Seanad debates

Tuesday, 1 March 2022

Situation in the Middle East: Statements


2:30 pm

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, to the House.

Photo of Colm BrophyColm Brophy (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am here with Members of the House to address both the current situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and, in particular, the issues raised in the report published on 1 February by Amnesty International. Amnesty International is a respected NGO that carries out important work around the world. The Government values the vital role it and other civil society organisations play. Israeli and Palestinian civil society organisations, as well as international organisations such as Amnesty, make a significant contribution to the development of the Middle East peace process.

The report published by Amnesty is a detailed and comprehensive document, and officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs are reviewing its contents in depth. The allegations in the report echo those we have seen in recent similar reports from other well-known civil society organisations such as Human Rights Watch and B'Tselem. These reports undoubtedly raise difficult questions for the Israeli Administration. The report makes several specific claims regarding the policies of the Israeli Government towards the Palestinian people. In particular, as Members will be aware, the report finds that "Israel has perpetrated the international wrong of apartheid, as a human rights violation and a violation of public international law".

It is clear the report paints a bleak picture of the situation of the Palestinian people, and documents a number of issues regarding the practices and policies of the Israeli Administration that Ireland raises regularly. The substantive issues raised in the report include, for example, illegal settlement activity and settler violence, evictions and the demolition of Palestinian property, as well as other discriminatory practices and policies towards the Palestinian people.

Our position on these matters is and will continue to be based on international law, including international human rights law and international humanitarian law, which sets out obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention for Israel as the occupying power, and on the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council. Our approach is rooted in the illegality of Israel's occupation and the right of Palestinians to self-determination. Ireland has been consistently clear-----

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

On a point of order, where can I get a copy of the Minister of State's speech, please?

Photo of Colm BrophyColm Brophy (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There are copies outside and available in the anteroom, I believe. My apologies.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State.

Photo of Colm BrophyColm Brophy (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Ireland has been consistently clear that the restrictions imposed on Palestinians undermine the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, a right that is at the heart of the two-state solution. Ireland has been forthright in expressing concern regarding the unequal treatment of Palestinians and the application of different standards in the occupied Palestinian territories. We have been clear in the language we have used to describe the situation and are conscious of how the language we use can be interpreted.

As the Taoiseach has stated clearly in the Dáil, the Government does not use the term "apartheid" as we do not think it is helpful. We raise our concerns regarding discriminatory practices towards the Palestinians regularly in our direct contacts with the Israeli authorities at both political and official level. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in November 2021 and strongly underlined Ireland' s position in his contacts with his Israeli interlocutors, urging them to cease unilateral actions such as settlement expansion which undermine the prospects for peace.

Ireland has also been proactive in ensuring these issues are highlighted in multilateral forums, in particular at the EU and UN, notably at the Human Rights Council and in the context of our current role as a member of the UN Security Council. At the most recent Security Council meeting on 23 February, Ireland expressed serious concern at how the policies of the Israeli authorities have an impact on the human rights of Palestinians. Ireland condemned the unequal treatment of Palestinians and Israel's failure to ensure the protection and welfare of Palestinians living under its occupation, calling once again on Israel to comply with its obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

Furthermore, following the Security Council meeting on 19 January, Ireland issued a strong joint press statement with France and Estonia.In this statement, we urged Israel not to proceed with new outline plans for the construction of hundreds of housing units in East Jerusalem, including the lower aqueduct plan, which will further undermine the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state.

I wish at this point to address the ongoing tensions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which are a source of deep concern. In recent weeks, we have seen incidents of provocation, violence, including settler violence, and escalatory acts in the occupied Palestinian territory, which serve only to inflame an already tense situation. Reports of the use of excessive force by Israeli security forces are deeply disturbing. The UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, has reported that between 25 January and 7 February alone, 215 Palestinians, including 28 children, were injured by Israeli forces in the West Bank. The killing of two Palestinian teenagers on 13 and 21 February were particularly shocking.

