Wednesday, 15 November 2023
Imposing Sanctions on Israel: Motion [Private Members]
That Dáil Éireann: — expresses its horror at the death and devastation being wrought by the Israeli government in Gaza;
— expresses its outrage at the scale of the death toll in Gaza, with more than 11,000 people having been killed, including more than 5,000 children, 89 United Nations (UN) workers and 39 journalists;
— expresses its abhorrence at the deliberate targeting by Israel of hospitals, schools, UN Relief and Works Agency installations, bakeries, residential buildings and civilian infrastructure in Gaza;
— deplores the inhumanity of cutting off access to food, clean water, fuel and medical supplies to more than two million people in Gaza;
— abhors that more than 1.5 million people in Gaza have been displaced;
— expresses its deep revulsion at the continuing collective punishment being meted out to civilians in Gaza by the Israeli government;
— condemns the barbaric attack by Hamas on Israel on 7th October in which 1,400 people were killed and at least 243 people were kidnapped;
— agrees that the taking of hostages is a war crime and demands the release of all hostages by Hamas;
— notes that 50 per cent of the population of Gaza are children and, according to the World Health Organisation, an average of 160 children are being killed every day in the territory;
— further notes that UNICEF has stated that one million children in Gaza lack access to safe water;
— further notes that 180 women are giving birth every day in Gaza, 15 per cent of whom will experience complications and need medical care that is currently unavailable; and
— notes the comments of Médecins Sans Frontières that the healthcare system in Gaza has collapsed and children are enduring operations like amputations without anaesthetic; expresses alarm that since 7th October: — attacks by Israeli settlers in the West Bank against Palestinians, which were already at a record high this year, have hugely increased;
— at least 178 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank, including 45 children;
— at least 1,000 Palestinians have been displaced in the West Bank, including 424 children;
— more than 2,200 Palestinians in the West Bank have been detained, including 24 journalists; and
— the number of Palestinians held in administrative detention increased from 1,319 to 2,070 between 1st October and 1st November; agrees that: — Israel has committed multiple breaches of international law in its assault on Gaza;
— the permissive and ambivalent response by the international community to this litany of breaches of international law by Israel has been shameful;
— European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen’s unequivocal support for Israel, despite its flouting of international law, has seriously undermined the European Union’s (EU) response to this crisis; and
— a war crime is defined by the nature of the act – not the identity of the perpetrator; and calls on the Government to: — intensify its advocacy for an immediate ceasefire and the release of hostages;
— provide strong leadership at EU level to advocate for economic sanctions on Israel, including:
— suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement on the basis of a serious breach of the essential elements' human rights clause in that agreement; and
— suspension of the EU-Israel Horizon Europe Association Agreement and Israel's access to the €95 billion Horizon Europe fund for research and innovation;
— make a referral to the International Criminal Court requesting that it investigate whether members of the Israeli government and military have committed war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in Gaza;
— enact the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 and the Illegal Israeli Settlements Divestment Bill 2023 as a matter of urgency;
— withdraw the diplomatic status of the Israeli Ambassador given the failure of the Israeli State to cease the deliberate targeting of civilians, journalists, UN staff and healthcare workers; and
— pursue all possible avenues at the EU and the UN to build an international alliance for peace to provide a pathway away from violence and back to the negotiation table.
When did EU leaders lose their humanity? At what precise moment? Was it when Israel cut off supplies of water, food, medicine and fuel to 2.3 million people in Gaza, and no one shouted "Stop"? Was it when more than 5,000 children were slaughtered, and no one shouted "Stop"? Was it when the fuel ran out and incubators keeping premature babies alive were turned off and no one shouted "Stop"? Was it on Friday, when the death toll reached more than 11,000 and no one shouted "Stop"? Was it at the weekend, when they had to stop counting the bodies and still no one shouted "Stop"?
Ordinarily, I am proud to be part of Europe. I am a supporter of the European project. I believe in its aims of peace, justice, security and prosperity. I also believe in its values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights.
European leaders claim to believe in these values and are tasked with prioritising and protecting them. They travel the world to autocratic and authoritarian regimes and urge them to adopt those very values. However, their response to Gaza has highlighted the hypocrisy of their moralising. Today, those values feel like a slogan – a marketing blurb. It does not seem like they mean anything or have any power. How else can we explain the EU’s despicable response to the slaughter in Gaza? There have been more than five weeks of carnage yet there is still no unified call for a ceasefire.
As recently as Sunday, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policyreleased a statement which only called for humanitarian pause of the slaughter and contained no criticism for Israel for its savagery. The official EU position now is that we want a pause in the bombing for a few hours, and then the ethnic cleansing can continue. I reject this statement. The EU leaders who wrote it are cowards and their position is indefensible. The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policyalso urged Israel to “exercise maximum restraint”. Does he watch the news? Does he know what is going on? A child in Gaza is killed every ten minutes; more than 100 UN workers have been massacred; and more than 40 journalists deliberately assassinated, many of them targeted in their homes, their entire families wiped out as collateral damage. Does this sound like restraint? Does this sound proportionate? Does it sound legal? No, because it is not.
We have war crimes heaped upon war crimes in Gaza like the bodies that are piling up outside the hospitals. It now seems clear that those European values cannot be found in leaders in Brussels or, indeed, the UK or the US. Instead, we are seeing those values of humanity, dignity, peace and equality in the medics who remain in Gaza, refusing to leave their patients, even if their own lives are in danger. Their bravery, compassion, generosity and humanity is unparalleled. By Monday, at least 160 medical workers had been killed in nearly 140 Israeli attacks on healthcare facilities in Gaza.
I want to specifically name one of those medics. Dr. Hammam Alloh was Gaza’s only nephrologist. He was not killed at Al-Shifa Hospital, where he worked. Along with his father, he was murdered in an Israeli strike on his home on Saturday. Dr. Alloh had done several interviews with western media. In his last interview, he was asked why he did not leave Gaza for his own protection and he became emotional. He said:
And if I go, who treats my patients? We are not animals. We have the right to receive proper healthcare ... You think I went to medical school ... [only to think] about my life and not my patients? ... This is not the reason ... I became a doctor.
The west is complicit in Dr. Alloh’s murder. He leaves behind a wife and two young children.
The refusal of most western leaders to shout “Stop” and demand a ceasefire has led to thousands of deaths. Israel is killing with impunity. According to the World Health Organization, Gaza is now a graveyard for children. More children died in Gaza in just the first three weeks of this onslaught than those killed in every global conflict since 2019. Every day, 180 women in Gaza give birth, 15% of whom will experience complications and need medical care that is currently unavailable. According to UNICEF, 1 million children do not have access to enough clean water. The lack of basic medical supplies means that medics are performing amputations on children without anaesthetic. Think about that: a child having a foot amputated without anaesthetic while, just 20 km away in Ashkelon, people visit beachfront cafés and attend nightclubs. It is difficult to comprehend.
I recognise that the Irish Government has done more than most in the EU to advocate for a ceasefire, but that is just evidence of how low the bar is. Words of condemnation are not enough; we need action. There must be consequences for the crimes perpetrated by Israel on a captive civilian population in Gaza. This cannot be allowed to go on.
The trade deal between the EU and Israel has a human rights clause, which means respect for human rights is supposed to form the bedrock of the deal. The Social Democrats are not the only ones who believe this clause should be triggered and the trade deal should be suspended. The Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium, Petra De Sutter, and 30 MEPS, including Fianna Fáil's Barry Andrews, have advocated for the same thing. We are asking the Irish Government to work with the like-minded EU leaders and MEPs to advocate for this. Because Europe is Israel’s biggest trading partner, economic sanctions would hurt. The Taoiseach told me this is not an option because people in the EU differ. Therefore, it was not possible to even contemplate a suspension of the deal. I wish to remind him that the deal is a legal contract with a clear and unambiguous clause that mandates the defence of human rights. That is not a subjective opinion; it is a legal obligation, part of a trade deal and it must be enforced. Israel also has access to a €95 billion EU fund called Horizon Europe for research and development. Access to that lucrative funding stream should be suspended on similar terms.
There are measures we can take in this country too. The diplomatic status of the Israeli ambassador should be withdrawn. We do not suggest this lightly. However, given Israel’s deliberate targeting of civilians, journalists, UN staff and healthcare workers in Gaza, we believe it is necessary. I also should point out that this is a measure that nearly 50 Government Deputies, including former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Flanagan, and Ministers of State, Deputies Richmond and Carroll MacNeill, all advocated for when it came to the Russian ambassador last year. At the time, Deputy Jim O’Callaghan of Fianna Fáil stated: “We are a State that has a proud record of standing up to aggression and of standing up for justice.” That is why I find it so hard to understand that a country that is so proud, like Ireland, is prepared to associate itself diplomatically with a regime that is at present committing war crimes. I agree. The Irish Government should also refer Israel to the International Criminal Court, ICC, for investigation for war crimes. Yesterday, a Minister of State claimed doing this politicises the court. What nonsense. The existing inquiry has been stalled since 2021 because it has not been prioritised and has been starved of political support.
Contrast that with the political muscle that was flexed last year when Ireland joined with 42 other states to make a referral to the courts about Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine. ActionAid has urged the Government to make a referral to show the prosecutor that there is support behind his work. We must also enact the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill and the Illegal Israeli Settlements Divestment Bill as a matter of urgency.
The Irish people are repulsed by the slaughter in Gaza and they want us to do whatever we can nationally and internationally to end it. However, this Government decided to amend the motion and replace the diplomatic and economic sanctions we proposed with platitudes and zero actions. Ireland has long been proud of our reputation as a voice for peace on the international stage as a country that values human rights and international law and advocates for nations and people who face oppression. Ireland has not been found wanting when it comes to words of support for the Palestinian people. However, in the face of an impending genocide, words are not enough. We must take action now, before it is too late.
I expect it to be a running theme in this debate, but I cannot step away from the fact that yesterday, a person occupying the seat that is reserved for the Head of the Irish Government gave his view – I believe his honest view – and one in accordance with the World Heath Organization, that Israel as a state is “blinded by rage” and is “waging a war on children”. He further went on to say, “You cannot build peace on the ... graves of children”.
If it were possible to place a number on those graves, it would exceed 4,609 children who have been killed in Gaza by the state of Israel in the five weeks that have passed since the horrors of 7 October. That is 4,609 children as of Friday. I dare question the audacity of anyone who questions whether we will table these motions when those numbers are so high.
