Wednesday, 23 May 2018
Situation in Palestine: Statements
I thank the Seanad for inviting me to make a statement on Palestine on behalf of the Government. Last week, we all watched the news reports from Gaza with a sense of shock and despair. Who could fail to be moved by images of despairing families grieving for the loss of loved ones and of individuals dealing with horrific and life-changing injuries? Over the course of six weeks of protests in Gaza, beginning on 30 March, there have been reports of protestors being targeted by live fire with tragic consequences. On 14 May, the highest casualty toll in the Gaza Strip in a single day since 2014 was recorded. The UN reports that a total of 102 Palestinians, including 12 children, have been killed in the course of the demonstrations since 30 March. These 102 lives were lost primarily as a result of live fire from the Israeli Defence Forces guarding the border fence between Israel and Gaza. The UN reports also that the cumulative number of injured persons has exceeded 12,600, of whom 55% have been hospitalised.
Particularly worrying has been the high percentage of those killed and injured by live ammunition, which points to the excessive use of force and the use of live ammunition as a form of crowd control. The Tánaiste made three public statements on these incidents on 31 March, 9 April and 14 May calling on all sides to show restraint and, in particular, calling on Israeli forces to temper their use of force. Last week, the Taoiseach supported the call of the Secretary General of the UN for an independent international investigation into these events.
At this point, I acknowledge that while the vast majority of the demonstrators over the course of the six weeks of protest were peaceful, there were elements among them who sought to cause trouble. Violence on the part of some protestors is regrettable and the organisers and those in de factocontrol of Gaza have a clear responsibility to prevent such actions. We recognise that not all those participating in the protest were non-violent. Stones were thrown, Molotov cocktails were hurled and some protestors attempted to breach the border fence when there had been explicit warnings of the consequences of doing so.
There have also been reports that many of those shot were members of Hamas. It is important to reiterate that we recognise Israel's right to protect itself and protect its borders from attack. While acknowledging that right to defend itself and to protect its people, we must also note its obligation to ensure the response to any threat is proportionate. Responding to unarmed protestors with live fire is far from proportionate. Membership of a terrorist group is not in itself a valid reason to use deadly force where the person targeted is unarmed.
I recognise also that it would have been better if children were not allowed to participate in the protest and were kept away from the border fence. However, what struck me as particularly tragic and indicative of the loss of hope in Gaza was the fact that many of the children interviewed by UN agencies as to why they put themselves in harm's way said they were there out of curiosity and boredom. These protests were something to see and do for children with very little stimulation or opportunity to engage in creative activities. Palestine's rapidly growing young population badly needs to see the development of a future democratic, free and tolerant state. More must be done to empower those young children and provide them with greater opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship as well as with some degree of hope. More must also be done to offer the people of Gaza alternative political models, especially when it comes to young people who are so isolated from the outside world and vulnerable to the influence of Hamas.
I must refer to the very troubling reports of health professionals and aid workers being shot during the protests. These professionals were among the first responders at the scene to assist the injured and dying. They were clearly identifiable as health workers. Nevertheless, the WHO has documented that since the start of the protests on 30 March, there have been numerous attacks on health facilities and personnel. One health worker has been killed and 229 have been injured while providing treatment to injured people during the mass demonstrations.
It is also reported that 32 ambulances were damaged. On 15 May, a paramedic was shot and died of a chest injury. The WHO reports that other paramedics were unable to reach him because of heavy firing. This is unacceptable. Hospitals in Gaza are barely able to cope with the serious injuries which have flooded in. In the meantime, the health system must continue to function to serve the needs of the Gazan population. It must continue to provide maternal and child services, for example, and to treat non-communicable diseases. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the professionalism, dedication and, indeed, courage of those working in the health sector in Gaza.
It is imperative to establish the facts of what happened in Gaza last week and in the six weeks leading up to it. The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have publicly supported the call of the UN Secretary General for an independent investigation. Last Friday, the Human Rights Council of the UN held a special session on the deteriorating human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, including east Jerusalem. At this special session, a resolution was passed, which Ireland supported, to set up an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the context of recent protests. The resolution was backed by 29 members of the Human Rights Council, with 14 abstaining and only two voting against it. While Ireland is not currently a member of the Human Rights Council, we made it clear in our national statement at the special session that force must only be used in cases of real and immediate threat to life and only as a last resort when all other methods have failed.The use of force should also be proportionate to the threat posed. We strongly supported the call of the UN Secretary General and others for an independent and transparent investigation into these events. I take this opportunity to call on Israel to co-operate with the commission of inquiry to allow it to examine the circumstances fully, including threats and provocations, that led to the loss of so many lives.
Following the tragic events of last week, the Tánaiste summoned the Israeli ambassador to express the Government’s serious concerns and dismay at what had taken place and at the actions of the Israeli Defence Forces. In this way we could ensure that our concerns were conveyed directly to the Israeli Government. Ireland has been providing direct support to the Palestinian people for more than two decades, reflecting a long-standing commitment to the peaceful development of a viable, sovereign Palestinian state. Through the Irish Aid programme, we provide in excess of €10 million annually in development and humanitarian assistance to meet the needs of the most vulnerable Palestinian men, women and children. A key element of this programme is directed towards strengthening the ability of the Palestinian Authority to meet those needs. Enabling Palestinians to build institutions and provide essential public services is critical to laying the foundations for a future Palestinian state. Another important part of our aid is the support we provide to UNRWA, amounting to €4.25 million so far this year, to support the provision of services and assistance to 5 million registered Palestinian refugees, including in Gaza. This is an increase of €250,000 on the 2017 allocation.
