killing of innocents, the destruction of homes, the destruction of infrastructure and the besieging of refugee camps, towns and cities. We could be on the brink of the third intifada. At this time, this is where we are at. Europe still continues its policy of what has to be said is almost a benign approach to the activities of Israel. I do acknowledge that there is more or less a consensus in the position of political parties in Ireland on this, but we continue to meet actors in Europe that do turn a blind eye to the oppression of the Palestinian people, and they continue to do so. This is something that Ireland needs to continue to fight against in Europe. We have measures that we can implement. We have Sinn Féin's Illegal Israeli Settlements Divestment Bill, which could be enacted rather than being postponed. We have the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill. These are legislative measures that we can bring in that we should pass.
Irish money is funding the apartheid regime. The National Treasury Management Agency invested, through the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, in nine Israeli companies, including four banks that operate in illegal Israeli settlements. Banks in which the ISIF invested provide direct financing to Israeli construction, infrastructure and maintenance projects being undertaken on land expropriated, or in less diplomatic terms, stolen, from the Palestinian people. Meanwhile, the other businesses operating in these areas provide revenue and economic visibility to settlement municipalities which help to sustain the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine. The ISIF is funded by Irish taxpayers' money, and we then become de factoinvestors in financing and sustaining apartheid. That is in total contravention of the statement read out by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, and it is in total contravention of the political will of this House and of the Irish people. Our own history of colonialism gives us a unique position to be somewhat of an ethical arbitrator on this issue within Europe, but when our own wealth funds are acting the way they are, it absolutely discredits any claim we have to be an ethical arbitrator on this issue.
I want to talk about workers' rights in Israeli settlements. Just prior to the attacks in Jenin, a high-level delegation from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, went to Palestine to acknowledge the contribution Irish trade unionists have made throughout the region. One of the participants, Ms Phil Ní Sheaghdhafrom the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, said the contribution of Irish trade unionists and nurses to various health facilities throughout Palestine has been really impressive and, "We will be looking at how we can deepen these connections." These are, in practice, the actions of NGOs and civil society of which the Tánaiste spoke. Ireland has to recognise the fate of the Palestinians. It would offer real hope for the people, as they watch other events such as the Ukraine war push Palestine down the priority list of the international community, if we in Ireland do not allow that to happen. There is a two-tier legal system of workers' rights at play in the Israeli settlements. Palestinian workers do not enjoy the same rights and protections as Israeli settlers. We have known this for a long time. To work in settlements, Palestinians must obtain a permit from the Israeli authorities. It is worth emphasising that this is land on which Palestinian people need permission from their own occupiers to work on, and it is their own land. This is land the Irish Government has itself agreed in statements has been stolen from them. These permits can be annulled at any time, including and especially when Palestinian workers demand their rights, try to organise or unionise or engage in any political activity. This is something we need to call out.
In the short time I have left I wish to acknowledge one thing and to come back to the security element. We do not know what is ahead, but it looks bleak. We know that, in 2008, in Ireland, when the Tánaiste, Deputy Micheál Martin, was Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Convention on Cluster Munitions was signed in this very city. The convention itself was prompted by Israel’s use of cluster munitions in the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. It is understood and accepted by any reasonable person on this globe that cluster munitions are one of the worst weapons. There is no such thing as an ethical weapon, but these are one of the worst due to their indiscriminate manner and ability to kill innocent civilians. The signing of that convention in Dublin on 30 May 2008 was another landmark in our proud history of promoting disarmament. Since then, 111 states have ratified the convention. Among the states that have not are Israel, the US, Russia and Ukraine. There are recent reports of the US sending cluster munitions to Ukraine to fight against the Russians. We know the Russians have already been using them and that Ukraine uses them.
This has to be called out for what it is. We need to call on the US, which we consider an ally. We had its President sitting in this Chamber a couple of months ago. This is something Ireland will not stand for. We did not stand for it in 2006, when Israel used it on Hezbollah in Lebanon. We will never stand for the use of cluster munitions in any setting. We do not stand for it when we see Russians using it on Ukraine and we should not stand for it when we see Ukraine using it in the war. We need an unequivocal call for that from our Government. This is our convention. We developed it. If it is to go anywhere, we need to call it out when we see it, no matter which side is using it. It is absolutely unethical. I am deeply concerned about where we are going in Israel and Palestine. I am concerned that Ireland’s words, our Government’s words said here, and indeed the words we bring to the EU are not being heard. We have tools and Bills we can bring in. Please activate them. Please improve and be stronger to protect the Palestinian people who are living in an apartheid state. Their vista of the next weeks, months and years looks incredibly dark and grim.
I will begin by saying that I wholeheartedly condemn the violent attacks we are currently seeing in the occupied Palestinian territory and in Israel. Many Irish people feel a particular affinity with the people of Palestine. I certainly feel that strongly. It is truly heartbreaking to hear of the number of innocent people who have died and had their lives destroyed - children who have needlessly lost their lives in this conflict, killed senselessly in a conflict that began many years before they were born. It has been a year of particularly unstable conditions.
Israel has intensified its deadly military raids in West Bank. That has been met with rising numbers of Palestinian armed attacks targeting Israelis. More than 30 Israelis have been killed and at least 160 Palestinians have died as a result of this war in the past seven months alone. What is happening in the West Bank is nothing short of inhumane. Last week we saw what was the single biggest assault in two decades, with Israeli forces using drone strikes to kill and wound so many innocent people in a packed public area, and using armoured diggers to destroy settlements and people's homes. Utter destruction does not begin to describe it. Twelve Palestinians, including four teenagers, and one Israeli soldier were killed during the two-day incursion in the occupied West Bank last week. Israel’s excuse was that the Palestinians who were killed were combatants - teenage and child combatants. One of them was a 16-year-old Palestinian boy, Abdul, who was shot in the head outside al-Amal hospital on the second day of the military incursion. He was unarmed and simply killed for no reason. Like so many others, I feel such anger for Abdul and all of the innocent men, women and children who continue to die in this conflict.
I have been to the West Bank. I stood in places like Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah. I crossed the border at Qalandia, alone in the darkness of night. I was in Hebron during Passover, and that is a day I will never forget. I have recalled this story before because it really was a profound moment for me. It changed my understanding of the dynamics of the conflict. On that day, hundreds of heavily armed Israeli soldiers burst out of a closed military zone to take temporary control of the Palestinian town I was in. I watched as Israeli soldiers banged on the doors of Palestinian houses and barged their way into the home of people to gain illegal access to their roof. They stayed there, with their snipers in hand. They were doing all of this allegedly to provide armed security to a tour group visiting religious sites on Palestinian territory. We counted eight armed soldiers for every person on that tour. I clearly remember standing on a side street in Hebron, looking up through a caged roof, burnt through in places by acid thrown down from a settlement, and I remember counting eight snipers aiming at us. I will never forget the sheer tension and fear. What was different for me there, in contrast with when I see soldiers anywhere else abroad, was that I knew they were not there to protect me or to keep the peace. They were there only to protect certain people. That was an experience for me, but for people living there, innocent men, women and children, that is everyday life. In fact that was probably good day. Right now it is a million times worse than that. I can only imagine what it must be like in Gaza. People are living in fear and hopelessness. It is wrong and it is illegal. It contravenes international law to expand settlements in the West Bank, to demolish the homes of Bedouins, and to have forced evictions in east Jerusalem and violence in holy sites. These are grave and illegal crimes. Every day those actions contribute to rising tensions and what feels like inevitable bloodshed and deaths. It is up to us and countries like ours to stand up for the people caught in the crossfire and to work with our truly inspiring ambassador from Palestine to Ireland, Her Excellency, Dr Jilan Wahba Abdalmajid, to put an end to people dying needlessly every day, to families being torn apart, and to communities being destroyed.