As the Minister spoke those words, one could not help but think they were significant. However, as he continued, one could not help but be dismayed that he, as a representative of the Irish State, was going to once more content themselves with offering nothing more than words – platitudes – without any prospect of consequence for the state guilty of this slaughter of children. If we can acknowledge the killing of children and then do nothing to prevent it, it is in that moment we have lost our humanity.
Israel has not just engaged in the murder of children. There is no longer any prospect of counting the full total of the dead. The figures stopped on Friday as too many hospitals tended to the wounded and collecting the dead has been destroyed; too many bodies lay on the rubble. Some 30,000 people have been injured. More than 100 UN workers have been targeted and killed by the State of Israel.
Approximately 50 journalists have been targeted for death precisely to prevent the full destruction from coming to light. When I talk about the deaths of journalists I cannot help but go back to over a year and a half ago and think of the incredible assassination of the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, simply for doing her job. Some 214 schools have been targeted, 64 mosques destroyed, three churches bombed, 719 industrial facilities destroyed and 24 of 35 hospitals in Gaza have been rendered obsolete in five weeks in an area half the size of Louth, and we offer words and nothing else. The horrors at Al-Shifa Hospital are seared into our collective consciousness. This morning, the Israeli military stormed past the dead who were already piled up outside and are, as we speak, laying siege inside this hospital. Is there any other nation that would get away with that level of barbarism and have impunity on the international stage as they do so?
The international community has enabled this. Despite the horrors being witnessed in real time, they cannot even bring themselves to call for a ceasefire. They use terms like "humanitarian pause." What sort of savagery of the English language is that? What sort of terminology? Four hours in which the bombs stop dropping. People will not have had time to recollect themselves by the time the bombs drop again. It is incredibly inhumane. The US, the EU and the UK have enabled this. We know what the logic is, we just do not speak it. As colonial powers, they have participated in atrocities of their own. They wish Israel to step back a little but not too much.
We are bringing forward these proposals, and we do so unashamedly, because we stand for consequence. We do so because we want to bring the savagery to an end. We will make no apology to anybody for the measures that are contained within our motion. We make a call for referral to the ICC and for the Irish State to place its name and weight behind that referral. The Minister of State yesterday laughably said that this would politicise the ICC, which is tasked with investigating genocide. That is ridiculous. To show how ridiculous it is, people should know that the Rome Statute was designed to punish breaches of international law and there is implied obligation on states to call out such breaches. We make other recommendations in the motion, specifically in respect of the EU-Israel trade agreement, and call for enactment of the human rights clauses contained within it. If we do not call what is happening in Gaza, being inflicted by the State of Israel, an affront to human dignity and an encroachment on human rights, what is it? We may as well rip up these agreements. They have no meaning if we do not enact them now.
We are also calling for the occupied territories Bill and settlements divestment Bill to be enacted by the Irish State. I remember when Fianna Fáil introduced Second Stage of the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018, the Minister of State's colleague, the then Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, said:
To those who have tried to dissuade us from supporting the Bill and say that it is not the time for such a Bill, I say if this is not the time to act, when will that time come?
He said that in 2019. Still, the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, stands back and says he will do nothing now.
I unashamedly call for a cessation of diplomatic ties with the State of Israel in Ireland as it currently exists. As is testified by the United Nations, I believe there is an impending genocide taking place in Gaza as we speak. It is unconscionable to me that we would maintain diplomatic ties on those terms. I fully appreciate the necessity of diplomatic relations in normal peace times. I appreciate the efforts that are being made to bring Irish citizens home who have been trapped in Gaza. Is that the extent of the Irish diplomatic doctrine? Will we advocate to take 40 of our own citizens out, as we should do, and then avert our gaze from the horrors that are being inflicted on the people therein? Is that the extent of what we as Irish people would do? If that is the case, the Government does not do so in my name or in the name of the thousands of people who have contacted our office demanding action, not words, by the Irish State.
I strongly condemn the rise in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia around the world in the last weeks. The life of a child in Gaza has exactly the same value as the life of a child in Israel or Ireland. If a child loses their parents, that grief is the same whether that child is Irish, Palestinian or Israeli. It knows no borders and no boundaries.
During the Nakba, or disaster, in 1948, between 700,000 and 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes or forced to flee in fear of their lives. Most thought they would be able to return in a matter of weeks when the violence had subsided. However, in direct contravention of international law, Israel never allowed those refugees to return to their homes. Their homes were either bulldozed or occupied by settlers. Now, 75 years later, we see the families of those refugees expelled during the Nakba once again being expelled from their homes in Gaza, with 1.6 million Palestinians being forced to flee from their homes. We must take a stand against this forced displacement of the Palestinian people. We must name it for what it is. This is a barbaric act of ethnic cleansing. What is happening in Gaza now is utterly unacceptable. Almost 1.6 million Palestinians have been expelled from their homes. People are unable to get access to safe drinking water and have been forced to drink water from the sea that makes them sick. Hospitals, schools, ambulances, refugee camps, medics, bakeries have all been bombed and attacked by Israel. UN relief workers have been killed. Journalists and media workers have been killed simply doing their job. Newborns in incubators in Al-Shifa Hospital have lost their lives as a result of the Israeli attacks. According the UN, there are no bakeries operating in north Gaza. None is able to bake bread.
These barbaric and cruel actions of the Israeli Government are a clear breach of international law. They are war crimes. What we need urgently now is a ceasefire and an immediate cessation of bombing and murder of innocent civilians. We need all hostages released and an end to the blockade so that relief and crucial medical supplies can get into Gaza. The Israeli Government must be held accountable for the war crimes it is committing now in Gaza. Let us be very clear. While it is not technically necessary for the Irish Government to make a referral to the ICC, such a referral would be very significant and would give the prosecutors important backing. For example, Ireland along with 42 other countries supported a referral to the ICC in respect of war crimes that were taking place in Ukraine. That was in March 2022. Ireland did not have to make that referral but it did it because it was the right thing to do. It should do likewise in respect of the war crimes Israel is committing now. Ireland must do everything it can to assist the office of the prosecutor in gaining access to Israel and the occupied territories for the purpose of investigating international war crimes. Multiple recent statements by chief prosecutor Karim Khan have made it very clear that he is urgently trying to gain access.
The international community must speak out. Their silence must be broken. The Irish Government must strengthen its position. The Government should advocate for effective measures such as economic sanctions and the invocation of the human rights clause in the Israel-EU trade deal. We stand at a critical juncture and must do everything we can as immediate action can make the difference between life and death for thousands more. It is critically important for the Irish Government to recognise that under the Geneva Convention, we need to uphold our legal obligation to ensure that international humanitarian law is respected by other States. The Irish Government must, therefore, outline what measures it will take to comply with this obligation. That is missing from the Government's amendment to the motion.
I say to backbench Government Deputies from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party that it is not enough to express outrage at what is happening in Gaza. It is not enough to make those calls. They and the Government must act. Ireland can do effective things to put pressure on Israel to stop its slaughter now. That means Government Deputies voting with our motion for effective measures. This is their opportunity to make a stand and to make sure Ireland shows the leadership on this that is necessary.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all the words after “That Dáil Éireann” and to replace with the following: "expresses its deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza, including the death of an estimated 11,000 people, including 5,000 children, over 100 United Nations (UN) workers and 39 journalists; and at the damage and destruction of hospitals, schools, UN Relief and Works Agency installations, bakeries, residential buildings and civilian infrastructure in Gaza, following Israel's military actions in Gaza;
demands immediate, rapid, unhindered and safe humanitarian access at scale, including the provision of food, clean water, fuel and medical supplies to more than two million people in Gaza;
expresses its deep concern at the displacement of over 1.5 million people in Gaza;
condemns the barbaric attack by Hamas on Israel on 7th October in which 1,400 people were killed and at least 243 people were kidnapped;
demands the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages;
notes:— that 50 per cent of the population of Gaza are children and, according to the World Health Organisation, an average of 160 children are being killed every day in the territory;further notes that:
— that UNICEF has stated that one million children in Gaza lack access to safe water;
— that 180 women are giving birth every day in Gaza, 15 per cent of whom will experience complications and need medical care that is currently unavailable;
— the comments of Médecins Sans Frontières that the healthcare system in Gaza has collapsed and children are enduring operations like amputations without anaesthetic; and
— that the situation in Palestine since June 2014 was referred to the Prosecutor by Palestine itself under Article 14 of the Rome Statute in 2018 and that the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced the opening of an investigation into the situation in Palestine (including Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem) in March 2021;— the investigation covers all crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, alleged to have been committed since 2014 and that the Court may exercise its jurisdiction over any such crimes committed within Palestine as well as by Palestinian nationals outside it (including in Israel); andagrees that:
— the Prosecutor of the ICC, Karim Khan, has reaffirmed that this investigation covers the current, ongoing conflict, including all events on and from 7th October this year;
expresses alarm that since 7th October:
— attacks by Israeli settlers in the West Bank against Palestinians, which were already at a record high this year, have significantly increased and that at least 178 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank, including 45 children;
— at least 1,000 Palestinians have been displaced in the West Bank, including 424 children;
— more than 2,200 Palestinians in the West Bank have been detained, including 24 journalists; and
— the number of Palestinians held in administrative detention increased from 1,319 to 2,070 between 1st October and 1st November;— international humanitarian law, including the prohibition on the targeting of civilians, the principles of distinction, precaution and proportionality, the prohibition on collective punishment, and the prohibition on the taking of hostages and use of 'human shields', applies to all armed conflicts and is binding on all parties to conflict, state and non-state actors alike;calls on the Government to:
— all members of the international community have an obligation to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law, in all situations;
— all alleged breaches of international humanitarian law must be investigated, and perpetrators held to account; and
— a war crime is defined by the nature of the act, not the identity of the perpetrator; and— maintain diplomatic relations with the Israeli Ambassador;
— pursue all possible avenues at the European Union (EU) and the UN to build an international alliance for peace to provide a pathway away from violence and back to the negotiation table;
— intensify its advocacy for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages;
— provide strong leadership at EU level to advocate for a comprehensive response, based on the founding values of the EU of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, which are embedded in the Treaty on the European Union;
— intensify its advocacy against all breaches of international law, including international humanitarian law;
— seek to ensure that differentiation clauses in the EU’s agreements with Israel are fully adhered to;
— ensure that justice and accountability apply equally to all people, in all situations, and reiterates that all victims deserve their rights to be vindicated equally; and
— continue Ireland's consistent and strong support for the ICC and uphold the independence and impartiality of the Court.".
I welcome the continued engagement of this House on this very important matter, which is deeply important to the Irish people. The motion was tabled by the Social Democrats. I will respond to the motion directly a little later. First, I would like to refer in broader terms to the devastating events that are taking place in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. In line with the motion adopted by this House on 17 October, let me at the outset reiterate our strong condemnation of the Hamas terror attack on 7 October.