I have focused today on the situation in Gaza, which is at the forefront of our minds, but Senators should rest assured that the Government remains engaged on all of the issues related to this conflict, including Israeli security concerns, of course, but also the impact that the occupation has on the Palestinian people, including speaking out on settlement construction and on the displacement of Palestinian communities. The Tánaiste continues to engage with both sides, with our EU partners, and with other players such as the US, to ensure that these issues remain high on the international agenda, and to bring Ireland's views on these issues to bear wherever and whenever the way forward is being discussed. We will continue to use every opportunity to engage with both sides and to do what we can to contribute to the resolution of this 70 year old conflict, a resolution that will see the establishment of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side within secure borders. This is the only way to ensure that events like those of last week are not repeated.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and outlining the issues and the Government's proposals and actions in response to what has happened in Palestine and Gaza recently. It is all too familiar given the previous attacks on Gaza by the Israelis, the escalating casualty count in Gaza and the ongoing humanitarian crisis that has been there since 2007 and well before that.
As we mark the anniversary of the Nakba, the catastrophe, of the Palestinian people and look at the consequences for them of the establishment of the state of Israel, we also have to look at the solutions in terms of engagement. We know that previously the US Government has acted as a negotiator, with the Oslo Accords being one of those occasions. Many have said it was a missed opportunity, but the Palestinians felt they were getting too little in the Oslo Accords. In the West Bank alone, the Israelis were getting 80% of the water resources with 20% for the Palestinian community, and water is a vital issue.
Given the deaths and shootings in Gaza, the phrase "disproportionate use of force" is an understatement. It sounded a bit like some of the statements put out by the British after Bloody Sunday. Yes, there was the throwing of stones, and yes, there were Molotov cocktails, but there was the use of live fire in response. The suggestion that some were using guns is always put out by the opposition.
It was Brian Lenihan senior who put forward our party's policy in 1980 on the issue of a two-state solution, which has been adopted by the EU and others since. At the time, Brian Lenihan said the Palestinian people had a right to self-determination to establish an independent state of Palestine. We believe this is possible, but it is only possible if we put all the elements of a peace process together. According to experts on peace negotiations, a number of elements are vital. One is a hurting stalemate, which is that both parties are hurting so much, and can inflict no more pain on each other, and so are willing to negotiate for peace. This is obviously not the situation that is prevailing currently in Israel and Palestine, although one side is hurting enormously, having had huge punishment befall them with innocent people being killed, as we saw last week. Then we need an honest broker. There has not been an honest broker in the situation and there is not one now. We also need to ensure there are no third parties acting against the peace process. As we know, Iran is acting against Israel, using proxies in the Middle East against Israel, and using some elements of the Palestinian community for its own ends. We also need leadership, and the leadership is not there or is unwilling to compromise from its position. The Israeli's point of view is they have what they want and they do not need to compromise on peace.
I have been to the West Bank and near the Gaza Strip. For such a small place it sure holds a lot of pain and suffering for many of its inhabitants, especially the young people living in Gaza and the West Bank. The Minister of State asked why young people went to the fence to see what was going on. It was because they have nothing else to do. People who have nothing else to do get radicalised, and we have seen this across Europe. We have seen it in Paris and Brussels and we have seen it in Northern Ireland. That is a crucial issue. The list of grievances the Palestinian community has is too numerous to mention in the time we have allocated. Take the issues of child detention, water, housing or settlements. When Ronald Reagan was President there were 40,000 illegal settlements in the West Bank. Today there are more than half a million. As we know, this is a problem not just for future generations but for centuries to come.
We acknowledge that the move by the US Government to put its embassy in Jerusalem has not assisted the peace process in any way, shape or form and has removed the US as an independent broker in the situation. We have to ask ourselves what is the solution. We must also acknowledge the fact the Muslim world has a role to play and it does not seem to be doing anything in a substantive way any more to assist the Palestinian communities that are scattered around Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, previously in Syria, Lebanon and other places.
Where we are now does not seem like there is much hope, but there has to be solution because what we have now is not sustainable. Israel needs to recognise it does need to be generous in what it should do for the Palestinians who are on its doorstep, because people who do not have hope have nothing to lose. The Israelis have to make sure they provide a pathway for the peaceful and prosperous future that the Palestinian people deserve to have in their own homeland, as the Israeli people deserve to live in peace. This is why we continue to support the two-state solution we advocated in 1985 through the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Lenihan.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House once again and I appreciate all the great work he, his officials, the Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, are doing in the Department at a very difficult time. I speak in place of our regular foreign affairs spokesperson, Senator Joe O'Reilly, who unfortunately cannot be here due to parliamentary business.Like everyone in this Chamber - I think it is a universal opinion - I was absolutely appalled by the atrocities carried out last week. While it is right to acknowledge that Hamas was complicit in an element of it, the over-reaction by the Israeli Government was truly shocking. The most shocking thing is that last week was not the first time this has happened. It is absolutely right that the use of live ammunition be condemned. The manner in which we react to it as a country, as a Government and as a people will allow others to judge how we are contributing to this situation.