We also need to raise our voice in regard to Belarus. Last month I had the absolute honour of meeting with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the leader of the United Transition Cabinet of Belarus, who is living in exile in Lithuania. Her husband, Siarhei, is a political prisoner with no access to legal representation. Until last week she had no idea whether her husband was alive or dead. Many of us breathed a sigh of relief when proof of life was provided just a couple of days ago, proof that her husband is still alive and still strong. Sviatlana and her team are doing their utmost, from Lithuania, to represent the people of Belarus. The Lukashenko regime has become a key enabler of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. It hosted Russian troops, allowed missiles to be fired from its territory, and Putin announced that it would become home to Russian nuclear weapons.
The EU has brought in sanctions against Belarus as well as Russia, but we need to do more if we are to protect the people of Belarus and the people of Ukraine. Our affinity with the people of Palestine must continue to be developed because we are a key ally for them in a David and Goliath scenario, and we should replicate that affinity to countless other countries across the world that are also in turmoil because of dictators or illegal occupations.
Ours is a small island nation, but our diaspora and voice is one of the strongest in the world. When Ireland speaks up, Ireland is heard. That is why we must continue to speak up for the people of Palestine and for people such as Sviatlana, who are doing all they can in the face of a very hostile regime.
We are here again not to point fingers but to rally this House to action. The Minister of State has just heard one of his own Government Deputies speak on this. The plight of the oppressed in the occupied Palestinian territory is much worse than it was when last we met to discuss it. We stand here 75 years on from Nakba, with Palestinians still enduring appalling human rights abuses at the hands of the Israeli state. This week, the Dáil can send a potent message, as we have done in the case of Ukraine, of Ireland's unyielding commitment to Palestinian human rights.
We made our stance clear in 2021. The Dáil was the first EU house of parliament to label Israel's illegal occupation a war crime, overwhelmingly backing a Sinn Féin motion. Israel's disproportionate use of force against the Palestinian people should move the Government to commit to our 2014 motion and fully recognise the state of Palestine, yet only words, with no action to back them up, are offered by the Government. Not only that, but by funnelling taxpayers' money into companies operating in the Palestinian territories, the Government teeters on the edge of complicity in Israeli apartheid.
It is time we all held ourselves to account. Thankfully, Israel recently declared an end to the Jenin operation, one of the largest military operations in the Palestinian territories for years. Reports speak of up to 2,000 troops on the ground and, tragically, we already count at least 12 Palestinian lives lost. This escalation serves only to underscore the urgency of the cause. The reality is stark. We need international pressure to rein in Israel's aggression. Official recognition of the state of Palestine could help turn the tide. Let us send an unequivocal message that Ireland supports Palestinian human rights and will not have any hand in endorsing Israeli war crimes.
Sinn Féin stands firmly in support of Palestine and the Palestinian people. On this island, we have faced centuries-long struggle and oppression endured over 800 years. Our history has taught us at first hand the harsh realities of being under the rule of a foreign oppressor that believes it has a right to seize our land. It is not difficult, therefore, to draw significant parallels between the actions of the British empire and those of the Israeli state today, such as the brutal tactics of burning homes, committing murders, forcibly displacing people from their land and oppressing people.
Recent events in Jenin are a powerful reminder of the inhumanity displayed by the Israeli Government and its forces. Jenin, a city in the West Bank, has experienced another tragic chapter in its history, marked by the devastating consequences of Israeli armed military operations. Disturbing reports have emerged depicting widespread destruction, the loss of life and mass displacement, painting a grim picture of the challenges faced by the Palestinian people. The Israeli forces destroyed all the infrastructure, including electricity, sewerage, water and roads. This was not an action just to get at so-called combatants; it was directed at the Palestinian people of Jenin. The acts of violence and aggression are a cycle that keeps going.
Sinn Féin strongly condemns the use of force and the blatant violation of human rights in Jenin and throughout Palestine for the past 75 years. We firmly believe in self-determination and justice for all, including the Palestinian population. This is a commitment to advocating for marginalised populations, their rights and their dignity, calling for an end to the ongoing occupation, and striving for a peaceful resolution that will uphold international law and respect human rights. Sinn Féin urges the international community to adopt a moral and principled stance, holding the Israeli state accountable for its actions. The Israeli state is an apartheid state. We all recall what happened in South Africa. That cannot be allowed to continue in Palestine.
Deputy Higgins outlined a tragic story in her experience. I ask her and all the Government Deputies to stand with Sinn Féin and the other Opposition parties in support of the Palestinian people. As we say on the marches, free, free Palestine.
Last month, following another violent incursion and atrocity inflicted on the Palestinian people by the State of Israel, I once again, along with Deputies, asked the Tánaiste whether the Government would finally recognise the state of Palestine in keeping with the commitment made by the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, in 2020. Two aspects of the Tánaiste's reply were at odds with the reality being experienced in the occupied territories as we speak. First, he stated he would be prepared to recommend the Government recognise Palestine "in the absence of progress towards a two-state solution". It is now abundantly clear that a two-state solution is not viable, given the Israeli Government has shown it has absolutely no ambition or intention to cease its persecution of the Palestinian people and abandon its imposition of apartheid. As a result, progress has, undeniably, not only stalled but receded.
Second, the Tánaiste expressed that "the timing and context" of recognising Palestine was integral to helping its cause or risking harming it. He stated he did not believe recognition would help Palestine at this time because other EU countries have not indicated they are prepared to do so. Without a united front with other member states, the Government believes it would harm Palestine if we were to recognise its sovereignty.
That is farcical. It is an abdication of responsibility, it is unjust and it is an insult to the people of Palestine and those in the occupied territories. The notion that showing leadership and doing the right thing could possibly have a negative impact is not just stupid, it is downright cowardly. How can anyone sit and watch while Palestinian children are murdered in their homes because the Government is too frightened to step up, step out of line and show leadership at an international level? It is too scared to put a foot out of line as a self-determining and confident Republic. If no one else does, the Government's conditions for recognising Palestine will never be achieved. Why can we not be the ones to demonstrate leadership on an international scale, as we have done several times in the past? If not us, who else can we expect to do it? What if nobody demonstrates leadership and shows the courage of their convictions? Do we then just sit idly by and say we were not able to do it alone? Will the Government then continue to bury this genocide and apartheid in neoliberal jargon, or will it find some humanity and step up in the face of adversity?
