Wednesday, 11 July 2018
Situation in Palestine: Statements (Resumed)
Next Wednesday marks the 34th anniversary of a seminal moment in the history of our State, that being, when Ms Mary Manning refused to handle South African goods in Dunnes Stores on Henry Street in this city. The strike that followed on from that action lasted three years. I am sure the Tánaiste is familiar with the history of that. In 1987, we became the first State in the western world to introduce economic sanctions against South Africa. We led the way.
I believe that the views the Tánaiste has articulated in this debate are sincerely held, but Senator Black's Bill will be our Dunnes Stores moment as regards Palestine. We will get a chance to break a consensus that has failed the Palestinian people and to take decisive leadership on this issue. Under international law, the development of illegal settlements is a war crime. We are engaging in commerce with people who are committing war crimes. We are waiting for our European partners to do what is right, but they are not doing it. Not only that, but they cannot even criticise the decision of President Donald Trump to put an embassy in Jerusalem.
In the absence of leadership at European level, this is our Dunnes Stores moment. This is when our State once again takes decisive leadership in the absence of international leadership and stands by an oppressed people. I commend Senator Black. The Bill will be her Mary Manning moment and the House's Dunnes Stores moment to do what is right yet again.
I am a little bit nervous because I am told that the whole of Palestine is watching us today, so Members can imagine that I am anxious. I want to ensure that I say everything I need to.
Last night, I welcomed two amazing Palestinian farmers to Dublin. Mona and Fayez travelled all the way from the West Bank to meet ordinary Irish people and groups that had been fundraising, holding public meetings and sending support. They are watching from the Gallery and I extend to them a sincere welcome on what I hope will be an historic occasion. They have been living in the shadow of Israel's illegal annexation wall since 2003, fighting against the demolition of their home and the confiscation of their land. The wall has literally cut their farm in half, and the impact it has had on their family is devastating. Sadly, their story is not unique. It is repeated endlessly across the West Bank, where over 42% of land has now been confiscated, seriously undermining the viability of a sustainable Palestinian state.
Though these settlements are repeatedly condemned as illegal by the EU, UN and Irish Government, they continue to extract valuable natural resources and agricultural produce. These goods are then exported and sold on shelves around the world, including in Ireland, to pay for the occupation. There is a clear hypocrisy here. How can we condemn the settlements as illegal, as theft of land and resources, but then happily buy the proceeds of that crime? We must be clear on this - Israeli settlements in the West Bank are war crimes. That is what we are dealing with, and I am amazed at how relaxed people can be about it, as if trading in the proceeds of war crimes is not a big deal. For a country that prides itself on upholding humanitarian principles and international law, this is unacceptable. It is time we stood clearly against this injustice.
I have had long conversations with the Tánaiste on this matter. I know his passion and commitment, I respect him so much and I recognise the great work he is doing, but I fundamentally disagree that the current policy is working. For 25 years, Ireland and the EU have issued statement after statement of condemnation, but settlement expansion has continued and more homes have been demolished. It is getting to the point now where there will soon be no Palestine left to recognise. As long as the settlements stay profitable and we buy their stolen goods, nothing will change.
Ireland has the opportunity to take a lead on this and to make a clear, principled case, grounded in international law, that other states will follow. We are not looking to go it alone, but to lead. This is not a radical demand. We are simply asking for consistency in our foreign policy and a disassociation from clear violations of international law.
The Bill will not end trade in Israeli produce, only goods produced in the settlements beyond its borders - this is not a case of boycott, divestment and sanctions, BDS - that have been long condemned by Ireland and its EU partners as illegal. This distinction is important. I have listened to the argument that, as an EU member state, we cannot change trade policy unilaterally, but I strongly disagree. The legal basis of the Bill is outlined in great detail in the legal opinions I have shared with colleagues across the House. They are written by Mr. Michael Lynn, senior counsel, and Judge James Crawford, professor of international law at the University of Cambridge and a sitting judge at the International Court of Justice. The Government may disagree, but these are some of the most eminent and authoritative legal scholars in Ireland and the world. Their input carries weight. I also thank Senator McDowell, a former Attorney General, for offering his legal support to the Bill. It meant so much.