To be frank, Irish people and particularly politicians are obsessed with the Middle East. I do not mean that in any way negatively. We regularly have statements on the Middle East. Issues relating to the Middle East are regularly raised on the Order of Business. When I was a member of a local authority, we considered motions relating to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East every couple of months. We are right to be obsessed with this part of the world, which I visited last year, because we have invested socially, culturally, economically and emotionally in everything that is going on there. As the Minister of State said, Irish Aid provides €10 million to the Palestinian people every year. We have embassies in Tel Aviv and Ramallah. Scores of workers from Ireland are working in non-governmental agencies across Gaza. As Senator Lawless might confirm, there is a surprisingly large Irish diaspora living in Israel. A couple of drinks in Molly Bloom's Irish pub in Tel Aviv made that quite clear to me not so long ago. We have invested in this part of the world. I strongly believe that if we are going to have a positive influence on it, we need to stay invested in it. This means we need to keep our embassies in Tel Aviv and Ramallah open and we need to keep the Israeli ambassador in Dublin. Any efforts we make in terms of sanctions or other actions should be made in a co-ordinated way through the EU, in line with other agreements. Isolated actions by the South African and Turkish Governments are great for a couple of days of news headlines, but they do not really have an impact.
I respectfully disagree. I join the Minister of State and the Tánaiste in calling for a truly independent investigation, led by the UN, into last week's atrocities and into the ongoing conflict in the region. As Senator Mark Daly said, there are many factors at play here. The current American Administration is not helping the situation. The same thing can be said of the Iranian Administration and of the Egyptian Government's policy in respect of the border in southern Gaza. All of these things are contributing to the tinderbox that exists. If we are truly serious about wanting peace and using our experience and knowledge of peace and reconciliation to the benefit of ordinary people, rather than the political leaders in Likud, Hamas or Fatah, we strongly need to stay engaged. When I speak about "ordinary people", I am referring to Israeli and Palestinian people - Jews, Christians, Muslims and everyone else - regardless of ethnicity or religion. We must try to be a benevolent force in this region. The approach that has been taken by this country has worked in certain areas where it has had a positive impact. We need to keep doing that. If we disengage, protest and throw people out, we will turn our back on and absolve our responsibility to a part of the world we have invested in over many years. I appreciate the opportunity to express my thoughts on this subject. I appreciate that differing views will be expressed in this Chamber, as they always are. It is right that such views generate an emotional response from all sides. We need to clear through the fog. We need to think about the ordinary people on the ground in Palestine and Israel, some of whom are Irish. We need to chart a course forward and try to play our part.
I have to say I am disappointed with some of the comments made by the Minister of State in his speech. I was in Gaza last week. I have also been to the West Bank. I do not think the word "horrendous" is sufficient to describe the traumatic nature of my experience. The Minister of State said that "Violence on the part of some protestors is regrettable and the organisers and those in de factocontrol of Gaza have a clear responsibility to prevent such actions." He referred to "reports that many of those shot were members of Hamas" even though there is absolutely no proof of that.
The Minister of State suggested that many children "were there out of curiosity and boredom". I was at the border protest and I met the people who were there. I saw families there. I saw mothers, fathers and children. There was a playground there. They were there because this is the only hope they have left. They are living in absolutely desperate conditions. They have no hope. The only hope they have is these protests. They marched to the border to try to let the people of the world see the situation they are in. I met staff from non-governmental organisations who are dealing with mental health issues on the ground. They do not know how to cope. I met a therapist who told me about meeting a completely and utterly traumatised woman who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and feeling that she was telling the therapist's story. Every single person is living with the same horrendous trauma. Their water is polluted. They are living in slum-like conditions. At least 45% of them are unemployed. They have no hope whatsoever. They are in prison. I went through the security. I saw what they have to go through if they are allowed out. They are not allowed in or out. They are separated from their families. They have no medical care.
I met personnel from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs the morning after I had been with the protesters. They informed me that according to their projections, Gaza could be unlivable by 2020. That is what we are dealing with here. We have to stop to consider what is going on for the ordinary people and families we are talking about here. The projections I have mentioned have been made by a UN office, rather than by some non-governmental organisation or other organisation working for Palestinian rights. It is the job of the UN to monitor the situation and to make sure people know what is happening. People who are working at the coalface on the ground are telling us that this cannot go on any longer. Gaza faces collapse in just over a year. I heard the same story from everyone I met. They said "please help us" and asked why the international community is dong nothing. They pleaded with me. The reality here is that we are running out of time. We cannot forget this in the weeks and months to come. How many more people are going to die in the weeks and months to come?
Last week, Deputies and Senators came into the Oireachtas to express their shock about the tragic loss of life in Gaza. I was glad to hear colleagues across the Dáil and the Seanad condemning in the strongest terms the disproportionate and senseless violence that had occurred. I was happy that Ireland was one of the first countries to call for an independent investigation. I was really grateful for that. I urge the Government to keep pushing for that in every possible way. The truth is that we are right to be outraged. The Israeli defence forces have said that the use of lethal force against unarmed protesters is proportionate. This is an insult to language and to human life and dignity. We are right to state firmly that this is a flagrant breach of international law and that wilful killing in the context of occupation may amount to a war crime, as the UN said in the aftermath of last week's events. We are right to put it on the record of this Parliament that we reject the shameful treatment of living and breathing human beings and families that we are talking about here. I promised everyone I met in Palestine that I would do this, at the very least. The loss of life last week has made it even more important for me to do so. I feel I have to do something.