Ireland continues to call for the unconditional release of all hostages. The tragic death of Kim Damti and the ordeal now faced by the family of Emily Hand, who is among the hostages taken to Gaza, has brought home to all of us here in Ireland the devastating impact of this attack. As Deputies know, the Tánaiste is visiting the region today. A key focus of his engagements will be the situation of Emily Hand, the situation of Irish citizens still in Gaza and the urgent need for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. Our first group of Irish citizens and dependents have been cleared to exit through the Rafah crossing from Gaza into Egypt today. Staff from the Irish Embassy in Cairo will meet them there and provide assistance for onward travel. We expect additional Irish citizens and dependents in Gaza to be on the list in the coming days. We are working tirelessly to ensure that all those who wish to leave will be able to exit as soon as possible.
There is an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe unfolding before our eyes in Gaza, involving a shockingly high number of civilian casualties. The Government has been consistent in its calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and for a significant scaling up of humanitarian access and supplies to get vital aid to the citizens. As has been repeatedly made clear in this House, the Government strongly condemns any acts that violate international humanitarian law. All parties to a conflict must comply with international humanitarian law. The Government has clearly underlined that international humanitarian law, including the prohibition on the targeting of civilians, the principles of distinction, precaution and proportionality, the prohibition on collective punishment and the prohibition on the taking of hostages and use of human shields, applies to all armed conflicts. We have called clearly on all actors to abide by their obligations in this regard.
Ireland has been playing a leading role on these issues within the European Union and internationally, including in the United Nations. In line with the position consistently taken by the Government over the past weeks, the EU emphasises that international humanitarian law stipulates that hospitals, medical supplies and civilians inside hospitals must be protected. The EU underlined that hospitals must be provided immediately with the most urgent medical supplies and patients that require urgent medical care need to be evacuated safely. The European Union has urged Israel to exercise maximum restraint to ensure the protection of civilians.
At the United Nations, Ireland was among the member states that voted in favour of the Jordanian resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 27 October. This resolution called for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities” and was supported by a significant majority. While Ireland is disappointed that the United Nations Security Council has failed to act on the current situation, it is also clear that the international community can work together to send a strong message.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind about the gravity of this situation. I recognise that the motion tabled by the Social Democrats is a clear demonstration of the concern felt by the Members of this House in view of this truly heartbreaking situation. Underlying all of our approaches, even if they differ, is a desire to see an end to suffering. Too many innocent lives have been lost. There is a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza and there is a real risk of a regional spillover of the conflict. At the same time, I regret that the motion proposed by the Social Democrats seeks to push Ireland to the margins of international opinion and action in a manner that would undermine our influence. It underplays the value of international and multilateral engagement. Ireland must continue to work with our international partners in responding to this crisis. The Government has made its position clear regarding proposals to expel the Israeli ambassador. Cutting off diplomatic relations with a country means cutting off communication channels. Diplomacy is not always, or only, about friendly relations and nor is it an endorsement of the policies or actions of a given country. It is precisely at times of conflict and tension that diplomacy is most useful and needed. It is vital to maintain communication links.
This is equally true at a European Union level. The EU-Israel Association Council is an important forum for raising all matters of mutual interest. This includes areas where the European Union and Israel disagree. At the association council in October of last year, the European Union clearly restated that all agreements between the State of Israel and the European Union must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territory occupied by Israel in 1967. Ireland is consistently vocal in ensuring the application of this policy across all sectors of co-operation.
The Government has also set out its position on the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 on numerous occasions. The Bill would be incompatible with European Union law and would not be implementable. Ireland’s firm commitment to international law underpins our resolute opposition to illegal Israeli settlements. However, to adopt an approach that runs contrary to legal advice would undermine Ireland’s clear and principled stance on this issue, as well as our broader promotion of compliance with international law at the UN and other international organisations.
The issue of the ICC was debated in considerable detail in this House yesterday evening. I do not wish to go over the ground covered again. However, the Government has made it clear that the proposal that Ireland should take the step of referring the situation to the ICC prosecutor under Article 14, if followed, would simply repeat an action that has already been taken. It would not progress the ongoing investigation any further. The prosecutor, Mr. Karim Khan, has made absolutely clear on a number of occasions over the last month that this investigation covers the current conflict, including all events on and from 7 October this year. Referring the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory to the ICC under Article 14 would serve no legal purpose. It could be viewed by some as attempting to politicise the court, to pressure the prosecutor into prioritising one investigation over another and to possibly undermine the independent and impartial nature of both the prosecutor and the court. This is an accepted principle with regard to any court, which must be allowed to carry out its works independently. This situation is fundamentally different to the situation in Ukraine, which Ireland did refer to the ICC prosecutor because in that case, Ukraine was not a party to the ICC statute and the prosecutor could not, therefore, begin an immediate investigation without a state party referral. The Government yesterday decided to make a voluntary contribution of €3 million to the ICC. This contribution is in response to the urgent needs of the court, which the court’s prosecutor has repeatedly emphasised, most recently in his statement when he visited the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
In view of these concerns, the Government is tabling a countermotion today, which sets out an approach that is firmly grounded in international law and in our commitment to diplomacy and effective multilateralism. The Government will pursue all possible avenues at the European Union and United Nations to build an international alliance for peace to provide a pathway away from violence and back to the negotiation table. The Government will continue to provide strong leadership at a European Union level to advocate for a comprehensive response and intensify its advocacy against all breaches of international law, including international humanitarian law. The Government will continue Ireland’s consistent and strong support for the ICC and to uphold the independence and impartiality of that court.
Let me underline that in the midst of these tragic events, the Government will not waver in its commitment to finding a just and lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians, as distant a prospect as this may seem right now. Ireland’s focus is on seeking ways to change the reality on the ground and to protect and encourage a peace process that can deliver a two-state solution in line with agreed parameters. The two-state solution represents the only sustainable prospect that will enable Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace. The Government remains committed to redoubling its efforts towards achieving this goal.
Some 190 healthcare workers, 102 aid workers, 42 journalists, 1,200 Israelis, 240 Israeli hostages and more than 11,000 Palestinians and 4,650 Palestinian children have been killed in a mere 40 days. It is time to shout “Stop”. This has to stop now. There is a responsibility on each of us to do whatever is within our power to make sure that this stops. Whether that responsibility is on people who are outside these walls or, indeed, on us on the Opposition benches and those on the Government benches, there is a responsibility to act.
It is a responsibility people are taking seriously. People throughout this country are using their voices, marching every week and writing to us, their representatives, asking us to take action. They are doing everything they can. The Social Democrats take this responsibility seriously. We are doing everything we can too, and that is why we tabled this motion today.
The motion is not woolly in its wording. It speaks the truth, which has been lacking in the past 40 days. It brings consequences to a country that is conducting war crimes and is in breach of international law. In our motion, we are calling for economic sanctions because we will need to lobby for these at EU level. We are also calling on the Government to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court. We are calling for the enactment of the divestment Bill and the occupied territories Bill. We are also calling for the removal of diplomatic status from the ambassador. This is not something we take lightly. We know the seriousness of this action but it is because of what is happening in Gaza and the seriousness of the situation that we need to take tangible action. Removing diplomatic status is the one measure the Government has within its remit that it can implement immediately. It would call out and make a very strong statement about what Ireland thinks about Israel's actions. That has not happened yet.
I completely agree with the statement of my constituency colleague, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, that this is a war on children. These are very strong words, but what will follow them? We all know that, in the past month, strong words have not prevented a single bomb from dropping or a single child from being killed. Strong words have not kept any incubators warm and oxygenated in Gaza. We can say all the strong words we want here but it is clear Israel is not listening. When this war is over, which I hope will be sooner rather than later, each of us will have to consider what we did in the face of what is happening in Gaza and ask whether we did everything within our power to make it stop. I really hope, for the sake of the people in Gaza, those on the Government benches and the people with power, that the Government will be able to look back and say it did everything within its control, availed of every option available to it, took every action possible and did not just shout strong words from the sidelines while turning a blind eye to genocide.
The events of 7 October and the response in recent weeks have focused the world's attention on Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. The crimes Hamas inflicted on Israel on 7 October were utterly appalling and I have no hesitation in condemning those atrocities. The crimes were of such magnitude that they have left the people of Israel traumatised and frightened for their safety, lives and future. The atrocities have been compounded by the taking of hostages, most of whom continue to be held. Our motion calls for their release. I am thinking of Emily Hand in making this call.
While Israel has every right to defend itself, what we are seeing in Gaza goes beyond that. The scale of the slaughter of the civilian population cannot be justified. There is no safe place in Gaza and many are making the perilous journey from north to south in the Gaza Strip. Many are moving on foot and some are injured, and there are many children and old people among them, yet no provision is being made to meet their needs. Only small convoys are permitted to enter with food, water and medical supplies, but not fuel. The absence of adequate shelter and people living without proper sanitation open up the risk of infection spreading, adding to the horrendous death toll.
We are now seeing hospital and healthcare facilities on the front line. Innocent children are on the front line. Thousands have been slaughtered and premature babies are dying. Gaza is now a graveyard for children. Universities and schools are on the front line. A heavily populated refugee camp is on the front line. The UN personnel are on the front line, and more than 100 have been killed so far. Journalists and media workers are on the front line, and dozens have been killed over the past month. Almost 200 healthcare workers have been killed, having paid the ultimate price for looking after their patients.
I cannot get out of my head a social media post by a young father exiting a hospital in Gaza. He said that when you have to exit the hospital with your children in plastic bags, humanity is dead, values are dead and the UN is dead. This is beyond shameful. The international community, including the most powerful jurisdictions in the world – the US, Canada, the UK and the EU – cannot stand by. Many of these countries have signed up to the International Criminal Court. To be fair to our Taoiseach, his words were strong, implying that what we are seeing now is revenge. He called that out. We need to go beyond words and impose actions to stop this carnage, and that means a ceasefire.
The Geneva Conventions were adopted just four years after the end of the Second World War. The fourth of the conventions relates to the protection of civilians in occupied territories such as Gaza. There are very well-defined protocols in addition to the convention, such as Article 48, which sets the following basic rule, "In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives." To avoid any doubt, Article 50.2 states, "The civilian population comprises all persons who are civilians." Article 50.3 states, "The presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character." Article 52.3, on civilian objects, states, "In case of doubt whether an object which is normally dedicated to civilian purposes, such as a place of worship, a house or other dwelling or a school, is being used to make an effective contribution to military action, it shall be presumed not to be so used." Civilian objects obviously include hospitals and healthcare facilities.