The fundamental argument offered by Judge Crawford and others is clear, in that Ireland is entitled under Article 36 of the treaties to end its support for what the EU itself says are violations of international law. Our capacity to take this measure rests precisely on the overwhelming consensus that the settlements are illegal. Article 36 can be read narrowly, but cases like this are exactly why it exists: for limited, proportional restrictions on trade justified on the basis of our other obligations, such as upholding and respecting international humanitarian law and human rights.
I disagree on concerns over enforcement. Under the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015, for example, bottles will only be imported and sold into Ireland from other EU states if they display Government-mandated health warnings. This is another modest and proportional restriction that does not require extensive customs checks, only simple instructions that our supermarkets and businesses can follow. The same applies in this instance.
As I am limited on time-----
-----I will close by saying that this is a modest proposal. It does not place sanctions on any one country.It is not ending diplomatic ties. It is simply saying that if we are sure certain goods have been produced as the result of war crimes, we should not be trading in them. To me, this is the bare minimum that should be expected of an EU member state and a country committed to justice and human rights. I urge my colleagues to reaffirm that commitment with me today.
As my time is brief, I will get straight to the point. In terms of the subject matter we are debating here, we should point out that we actually have a remarkable level of consensus in this Chamber. There is a broad consensus that the Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal. In the words of the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, from our January debate: “The relentless expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory is unjust, provocative, and undermines the credibility of Israel’s commitment to a peaceful solution to a conflict to which we all want an end.”
There is also a broad consensus that Ireland should act to intervene and, indeed, considering our own historical experience, that we have a moral obligation to do so. We now have a majority supporting the withdrawal of economic support from goods and services originating in occupied territories as the means by which we vindicate our commitments under international law.
If we have consensus on the principles behind the Bill, the aims of the Bill and the means by which to achieve those aims, it is important to note and consider that. It seems, therefore, the main point of contention left is the compatibility of the Bill with our trade policies and the EU Single Market. The Government contends that trade is an exclusive EU competence and member states have no latitude to act unilaterally. We contend that the public policy exemption in Article 36 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union makes this Bill legal, as this Bill is justifiable on public morality grounds, a view supported by several eminent legal scholars. The Government counterclaims this exemption has been interpreted narrowly by the European Court of Justice and that this Bill would not stand. In response, I would personally be proud to see Ireland move to becoming a leader on using trade policy as tool to defend morality and human rights within the Single Market. That is what this Bill could represent.
The Minister said that Ireland cannot go it alone on this issue and that we need an EU-wide effort. This Bill, in fact, could be what jump-starts that EU-wide effort. We may be the first to use the public policy exception to stand up for the rights of the people of Palestine but I can guarantee we would not be the last as we would be setting an example, and one that could be followed. At a time when Ireland too often hits the headlines for falling foul of EU law and initiatives in negative terms, whether that be failing climate change targets or illegal state aid in the Apple tax case, this is our chance to push the boat out and lead Europe in standing up for occupied territories, the people of Palestine and international human rights law. Why should we only look to push EU legal boundaries in support of corporations and tax avoidance and not the rights of oppressed people in desperate need of our support and solidarity? Today, we can set an example and blaze a trail that other EU states can follow, where Ireland took an intimidating but bold first step. I hope that is something the Tánaiste will consider as the Bill moves further through the Houses of the Oireachtas.
I do not mind forgoing my time to allow other Members to speak. I have spoken on this issue on a number of occasions. I am torn by the Bill. Do I see the benefit of the Bill to the Palestinians? Do I see extra water coming to Palestinian farmers on the West Bank? Do I see extra economic support coming from Arab states in the Middle East to the Palestinians? I doubt it very much. The Israeli Government does not worry about world opinion. It just worries about its own objectives.