The Minister of State needs to go to Palestine. I know the Tánaiste has been there. He is very compassionate on this issue. I have spoken to him about it at length. I was in the settlements as well. I have tabled a Bill that would end Irish complicity in settlements that have been condemned as illegal for a long time. I will speak briefly on this point. I know the Tánaiste has committed to a more focused debate and vote on this specific legislation in June. I am grateful that he is going to bring this back in next month. I urge the Government sincerely to reconsider in the coming weeks its stance on banning settlement goods. My firm belief is that nothing will change in Palestine unless the EU and the wider international community are willing to put real and meaningful pressure on the Israeli Government. Last week's events were another tragic reminder of this sad fact. An Israeli Minister responded this morning to the most recent EU criticism of the massacre in Gaza by saying that the EU can "go to a thousand, thousand hells".This is what we must deal with and this is the attitude we have faced for decades. Unless we do something it will continue. If the EU is at a point of gridlock and if the consensus is not there, then we must ask ourselves if we accept it, or are we willing to take small meaningful steps ourselves - grounded firmly in international law - to show some leadership on this issue. Is there a point at which the situation can get so bad and the violations of human rights so widespread that we will look to take action ourselves?
Ireland can lead on this. I urge colleagues across the House, both in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, to consider deeply the real and tangible steps Ireland can take. It is no longer enough to simply express our sadness; we need to take action.
In his speech the Minister of State said:
We recognise that not all those participating in the protest were non-violent. Stones were thrown, Molotov cocktails were hurled and some protestors attempted to breach the border fence when there had been explicit warnings of the consequences of doing so. There have also been reports that many of those shot were members of Hamas.
If this was a British Army commander speaking after Bloody Sunday I would ask the Minister of State to spot the difference. That is exactly the justification it gave for its actions on Bloody Sunday. It is outrageous that an Irish Government Minister of State read out those words today. This is the defence the British Army gave for Bloody Sunday. Whoever drafted that speech today on behalf of our State should be ashamed of themselves.
Last week the United States of America and Israel marked the locating of the United States embassy in Jerusalem. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said it was "a glorious day for Israel". The US President, Donald Trump, said it was "a great day for Israel." For Palestinians, however, it was an horrific day as the toll of dead and injured rose. It was also the 70th anniversary of Nakba, the catastrophe. This annual commemoration remembers the nearly 700,000 Palestinians who were forced from their land and homes by the Israeli army, and who have become refugees. I have visited many of the locations where the refugees live and the occupied territories.
This years' Nakbais now marked by a new catastrophe. The Israeli army murdered dozens of Palestinians in Gaza that day and more than 2,700 others were wounded. An eight month old baby died as a result of inhaling tear gas. There are 1.3 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza. Today it is the biggest prison in the world. Throughout the last seven weeks they have protested for the right of return for Palestinian refugees forcibly expelled from their homes in 1948. Since the protests began on 30 March Israeli forces have killed more than 100 Palestinians in Gaza. The Israeli forces have murdered more than 100 Palestinians. They have wounded more than 13,000 men, women and children. I put it to the Minister of State again that whoever wrote those lines in his speech should be utterly ashamed of themselves.
The brutality and savagery of the Israeli army has once again been laid bare for the world to see. The Israeli army fired live ammunition indiscriminately and it gassed protestors. The Government must give a strong and unambiguous statement that there can be no impunity for Israel's mass killing and murder of Palestinian citizens, and its continued illegal occupation of Palestine.
The Minister of State has said that Ireland will not move to expel the Israeli ambassador in protest at these killings or recall the Irish ambassador in Tel Aviv. Nothing will change in Gaza or the West Bank until the international community moves on from empty rhetoric and puts some real pressure on Israel. Ireland must stop sitting on the sidelines wringing its hands when real, concrete, tangible steps are proposed. The Government is afraid to show leadership. Last January Sinn Féin supported Senator Frances Black's Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 in this House. This Bill proposes to end Irish economic support for Israeli settlements in the West Bank that we have long condemned as illegal. The Government, however, refuses to take any real action on the settlements. These are defined as war crimes under international law. We listened in disbelief to the Israeli ambassador on the RTÉ "Six One News". He stated that Israel was doing its best to minimise its fire and there was no link to the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. More than 100 Palestinians are now dead and more than 13,000 have been injured, and this is with Israel limiting its firepower. We must be clear that it was not clashes but, rather, a massacre. I was sick to my stomach while watching the television footage. I know that many Irish people share my horror. Why did the Taoiseach again state in the Dáil last week that Ireland cannot recognise Palestine because it does not exist yet? Perhaps the Taoiseach could have a chat with his Swedish counterpart. Sweden recognised the state of Palestine four years ago. Perhaps the Taoiseach could visit the UN and chat with the leaders of 135 other countries that recognise Palestine. More than 70% of the countries that are members of the UN recognise the state of Palestine. Motions were passed unanimously in this House and in Dáil Éireann in recent years to recognise the state of Palestine.
If Ireland will not expel the Israeli ambassador, will not recognise the state of Palestine and will not support legislation that asks us to ban commerce with people who are involved in war crimes, then where are we? Ireland took a stand in the days of South Africa's apartheid system. Our women workers took a stand in Dunne's Stores. In our Government, where are the women of Dunne's Stores today?
I welcome the Minister of State for the debate on Palestine. I was a Member of the Lower House and this issue came up on a regular basis. There is no doubt that it will come up again in the future because nothing seems to be happening.
Since 1946 when the Israeli State was brought into existence nothing has happened with regard to the Palestinian people. The only thing that has happened is that they have been forcibly removed from their houses. Even today, as we speak, Palestinian people are being moved off lands in the West Bank so that Israeli settlers can take the land. People do not seem to understand that there are consequences to this. If Israeli property is located in the West Bank, no Palestinian can walk close to it. If I was a Palestinian and wanted to go from this side of the Chamber to the other side and if there was a Jewish, or Israeli, building in the middle, I would have to walk down to Merrion Square, cross over Merrion Square and come back up the other side to get into the far side of this Chamber. People do not understand the type of harassment going on in the West Bank. I saw it myself in Hebron where school children had to walk an extra mile to get to their homes or they would have walked in front of Israeli property. These are the simple things that people must deal with day-to-day.