I urge it to do the latter and follow in the footsteps of the late Brian Lenihan Snr. It is rare I would reference former members of Fianna Fáil, but the Tánaiste himself referenced him in his contribution and it was an important point. He was the first European politician to recognise the right of Palestinians to a homeland, more than 40 years ago. We recognise and remember this after all that time because it was courageous and brave and because it stood out from the pack and demonstrated leadership. There is any number of people we could reference in this country who have demonstrated leadership, but I use that example to try to appeal to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs. I ask once again that the Tánaiste's Government, in keeping with his memory of that contribution, demonstrate a similar level of bravery, courage and leadership in stepping out from the pack and recognising the state of Palestine today. If the Tánaiste rightly acknowledges that form of leadership, there is an onus on us to step up once again and be the first to act.
Along with recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state, the matter of naming the Israeli programme of terror for what it is, apartheid, is incredibly important. Last year, 2022, proved to be the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since the United Nations began keeping records of these atrocities. Some 171 people were killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank that year. This number includes the murder of more than 30 children. That same year, 9,000 Palestinians were injured and maimed by the Israeli occupying forces. The Government has continued to offer words of condemnation, but nothing more, and 2023 looks like it will be even darker.
The word "apartheid" is one the Government refuses to use. That word has meaning in international law, but the Government refuses to use it even though human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have found that the circumstances inflicted upon the Palestinian people by the State of Israel are just that. This refusal of recognising the Israeli regime for what it is makes us complicit. Israel treats Palestinians as an inferior racial group, segregating and oppressing them wherever it has control over their rights. The regime’s laws and policies are designed specifically to deprive Palestinians of those rights.
Does anyone in this Chamber, be they in opposition or in government, believe that illegal settlements, the enforced evictions against the Palestinian people by the Israeli state, demolitions, torture, detentions and unlawful killings, which have been widely reported by reputable sources and by the people themselves who have suffered these injustices, are not taking place? I do not believe that anyone does, but we tie ourselves up in semantics and empty rhetoric. This is a matter of law, and international law is clear that such a system of domination and oppression by one racial group over another constitutes the crime against humanity that is apartheid.
If we recognise that these systems of oppression are in place, it is beyond insulting that we continue to debate semantics and phraseology as if people are not dying in their droves. The crime of apartheid is being perpetrated whether we like or use the term or not. I remind the Government once again of the extremist Israeli Government Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who has sweeping powers over the West Bank and who, after the 26 February attack on the Palestinian town of Huwara by hundreds of settlers, leading to the deaths of Palestinians, said "I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the State of Israel should do it, not, God forbid, private individuals." A Minister in the Government of Israel said these words. Statements like these show that Israel will not negotiate or compromise, and there will be no two-state solution. The sooner Ireland's Government realises or accepts that and commits to act the quicker we can demonstrate actual solidarity with the people of Palestine.
It is a disgrace that investments held by the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund are linked to businesses that are complicit in human rights violations in Palestinian territories. That absolutely makes us complicit. The Irish taxpayer should not be complicit in the funding of an apartheid state. lf we believe that the sanctions such as those imposed on the Russian Federation because of its grotesque invasion and the terror it is inflicting upon the people of Ukraine are legitimate, what is the difference in this instance? I ask this time and again. Why do we continue to see ourselves as somehow being above the action that we know we need to take? Human lives are human lives. We must see their pain and suffering identically and commit to helping the Palestinian people against this grotesque oppression that has been inflicted upon them, and which has been for decades. There is a space for the Irish people, the Government and the State to step out and act first, to recognise the state of Palestine, and to enact an occupied territories Bill to say we will not be complicit in this.
The cruel reality on the ground that is the occupation has been spoken about by many Deputies in the House. I do not really need to go over the dark, grim reality that is the everyday life of Palestinians. It has been going on for quite some time. It has been going on every day when we sit here. The recent events in Jenin have brought us back in here, but really this is something we should all be talking about consistently. What we have seen in Jenin is, in many ways, business as usual for the occupied state of Palestine. There is an Israeli NGO called Breaking the Silence, which is quite frequently targeted by the Israeli Government simply for speaking the truth. We know from Breaking the Silence that the sort of war crimes we have witnessed on our screens in Jenin are very common practice. As I have said, it is business as usual for the Israeli Defence Forces, whether they are in Jenin, Gaza or wherever. They have been very clear. It is unfortunate that these things must flare up in order for us to pay attention to them. From other Israeli NGOs, we see the challenging and horrendous reality. B'Tselem was one of the first to talk about apartheid. The idea has been backed up by Human Rights Watch and by Amnesty, that Israel is an apartheid state, in two different ways based on ethnicity or national group. It is very important that we look into those reports because they are founded on the assumption of Israel's control of all the territory, which we must realise, acknowledge and accept is basically de facto annexation. The Dáil voted to condemn de factoannexation. There is a programme for Government commitment to respond to annexation. It would seem that the Department and the Minister are resiling from the position the Dáil held that Israeli Government policies are de factoannexation. I call on the Department to draw a clear and bright line to say it exactly. When will the Department accept that what is happening on the ground is, in fact, annexation.
There is a challenge here. We seem to be at sea and we seem to be utterly behind the reality and the facts on the ground. Israeli journalist, Amir Tibon, wrote in Haaretzrecently of the "one-state reality in light of Israel's settlement construction" The one-state reality was highlighted by Ban Ki-moon. The one-state reality was also highlighted by the leading establishment journal on diplomacy, Foreign Affairs. When leading academics - who are very much part of the international community's establishment - are calling the reality on the ground a one-state reality, then really we must ask ourselves why we are still talking about two states. How did we get to a one-state solution? It is because of that annexation and the relentless settlement building that we condemn in our words but not in our deeds, and then do very little to respond to it. This one-state reality begs numerous questions. When one considers Government policy, we must ask if we are stuck in the past. We have referred to the stock answer from the Minister in relation to questions on recognition as being "Sure we will do it when the time is right". This one-state reality, this settlement construction, and this hollowing out of Palestinian territory like a doughnut, and which has just disappeared, means we may have missed that right time. We waited so long for just the right moment that it went right by us. The reality is that there will be no two-state solution.
There is a programme for Government commitment on annexation. If there is a one-state reality that has only happened because annexation has happened and because we have allowed it to happen. If we are still talking about a two-state solution, and if we have geared our minds in that way, are we dealing with the reality and the facts on the ground? If we are not dealing with the facts on the ground as they stand, then perhaps our foreign policy is dangerous, out of touch and will not actually achieve anything meaningful.
If we want to see two states and really want to put our money where our mouth is then we need to start acting that way. We need to start by saying that there are two states involved. We need to recognise both of those states, not just one, because we believe in two states. We also need to respond to the annexation, as we promised to do in the programme for Government.