The International Criminal Court deals with breaches. The most serious crimes are termed "grave breaches", and a legal definition of a war crime is provided. A grave breach of the fourth convention includes wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health. There can be no doubt that what is occurring is happening on an industrial scale.
Karim Khan, King's Counsel and prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, wrote in The Guardian:
We cannot accept that the brutal nature of war is some kind of fait accompli ... [T]here are laws that govern the conduct of these hostilities. There is no blank cheque, even in war.
Israel was one of the country's that were vocal on the need to create the International Criminal Court, and on 31 December 2008 it signed the Statute of the International Criminal Court. That has to mean something. The US is one of Israel's strongest supporters, committed to funding and arming its defence, but this is going beyond defence. It was appalling to hear the US President, Mr. Biden, say he hopes for less intrusive action on a hospital. Hospitals should be beyond attack. Despite the US support, the US envoy, Mr. Antony Blinken, came back from his most recent visit empty-handed. What will be the consequences that will change Israel's behaviour?
As has been said, we did not table this motion likely. We sincerely believe there have to be consequences. Otherwise, we will continue to see parents carrying their children out of hospital in plastic bags. There has to be humanity and value, and the UN has to have real power.
The next slot is that of Sinn Féin, starting with Deputy Carthy, who is sharing his time. Last week, we had a situation in which a Deputy was left with 27 seconds in which to speak, so I ask Members to stick to their time limits when sharing time. I will be ending the slot after 20 minutes.
I commend the Social Democrats on tabling this motion and giving us another opportunity to talk about the absolutely horrendous tragedy unfolding in Gaza.
I also take the opportunity to welcome the reports that Irish citizens have started to make their way across the Rafah crossing out of Gaza. I repeat my call that all those in Gaza who wish to leave should be given free passage to do so. We also repeat our call for the release of all hostages and we are particularly thinking of Emily Hand's family today.
I am ashamed by the international community's response to what we have seen in Gaza and particularly ashamed by the response of the EU. EU leaders have ensured that the European Union no longer has any credibility to be a voice for peace, international law and the basic rules of humanity for as long as it refuses to take a stand.
Some of the atrocities that we have seen get lost in the news and I just want to mention a few. On 11 October, Israel targeted the Al-Furqan neighbourhood, striking 450 targets within 24 hours. One blast hit the Gaza city seaport, setting fishing boats on fire. On 18 October, almost 500 people were killed in an air attack on the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital. On 31 October, an Israeli airstrike on the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza killed at least 120 people, injuring another 400. The next day the camp was targeted for a second time. On 4 November, Israeli airstrikes hit a Gaza water reservoir which provides Rafah neighbourhoods while also striking a convoy of ambulances at the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza city that resulted in at least 15 deaths. On 10 October, Israeli snipers killed at least one and injured a further 20 displaced persons who were seeking shelter at Al-Quds Hospital.
All of these constitute war crimes in themselves. Coupled with that are the ongoing relentless pursuit of policies of collective punishment, targeting and killing civilians, targeting and bombing civilian infrastructure including hospitals, the policy of mass forced displacement and of the policy of denial of food, fuel and water to the civilian population. Each of those individually constitutes war crimes and yet the world is turning a blind eye and, worse still, the EU is providing cover. So, what of Ireland? As has already been mentioned, the Irish Government is better than many in respect of the language it has used but words are not good enough. It is not sufficient to say, as we heard a Minister say yesterday, that Israel is engaged in a war on children. It is not good enough to say, as the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have done, that what Israel is doing constitutes collective punishment, that it borders on revenge and that it cannot be without consequences if the Government then rejects every single possible option put forward.
The Minister of State's most laughable point today was to state that a referral to the International Criminal Court would repeat an action already taken when the very premise of his response is that Ireland will only enact measures that are repeating actions already taken. While the Government is insisting on limiting its focus through actions of the EU, the Minister is essentially saying that Ireland will do nothing.
We have put forward several proposals not just since 7 October but also before that. To recognise the state of Palestine, the Government says, "Not yet." To enact the Occupied Territories Bill, the Government says, "We can't do it." To adopt the illegal Israeli settlements Bill, the Government delays and frustrates. To refer Israel to the International Criminal Court, the Government says, "We won't do it." To stop Israel's preferred trade deals with the EU, no chance. To suspend Israel's participation in Horizon Europe, what is that essentially? To remove diplomatic status for the Israeli ambassador to Ireland, who today used her position to publish a defence of heinous war crimes in a national newspaper, shock horror. Every single possible action that might help pressure Israel to stop the slaughter of innocent Palestinians is met with pathetic excuses. It is not good enough. It is time - it is well past time - for Ireland to show leadership and not to follow the lead of a European Union that clearly is not willing or capable of providing the leadership that is much needed in this instance.
I thank the Social Democrats for bringing this motion and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in support of it. Most, if not all, of us are horrified by the devastation inflicted by the Israeli Government on the people of Gaza in recent weeks. Gaza is now a graveyard with men, women, children, old people and disabled buried under the remains of Gaza city. We have Israeli bombs pounding on a terrified trapped population; hospitals deliberately targeted and destroyed; schools being used as shelters obliterated; snipers firing deliberately into the Al-Shifa Hospital using medical staff and doctors inside as target practice; no medicines or pain medication; amputations and caesarean sections performed without anaesthetic; new-born babies in incubators dying because there is no electricity; children's names written on their arms and hands so that they might be identified in death; babies being pulled from the bellies of their dead mothers, motherless before they even take their first breath; and the Israeli Government telling Gazans to evacuate only to bomb them as they flee. Gazans cannot even wash the ever-present dust from explosions from their eyes or mouths, nor the blood from the bodies of the wounded or dead because there is no water. There is no food, no water, no medicine and no humanitarian aid. These actions are the very definition of war crimes and they must be stopped.
Added to that, we heard the boastful tone of the Israeli defence minister, Yoav Gallant, when speaking of the 10,000 tonnes of bombs dropped by Israeli forces since 7 October - the explosive equivalent of two Hiroshimas on an area barely one third the size of Dublin. It is hard to imagine the devastation. How much more must Palestine and her people endure before it becomes too much? It is blatantly obvious that Israel's continued unabated bombardment of Gaza makes the position of the Israeli ambassador to Ireland, at the very least, untenable. Israel must face consequences for its continued unconscionable failures to observe humanitarian and international law. Sinn Féin has called for an immediate ceasefire and the release of hostages. I urge all in this House to support Sinn Féin's motion and this motion. I echo the statement of my colleague, Deputy Carthy, in saying that in our thousands and in our millions, we are all Palestinians.
I commend the Social Democrats on tabling this motion which I fully support. Israel's ongoing aggression against Gaza and the West Bank has so far resulted in the killing of over 11,000 Palestinians in Gaza and, up to last night, 177 Palestinians in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem. The Taoiseach had said that Israel is engaging in collective punishment against the people of Gaza, that Israel has no right to breach international humanitarian law and that Israeli attacks in Gaza resemble something more approaching revenge rather than self-defence.
However, faced with the opportunity yesterday to support a call to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court the Government spokesperson informed us that it will not back up its words and will instead sit on its hands and do nothing. As the saying goes, talk is cheap and sound bites are even cheaper. The Government spokesperson told us that referring the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to the ICC under Article 14 would serve no legal purpose and that an active investigation is currently ongoing. However, when Ireland along with 42 other countries referred Russia to the ICC in March 2022, the ICC had already announced a month earlier that it was to seek authorisation to open an investigation on this matter. This begs a very obvious question: what legal purpose does this serve? It serves none according to the Government's stance on yesterday's Sinn Féin motion.
What it did serve was a moral purpose. Even though the ICC was already seeking authorisation to open an investigation into potential violations of international law in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Ireland felt it right to necessitate a state referral. The double standards in the Government's reasoning for not supporting the call to refer Israel to the ICC is plain for everyone to see. Again, talk is cheap.
I will briefly speak about the recent statement from the Council of the European Union which includes the following absolutely outrageous paragraph:
The EU condemns the use of hospitals and civilians as human shields by Hamas. Civilians must be allowed to leave the combat zone... These hostilities are severely impacting hospitals and taking a terrific toll on civilians and medical staff.
It is absolutely appalling that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, gave this his approval. Palestinians have been fleeing to these facilities as they deem them safer than their own homes which are being indiscriminately bombed in IDF airstrikes. What the Minister, Deputy Micheál Martin, has done has handed Israel a propaganda tool to continue the targeting of hospitals, schools and other such facilities. I say this is not in my name, nor, I suspect, in the name of the vast majority of the Irish public.
There must be consequences for Israel's actions. Let us be clear: the reason Israel is committing the most grotesque crimes against humanity is that it has been allowed to murder Palestinian people and impose an apartheid regime without consequences. The world has stood by and let this happen. The world did not impose sanctions.
Prior to 7 October, Israeli forces were already murdering Palestinian children without consequences, without sanctions. Every month I get a postcard from Defense for Children International - Palestine. On each postcard is a picture of a child who was murdered by Israel. The boy on the postcard I am holding up is 16-year-old Hasan, who was shot dead by an Israeli sniper on his way to give blood - no consequences, no sanctions. The boy on this next postcard is 14-year-old Omar, shot dead by Israeli forces as he cycled his bike in front of his parents' shop - no consequences, no sanctions. As this year progressed, I was getting single cards with multiple images of children who were murdered by Israeli forces. Over five days in May of this year, seven children died as Israel bombarded Gaza. Mayar, aged ten; Ali, aged eight; Layan, aged ten; Yazen, aged 16; Eman, aged 17; and Tamin, aged five, were all brutally murdered by Israeli forces - again, no consequences, no sanctions. All those murders took place prior to 7 October. Israel's current actions in Gaza are not just in retaliation for the horrific Hamas attack on 7 October but also an escalation of Israel's policy of attacking Palestinian people. The latest postcard I got had no names on it. It simply stated:
In Gaza one child is being killed every 10 minutes
Stop the slaughter now.
I could wallpaper Leinster House if I were to get a postcard for every one of the 5,000 children who have been murdered by Israel so far this year.
Ireland must impose sanctions now. We must call for an immediate ceasefire. We must refer Israel to the International Criminal Court. We must recognise the state of Palestine. We must impose diplomatic sanctions on Israel, including expelling the Israeli ambassador. The world must say "Stop", and Ireland can lead the way.