I want to put my locus standion the record of the House. I have been going backwards and forwards to Israel and Palestine for 40 years. I had an apartment in Jerusalem for many years which I shared with my partner, Ezra Yitzhak Nawi, who is an Israeli Jewish civil rights activist who has been victimised by the Israeli State for his strong support for the Palestinian people. I am honoured to be a signatory of this Bill. I think it is a remarkable initiative. I hope very much that this Bill goes to Dáil Éireann and that Dáil Éireann has the courage to pass it and send a direct message to the Government. I would say to the Government today that people all over Europe, people in parliaments all over Europe, are watching this debate; they will take courage from it and they will pass similar legislation.
The Tánaiste said: "We are not in a position to raise a barrier and declare that goods legally available elsewhere in the EU cannot be brought into Ireland for sale." They are not legally available elsewhere. This is a violation of international law. Importation of goods and services coming from settlements in occupied territories is illegal under international law and prohibiting trade with settlements does not violate the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which does not apply in such circumstances.
Very significant people in Israel have signed a letter that states: "As concerned citizens of Israel who wish to live in peace with our neighbours, we once again urge Ireland to support this legislation that will ban trade between Ireland and Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank." It is signed by Uri Avnery, the ambassador, professor Elie Barnavi, the ambassador Ilan Baruch and a whole series of ambassadors, as well as the speaker of the Knesset. This is the voice of the real conscience of Israel.
The Tánaiste said we could be a principled voice in the wilderness. Let us be such.
The voice in the wilderness was the voice of John the Baptist, and the voice of John the Baptist has rung down through the ages and is still heard today. If Ireland accepts this Bill, the voice of Ireland will be heard throughout the ages as well.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 of 23 December 2016 reaffirms that Israel’s establishment of settlements in occupied Palestinian territory has no legal validity and that Israel's settlement enterprise is a flagrant violation of international law. It call upon all states to, "distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory and the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967". There is our justification from the United Nations itself.
The Tánaiste has spoken about very admirable projects, such as solar energy projects. I raised €55,000 to put in solar energy and water treatment plants and I saw them being demolished and bombed by the Israelis. That is what happens. The Tánaiste talked about the solar energy plant and he said, as if it was something positive, that it was in Israeli-controlled territory. What do the Israelis do? Every time they feel like it, they switch the electricity off. I have seen pathetic little houses demolished by Israeli bulldozers. I have seen the results of the bombing of hospitals, of schools, or sewage treatment plants. It is appalling. The Tánaiste claims to speak on behalf of the people of Palestine. If he wants to know what the people of Palestine want, ask the Palestinian farmers in the Visitors' Gallery and they will tell him. I will surrender my time to my colleagues.
I want to thank Senator Norris and commend him for his eloquence on behalf of the rights of the Palestinian people and in support of the Bill. I want to confirm the strong support of the Labour Party in the Seanad for this Bill. I spoke in January to express our support for it then. I commend Senator Black and her colleagues for bringing it forward.
Since January, when we commenced the debate on the Bill, the case for the Bill has become even more compelling. We have seen appalling atrocities, including the killing of Palestinian civilians. Looking at the UN figures, in Gaza between 30 March and 18 June, 137 Palestinians were killed, with some 14,800 injured, including 3,943 by live ammunition and gunshots. We have seen no progress on the peace process; indeed, we have seen a roll-back on US intervention in the peace process. Therefore, we have no choice but to try to take a lead on this.The Labour Party has a long-standing position in support of the rights of the Palestinian people which is informed by the need for a two state solution. We have always stood for the need for a comprehensive multilateral peace agreement between Israel and Palestine which respects international law. We are seeing multiple violations of international law in the ongoing settlements. As Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore, who was then leader of the Labour Party, led the way in 2011 in his speech to the UN General Assembly in New York in which he supported the Palestinian bid to become a full member of the UN. We led then. Sweden and other countries have led within the EU in unilateral actions recognising the state of Palestine. It is time for us in Ireland to again lead on this issue and in asserting the rights of the Palestinian people by taking the modest step of supporting Senator Black's Bill. I strongly urge colleagues to support the Bill in this House today.