One state can only happen as a result of the annexation that is the ongoing war crimes, the dispossession and the settlement building. We have made a commitment to respond to annexation and so far we are doing very little. One of the things we need to do is fulfil our responsibilities under international law and this is where the Illegal Israeli Settlements Divestment Bill 2023 and the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 come in. There is clear legal advice that we can do this. There is a strong legal position that we can unilaterally act in relation to the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018. There may be Attorney General advice. I am aware that was published and critiqued quite widely. The reality is we need to send a strong message and we need to pass this Bill and if there are European Union laws that may get in the way, let us test them. As I stated previously, legal opinion only becomes legal fact in front of a judge. Let us pass this Bill and get it in front of a judge. The reality is that passing this Bill in and of itself would be an act of solidarity. It will be a clear message to the Israeli state that international law matters. It will be a clear message to all states that international law matters because where we see other invasions it is because people know that international law is not worth the paper it is written on and they know there will be no consequences because all they have to do is look at Israel. If we want a secure globe we need to make international law real. By failing to live up to our obligations we are undermining international law and, therefore, annexations and occupations in places such as Western Sahara and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia can continue because people know there will not be any consequences. We need to make international law real and to do that, we must live up to our responsibilities under international law.
It is frustrating for me to come in here and say all this again. I am sure many Deputies here have come in and said the same things, and again and again. It is because of the intransigence and the refusal to engage with any action beyond a verbal condemnation which is not worth anything that we find ourselves here, but how frustrating and disheartening is it for the Palestinians who are stuck in that occupation who are still being ground under the millstone of occupation? We need to remember that.
The daily-lived reality for Palestinians is probably so harsh many of us in here would struggle to live it for a week or two. This is their daily reality that they cannot escape. Partly, they cannot escape it because we are not helping give them an escape route. As I say, we need to stand up for international law.
What we are witnessing is a deliberate intention by the Israeli Government to destroy the Palestinian national group inflicting on them a way of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction in the West Bank and in Gaza. This is utterly horrific. If we cannot live up to our responsibilities in international law in this regard how are we expecting any sense of global peace or global justice to survive?
As I say, there are commitments in the programme for Government. There are clear direct actions that can be taken - they have been outlined by numerous Deputies here - but ultimately it comes down to the fact that we need more than words. We need actions. We need actions as soon as possible because, as I say, the reality on the ground is that there may not be a Palestine left to support if we do not do something soon.
The events in Jenin refugee camp were an appalling reminder to the world of the brutal nature of the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. When the bullets had been spent and the debris settled, there were 12 Palestinians, including children, and one Israeli soldier dead. While this vicious attack on a heavily populated tiny area, with 14,000 people living there, was reported across the world, it reminded us all of the conditions that Palestinians have lived in every day, every month and every year for generations.
Israel has also literally made refugees out of refugees. I am proud that Ireland is amongst the strongest supporters of the Palestinian people but we can go much further. We can and must lead. Whilst words are important, action is what is needed. Ireland should not wait for consensus within the EU. We should call the Israeli actions for what they are - war crimes.
Palestinians are locked in their local areas. If they wish to travel to other areas of the occupied territories they must face the scrutiny, degradation and humiliation of presenting themselves at Israeli checkpoints. Because of these checkpoints, the people are mainly confined to their own areas of residence.
Those who wish to travel abroad are also at the whim of the occupying power - an apartheid state. It was only in January of this year that the state of Israel banned the Palestinian Foreign Minister, Dr. Riyad al-Maliki, from leaving the occupied West Bank. The occupying power revoked Dr. al-Maliki's travel permit because Palestinians had the temerity to stand up for themselves and ask the UN to give its opinion on the Israeli occupation.
The Israeli regime is brutal and acts with immunity. It violates UN resolutions on a constant basis. It imprisons without charge. It raids and kills with impunity. We, in Ireland, remember the terrible impact of internment, how it ripped the innocents from their families and imprisoned them. It is a despicable practice that Israel continues to implement. Currently, there are 5,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons with 1,000 being held without charge. Perhaps the most despicable measure of this occupation is that there are 160 children currently languishing in Israeli prisons.
There is a litany of oppression. There is a history of violence. There is a history of plantation on the occupied lands.
We remember journalist Ms Shireen Abu Akleh deliberately murdered last May be an Israeli sniper. We remember at least 160 Palestinians killed so far this year by the occupying power. The situation continues to go and the longer it does, the further we move from the prospect of a two-nation solution.
The Government must take a stance against this brutality. There are things that we could do and should do now. First, we must progress the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018. I call on the Government to stop being cowards, take a leadership position immediately, respect the mandate from the Dáil and Seanad, and recognise the state of Palestine.
I want to recognise how the Irish people, through us, stand by Palestine. I will return to the actions that I want us to take but, first, I want to talk specifically about the children of Palestine.
They are children like our own, who love to play out the back or out the front, or to kick a ball on the beach. Those same children, who, when not dying of fright by air attacks are killed outright or when they are not being mutilated by a rocket or a gun, are watching these same things happen to their parents, their grandparents, their siblings, usually at close quarter right in front of their eyes, or are being terrorised by Israeli security forces or are being detained themselves.
Every year between 500 and 700 Palestinian children are detained, charged and prosecuted by the Israeli justice system. Some as young as 12, their parents still do as we do, measuring their height on a doorframe and not knowing when they will be able to make the next mark. They are detained mostly for stone-throwing against the most hi-tech, self-called "moral" army in the world. The irony of David and Goliath transposed.
These are the same children who see their schools, that the EU and UN pay for, razed, their neighbourhoods raided, their water supplies cut off, their streets dug up, and their ambulances prevented from reaching the wounded, the elderly, women in labour and babies needing help; war crimes.
These are the children wandering dazed into the night because, when their refugee camp is cleared, as in Jenin, they had nowhere to go; refugees seeking refuge from a refugee camp. It beggars belief what these young children are forced to experience. They watch their grandparents weeping as their olive trees, some centuries old, are bulldozed while those committing this psychological and social atrocity laugh on or they see the homes of those same grandparents and great-grand parents taken over and occupied by Israeli settlers. This is their reality day in, day out - occupation, degradation and segregation removing the sacred vestiges of childhood.
I beg the Government to act for these children, to give these children hope, to recognise the state of Palestine, to progress the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018, to move on my colleague, Deputy Brady's, Bill that would see the Irish Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, divest from companies doing business in the occupied territories. It must stop waiting for the EU to act. Ireland should lead on this and let others follow.
I listened to the Tánaiste's statement. I have listened to those of other Ministers for Foreign Affairs on many occasions during my time here. The more I hear, the more I try to understand what is being said. The more statements that those in government come out with in respect of this issue, the less credibility they have when commenting on Palestine. It is lip service at its worst. There are a number of things the Government can do to change the narrative. I request that it strongly think about changing direction. There are a number of Bills before the Oireachtas. They are moderate in nature and would send a signal, not only to the people of Ireland but also to the State of Israel, that there will be sanctions in respect of the continued occupation of Palestine. If passed, the Bills in question would send a clear signal to the world and to the people of Palestine that we are on their side and that the State of Israel is accountable for its crimes.