"Everything in Gaza is upside down. It is hell to be honest. It is hard to find food, hard to find water. It's hard for everyone. I am lucky. I am so happy that I am going to leave." Those were the words we heard this morning from Ayman Shaheen as he prepared to pass the Rafah crossing into Egypt. The hell in Gaza continues and, as we debate this motion, Israeli soldiers are raiding Al-Shifa Hospital, causing more terror and more hell. Al-Shifa Hospital is where premature babies died because the hospital's incubators had no access to electricity. Al-Shifa Hospital is where women have Caesarean sections with no pain relief.
In that context, how can we continue to allow the Israeli ambassador to be here? War crimes are war crimes, no matter the perpetrator, and the hypocrisy is lost on no one when some of our European neighbours call out war crimes only when it suits their own agenda and not when they are committed by so-called allies. Not calling out Israel's actions as war crimes only weakens the calls when other war crimes are committed. The lives of all must be deemed equal, and the double standards must end.
Ireland has been a strong voice in solidarity with the people of Palestine for a long, long time. Ours is a unique voice in western Europe, an outlier. Our voice, therefore, must continue to be strong. We are on the right side of history on this. Far more importantly, we are on the right side of humanity. In 2021, we were the first Parliament to recognise that Israel's illegal occupation was de facto annexation and, therefore, a war crime. We have seen many more war crimes perpetrated since, and we must refer Israel to the International Criminal Court. We have a moral obligation to do so.
This year Sinn Féin brought forward the Illegal Israeli Settlements Divestment Bill, which, unfortunately, this Government kicked down the road for nine months. It must be enacted now. From the thousands of emails we have received today, it is clear the Irish people do not want to be stakeholders in the war crimes being perpetrated by Israel.
Israel is committing war crimes; there is no doubt about it. It is slaughtering journalists, aid workers, civilians and thousands and thousands of children.
I wish to read a piece from an email I got yesterday from a concerned mother. She wrote:
I took my baby into bed every night while parents in Palestine took their babies into a grave. Please, for the love of God or whoever you believe in, do whatever you can to make the violence in Gaza against innocent men, women and children stop. My heart can't take much more but I won't look away.
We have received literally thousands of emails urging, begging, beseeching us to do everything we can to make the violence stop. That is what this motion and last night's motion are about. We must refer Israel to the International Criminal Court. We cannot be observers; we have to be active participants working hard for a ceasefire. We cannot and must not allow ourselves simply to follow.
I was only a child when Mary Manning refused to handle South African fruit in protest against the apartheid regime in that country. I remind the Minister of State that Amnesty International has classified Israel as an apartheid state. When she refused to handle South African goods, Mary had the support of her colleagues and her union, the Irish Distributive and Administrative Union, IDATU. The Dunnes workers were on the picket line until the Irish Government became the first to ban the importation of South African goods. That was leadership. I ask myself, where is the leadership from the Government today? I see leadership on the streets, where thousands and thousands of us are demonstrating week after week, but we need more leadership from the Government. It must pass the Illegal Israeli Settlements Divestment Bill 2023. Delaying it is simply not an option.
When I was on the picket line as a child with the Dunnes workers, my father reminded me it was important the victims of apartheid knew we were with them, even though we were far away and even though ours is only a small country. They needed to know we were with them, that we supported them and that we would not look away. The same is true today. As that mother said in her email, "My heart can't take much more but I won't look away." I call on the Minister of State not to look away but to take action, to support both motions and to send those Palestinian children a message of hope and support.
I thank the Social Democrats for putting forward the motion. I welcome the news that Ibrahim Alagha and his family, it is hoped, will come home today and I echo the calls for everyone, all the hostages, to be released. It is critical we use whatever means we have and whatever leverage we can use to put pressure on the Israeli apartheid regime to commence an immediate ceasefire. What happened on 7 October was wrong. It was horrific, and those who carried out any attacks on innocent civilians should be held accountable.
It did not start there, however. The collective amnesia of the US, Britain, Germany, France and the unelected elites in the EU, such as Ursula von der Leyen, about the decades of death and destruction of the Palestinian people is sickening. Since 7 October, 11,000 Palestinians have been killed, including 5,000 children and 3,100 women. Some 2,000 are trapped under the rubble and more than 40,000 have been injured. A total of 26,000 tonnes of explosives - two Hiroshimas - have been laid down on Gaza. As the US sent bombs to the Israeli war criminals, the US Secretary of State said today that "we can never let the crimes Russia is committing become our new normal". He continued, "Bombing schools and hospitals and apartment buildings ... is not normal." You could not make it up. I do not know how they make these statements with a straight face.
I ask Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party to remind themselves of their actions and words around the illegal and horrific invasion of Ukraine and put themselves back then, when they were moved to action. Deputy McAuliffe said:
...we expelled Russian diplomats following the poisoning incident in the UK. The events of this week, when the Russian ambassador used our airwaves to spread lies and disinformation, and Russia invaded a sovereign nation and is targeting civilians in what could amount to war crimes...
The Minister, Deputy McEntee, said the following. Let us change "Ukraine" for "Palestine".
The images from Ukraine are truly horrifying - images of families fleeing their homes for their safety, images of bombs ripping through cities and towns, images of doctors fighting in vain to save the life of a six-year-old girl still wearing her pyjamas. Those doctors were right to demand that the images of that dying girl be shown to Vladimir Putin. Nothing so encapsulated the horror of war.
Deputy Flanagan said of Vladimir Putin, "The failure of the Russian political and military elites to restrain him and the failure of the international community to realise the danger he posed emboldened him further." I could go on and on. Deputy Neale Richmond said, "The Russian ambassador simply cannot be welcome in this State while Russia continues its illegal and bloody invasion of Ukraine."
We should use those words, and I ask every single one of those Members to use their courage and their strength today to support the motions this evening to expel the Israeli ambassador and, further, to support the call for Israel to be brought before the International Criminal Court. They have rightly stood up for the Ukrainian people. We have a Ukrainian flag flying outside the Dáil. Let us put up the Palestinian flag and show support for the Palestinian people now.
I thank the Social Democrats for this excellent motion being brought to the House. I will start with a quote, "[We all know the European] Union was ... founded as a peace project." That statement was made less than a year ago in this Chamber by Ursula von der Leyen, right there between where the Minister of State and the Acting Chair are sitting, where she proudly extolled the virtues of the European Union as a force for peace and for good, before going on to describe the virtues, as she saw it, of the Irish people. One of those was where she spoke of Ireland knowing what it is to struggle for the right to exist. How absolutely hollow those patronising words ring now, given the response of Ursula von der Leyen - the most senior figure in the European Union - to what is going on in Gaza.
The moral bankruptcy of the European Union has made me absolutely ashamed to feel European and ashamed of the European Union. Where do the limits of the European Union's desire for peace end and what defines them? Is it the borders of Europe? Is it the slightly further borders of the European neighbourhood, which brings in the likes of Ukraine? Does it come down to the colour of your skin, your ethnicity, the religion you practise or what is traditionally practised in your country? That is because there are limits to it and we are seeing where those limits are in what is happening in Gaza. Including in this motion, we have unequivocally condemned the attacks of 7 October and we mourned with the innocents who lost their lives that day. We knew what was coming because Israel and Netanyahu said it. Our own President acknowledged that Israel had stated it was going to repeatedly break international law. That is what has happened from that date to this moment with the destruction of Gaza and the increased killings on the West Bank.
The withdrawal of diplomatic status is not something I would instinctively support but we have been left with no choice but to support it when it comes to the Israeli ambassador here. It started with her accusing our President, Michael D Higgins, of spreading misinformation when he was just repeating the facts of what the Israeli ambassador's own Government was saying, and what it has gone on to do. They have offered nothing. They have criticised the United Nations Secretary General again for stating the facts of the situation and the facts of the death and destruction which is being wrought on the people of Gaza. We can engage at a ministerial and political level to achieve as best we can with what we need to achieve with regard to Irish citizens, hostages and our troops over there on peacekeeping missions, but the position of the Israeli ambassador is such that it can no longer exist with diplomatic sanction in Ireland. That sanction must be withdrawn and the Israeli ambassador must be sent home.
It will have implications but this gives us as Irish people, going back to our so-called virtues, to our struggle and to our understanding, a unique perspective within Europe to cut through many of the things we see. We cut through Islamaphobia, through antisemitism, and through a great deal based on our own experience, and we highlight and can identify what is right and what is wrong. The 7 October attacks were wrong and every attack from that day to this moment and beyond are also wrong. There is the killing of innocents, not allowing aid or medicine in, seven children overnight dying for the lack of oxygen, the lack of the air we breathe, and 137 attacks on healthcare facilities since 7 October in Gaza. This multitude of wrongs and evils being carried out by the Israeli Government must end.
We have the perspective with which to call it back and this motion does that very strongly. It is not a reckless motion and is pushing our position out to where it should be and where the Irish people want it to be. We have to push back against the groupthink within the European Union which is supporting Israel in its actions. There are 30 years of ignorance towards a peaceful solution. That is what the last call in this motion is. After the call for the withdrawal of diplomatic status, it calls for working with the UN and the European Union for a path to peace in the region. We are complicit in not pursuing that in the past 30 years, in allowing Hamas to do what it does but also in allowing the right in Israel to take over, to increase the level of illegal settlements in the West Bank, to continue the siege of Gaza for all of those decades, and to foment in Gaza a situation which only serves the right and the politics of Netanyahu in Israel, which he knows will be backed up by the Americans and by the orthodoxy in the European Union. Where is this going to end when we have no peace process and no desire for one? It is going to end with the killing of Gazans and of Palestinians, and with no prospect of peace.
The one thing which is always thrown at us from the US and from the EU, in particular, is that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and it must be defended on those grounds. I will set that bit aside for a second. If Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, then the responsibility on democracies, particularly powerful democracies with huge militaries, is to act in accordance with international law, to lead by example, and to promote peace and not destruction and violence. Israel has not done that in any way, shape or form. It is a shame to the word "democracy". That is not how democracy acts. When you have that military might and continue daily to use that to subjugate millions of people, and then, after a heinous attack, impose that military might to attack hospitals, kill journalists and kill children and thousands and thousands of people, then you no longer deserve to be called a democracy or to pursue so-called democratic values. We in Ireland need to be stronger and we need to be where this motion is calling us to be, because that is where the Irish people are and that is what is right. What is happening over there is wrong. It is pure destruction and it is pure evil. We fully support every aspect of this motion to send a message to Israel that we need to refer it to the International Criminal Court. We need to remove the Israeli ambassador for everything she has done over the past month, and we need to be proper advocates for a permanent peace in the region, however long that takes and however hard that is. That is the role of Ireland and is the intent of this motion. This Government, by denying that, is letting the Irish people down and, more importantly, is letting the people of Gaza and Palestine down.