As Ireland reiterated at the Security Council on 23 February, it is the responsibility of the Israeli authorities, as the occupying power, to ensure all incidents of disproportionate use of force are thoroughly investigated and to hold those responsible accountable for their actions. Ireland has also called on Israel to bring to justice settlers responsible for carrying out violent attacks on Palestinians. We are concerned also regarding the imminent threat of further evictions and demolitions in an East Jerusalem neighbourhood, which will inevitably fuel tension. Ireland's representative in Ramallah was present, along with other EU like-minded diplomats, at the scene of evictions and demolitions, which took place in Sheikh Jarrah on 17 and 18 January and our ambassador in Tel Aviv has communicated our concern directly to the Israeli authorities.

I referred at the beginning of my remarks to the importance of civil society and the vital role civil society organisations play in this context. The designation by the Israeli authorities of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organisations remains a source of deep concern. These designations have the potential to affect not only the six organisations concerned but civil society more broadly across the occupied Palestinian territory and to seriously undermine vital humanitarian development and human rights work. Again, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, underlined Ireland's position on this during his visit to the region and we have raised this consistently at the Security Council, including at the meeting on 23 February, where Ireland stressed our commitment to supporting civil society remains undimmed. We will continue to work closely with our partners on our response to these designations, including at EU level. Ireland is a consistent voice in the EU on the Middle East peace process and we work to utilise our influence at all levels.

Ireland and the EU will continue to monitor actively developments on the ground. We will remain committed to the two-state solution and will continue to work with partners to revive a political process in line with international law, which ensures equal rights and is acceptable to both parties.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for his remarks. It is important to reiterate it is Ireland's policy to achieve the two-state solution and that Ireland totally condemns all breaches of international law and all denial of human rights, and that we are unequivocal about that. That is not in any sense to be interpreted, as is sometimes said, as some form of antisemitism. It is quite the contrary. It is a belief in the rule of law and order. Ireland is very conscious of the historic, appalling and tragic suffering of the Jewish people down the generations but that in no sense excuses or gives any form of legitimacy to the issues raised.

The Amnesty report is comprehensive. From my reading of its executive summary and having only glanced through the rest of the report, the detail of which I hope to read, it is extremely comprehensive and covers all classes.We are into semantics here and I am aware of the Taoiseach's position as outlined by the Minister of State. However, in essence it establishes that there is a totally discriminatory regime, with systematic discrimination against the Palestinian people and systematic wrongdoing. I speak personally here. While it depends on how one would define the word, I would see it as apartheid. We are into semantics here but personally I would see it as that. No matter how we define it, the consistent wrongdoing is undeniable.

During the protests in May 2021, it was shocking that the Israeli military fired grenades at worshippers and protesters gathered at the Al-Aqsa mosque. In October 2021 it shut down and outlawed six organisations, including three human rights organisations. The Amnesty International report is based on wide consultation with NGOs, UN agencies, stakeholders, scholars, academics etc. It establishes the concept of demographic hegemony. The issue is the illegal Jewish settlements throughout the occupied territories. What is very disturbing about what has been happening with these settlements in recent times is the degree to which they are making a two-state solution particularly difficult. The nature and spread of those settlements make such a solution very difficult to achieve. Of course, that is the intention, a two-state solution. While we cannot give up the fight on that, it is a major problem.

The laws give Jews a different status from their Palestinian neighbours, which is shocking. This report identifies 1,800 military orders. It states that since 1967, some 800,000 Palestinian men have been arrested and residency permits denied to persons of other nationalities who were married to Palestinians in the occupied territories. At the end of 2020, there were 272 settlements and outposts in the West Bank, excluding east Jerusalem. Some 441,600 Israelis were settled in the occupied territories. As of July 2021, an additional 225,178 settlers were living in east Jerusalem, which was then home to 358,800 Palestinians, indicating an extraordinarily rapid increase in that time.