Jenin is an interesting place. It is a camp that dates back to 1953. The people there are refugees and descendants of those who were expelled in 1948. It is a camp that has suffered as a result of occupation for decades. For the past number of weeks, Israeli forces have been continuously going in there to murder people, without sanction. This is compounding the occupation, not only of Jenin, but of Palestine itself. That is the historic wrong of this situation. Palestinians have every right to challenge the occupation, just like people in the North of Ireland had a right to challenge British occupation. Whether they do so by force or by peaceful means, that is their prerogative.
When people are oppressed and brutalised daily, no matter where they are in the world, they have a right to challenge and resist it. Again, there is a number of things this State can do. I refer to the Bills I mentioned earlier. However, the Government does not have the guts to do it. The reason is that it is afraid of the Americans, the EU and the Israeli embassy, which is located not too far from here. It is afraid of the consequences. I ask the Minister of State to think about that again. These are moderate Bills that would send a signal to the world with regard to the situation in Palestine.
Another ongoing situation is that of the EU-Israel bilateral economic agreement, which is worth billions of euro per year. This increases exponentially in terms of trade. When you think about it, are there any consequences for what Israel does daily, weekly or annually, and for its apartheid system? There are none. Absolutely zero. It beggars belief as to why this continuously happens, but it is not a surprise. As we have heard here, it is lip service. There is no credibility, and we have lost all hope in this Government changing direction.
The Irish people have a long history of fighting occupiers. We are on the side of the ordinary Palestinian people who are fighting against occupation and oppression. We will always be on their side. The Government has chosen to turn its back on the Palestinian people for the sake of credibility with the three forces I mentioned. I ask the Minister of State to think about what the Government could do with one of the Bills to which I refer. It could send a message across the world that there are consequences for apartheid, racism and oppression. A small country like Ireland stood against British imperialism for 800 years, and it could stand up and say it can do something. We did it in the 1980s with South Africa. We were a small country on the periphery of Europe. We said that what was happening thousands of miles away was brutal and horrible, but we stood in solidarity with the people of South Africa. Now we need to stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine. That is the best message we can send out from here.
When will the west wake up and realise that Israel is an apartheid state and has to be treated as such? How much more Palestinian land will be colonised? How much longer can international law continue to be violated and how many more Palestinians will be murdered?
I recognise that the Government is a strong supporter of Palestinian people, but it is time we did far more. It is time we took the same kind of steps we did during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. We need to progress the occupied territories Bill, put forward by my colleague Deputy John Brady. We need to cease delaying this Bill, which would require the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to divest from companies conducting business in the occupied territories.
The Israelis are determined to wipe Palestinians from their ancestral lands, erase the memory of this proud people and supplant them with their own settler colonists. Well, we have news for the Israeli security state. I can do no better than quote the words of the late, great Palestinian American author Edward Said, who said, "There is no getting away from the fact that, as an idea, a memory, and as an often buried or invisible reality, Palestine and its people have simply not disappeared.” Nor will they disappear despite the constant attacks and atrocities. They will struggle on until the day comes when Palestine gets to celebrate its independence. I look forward to that day.
I should take this opportunity to thank all of the staff of the House, and all of the people who facilitate us. I usually make apologies because I can be a nuisance at times. It has been pointed out to me before. That goes for everybody.
There are very few. Most people only say it behind my back anyway.
Let us be clear about the issue we are dealing with. There is an element of groundhog day. We are back talking about the situation the Palestinian people find themselves in. We know what has happened. We know the murderous acts that happened in Jenin. We know this is the means by which the Israeli government wanted to take out what we can call the third force. We know what they have done in the Gaza strip. In recent years we have seen right-wing governments that have become more right wing with the passing of time. We are talking about governments that in no way care what the rest of the world thinks about them. The only conclusion you can come to is that they have made a determination there will be no Palestinian state. There will be no Palestinian people. What they are going to do is take whatever ground they possibly can in the West Bank. They are going to absolutely strafe, impact, kill, maim and do whatever they have done to those in Gaza. I do not know what the end of the road will be. I imagine that the Zionist-imperialist point of view will involve taking those lands it wants and handing everything else over to somebody else. That is not good enough.
I accept that the Government, the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach will talk about how we have been more vociferous than many other states when it comes to supporting the Palestinian people against brutal Israeli regimes.
The fact is that we really need to put our money where our mouth is and we need to be able to deliver. That is about recognising the Palestinian state, it is the occupied territories Bill, and dealing with the fact that we have State money in the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, going into companies involved in the occupied territories. I would like to see what the Government has done in respect of bringing like-minded states in Europe together to come up with some co-operative moves and see if that does not exist. We need to take real action. We owe this to the Palestinian people and to the world. What is happening here is just not good enough.
I thank the Regional Group for allowing me to use their time slot and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing that, too. I also thank all the Dáil staff, service officers, ushers, everybody in the canteen and everybody in here who keep us going during the term. I thank them for all their help and their great work, and wish them the best for the next few weeks.
The Irish Government is playing a deception on the issue of Palestine that the Palestinian people and Arab people generally in the Middle East are very familiar with from certain Arab regimes. It is a game played by Egypt and Saudi Arabia and one that Lebanon has played over the years. Week in, week out, these regimes mouth sympathy with the plight of the Palestinians. They declare their support and solidarity with Palestine, condemn what Israel is doing and then quietly collude with Israel. Every Egyptian leader, most of them dictators in recent years, will say how they stand with the Palestinians but the siege of Gaza is not just enforced by Israel. It is also enforced by Egypt, which colludes with the Israeli regime. The Saudis collude with the biggest supporters of Israel, the United States, which arms them, buy arms from them and colludes with them at every level and, indeed, collude directly with the Israelis. They pretend they are acting in support of the Palestinians. That is what the Irish Government is doing by mouthing solidarity but in actuality doing nothing.
I would not have become involved in politics except that when I was 18, I went to Palestine with a few friends. I did not know anything about the political situation. I was working on an Israeli farm but I happened to be working alongside Palestinian refugees from a refugee camp in Hebron, Al-Khalil in Arabic. The families of the people I was working with had been expelled in 1948 from what is now called Israel but historically was Palestine. They had lived in refugee camps in Al-Khalil ever since. They pointed me to the hypocrisy of the Arab leadership. They also made it absolutely clear to me that the idea of a just settlement to the crime that had been done to them in any kind of two-state solution was nonsense. A two-state solution would effectively wipe out their right to restoration over the crime that had been committed against them. Before Oslo and when Oslo was declared, I always understood, because I heard it directly from the Palestinians, that a two-state solution was a deception and a con trick perpetrated by those who wished to wipe out the historic claim of the Palestinian refugees expelled in 1948 to return to their homes. That is what a two-state solution means. It means eradicating the right to return of millions of Palestinians now in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and scattered across the world and of millions of those in refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, all of whom have the right to return under international law. Unless the world has decided they do not have the right to return, they are deceiving and tricking people by talking about a two-state solution.