People do not understand that fishermen in Gaza can only go out 3 km from the coast to fish. They cannot go any further. Farmers are restricted to growing their crops 500 m from the fence line. These are the types of restrictions that are going on.
If anyone here knows their history, the situation would remind them of the Warsaw Ghetto during the Second World War.That was a situation where an extreme right wing super power controlled a minority people. That is exactly what is going on in Gaza and the West Bank. Jerusalem was chosen as the capital of Israel 3,000 years ago. The Israelis could wait that long and their objective now is quite simple: a border from the Jordan Valley to the sea, from the Sinai Desert to the mountains north of Ramallah. They can wait.
I have heard calls for investigations. There have been calls for investigations after every incident within the West Bank or Gaza and nothing has happened. It is too late to call for investigations. When I was in Jerusalem I walked through the Damascus Gate with Muslims, Christians and Jews. Inside the gate there are many Muslim coffee shops and lots of Israeli Jews were having coffee there. It is possible for the people to coexist if there is a willingness to do so.
Most Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley use the water from that site to produce peppers and aubergines. When we go to buy a red pepper we should check where it comes from and if it comes from Israel we should not purchase it. We should purchase something that may come from Spain or even our own farmers, over anything else. These are the small things that started when the Dunnes Stores staff worked to remove South African produce from the stores. That is something simple that we can do.
Removing the Israeli ambassador removes a source of communication. Then our ambassador will be removed. What will be achieved? We need to open communications. The sad point is that the only thing that will hurt Israel is money not public opinion. If we can hurt it financially let us do so. I will not be purchasing produce from the settler community in the West Bank.
The soprano Celine Byrne did not participate in the 70th anniversary celebrations for the Israeli state in Jerusalem. Perhaps the music industry could consider action like that too. If this conflict is not resolved or no steps are taken we should reconsider our artists' participation in the Eurovision next year.
We need to act individually as citizens and as a Government to bring Israel to the table. The two-state solution is not on Israel's agenda although it seems to be on the world's agenda. Until it is, there will be no further progress on this issue.
Oh God, I am weary of speaking about Palestine. I have been speaking about it for 30 years. I know the area very well. I had an apartment in Jerusalem for many years. My partner was an Israeli Jew who was an activist for Palestinian human rights. As a result he has been harassed, arrested, framed, jailed and he has finally had a stroke and not a bloody thing has been done. Just as in the 1930s Europe stood by and did damn all for the Jews, we are doing damn all for the Palestinians. I am tired of mentioning the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, EUROMED, that has human rights protocols attached to it. We have never even monitored or examined them to see what their impact is. We know from every speaker here today that there have been massive human rights abuses and war crimes committed by Israel but we do not monitor the EUROMED agreement.
The Minister of State talks about live fire. The Israelis have been using dumdum bullets against children. These are bullets that enter the body, expand and burst open tissue, sinew, flesh and bones. The exit wound is three times the size of the entry wound. That is the kind of thing they are doing. We are told stones and Molotov cocktails were thrown. Can the Minister of State tell me how many Israelis were killed? Not one. Some of those shot were members of Hamas – so bloody what? Hamas was elected in Gaza and the world turned its glance away and refused to recognise it. I do not care whether the people shot were in Hamas. They are human beings and they have every right to respect.
The Minister of State talks about attacks on health facilities and personnel - absolutely. Four years ago when they were bombing schools, they were deliberately targeting them. We had the co-ordinates. We knew that they knew they were hitting schools and hospitals, sewage treatment plants and water facilities. The Israeli intent is to degrade the Palestinians to a state lower than animals.
The Minister of State talks about the two-state solution. It is impossible. He talks about the two states with secure borders. How can the Palestinians have secure borders? There are two scraps of land and in the West Bank they are peppered with Israeli settlements, like measles. How can we possibly say to the Palestinians they have a secure border when they are completely and utterly infiltrated? The tragedy is that Europe attempted to solve the moral problem of the Holocaust at the expense of the Palestinians who were not involved in it. That explains the German situation. Let us forget about the EU. We must act independently as a sovereign nation. The EU will do nothing because of the German bad conscience. The Germans are turning around and doing exactly the same to the Palestinians as they did to the Jews in the 1930s. That should be forcibly pointed out to them.
I have been described as anti-Semitic. It does not matter that I lived with an Israeli Jew for 40 years or that the Palestinians are Semites. Nobody accuses the Jews of being anti-Semitic for their attitude towards the Palestinians.
Look at the terrible damage the Israelis are doing to themselves. The wonderful Jewish ethical code that he who saves a life saves the universe has been completely blotted out. Look at the damage to the Israeli soldiers who are young impressionable men. We have seen them gloating after shooting children. That is appalling.
What about the Palestinians? They are in the largest, most horrible, ghastly prison environment the world has seen. They are in a state of total and absolute despair. They can do nothing. The world will not listen. I remember being in the West Bank and saying, "I do not know that my Government will do anything". They said, "At least tell our story". That is the only reason I am standing here today.What can we do? We can recognise the state of Palestine. Why not? This House passed a resolution that we should do so. The Government must listen to the voices of the elected representatives of this country and recognise the state of Palestine. That might put the fear of God into the Israelis. We should boycott all of the illegal settlement goods, withdraw our ambassador for consultation and we should certainly not take part in next year's Eurovision song contest in Israel. This is not a matter for entertainment.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank the Leader for organising this debate. I am one of the Senators who sought it. We were all utterly shocked at the appalling loss of life in Gaza, which the Minister of State acknowledged in his speech. As he pointed out, 14 May recorded the highest casualty toll in the Gaza Strip in a single day since 2014, with a total of 102 Palestinians, including 12 children, killed and an appalling number injured, some 12,500. We all remember the really tragic case of the death of little Leila Anwar Ghandoor, an eight month old baby.