The discrimination extends to planning, national and financial resources, access to water, maritime access, livelihood opportunities, healthcare, education and sanitation. This is all well documented and established in the report. Obviously, as consequences of all that, there are higher levels of poverty and lower levels of participation in the labour force. The Amnesty International report is an extraordinary chronicle of discrimination and wrongdoing. In recent years there has been a great acceleration of the illegal settlements. That is contrary and damaging to the objective of Ireland's foreign policy, which is to establish the two-state solution.

I made this point at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence and it is more appropriate to put on the record of this Assembly than that committee. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, are highly committed to dealing with this question. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has occupied himself with the Palestinian issue as a primary foreign affairs issue from when he first became Minister for Foreign Affairs. He has made it primus inter pares.

The situation is very grave. The Amnesty International report is damning and I believe its contents. Amnesty International is a reputable organisation. It has consulted widely and the report's contents are well tested and proved. It is not damaging its international reputation by producing false information. Tragically, the information it has produced is consistent with previous information and with our Government's material. It is just another document and a particularly stark documentation of the same issues.

We need a very strong approach here. We cannot be equivocal about it. It is a very damning report and a very damning situation. I congratulate Amnesty International on the report which I personally welcome. What is happening is wrong. No form of antisemitism is implicit in condemning that as wrong. On the contrary, the rule of law and human rights values enhance civilization, enhance people and are not contrary to the well-being of any particular demographic.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. This is a damning report. The Government and this State need to be very strong in our response to the findings of this report. We cannot equivocate about it and tragically we cannot deny the accuracy of it.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Well said.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I commend Amnesty International on the publication of this report and the immense amount of work that went into researching it, backing up its findings and recommendations, and bringing to the fore an extremely serious situation in the occupied territories and in Israel. The authors of the report understood the gravity of the wording they were using. I do not believe they put pen to paper without thinking long and hard about the implications of the wording used. Given the meaning and the definition of apartheid and based on the evidence presented by the report, it is difficult to disagree with its findings. We need to acknowledge what is happening on the ground in the occupied territories and what Israel is inflicting on the Palestinian people.

The report states:

Israel has pursued an explicit policy of establishing and maintaining a Jewish demographic hegemony and maximizing its control over land to benefit Jewish Israelis while minimizing the number of Palestinians and restricting their rights and obstructing their ability to challenge this dispossession.

We need to respond strongly to those words and the content of the report. What we are discussing here is a clear and consistent breach of international law and a consistent breach of the human rights of Palestinians.

The report states that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid against Palestinians and it raises serious issues. My colleagues and I requested the Leader to schedule this debate because we wanted an opportunity to acknowledge the work of this report and put our views on the record.

The Irish Government's foreign affairs policy is to pursue a two-state solution, which I believe ultimately will be the best outcome and something we should pursue. However, we must acknowledge that is not currently possible because of what Israel is doing to the Palestinian people. It is very difficult to see how we would achieve a two-state solution in any sort of meaningful timeframe.

Evictions of Palestinian people continue to take place with their homes being demolished. There is deliberate and consistent discrimination at all levels against the Palestinian people in clear breach of international law and yet very little action has been taken. I acknowledge that these are not the actions of every Israeli. Many people in Israel are not supportive of the actions taking place.My colleague, Senator Joe O'Reilly, put it very well when he said this is not about pitting one people against another but about upholding values we in this House all hold dear. Those values are human rights and their protection, the protection of human life, the upholding of international law, and the idea that we should all be held accountable to the same international law by which we all wish to abide.