The right to return is incompatible with the existence of the Zionist state, based as it is on prioritising one ethnic religious group over another. That is the basis of the Israeli state. It is not an incidental policy. The crimes the current regime is committing in Jenin, the ethnic cleansing of east Jerusalem, the Nakba, and the ongoing crimes have been the stock and trade of the Israeli state since it was set up in 1948 with the massacres of Deir Yassin, the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 people, and the mass graves they are digging up as we speak in Tantura - mass killings committed by the Zionists because the agenda was to steal all of the Palestinians' land and never to allow them back. That is what we are sitting over if we talk about the two-state solution. Would anybody suggest there is a just two-state solution to the sectarian division of Ireland? Not many would, yet we think it is a just solution for Palestine. It is ridiculous.
What is the truth about the Israeli state? This is where it directly parallels Ireland's history but also gives us a particular obligation. In 1936, Sir Ronald Storrs, the British governor general of Jerusalem, when asked why they were sponsoring the Zionist movement, said their intention was to create "a little loyal Jewish Ulster" in the Middle East to guard against a potentially hostile sea of Arabism. It was to divide and rule, set the populations against each other in order to control the region. That is not just a historic fact. Some of the troops that were sent enforce the mandate and promote Zionism were sent directly from Dublin. British troops, auxiliaries, were sent from Dublin. People who were in charge of the Black and Tans went over as officers to Palestine to do exactly what they had done in Ireland to the Palestinians, the same people with the same method, very consciously so. Is that an interesting historic fact? We should ask Joe Biden, the current US President. He said that if Israel did not exist, the United States would have to invent it. He went on to explain what he meant by that, namely, that the United States would have to station tens of thousands of troops in the Middle East to control the area. The current US President said this. That is the reality of the colonial apartheid regime of Israel. It is not this or that government; that is the project. To talk about a two-state solution is just a trick to pretend there is some sort of legitimate Zionist project to steal Palestinian land. It makes a mockery of all international law.
The Israeli state is based on a thing called the right to return, which is only conferred on Jews. It explicitly excludes Palestinians, people of Arab origin, from the same right to return which exists under international law. They recently passed a law called the nation state law, which says only the Jewish people have a right to self-determination. Under international law, people have the right to self-determination. It is not one group that has the right, everyone has it. The Israeli state says no, only Jewish people have the right to self-determination, and that the Palestinians do not. I could go through the list of all these laws. They are explicit apartheid. They are not the policy of this or that government; it is apartheid to its root and in its very foundations. Yet we continue with the pretence that there is something legitimate about this exercise, or that it can result in anything other than continuing persecution and oppression of the Palestinian people. All of this is now confirmed by even relatively moderate organisations like Amnesty International and the UN Special Rapporteur. They are all referring to crimes against humanity, war crimes going on, ethnic cleansing and indiscriminate killing going on week in, month out, year after year.
We still think we are dealing with some sort of normal state.
It is an incredible that the Irish Government talks about its adherence to the principles of the UN charter and United Nations. In the past few weeks, the UN committee set up to investigate the violations of human rights in Palestine informed us, among other things, that it cannot even go to Palestine. The representatives of the United Nations are not allowed into Palestine to investigate whether there are war crimes or crimes against humanity, even though they are absolutely convinced they need to do so. Members of the European Parliament are barred from going to Palestine, as are Members of this House.
How do we sit back and tolerate this? People with Irish passports who are of Palestinian origin are not allowed into Israel if Israel decides it is not going to allow them to go, for example, via Israel to Gaza where their families live. It is unbelievable and we allow this to happen.
Before it was the left and so on, and the Palestinians themselves who were talking about the contrast between the attitude of the international community to Ukraine and the attitude to Palestine but now the United Nations is saying it. The committee, which met us, pointed out that the International Criminal Court is advancing and accelerating the investigation to move to the prosecution of Vladimir Putin for war crimes in Ukraine. It has been sitting on exactly the same allegations and have done nothing about them when it has come to the murder of Palestinians and the various other crimes against humanity and war crimes Israel has been committing for years. It simply does not do it. It makes a mockery of the international order and of the claims to the adherence to international law on the part of this Government or of other governments.
I appeal to the Government because, to be honest, it knows all of this is true. The truth is that it is afraid to say boo to the Americans or to some of the leading forces in the European Union. That is the truth and everybody really knows it. It is the same reason the Government allowed 2 million troops to go through Shannon Airport to prosecute a war based on lies in Iraq. It was because we were afraid to say boo to the Americans. This is even the case when they are actively conniving with brutal authoritarian murderous barbaric regimes and even when this weekend the Americans say they are going to send cluster munitions to Ukraine. These are one of the most vile weapons human beings have ever devised. We will express concern and we might even condemn it but what are we going to do about it? Nothing, zero.
We must end this outrageous passivity because it is collusion, and we must take action ourselves to impose sanctions. Sanctions are what are necessary, which is real action against a criminal regime which has been persecuting the Palestinians for 75 years.
We have all seen Europe's unified stance against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It shows just how powerful a force Europe can be in the quest for peace, freedom and human rights throughout the world. This has united the European Union in the face of an unjustified war of oppression and tyranny. It is the same force for good, this unwavering support in the face of tyranny, which the beleaguered people of Palestine are desperate for.
The ongoing merciless raids conducted by Israel's forces and the illegal incursions into Jenin and other parts of Palestine have demonstrated once again the brutality faced by Palestinians on a daily basis. At least 12 Palestinians have been killed in Jenin in the past week, including five children. Thousands were forced to flee their homes and large parts of the camp were left in ruins. The Israelis have made refugees out of refugees. The people of Palestine live under an apartheid regime designed and cruelly enforced by Israel. It is an apartheid regime which sees Palestinians killed, imprisoned and tortured and that sees Palestinian lands annexed and illegally settled and Palestinian homes left in ruins.
This week we saw an elected Israeli official calling for ethnic cleansing in front of a stolen Palestinian home. This is Zionism in its clearest form. If this was a Palestinian official openly calling for ethnically cleansing Israelis from the country, we would see a justifiable flood of outrage and condemnation from the EU, but since it is Israel calling for the expulsion of Palestinians, there is only silence.
Dublin may lie 4,000 km from Jerusalem on the map but Palestinians feel much closer to the hearts of the Irish people. Both Ireland and Palestine share a history of struggle against colonialism and oppression. The story of the Palestinian people is one of colonisation at the hands of Israel, one of the world's most fearsome military powers. On far too many occasions, the international community has looked the other way when Israel has committed horrific human rights abuses in Palestine.
Sinn Féin supports a two-state solution, which is a view shared by the vast majority of representatives in the Dáil. However, there cannot be a two-state solution if one of the states has been reduced by illegal land-grabs. The international community and, in particular, the European Union need to act in response to Israeli aggression and oppression and must act to defend the rights of the Palestinian people.
Ireland must lead the way. Rather than further delay, there must be no more excuses and the Irish Government must at long last recognise the state of Palestine. The Dáil passed a Sinn Féin motion in 2014 and the Seanad did likewise. Recognising the state of Palestine is in the programme for Government. The Government, however, has cowered away from this and is hiding behind the shield of Europe. It states we must have a collective consensus with like-minded European allies. The Government is talking out of both sides of its mouth when it comes to Palestine.