I will try. I welcome to the Gallery many of our most distinguished guests about whom we are speaking. I am very privileged to be a Member of the Upper House and to be an Independent one. As legislators, all of us in this House are tasked with upholding, creating and developing laws which value life, equality, freedom, peace and the expectation of hope, meaning and happiness. It is entirely right that a Bill such as this should come through the House. We either believe in democracy or we do not. There is something rotten in the way democracy is defined, lived and, most importantly, denied in the Israeli-Palestinian territories. Democracy among Palestinians is more akin to annihilation.
Since I came into this Seanad we have asked incessant and sincere questions daily about our own human rights in Ireland in respect of, for example, our sexuality, our partnerships, direct provision, the quality of educational opportunity, penal reform, our right to life and, this morning, the right to Traveller education within our culture. These issues all pale into privileged insignificance when compared with the issue of human rights in Palestine. All humans' rights are supposed to have the same value; at least that is where we are supposed to begin. However, that is not the case with the rights of one Israeli soldier and those of 500 Palestinian children. That is a war in which there are no rules. Israel occupies a place in Palestine in which it obeys no rules.
I have had the privilege of visiting Palestine. Throughout the years I have been in this House I have witnessed the greatest violation of human rights by one country over another, Israel over Palestine. Senator Norris has described it most eloquently. It is a living apartheid every day. The wall has been mentioned. It is higher and more evident now than it was when Senators from Fianna Fáil were there. It runs through people's homes, yards, farms, houses, business premises, olive groves and water, as was mentioned. If the Israelis decide to turn off the water, that is what happens. If they decide to turn off the electricity, that is what happens. The wall runs through their fields, hills, trees and lives. Whenever Israel wants to push it, pull it or further it, that will happen. It gets bigger, thicker and fatter every day as it is built. The Palestinians who are here with us today have to go around it because they cannot go over it. They have no access to cross. They have to cross at different places. They queue for hours to go to work and to leave. They queue to come home and to leave their homes if they have work. They cannot drive on Israeli motorways without a pass. They cannot live without a permit. Every Palestinian I met there was living normally in captivity.
This House is supposed to be about upholding freedom, peace, justice and equality. That is why I have the privilege of being here. The people I met were living normally in captivity. They live despite themselves. One of the greatest culprits in this matter is a toothless and very insular Europe. It is not the Minister, but a very toothless and insular Europe which only ever comes to the fore in here when we are talking about the great god called the euro. If we are talking in Europe about the god called the euro, everybody is to the front. God is the dollar and the dollar is god. We have such arguments for it. Somebody recently asked me who runs Europe. I said the European Central Bank. It does. We can do nothing else. That is also a dysfunction of the UN. There is philosophy and policy, but where is the action? There is also the United States of America. We get the finest combination of onlookers, ignorers and willful powerlessness.
What can the Seanad do? We can do something. Personally, I would like to see sanctions against Israel for crimes against humanity. Is this Bill the way to go? I took in all the arguments because I believe this is a House of listening as well as one of speaking. I do not know. What goods are we talking about? How will we guarantee that such goods will be illegal? Where is there such produce in our shops? What is the produce? What shops are involved? How would it move democracy on? How would it be implemented? We are talking about €250,000 and five years in jail if one violates the law.
I have two points. I come from a background in the arts. It was always the arts that elevated politics, death, destruction, denial and fraction into another area. An example is Daniel Barenboim's West–Eastern Divan Orchestra in which Israelis and Palestinians come together to use the arts to elevate people from destruction. However, I think in this instance Senator Black is correct. I understand the arguments on either side but I am going to support Senator Black because if we do not we will continue with policy and with speaking and we will continue doing nothing while thinking we are doing something because we are speaking about it in 15 different languages. I agree with the Senator and I am going to support her. I thank her for the bravery of her Bill.