I thank the Social Democrats for bringing forward this motion. Shame on the United States, shame on Britain, shame on the European Union and shame on this Government for continuing to give Israel impunity while it carries out a genocide and a massacre on the people of Gaza.
On 18 October, Solidarity-People Before Profit put forward an amendment to a Government motion on Gaza where we asked for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador, for sanctions against Israel and for Israel's referral to the International Criminal Court for war crimes. Only Solidarity-People Before Profit Party Deputies, together with Deputy Pringle and Deputy Joan Collins, rose to support that motion. It is really a shame on this House that it has taken for the death toll of Palestinians to rise to more than 11,000, of which victims 5,000 are children and 70% are women and children, for this issue to come before the House again. Even now, in the face of what is self-evidently a genocide and massacre by Israel of the Palestinians, the Government continues with, frankly, its studied contempt of the plight of the Palestinians. Why have we not had a senior Minister in here for the debate last night or today?
That is deliberate. People need to understand what is going on. It is a deliberate attempt by the Government to distance itself from its refusal to impose sanctions on Israel for the massacre and the genocide that is taking place. It is absolutely clear that this is what is going on. How do we know it is a massacre and a genocide? The Israelis told us they were going to do it. Their ministers told us they were going to starve the entire Palestinian population of water, electricity, food and medical supplies, and punish them all. They described them as human animals; the classic dehumanisation which is the prelude to every single genocide that has ever taken place, where the President of Israel said all Palestinians were responsible. Israel told us what it was going to do and it has done it.
The Government - including, sadly, those who are speaking up for the Palestinians - persists with the narrative that this is somehow an act of self-defence by Israel. However, all of this did not begin on 7 October. It has been going on since 1948. The founders of the Israeli state made it absolutely clear that they were going to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from the word go and that is what they have done since 1948. They did it again in 1967 and again and again. They were doing it all of this year, long before 7 October. Netanyahu stood in front of the UN in September with a map that erased all reference to Palestine. They made it clear. Netanyahu said earlier this year that there would be no Palestinian state. In March 2023, Smotrich said that there was no such thing as a Palestinian people. This was the deadliest year for Palestinians in years, before anything happened on 7 October.
Human rights organisations, the Palestinians and people in this House have pleaded for the past three years for people to take action and end the impunity of Israel for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Government failed to act. Frankly, it has blood on its hands for what has happened since because of its failure to act against Israel. Israel is not a normal state. A state that is built on ethnic cleansing, on apartheid and on the day in, day out, killing of Palestinians with impunity has no right to self-defence. It has none. You do not have the right to defend an illegal occupation, or apartheid, or years of ethnic cleansing. The only people who have the right to defend themselves are Palestinians and that is even under international law, never mind morality. However, still the Government gives Israel impunity and allows it to continue this massacre when it is absolutely clear what it is engaged in is the use of terrorism to terrify the entire Gaza population and drive them out. It is doing it on the West Bank where there is no Hamas either and its ministers have declared it publicly.
We need the people to do what Governments have failed to do. This is why I urge people to get out on the streets tonight outside the Dáil before this vote. I commend the 13,000 people who sent in emails in the last few days calling for sanctions. I want to see people out on the streets this Saturday as part of a global mass movement that is demanding we finally acknowledge that Israel is no normal state; it is an apartheid state and a terrorist state. It is a state built on the mass expulsion and murder of Palestinian people. It is only when we dismantle the horrific regime that we will end the terror and massacre we are now witnessing.
I want to say at the outset that my office has received 13,000 emails to date urging support for this motion. Nearly half of them came in last night alone. It is a response that is unprecedented in my experience as a Deputy. The expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and the closing of the embassy is not just a symbolic action. It is a practical action because if Ireland was to be the first European country to send its Israeli ambassador home, every other state in Europe would more or less immediately come under real pressure to do so too. Far from placing Ireland "at the margins of international opinion" as the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, said earlier in the debate, this would mean every demonstration, every protest in every European town and city, would hear calls for the government in that country to follow the Irish example. It would place us at the centre of the debate. The closure of Israeli embassies in a range of European countries could act as a real pressure point on Israel's leaders at this time. The Government says it will not close the embassy and it did not expel the Russian embassador. I remind the Government that it expelled Russian diplomats because it believed they were spying. Does the Government really believe that officials at the Israeli embassy in Dublin do not spy on Palestinian people residing in this State or on Irish citizens who attend Palestine solidarity demonstrations? Does the Government really believe that when Palestinians fly from Dublin to Tel Aviv and are asked 101 questions at the airport, the information about their movements and associations here have been gleaned merely from a few quick Facebook checks? In expelling Russian but not Israeli diplomats, the Government is not showing consistency, as the Minister of State claims, but is actually showing double standards. In conclusion, what we are seeing before our eyes is the horror of genocide. We need action, not words. It is no time for business as usual. We need to expel the Israeli embassador.
The gross injustices that are unfolding at the moment in Gaza are an indictment against Israel but also against the international community. The international community is standing idly by in respect of what is happening in Gaza at the moment. It is an incredible issue on which many people have spoken very well here today. The fact is that more than 11,000 citizens, non-combatants, and at this stage more than 4,000 children have been murdered by the Israeli state in Gaza. This is a murder rate of one child nearly every 15 minutes. This number dwarfs in one month the total number of fatalities that happened in the Troubles over 30 years and yet most of the international community, aside from rhetoric, is standing idly by while this is happening. The fact is that we have had dozens of UN workers and dozens of journalists murdered in that area. Children, premature babies and adults who are in intensive care are losing their lives because of the lack of fuel and electricity, and yet the State and the international community are standing idly by. Incredibly, we have a situation where 2.3 million people living in an area half the size of County Louth are being denied food, water and fuel, a situation which will lead to disease, illness and starvation in some cases. It is absolutely incredible that Gaza, which had been receiving 500 trucks of supplies on a daily basis, in the last month only received 1,000 trucks in total, and the international community is standing idly by and letting it happen.
Israel would not be able to do what it is doing unless it had support from the international community. The US and EU leadership have signed a blank cheque in support of the Israeli state in what they are doing. This is why I have such frustration with the Irish Government's response because I have asked the Taoiseach what the Government is doing on this conflict. The Tánaiste stated that the reason we should not expel the ambassador is because the Irish Government could potentially be an interlocutor for peace in the region. That is exactly what we should be doing. We are a small country for sure but we have massive competency in peace processes and negotiations. We are also understood by the international community as being an honest broker when it comes to conflict. When I asked the Taoiseach if the Government had taken one step and made any offer at all to either side of this conflict to act as a mediator, facilitator or interlocutor for peace, he said "No" - the Government has not made one effort to do that.
I welcome the fact that the Tánaiste is in the region, in the Middle East, this week. Yesterday, I asked the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, if the Tánaiste was going to use this particular trip to the region to offer Ireland's services as a mediator, facilitator or interlocutor for peace, and he, shockingly, said no. Despite all the verbiage and the hours of debate that are happening in this House, the one effort that we could make as a country to try to put pressure on Israel to stop is not being taken by this Government. I have to ask why. It is interesting that the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, said that we would not do it until there is a ceasefire. John Hume did not wait for a ceasefire to talk to Gerry Adams about the peace process in the North. Peace processes start before ceasefires. They start while people are fighting against each other. This is the time to carry out that action.
In reality, the Government has outsourced its foreign policy to the European Union, like it is doing so often now. The European Union has been a disgrace. It has significantly distorted the foreign policy of countries such as Ireland with the language it has used both within the European Union and internationally. The European Union has shown itself to be quite useless in that, despite all the power and influence the European Union has to potentially create peace, it is not taking the steps that it should. It has offered to create an international peace conference, but when Israeli diplomats were asked if they would participate in the proposed international peace conference by the European Union, Israeli diplomats said they did not have any details about what was at stake, so they could not even respond. At this stage, the international community should be using every single tool at its disposal to heap as much pressure as possible on Israel to desist from the pounding of Gaza on a daily basis. That is not happening and that is a significant problem which reflects shockingly on the European Union and badly on this State.
When the Minister of State responds later, I want him to address what Ireland is doing to create peace. What is Ireland doing to heap pressure on Israel to desist? What economic tools are we bringing into play to force Israel to listen to the international community? Otherwise, all the other conversation that we are having here does not amount to a hill of beans. The other important issue that people are forgetting about is that we have 500 troops in the region who are significantly exposed. In their camps, they have come under missile fire. We need to make sure that, whatever actions we take, we have those troops in mind. Right now, in houses throughout the country, there are mothers, wives, husbands and family members who are in fear of the potential ratcheting up of the conflict in south Lebanon. We have to make sure that we protect them.
I ask the Minister of State this again. This is the most serious breach of international law that I have ever witnessed in my life. The actions or inaction of the international community make a complete mess of international law. Who is going to follow international law again? What authority does western society ever have again when it comes to international law when it basically allows the Israeli state to ride a coach and four through international law? This Government has a responsibility. I ask the Tánaiste to make a concrete offer to the Israeli state to facilitate and mediate peace talks as soon as possible.
What Israel is doing is disgusting. It is wrong. Men, women and children are suffering and dying needlessly. I am looking at this from the point of view of a Deputy, father, brother and nephew. What is happening here disgusts me. People are calling for the Israeli ambassador to be expelled. The first thing I would have said would be to do this, then, after thinking about it, I would say that if one wants peace and if we have to negotiate with somebody for the release of people and for peace talks, closing the door puts Ireland out of any talks to try to bring peace.
Eleven thousand Palestinians, two thirds of them women and children, have been killed. Israel should absolutely be held to account for this and brought down for this, but when I look at the citizens who are still out there and how I can help to try to get them out of Gaza and to protect them, expelling the one person who we can have a link to puts us out of the talks completely. The Israeli ambassador should, first of all, be told to get in here to answer questions about why Israel is not involved in negotiations for peace and for people to be released straight away, and why it is stopping humanitarian aid from going into Gaza. That is what should be done and is the first port of call. If the ambassador refuses to come in here, to committees and into the Department, then we say to her that if she is not going to talk to us anyway, she can get out. The first port of call for me would be for the protection of the people I can try to save. Even if it is about trying to save one person, I would keep the communication open and try to go through that process to try to save one life.