Looking at the list of speakers for this debate, the Government has seven slots but has only taken up four. It is more interesting in going on its holidays for the summer than talking about and trying to put solutions in place for the people of Palestine and Jenin.
I was in Palestine last year and when we were travelling from one zone to another, armed Israeli soldiers came onto the bus. They singled out one young lad who had the audacity to smile at them when they came on to the bus. The soldiers asked him what he was smiling at and then started roaring and shouting at him. I intervened and said he was smiling because he was nervous and that he was Irish and we are a friendly people. They pointed the gun directly at me. Their words to me are ones I will never forget. They said to me there is no Palestine. I saw at first hand what the Palestinian people have to put up with on a daily basis and it is horrific.
Deputy Andrews and I have written to the FAI to ask about having an international friendly between Ireland and Palestine. No European country has ever played Palestine since it joined FIFA in 1998. The FAI wrote back to say it has no fixtures in 2023, which I accept, and it is mandated with regard to fixtures by FIFA in 2024. We have asked it to reconsider and to play a League of Ireland select international, perhaps this year or next year. I tried to put this down as a parliamentary question but it was ruled out of order. In the Minister of State's wrap-up, will he say whether the Government will lend its support to having this match played in an act of solidarity with and support for the Palestinian people?
It is with deep sadness that I contribute to these statements today. It is sadness for the at least 12 Palestinians who were killed after a devastating Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp. It is sadness for their families and the thousands who were forced to flee their homes following this raid, while the camp was left in ruins. It is sadness for the Palestinian minors facing immense emotional and physical abuse having been arrested by Israeli forces. It is sadness that although we continue to have these statements and outline these atrocities over and over, nothing has been done. We refuse to show our support for the Palestinian people in any real or meaningful way. We delayed the passing of the occupied territories Bill more than five years after it was first introduced here. When are we going to take action?
The international community is complicit in Israel’s crimes and Ireland is complicit in Israel’s crimes. We will continue to be as long as we continue this policy of inaction.
I was horrified to read the report by Save the Children published on Monday. It outlined how Palestinian children are the only ones in the world to experience systematic prosecution in military courts. It also outlined the repulsive way Palestinian children are being treated by Israeli forces when detained. The report outlined the experience of former child detainees who detailed violence of a sexual nature, beatings and instances of being handcuffed and blindfolded in small cages in detention centres. How can we continue to turn a blind eye to this immense emotional and physical abuse towards children? I despair to think of the incredible trauma these children are forced to experience at such a young age. Every child has the right to live a life without fear and anxiety. Yet Palestinian children are exposed to violence, conflict and emotional turmoil every single day and are faced with a massive 20-year sentence for stone throwing. There has been a significant increase in child detainees having difficulty returning to their normal life, with many reporting a decrease in hope for their futures. We can hardly be surprised but this is incredibly upsetting.
We can no longer continue to sit on our hands and we can no longer continue to allow EU hypocrisy. We need to condemn unequivocally the state of Israel’s apartheid aggression and the EU and US who turn their eyes away from this genocide. It is not antisemitic to boycott goods from the occupied territories nor is it antisemitic to call out genocide. That is what this is.
First, I send my solidarity to the Palestinian people in the face of the latest onslaught by the Israeli state. At least 12 Palestinians have been murdered, including four children. More than 3,000 people have been forced to leave their homes over recent weeks as the Israeli army assaulted Jenin refugee camp. These people had already lost their homes and been forced to live in a refugee camp through the decades of Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing. They are returning now to the destruction that Israel visited on their homes. Some have lost everything. It will take years to rebuild what Jenin has lost and what the people in that refugee camp lost.
What we saw over recent weeks was the targeting of civilian lives and livelihoods by one of the most advanced, strongest and best equipped militaries in the world. This is just another step on the road of Israel's programme to occupy and annex the entirety of the West Bank. There is no room for Palestinians in this plan. What we are watching is the destruction of the Palestinian people. This is being carried out not just by the destruction and bloodshed we saw in Jenin from the Israeli armed forces but also the ongoing blockade and starving of Gaza, the encroaching settlements in the West Bank and the cleansing of Palestinians in West Jerusalem. Many have been removed by court order from homes their families have lived in for decades.
It is time to step up and be counted on this issue. There is deep solidarity in this country for the Palestinian people. The Irish people supported Dunnes Stores workers when they took the first steps in boycotting apartheid South Africa. They support a boycott of apartheid Israel. Our Government has a mandate to resist the cleansing and oppression going on in Palestine. There can be no more playing both sides on this and no more condemning both sides like this is an equal struggle. We have watched Israel destroy the possibility of a one-state solution and even the possibility of a two-state solution, whatever that meant. We are now watching Israel destroy any chance of peace and any chance of freedom for Palestine. This needs to be stopped before it is too late. The Government must recognise Palestinian statehood, bring the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 through Committee Stage, and start a programme of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel so no more Irish money goes towards this horror show. We should no longer have any part in Israel's programme of apartheid and ethnic cleansing. It is no longer acceptable to stand by while we see the destruction of an entire world. The Government should prepared to say "Boo".
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter once again. I am not sure how many more times we can ask the Government to act. We have heard the deep concern and we have heard it deplore this but we have not seen it take any action. In the thorough speech of avoidance given by the Tánaiste today, it is crystal clear he takes pride in our leading by example at the UN but we fail to lead in Europe. We are waiting all the time for action from a Europe where Ursula von der Leyen, as already quoted, has said that the Israeli state made the desert bloom. We are waiting for a European Union where Josep Borrell has told us they really do not like to use the word "apartheid" in relation to Israel, notwithstanding the report that was published in February of last year. It is a detailed report with four or five years' research gone into and it has been utterly ignored by this Government. We have asked repeatedly for the reaction of the Government to the Amnesty International report, where very specific recommendations were targeted at governments.
Will the Minister of State tell us why the Government is ignoring the Amnesty report? Will he tell us why we are ignoring the fact that six human rights organisations, two or three of which we fund, have been designated as terrorist organisations? That was back in October 2021, and since then the silence is deafening. In between, there was a joint statement on 12 July, which we waited for. I would like the Minister of State's attention for this very important subject. It is the only time we get to speak on Palestine. On 12 July, there was a joint statement by EU members, including Ireland, stating no substantial evidence had been provided by Israel and affirming their support for Palestinian civil society. On 22 August last year, the organisations I mentioned were raided. These are human rights organisations. They were ransacked and forcibly closed with their equipment confiscated. There is an operation cynically called - "cynically" does not capture it - Operation Home and Garden, where the army goes into a refugee camp that is 70 years old. That in itself tells a story. This is one of 19 refugee camps and it has been there for 70 years. The Israeli army goes in, destroys all around it and calls it, to my horror, Operation Home and Garden. There was no water and 3,000 people were left with nowhere to go. The vast majority have gone back to absolute destruction and still we remain silent.