Like other colleagues, I was shocked at some of the language used in the speech of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade at the time which appeared to suggest that blame lay with the victims of this appalling atrocity. We must be very clear about the complicity and the conduct of the Israeli forces in bringing about these civilian deaths. I am no apologist for Hamas and do not believe anyone here is, but it is important to acknowledge the cause of these awful deaths.
We also have to acknowledge the context for all of this. The Gaza Strip is occupied territory in which 2 million live in appalling conditions which were described so eloquently by Senator Black and others. Mr. Declan Walsh wrote a very good article in The Irish Timeswhich sums up so well the pressures of life in Gaza, a poverty stricken, crowded enclave that has been under Israeli blockade for the past 11 years. This has been well documented. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and we have had numerous hearings on the conditions for people living in Gaza and for Palestinians living in occupied territories, conditions for Palestinian detainees, including child detainees, in Israeli prisons and on breaches of international law by Israel. All of this is well known and, like Senator Norris, many of us feel that we have been speaking about this for so long but so little has been done.
What we have seen in recent days is a new development, unfortunately, and one which was precipitated by the decision of the current US President to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. That is a new and very negative development that sets us back even further from any sort of peaceful path towards the settlement that we all wish to see.
I speak today for the Labour Party which has a long tradition of being to the forefront in advocating justice for the Palestinian people. My party has a long-standing position on the Middle East, informed by three core principles, namely: the need for a comprehensive, multilateral peace agreement between Israel and Palestine which respects international law; the delivery for the Palestinian people of a secure, viable and contiguous state of their own; and the recognition of the legitimate right of the people of Israel to live in peace, prosperity and security with its neighbours. That is a clear set of goals to which many members of the international community have signed up but, unfortunately, with the recent decision by the US President, we have seen a real step away from any path that makes that settlement more likely.
What can we do about this? I accept that an independent inquiry would be useful to establish the full facts and to establish beyond doubt what lay behind the conduct of the Israeli troops. However, we need to be more assertive in Ireland in terms of how we go about addressing this outrageous atrocity by Israel. We have to move within the EU and be more assertive there, as a stakeholder.
The Minister of State has pointed out that Ireland has provided more than €10 million annually for the Palestinian people. We provide aid bilaterally and also multilaterally through the EU, which is a major stakeholder in the region. The foreign affairs committee has also heard several times about the outrageous situation whereby the EU is providing funding to construct buildings which are subsequently demolished by Israeli forces. The EU is funding infrastructure to support education and healthcare, for example, for the Palestinians which is then dismantled and destroyed by Israeli forces. It defies logic that the EU does not intervene in a more proactive manner.
I support Senator Norris and others who have called for such intervention. The EU should take a much stronger interventionist role in this. In Ireland we should step up further by complying with the motions passed by Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann calling for the recognition of the state of Palestine. That would be a significant step forward and would exert more pressure within the EU. We must play a more assertive role in assuring greater justice for Palestinians.
The former Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore, addressed the UN General Assembly in September 2011 and said that Ireland would support the Palestinian bid to become a full member of the UN. At that point Ireland was taking a very proactive role within the EU in its recognition and assertion of Palestinian rights. We need to do more of that, particularly after this absolutely egregious attack on Palestinian civilians.
I was very glad to support Senator Black's Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill which points a way forward for Ireland to take a stronger stance in asserting the condemnation of the Irish people of the actions of the Israeli state.
It is also important to express support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, BDS, campaign which is led by Palestinian civil society. That campaign seeks to build on the work of the international anti-apartheid movement which played such a strong role in helping to dismantle the apartheid state of South Africa. Of course, we all recall the proud role played in that international movement by the Irish anti-apartheid movement. We could be doing more in Ireland to assert a voice for the Palestinian people through the international mechanisms to which we have access through the EU and also through asserting recognition of Palestinian statehood.
I ask the Minister of State to clarify whether the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will support and implement the motions of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann in that regard. There is overwhelming support for this among Irish people. I do not believe there is political controversy about this issue in Ireland. People here are so exercised, dismayed and distressed by the reports of what has happened in Gaza recently that now would be an appropriate time to do this.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I will begin by asking the Minister of State to withdraw that disgraceful paragraph in his speech which makes reference to "some" of the protesters being non-violent, to Molotov cocktails and to members of Hamas being shot. There is no evidence for any of that. I do not know who wrote that script but the Minister of State must be honest enough to acknowledge that it is not true and to withdraw it.
As the Minister of State knows, 62 Palestinians were slaughtered a week ago and over 13,000 have been maimed in the last seven weeks. Since 2000 Israel has murdered 9,000 Palestinians, including 2,060 children. The Minister of State must acknowledge what most of us already know, namely, that Israel is an apartheid state. This Government has never done that. In the past when we have highlighted this, the Government has described our position as "one sided". In fairness, the Government is right. If one is against apartheid, as we in Sinn Féin are, then one must stand against and not just pose as some neutral arbiter.