Expelling the ambassador without going through this protocol puts other people at risk who we might be able to save. As I say, if the Israeli ambassador does not come in front of the House and give a short timeline, if she does not come in front of committees and if she does not come in front of the Department to answer questions, then we would say that we do not want her here because she is no good to us. That is the first port of call that we should use to try to save a life and to keep communication open, even for a short time, to see if we can save one life. People have spoken about what we can do to bring peace. That is the first thing we should do in this House, not talking about the Taoiseach or Tánaiste. What we should be doing is getting the ambassador in here. If she does not do that, we should then say that she is no good to us if she is not going to talk to the representatives of Ireland who are disgusted with what is happening in Gaza, and she should not be here. That is the first port of call that I would go to. If she does not come here and is not willing to talk to us, she is no good for us.
I am glad to get the opportunity to speak on this motion. First of all, I stress that we are a neutral country and have to remain neutral. We all abhor and condemn what is going on in Gaza and Israel. It is transparent and we can see what is happening there. Hamas started it. It took hostages that it has not yet released. I ask it to return these people and free these hostages. The Israelis are responding. I believe they are using their significant weaponry, backed by the US, and are intent on clearing these people out of that place altogether. When one sees little babies huddled together in a heap in a room in a hospital and they are all dead, it is shocking.
We have promoted the life of babies and the unborn going back further into time since I have been here. We really condemn the death of these babies. I ask that the UN peacekeeping force steps up its presence if both sides are not willing to stop. We have to condemn Hamas for being under hospitals. This is the excuse the Israelis are giving for bombing hospitals. Hamas should not be using sick people as a shield for itself. If we were in a fight-----
We have to remain neutral. I state in the loudest possible way in this Chamber that we must remain neutral but we must ask and do everything possible to ensure the war ends on a humanitarian basis because so many lives are being taken and lost. I will give an example. When I was a young fellow I used to be out late. I came around MacSwiney's corner in Kenmare at 3 a.m. one night to see two very good friends of mine fighting. One of them was being kicked on the ground because the other fellow was way bigger. It was my duty to get out and stop that fight. While they were two friends of mine, I had to part and separate them. This is what we should try to do on an international level. I condemn Biden because I believe he could stop it. One word from him and he could stop it. It is sad to think that so many lives are being lost. We have to consider our own people, Irish passport holders, who are stranded out there. We want to get them home safely out of it. I do not know what took them there in the first place or why anyone would go to that war-stricken zone. The hostages being held should be released immediately and this thing should be stopped.
I support the Private Members' motion tabled by the Social Democrats. I am disappointed with the Government's amendment. The only thing in common that the motion and the amendment call for is a ceasefire, on which we all agree. We all call for this and we all need to push for it. What we are witnessing before our very eyes is the annihilation of Gaza and its people. So far more than 11,000 people are dead and more than 5,000 children have been murdered. The figure is more than 100 children killed every day. This will just get worse. We will see more people die and more children killed in the days to come.
This is an unprecedented act of ethnic cleansing by the Israeli state. It is already five times more deadly than the deadliest assault to date in 2014. It has seen more people displaced than the Nakba. The WHO has said that Al-Shifa Hospital is becoming a cemetery. Its most recent statement did not call but pleaded with Israel to stop the carnage. It has called Gaza a graveyard for children. There are babies dying in incubators because hospitals have run out of fuel, let alone water, food and medicine. What we are witnessing is a mass ethnic cleansing of Gaza. Hundreds of thousands of people have been pushed out of the north to the south, where they face constant airstrikes and a total blockade of water, food, fuel and medical supplies. Nowhere is safe.
We have deep economic, diplomatic and security ties with the countries giving unconditional support and aid to Israel. This is what our allies and trading partners in Europe, the US and the UK are doing right now. The EU claims to be a democratic project yet it allows Israel to implement a totally undemocratic project of apartheid and genocide and break international law again and again while Ursula von der Leyen stands on the world stage and offers Israel unconditional support. We have a moral duty to end this genocide. We cannot be a party to it. We can no longer allow our taxes to go to a state that is murdering children and babies and has implemented a decades-long regime of apartheid and ethnic cleansing.
Despite the propaganda from both sides, and despite the massive information war being waged by the Israeli state, ordinary people are watching on with total horror as we witness the destruction of Gaza. They are watching this all unfold wondering how on earth the world is letting it happen. People are sick to their stomachs thinking Ireland, through our international ties and through EU funding, could be in any way complicit in a state carrying out a blatant genocide. While we support the Government's call for an immediate ceasefire, words are not good enough any more. We need immediate action to put economic and diplomatic pressure on Israel to stop the bloodshed.
Everybody in the House has called for the release of hostages. I have called for it. We need to force a ceasefire. There will be no release of hostages without one. We need a campaign from the Government to suspend all EU funding for Israel and pass the two divestment Bills in the House so that not a cent more of Irish taxpayers' money goes directly towards the Israeli state's ethnic cleansing. We should expel the ambassador. There is no mandate in this country for a diplomat from a state carrying out genocide. In the past day or so South Africa has recalled its ambassador in Israel and accused Israel of genocide in Gaza. Bolivia has cut all diplomatic ties with Israel. We should recognise the Palestinian state right away. In June the Tánaiste said the Government would be in favour of recognition of Palestinian statehood if there was no progress towards a two-state solution. This was reaffirmed in September. Netanyahu said there would be no place for the Palestinian Authority in Gaza after this campaign. There is clearly no intention from Israel to allow unified authority or a two-state solution. Its bombs are destroying any hope of this as we speak. This is the time to recognise Palestine.
While I support the Government's call for an immediate ceasefire, words are not good enough any more. We need immediate action to put economic and diplomatic pressure on Israel to force a ceasefire. I welcome the 13,000 emails we have received from people calling on the House to call for a ceasefire.
I thank the Social Democrats for tabling the motion. I support all of its asks with one exception. I agree we must intensify our efforts for an immediate ceasefire, suspend the EU-Israeli Association Agreement, suspend the EU-Israel Horizon Europe association agreement and pass the occupied territories Bill. I cannot support the call to expel the Israeli ambassador for a very simple reason. I believe in my heart of hearts that keeping channels of communication open and keeping dialogue on the table, most especially with those people with whom we disagree, is crucial. In fact, it is essential. Keeping our influence through soft power, persuasion and appealing to another's better nature and basic humanity is far more valuable than cutting off ties, closing down channels, shutting one's ears and turning one's back.
I fundamentally disagree with some of the statements made by the Israeli ambassador. I am horrified by what I see happening in Gaza and Al-Shifa Hospital and so many other hospitals. My benchmark is whether an action, in this case the suspension of the Israeli ambassador, would improve the situation. Would it contribute positively? Would it save lives or help to stop conflict? I believe the answer to these questions is "No". Yes, it would be a strapline on world news channels for an hour or even a day but then there would be radio silence and we, partly at least, would become bystanders.
I am not pretending that our influence either way is significant but the little influence we have must be used wisely. We all know this terrible, cruel and shockingly inhumane conflict will only be resolved across a table of peace talks. Difficult though it now seems, there will have to be some form of political agreement and we will have to find a way to navigate some type of political renewal.
Last week in the audiovisual room I listened to Daniel Levy, president of the US Middle East Project, on a Zoom call. He was asked how we can find a route to a ceasefire. His thoughtful and informed reply was that the US has leverage to deliver a ceasefire in Gaza. We should do everything we can, using whatever leverage we have in the EU, the US, Palestine, Israel and anywhere in the world, to help to deliver some pause and some stop to the slaughter.
That is our role and, I believe, our duty. Expelling the Israeli ambassador will not further these efforts. Right now, like all of us here, I feel such sadness at the cruel loss of life, the trauma of horrific injury and forced displacement and the sight of hospitals being turned into graveyards. I can barely listen to the tortured voices of those who beg us to find ways to put an end to this conflict. My deep sadness, though, is that I see a growing inhumanity in people's hearts as death and destruction become the only reality and as rage and anger supplant reason and empathy. If there is a way back, and there must be, we must take inspiration from people like John Hume and many others, who never gave up, never stopped talking, never stopped listening and never stopped engaging. This course of action does not make us weak; it makes us strong.
The objective for all of us in this House should be to stand up against the brutality and injustice that has been unfolding in front of our eyes. Yesterday I stated that the public are outraged by the scenes of inhumanity and that they could care less for the differences in this House, especially when it comes to atrocities on a scale such as that we have seen. I acknowledge the emails my office has received from concerned citizens, the total number of which rose above 10,000 this morning. I want those people to know that I understand their concerns and that the innocent people of Palestine have my unreserved support, which I hope I have shown over these past weeks.
Our history means that our people need and are demanding a response from our leaders that is significant, brave and meaningful. The idea is that this will spur the right action in the context of a ceasefire, the continued release of hostages and the opening of humanitarian corridors. This Government could take many steps, and these have been fleshed out in the Chamber quite extensively in recent weeks. The public needs this reassurance that whatever can be done, will be done and that we will not shy away from saying what needs to be said now. All our stomachs are turning at the images of children suffering and this is why we will continue to have motions on this important matter.
I fully support economic sanctions and the ICC referral, which I first suggested 25 days ago. The Government's statement that an investigation is already open does not explain why there is no willingness to refer Israel to the ICC. This is an action that could be both significant and easily done. I am concerned about the call for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and what undesirable impacts this may incur. I do not believe that any action should be taken that would put any more lives in danger. It must be said that we know more than most that at times when significant steps were taken during the Troubles, it was diplomacy and back-channelling that paved the way to get both sides around the table and, unfortunately, these conversations need to be had in this context. I had proposed that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, formally summon the Israeli ambassador. I reiterate this call.
I thank all who have contributed to the debate. It is clear that Deputies across the House are deeply and genuinely concerned at the horrific situation that has unfolded in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories over the past three weeks. The Government shares their deep alarm at the situation and the way in which it continues to deteriorate rapidly, including in the context of the grave humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
The terrible violence of the brutal attacks by Hamas on Israel's citizens on 7 October was deeply shocking. These despicable acts of terror and bloodshed have no justification. These acts did not advance the cause of the Palestinian people, the security of the region or the prospects of a peaceful future. The cycle of conflict and attack which has ensued needs to be brought to a close now in order that more civilians - men, women and children, Palestinian and Israeli - do not lose their lives. The immense tragedy we are witnessing has brought grief and distress to countless families. It is imperative that the focus of everybody in the region and in the wider international community is on de-escalation.
I echo calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, the abduction of whom is absolutely prohibited under international law. The taking of hostages is cruel and unjustifiable in any circumstances. I urge those holding hostages to show mercy, to let those being held return to their families and not to further multiply the harms unfolding. The extent of the loss of life in Gaza is immense. The latest reported figures are that more than 11,000 people have been killed, including 5,000 children. We have also seen the loss of so many people who worked tirelessly for UN agencies to ensure that the people of Gaza had access to the basic necessities and services. Journalists too have been killed. In a place where accurate reporting is so needed, the protection of journalists is also especially important.