We remain silent and wait for a Europe that has no intention of action, a Europe we are complicit with, that has described Israel as a special friend and given Israel a special position as a trading partner. This is a Europe where Borrell has told us everything outside of Europe is a jungle and Europe is a garden. I am asking today that we finally give our reaction to the Amnesty report. I am asking that we give a reaction to the designation of six human rights organisations as terrorist organisations. The Minister of State might confirm if we are now funding terrorist organisations because that is the reality of what Israel has done with our collusion. The Minister of State might try to give us some clarity and depart from the script in relation to the wholesale slaughter and murder that is happening in our name because of our complicity. We cannot keep going on and saying we disagree with this, that we are concerned and take absolutely no action.
We have had many chances to take action, including two Bills, one tabled by Sinn Féin and one by Senator Frances Black. One relates to divestment, which is a very practical matter, and the other to imports from the occupied territories. We have taken none of them on board. Still, we say we are standing with the Palestinian people. We clearly stood with the people of Ukraine, and rightly so. There was no hesitation in describing the invasion by Russia as illegal but all sorts of dissembling when it comes to Israel's actions. Israel is tearing itself apart at the moment with regard to its democracy. I pay tribute to the courageous people who are there. Legislation is going through that Parliament to take away the powers of the Judiciary, the one thing left with oversight. What are we doing? Have we stood in solidarity with those brave people in Israel who are saying "Do not do this in my name"?
This is not a debate I was going to contribute on. It is not that I do not feel I have anything to say. It is just that I have heard the same speeches being made again and again over the years. I share the frustration of my colleagues in opposition.
I am also very proud of the tradition of my own party. I am also conscious that this week we celebrated the life and passing of a great Irish Jew, Ben Briscoe, who was a member of Fianna Fáil. Both he and his father served Parliament continuously for 75-odd years in Dublin. I often wonder what he might make of this. I enjoy my history and so when I hear questions asked about Europe and its response to Israel, I cannot help but invoke that history of the Jews of Europe. Already I can see eyes being rolled and eyebrows being raised. It is not an attempt to side with anybody or bring a bit of balance. I am just saying this is one of the important contexts that never gets mentioned here. It is just a fact. It is not a bias. It is a historical fact that resulted in the establishment of the state of Israel.
I also see where there are some elements in common in terms of Irish history and Palestinian history - that a state can be established without you having a particular say in it. The victors in history tend to divide the spoils and that is the way it has happened.
Through its embassies around the world, including Dublin, Israel needs to start a conversation with public representatives and needs to start a continuing conversation. I grew up in a generation where the idea of going to work on a kibbutz in Israel was a strong possibility and an opportunity for Irish teenagers. I do not think any Irish teenager would consider engaging with one of them now. That is how much the situation has changed and how dramatically attitudes to Israel have changed.
So as I am not misunderstood, I repeat the points that have been made by the Tánaiste and other Government representatives regarding its commitment to a two-state solution, which is the only solution, while also recognising the desire of some states surrounding Israel to see its complete annihilation.
Violence, particularly that perpetuated by state machinery and armoury, is completely is unacceptable. This can only end in the further isolation of Israel, and as the Tánaiste said in his contribution, a further move away from a two-state solution. The harder Israel embeds itself and moves even further to the right in terms of its response to Palestinians, the further we get away from a two-state solution and the further you get away from a two-state solution, the more danger Israel brings on itself.
I am conscious of time so that is my brief contribution. I thank my colleague for facilitating it.
I thank the Deputies for their detailed contributions over the past number of hours. The recognition of Palestine has been raised. I will quote directly from the programme for Government, which states that the Government will "honour our commitment to recognise the State of Palestine as part of a lasting settlement of the conflict, or in advance of that, when we believe doing so will progress efforts to reach a two-state solution or protect the integrity of Palestinian territory." In the absence of progress towards a two-state solution, the Tánaiste has repeatedly stated that he would prepare to recommend to the Government recognition by Ireland of a state of Palestine if and when it might be helpful. This is a matter he has discussed regularly with his EU colleagues. The timing and context of any such decision would be affected by the resulting loss of influence this could result in as a result of operating on our own, as many people have suggested, rather than working collectively at international level. We need to balance that and make a judgment call about whether that loss of influence would be matched by a commensurate benefit for the Palestinian people and the positive impact on the peace process and the two-state solution. The judgement is that at present, this is not the case.
During the course of this debate, several people said we should go along and take the lead and that others will follow. That is a point of view. There would be a loss of influence if we do that but we would do it if we felt it was of benefit to the Palestinian people. I have outlined that clearly and that is in the programme for Government. The two-state option has been mentioned here by most people but some people utterly opposed the two-state option in the debate today so we should note that as well.
In terms of the people living in Palestine, the Department deals directly with a number of programmes in that area. It is an area I deal with personally given my responsibility for international development and the diaspora. Nobody asked during this debate, given that there are difficulties, struggles and international law breaking and people are being killed, about what we are doing to help people on a day-to-day basis. Ireland does this all over the world in different regions where there is conflict, pain and suffering and we do it in Palestine as well. This year, Irish taxpayers will provide €16 million to help people directly on the ground in Palestine. It is important we do that. We provide help through education and health programmes, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and other aspects of the UN. Of the money we allocate, €8 million of that goes through a United Nations Relief and Works Agency programme for this calendar year. We also provide €3 million to the Palestinian Authority ministry for education to strengthen its education system. We bring 25 university graduates from Palestine each year to undertake a one-year postgraduate programme such that when they go back, they are better educated and help their people in the future. While the conflict is going on, people are living their daily lives and need a quality of life and we assist in that through our programmes. Notwithstanding the overhanging political conflict, we must also recognise that we have to help people live their lives and rear their families during that conflict. It is important that we continue to do so.
I also believe we should recognise that this is a key issue. We have made a number of investments in that area to improve people's lives. For example, we have being working on a major solar power-generated treatment system in Gaza in the past two to three years to provide emergency sewerage treatment to improve the daily quality of life and health of the people who live there. People are living there every day and it is important that while we have a political debate and a security debate, we also remember that people are living their lives and we need to assist them with that in terms of improving the quality of water, health and education for the people who live there and will continue to live there because that is their home.
The debate has been very useful. We had a debate in the other House yesterday on this issue. The main issue people feel very strongly about is that Ireland completely supports international law and Israel has been found guilty of breaches of international law time and again. We are not the sole international policeperson that can implement sanctions against the people who have broken international law but we must be consistent in saying international law, to which we have all signed up, must be respected. That is an issue on which we are very firm.
The two-state solution has been in the Irish psyche for a long number of years, going back to the late Brian Lenihan senior, who was the first European politician of note to propose that. This idea gained widespread support in so many areas notwithstanding the fact that some people here today still questioned it. I am not saying every party did but some people did and it is important that we recognise that.
It is important to be of assistance to the international community and continue this help. As the Tánaiste also noted in his remarks, it is vital the international community continues to encourage the holding of free, fair and competitive elections. It is worth noting that we have not had these there. When we speak about that, I would like people here to encourage free, fair and democratic elections in the region we are talking about.