We know Israel is an apartheid state but let me make it clear why that is the case. The United Nations defines apartheid as, "an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group". As Senator Lawlor said, in what was a fine speech, that is exactly what is happening and the Minister of State knows this.Under Israel's immigration policy, it is possible for all Jews to emigrate to Israel but Palestinians are refused any right of return. There are 5 million Palestinian refugees as a direct result of a religious and ethnically-based immigration policy. Contrast the systematic demolition of Palestinian homes with the ever-expanding settlements for Israeli citizens, numbering over 600,000 at this stage.
Then there is the economic apartheid whereby more than 20,000 Palestinians work in the Israeli settlements while the systematic destruction of Palestinian infrastructure and resources continues unabated. This destruction includes the uprooting and burning of millions of Palestinian olive trees. We have seen the theft of water and land and the cutting off of electricity, telephone, water and Internet services as collective punishment.There is no freedom of movement for Palestinians. We have seen checkpoints and military bases, daily harassment and discrimination. Separate judicial systems operate with civil systems for Israelis and military courts for Palestinians. There are separate road systems. It is illegal for any Palestinian to join any political party.
The Government knows all this but still contends that the way forward is dialogue. It is not. The way forward is through sanctions, just as it was with apartheid South Africa. The way forward is to stop trading with Israel. The way forward is to stop buying arms from Israel. A total of €14.75 million has been spent by our Government since 2005. Will the Minister of State answer this question for me? Why does he believe it is okay to buy arms from an apartheid state, particularly one which boasts that its products have been battle-tested? Where does the Minister of State think they have been battle-tested?
There are so many positive things the Government could do. The Government could choose to recognise the Palestinian state but it is refusing to do so. The Minister of State could commit to an arms embargo and show us as a country leading the way on this crucial issue, but he will not. The Government could endorse boycott, divestment and sanctions, but it will not. The Government could support Frances Black's Bill to boycott Israeli goods from the occupied territories. Unfortunately, it has given no indication to date that this will happen. I call on the Minister of State to give such an indication at the least in his response. I will ask my colleague, Senator Daly, to ensure Fianna Fáil comes up to the mark one month from now. We should all stand together on this issue. The Government could expel the Israeli ambassador, but it will not. The Government could choose to expel other Israeli diplomats, like it did to the Russians without any evidence, but it will not.
We understood one thing in the 1980s but the Minister of State does not understand it today. It is not okay to do business with an apartheid state. It is actually quite shameful. The fact that the Government will not acknowledge Israel's apartheid state is unacceptable. There were apologists for apartheid in the 1970s and 1980s as well. Unfortunately, several were from the Minister of State's party. Most famously, the former Deputy Patrick Donegan lauded the tour of the Springboks team to Dublin in 1970. I had hoped things would have moved on by now, but it appears not.
The people are demanding justice for the Palestinian people. They are demanding action against the apartheid Israeli state. For every day that the Government refuses to take such action, it is letting all of us down. I have heard enough empty words and seen enough crocodile tears. I have heard enough coded statements calling for restraint from both sides. We cannot allow the slaughter of these people to become another footnote in the tragic history of the Palestinian people. The world is crying out for justice. The Minister of State should stand up and find the courage to take meaningful action. He should end the shameful arms trade with Israel, endorse sanctions and expel the ambassador.
Yesterday, 22 May, strikingly enough, marked the anniversary of Carol Ann Kelly. Carol Ann was shot and killed by a rubber bullet in Twinbrook on her way home from getting a carton of milk for her mother in 1981. When Carol Ann was murdered and fatally fell to the ground, the organs of the state kicked into gear immediately and began to victim-blame. They blamed her, her family and the community in which she lived for the actions carried out by the British Army that day.
Given what other Senators have said, the Minister of State seriously needs to reflect and spend a little time on this. I understand he has been handed a script by an official. The Minister of State must avoid engaging in the kind of deliberate, calculated and very dangerous propaganda that is emanating with regard to the Palestinian people and what is happening in Gaza at the moment. It is perfectly clear to me and anyone who wants to see it, that what is being implemented and playing out in Gaza is slaughter. It is the massacre of innocent protesters. It is familiar to us but, although even given the gravity of what Ireland suffered as a result of colonialism, we have not seen anything close to the type of awful horror inflicted on the Palestinian people, not least those in Gaza. The Minister of State might reflect on that and might do what Senator Gavan has encouraged him to do and withdraw his offensive, if not very ill-considered, remarks. The problem is that it is a mantra that has become all too familiar in practices of colonialism and brutality throughout the world in this era as well as many before it.
This country has a proud record in standing against apartheid. The Houses have voted to recognise the state of Palestine. The Government ignores this will, much like the Israeli Government ignores international law, given the implementation and carrying out of war crimes against the Palestinian people.
Like Senator Norris said earlier, I am here a relatively short time but already I am tired of having to come in and repeat the exact same things on Gaza and Palestine about the suffering those people have to endure. I understand the geopolitical sensitivities and that the Government has to engage in a degree of diplomacy, but I do not believe we are dealing with an ordinary state. We are certainly not dealing with an ordinary conflict between two ordinary states. We are seeing people in Gaza being massacred. As people have rightly said, this is an open air prison. I have no wish to rehearse all of the horror that we have articulated many times, but that is the position. It is not too much to ask this Government, given its actions with the Russian ambassador, to bring in the Israeli ambassador and expel him from Ireland. His state is in breach of international law. It is committing war crimes.