We should also not underestimate the scale of the physical destruction of Gaza. Its essential infrastructure, including houses, schools and places of worship, has been flattened. This is a litany of loss, fear and terror and should not be further added to. It is necessary that there is a credible plan to ensure Gaza is rebuilt. A sustainable humanitarian ceasefire is essential to ensure rapid, unhindered and safe humanitarian access to meet the urgent needs of the more than 2 million people in Gaza, many of whom were already refugees. People are hungry, thirsty, terrified and in pain and they cannot go anywhere. Food, water, fuel and medical supplies must be allowed into Gaza at scale, without delay and regularly, just to stop this tragedy worsening. The civilian population of Gaza, around half of whom are children, should not and, indeed, must not be punished for the actions of Hamas or any other terrorist organisation. The Government's position on this is clear: Israel has the right to defend itself and its people from attack, but this is not an unfettered right. International humanitarian law applies, as does the principle of proportionality, and the Israeli military has a duty to ensure the protection of citizens. A humanitarian ceasefire for Gaza is an essential basic step now.
As Deputies are aware, a first group of Irish citizens and their dependents were cleared to exit from Gaza today. We expect that additional Irish citizens and their dependents will also be on the list of those to exit in the coming days. The Government is working tirelessly to ensure that all those who wish to leave will be able to exit as soon as possible. It is the focus of the Tánaiste's visit to the region this week.
We cannot talk about the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories without highlighting the worsening situation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. This year, 45 Palestinian children have been killed in the West Bank. This is a figure that would sound immense were it not for the horrific scale of death since October. Attacks by Israeli soldiers are already at a record high and have increased significantly. This is not a recent problem. It has stretched across decades, adding to the tension and complexity of finding a path to peace. It is well past time that the Israeli Government acted to end illegal settlement activity and took effective action on settler violence. Illegal settlements and settler violence do nothing to help with efforts to secure the peace and security of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. Ireland has repeatedly condemned the building of settlements and their expansion, as well as the demolition of structures and evictions. During Ireland's term on the UN Security Council in 2021 and 2022, we raised these issues regularly.
There was no mistaking the concern and depth of feeling expressed during this debate, and Deputies across the Chamber are clearly seeking ways to end this conflict and protect the lives of Israeli and Palestinian civilians. Ireland has always shown a deep commitment to a rules-based international order. Our commitment to multilateralism is a cornerstone of our foreign policy. This emanates not from some abstract, high-minded notion but from a practical belief that real change, effective and lasting change, happens when states work together. This is a complex conflict, and if we wish to help the Palestinian people, then we need to work with other states to build consensus, in the EU and in the UN.
This is not to say that Ireland cannot and does not speak out clearly on matters of concern, including the one we are so deeply concerned with here today.
Since the attacks on 7 October, Ireland has been to the forefront of EU discussions on this matter, calling strongly for a humanitarian ceasefire, sustained and immediate humanitarian access and the release of hostages. We will continue to advocate for our position using all channels available to us in the strong belief that it is in the best interests of the Palestinian and Israeli people.
Both the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have discussed these issues with their counterparts at the European Council and the Foreign Affairs Council. The Tánaiste has underlined the importance of principled and collective action by the EU and its member states and the need for the EU to act for the protection of civilians and adherence to international law. At the UN, Ireland made a statement at the Security Council and opened debate on this current crisis. We called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and welcomed the initial supply of aid. However, we noted that much more is needed. The Tánaiste is currently undertaking a visit to the Middle East, where he will meet with senior political figures in Egypt and Israel and from the Palestinian National Authority. He will urge all the interlocutors to work together towards an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and a return to the negotiating table to find a lasting solution. The Taoiseach attended a conference on humanitarian assistance for Gaza in Paris last week, hosted by President Macron, at which he also expressed Ireland's support for a humanitarian ceasefire. There he spoke to the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, as well as the foreign minister of Egypt and the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
I will add one final point. Ireland recognises that the situation in the Middle East is multifaceted and complex. It has a long history with chapters of death, destruction, oppression, injustice and hatred stretching far back and it will not be easily resolved. Today, we need the violence to stop. We need hostages to be freed. We need urgent humanitarian assistance for the people of Gaza. The efforts to restart the Middle East process cannot wait for some distant tomorrow. There will never be a right time or a right moment so the time has to be now. There has already been too much terror and horror and loss of life. The international community must act now, act together and find a way to build a path towards a lasting peace.
The horror unfolding in Gaza is on an unimaginable scale. In just over a month, Israel has dropped more than 25,000 tonnes of explosives on the besieged Gaza Strip, which is home to 2.3 million people, half of whom are children. Shockingly, more than one in 20 people in Gaza is now believed to be either injured, missing or dead. Entire families have been wiped out and the number of child casualties continues to spiral, with on average 160 children dying every single day.
Yet much of the international community, particularly the West, has turned its back on the people of Gaza. When Russia invaded Ukraine, there was rightly no shortage of condemnation or action from the EU and others. Where is that leadership now? Hamas’ terrorist attack on 7 October, the killing of 1,200 people and the taking of 240 hostages, was horrific and has been roundly condemned. Surely there can be no denying that Israel’s response to that atrocity must be equally condemned as savage, barbaric, inhumane and utterly disproportionate. This cannot and must not be treated as a regional issue to be kept at arm’s length. This crisis is a test of the EU’s commitment to human rights, international law and basic humanity. It is also a test of the UN Security Council. There are major questions about both.
Life in Gaza is a living nightmare and the international community must take a stand against Israeli atrocities. How can we ignore the huge death toll and the targeted attacks on civilian infrastructure, especially the unprecedented targeting of hospitals, which is a direct breach of war rules? As of Sunday, the WHO had recorded at least 137 attacks on healthcare facilities, resulting in over 500 deaths and nearly 700 injuries, including the deaths of almost 200 healthcare workers. Shockingly, we learned this morning that contact with the main hospital in Gaza has been lost. One of those healthcare workers was Dr. Hammam Alloh, the nephrologist in Al-Shifa Hospital. When asked in an interview why he and his family did not move south, he replied that he continued working because he had to think of his patients and he had not become a doctor to think only of his life. Eleven days later, he was killed by an Israeli strike.
As the casualties continue to mount, more and more healthcare facilities are being dismantled. Over half of the territory’s 35 hospitals are no longer functioning, with all but one operating in northern Gaza. Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s main hospital, is under constant siege. With power cut off, the death toll of patients is rising rapidly. Premature babies in incubators and patients on life support have been given little or no chance. Bodies are becoming decomposed in the yard and medical waste is accumulating inside the hospital. Patients and healthcare workers are at enormous risk, especially during surgery and childbirth. According to the WHO, vast numbers of Palestinians are now suffering from serious infections. UN aid agencies have warned of cholera, typhoid and measles outbreaks as a result of the water and sanitation crisis in Gaza. This spread of disease will only accelerate unless there is a ceasefire. Daily pauses are of little consequence in these circumstances. Nowhere is safe. There is no refuge. An immediate ceasefire must be demanded.
We acknowledge that the State has taken a principled stance, more so than other countries on the international stage, but the bar is exceptionally low. The Government must go much further. The Irish people are demanding it. This is a humanitarian and health catastrophe of unprecedented proportions. Every possible avenue must be exhausted, be that at EU or UN level, in order to demand an immediate ceasefire and to start the process of building a pathway to peace.
I have listened to the Minister of State and, earlier, the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, saying "This needs to stop", while simultaneously taking no actions to actually help it stop, when the actions in our motion are to match the words they are saying. Today, 650 patients and up to 7,000 civilians are trapped inside Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza. Among them are 36 premature babies who have been removed from their incubators because the hospital ran out of fuel. Elsewhere in the hospital, the bodies of more than 100 patients are decomposing. Israel's blockade means there is no electricity for incubators or the morgue. Israel's cruelty targets Palestinians at the moment of their birth and even after their death. Because the morgue is no longer functional, medics began digging a mass grave outside the hospital yesterday, all while under unrelenting fire from the Israeli military. Early this morning, Israeli soldiers breached the hospital grounds. Such a blatant attack on a hospital, medics, patients and civilians is beyond comprehension. That Israel is doing it unapologetically with the full support of the United States and many western leaders is shocking.
Yesterday, the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz described Israel as a country that is bound by human rights and international law and acts accordingly. What a despicable statement. There was absolutely no empathy or sympathy for the over 11,000 civilians dead, more than 5,000 of them children, with countless others buried alive and slowly dying under the rubble. Some 1.6 million have been made homeless, while food, fuel, fresh water and medical supplies are nearly exhausted and the German Chancellor claims Israel is adhering to international law. At what point will these people wake up and acknowledge the scale of Israel's crimes in Gaza?
Irish people and people in countries all over the world who have marched for peace in Gaza in their millions are not fooled by this propaganda. They can see it for what it is, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and in flagrant breach of international law. Earlier, the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, referred to what is going on in Gaza as a humanitarian catastrophe. I agree. He then said that if the Government were to endorse our motion, Ireland would be pushed to the margins of international opinion. Given the opinions of the majority of western leaders, I am happy for Ireland to be an outlier.
The Government says it shares the disgust and revulsion of the Opposition at what is happening in Gaza and I do not doubt that. However, it said that its approach differs from ours. What is that approach? Does it involve words, strong rhetoric or an appeal for a two-state solution while one state lays waste to another? Irish Ministers can do more than make speeches. They can act. As a member of the EU, Ireland has power and a platform. We can lobby hard at EU level for economic sanctions. Many MEPs have already expressed a desire for the EU-Israel trade agreement to be reviewed. Belgium's Deputy Prime Minister has said the deal should be suspended. Why do our Ministers and Taoiseach not say the same? Why not take an action that would impose real consequences on Israel for its cruelty? What is the Government afraid of? In this country, we believe that Israel's refusal to consider an end to the slaughter is unacceptable. The Minister, Deputy Harris, has said Israel is waging a war on children. It is impossible to maintain normal diplomatic relations with a country that is indiscriminately murdering children in their thousands. The Government can act and if it were to do so, it would have the support of the Irish people who demand the Government act in the face of an impending genocide.
The swell of support for Gaza has been overwhelming. Every week, there are marches all across the country where people from all walks of life come out in their thousands to demand a ceasefire. People can march and lobby politicians and they are doing so. It is up to us in this House and in the EU to act. I ask the Minister of State to do so.