I have no doubt that the Minister of State and his officials have exhausted whatever diplomatic avenues are open to them, modest as they are. Like any conflict resolution situation, there is of course a time for engagement and dialogue. However, there is also a time for action. There is a time for standing for what is right and just. There is a time for standing against things like apartheid. For God's sake, we must find a way to stand against apartheid and show Ireland standing against apartheid on the international stage.
We heard lovely things earlier about what we invest in that part of the world, the Irish bars there, going for pints and meeting the lovely Irish diaspora. They ought to be ashamed of themselves, to be honest, if, as Irish people, they are standing and participating in full knowledge in a system and economy like that of Israel - an apartheid regime.
What can we do? We can, we should and we must expel the Israeli ambassador if we have any degree of understanding of the horror and wrongness of apartheid and if we have any respect for international law. We have endured colonialism, brutality and occupation. For God's sake, we have to take a stand on the international stage in the full knowledge that it will be a modest stand and that it will not have the necessary impact with other states throughout the world. When has that ever stopped us before? As has been rightly said, we took a good, proud and valiant stand against apartheid in South Africa. What is the difference in this case?
Why will the Irish Government not stand in support of the Palestinian people? I suspect somewhat cynically that we all know the reason. I believe we are being hampered by the EU structures. I believe we are being shackled by the EU structures from doing the right thing and supporting not only the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador but Senator Black's Bill which proposes a boycott of Israeli goods from illegal settlements in the proudest Irish tradition, which we started. We should stand with the Palestinian people to send a clear message to them that they have our solidarity and support and that none of this will prohibit us from supporting and engaging with diplomatic and conflict resolution initiatives later on. The time has long since passed for us to take action.
I hope the Minister of State will reflect on his contribution and bring back the views of the House with regard to the rubbish inflicted upon us. The Minister of State should adhere to the will of these Houses and recognise the state of Palestine.
The very passionate contributions we have heard today reflect the deep and long-standing engagement the House has had with the situation in Palestine. I spoke at the outset about the loss of hope of the people of Gaza and Palestinians in general, how they are dealing with this incredible level of atrocity being committed against them and how it is feeding into the desperate acts that cause ordinary people, including children, to put their lives in danger while venting their frustrations through peaceful protest. I spoke also about what more needs to be done to address the situation of hopelessness, and considerable work has already been done by Members of the House, many of whom have visited the region to bring attention to the plight of the Palestinian people and propose ways to contribute to their ongoing well-being.
Some Senators have taken exception to the Government acknowledging that some protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails.
I mention this because it is necessary to tackle head on the arguments being put forward by some in Israel that these actions could be a justification for the deeply disproportionate Israeli response. I was also very clear that stone throwing does not in any way justify the use of live ammunition on young people and protesters who were unarmed. I was very specific in making this point over again.
Many Senators referred to Senator Black's occupied territories Bill, which was debated here earlier this year and which we will discuss again before the summer break. The Tánaiste has already committed to this. The Government is very much aware that the intention in proposing the Bill is to show Ireland's clear support for the Palestinian people and to show condemnation of the creeping annexation of Palestinian land by Israel in the form of these illegal settlements. I assure the House that the Government is wholly opposed to the construction of these settlements in Palestinian territory and has consistently condemned their relentless expansion, which undermines the very basis for the two-state solution.
I also want to acknowledge the efforts made in framing the Bill to differentiate between illegal settlements and Israel itself. It is not an effort to impose a boycott divestment sanctions policy, which the Government would wholly oppose. However, the Bill proposes to regulate international trade, which, ultimately, is a matter of exclusive EU competence, falling under the EU's common commercial policy. This is not a matter on which Ireland can act alone, and if we were tempted to do so, infringement proceedings could be taken against the State for breaching EU law. This might be the impact rather than the powerfully political impact which the framers of the Bill have aimed for with regard to settlements.
Some in the House have also raised the possibility of Ireland recognising the state of Palestine, and I assure the House the Government remains committed to doing this as part of a lasting settlement of the conflict. Ireland has long looked forward to being able to recognise a sovereign Palestinian state, but the Government must consider carefully whether recognition by Ireland now, at this point in time, of a state of Palestine, prior to its actual achievement on the ground, would be a helpful step towards that goal. We have not yet concluded that immediate recognition by Ireland would be a helpful step in our efforts to move the peace process forward, but I assure the House this matter is being kept under continuous review-----
-----particularly in light of the views expressed by the Dáil and Seanad in 2014, to which many Senators referred.
I want to address once again an issue raised in the debate by many Senators on the position of the Israeli ambassador and the embassy here. Asking an ambassador to leave is hardly ever done anywhere, not least because it cuts off an incredibly important channel of dialogue and influence. The Tánaiste used that channel last week when he conveyed Ireland's strong views on the Gaza events directly to the Israeli ambassador and, ultimately, asked him to pass those messages onto the Israeli Government. To remove the Israeli ambassador would shut off that line of communication indefinitely. We have to question how we would have arrived at a successful conclusion to the Northern Ireland peace negotiations if we had decided over 25 or 30 years ago to shut off communications with the leaders of one of those communities in Northern Ireland.
The protests of recent weeks were a reaction to the unsustainable situation in Gaza. The 1.9 million people who live there deserve an end to the blockade, so they can start to build what we would describe as normal lives, something that has been all but impossible for more than a decade.
Through our support of Palestine we have endeavoured to address some of the difficulties faced by the people of Gaza but, ultimately, the two-state solution with an independent Palestine and a democratic Israel, both secure within their borders, is the only possible outcome that will see an end to the decades of violence. This is why the Tánaiste has made, and continues to make, engagement with the Middle East peace process an absolute priority.