It is important to point out that Ireland has consistently used its position where it can at EU level and UN Security Council level to advocate peace, to support the Middle East peace process and to advocate a two-state solution. This is Ireland using its mandate and doing what it can to try to assist in the situation. It is important, however, to call this what it is and to acknowledge the actions consistently taking place and not to airbrush, minimise or sugar-coat them in any way. As I said, I believe the author of this report, Amnesty International, was very considered in what it put on paper and would have known very well the implications the report would have. Those implications have been very wide-reaching.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with the Palestinian ambassador. We had a very long and detailed conversation. I know this report is important to the Palestinian people and to the ambassador's office. It is important a platform is given to the report and that we have this discussion. I will wait to hear the Minister of State's response to the issues raised by Members, but I am sure he will find that equally strong views will be expressed across the Chamber by all parties and none as to what the report contains. It is important that we, as a House, stand in collective support of the Palestinian people, that they should be treated with dignity and respect and that international law should be respected. Clearly, that is not happening. I know it is the position of the Irish Government to call for a cessation of all evictions, demolitions and the consistent discrimination, but we have been calling for that for some time, as have many other countries around the world, and we are yet to see any action taken to respond to those calls.

While we continue to play our role internationally, engaging with the Middle East peace process, while we will continue to use our mandate at EU level and UN Security Council level and while we will continue to call for a cessation of those activities that we know blatantly breach and contravene international law, does Deputy Brophy, as Minister of State, or the Government intend to take any further action, particularly on foot of this report and its findings and the clear evidence and facts presented in it, which are not open to interpretation and which cannot be disputed? We are yet to hear a response to what has been presented in the report. We have been given lots of general responses to the overarching issues and information on the work the Government has done to date, but I am yet to hear a very clear and detailed response to the issues raised in the report, which is why we are discussing it on the floor of the House.

I commend Amnesty International and its branch here in Ireland on their work on this report and on their continued engagement with Members of this House and the other House in trying to advance international law, the upholding of same, and the interests of those in vulnerable groups who may be discriminated against.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Only a few short months ago, Seanad Éireann roundly condemned the outrageous, totally disproportionate and indiscriminate bombardment of Palestine by Israeli forces. Any country that engages in such flagrant breaches of international law is more than capable of operating an apartheid system. The overreaction of the Israeli Government to Amnesty's published findings was not surprising because those findings cut deep and upset many people. The report states that Israel's apartheid system against Palestinians is a "cruel system of domination" and a "crime against humanity". We have heard the usual response, that is, the disingenuous, fake information response that somehow Amnesty is antisemitic or an organisation of left-wing crazies. The usual lines were trotted out. The response was disgusting but not surprising. No doubt President Putin would call Amnesty a group of drug addicts and neo-Nazis as well. That is how these actors deal with such findings. There can be no normal conversation.

A wonderful and eminent senior counsel, Bill Shipsey, recently had published an excellent piece on Amnesty's findings. It was a very measured response. He stated that he understood that, without looking at the facts and the findings of the report, the finding of apartheid against the state of Israel would upset many people. Because there are those sensitivities and because there is a fake information war, it is always good to put on record, in case we are ever misunderstood, that we, as democrats, recognise the right to self-determination of the Jewish people. We recognise the right to existence of the state of Israel, just as I do the state of Palestine. We always condemn antisemitism, because if we do not do so, we will be misrepresented. If the Israeli Government cannot go for the ball, it goes for the man or the woman.

An analogy can be drawn with South Africa and its apartheid system. To F.W. de Klerk's eternal credit, very late in the day, before he passed away in November of last year, he retracted and apologised for what he had earlier said, that apartheid was not a crime against humanity. He found peace with himself by being true to himself. It was extremely late coming, but it is never too late.

A young man just finished his matriculation and his leaving certificate, Bill Shipsey, with a few of his fellow young pupils, went off to Israel and had a very happy summer working in a kibbutz. They worked on moving irrigation pipes in extensive cotton fields. Each morning, Mr. Shipsey passed what looked like the ruins of a village on the top of a hill above the kibbutz. It looked like one of the famine villages of the west of Ireland. No explanation was forthcoming, and it took many years later for that measured, practical man, Bill Shipsey, an eminent barrister, to realise what he had lived through that summer. He discovered that the land on which that kibbutz operated had been obtained by driving Palestinian tenants off the land in the 1930s and again in 1948. That abandoned and ruined village was one from which residents had been forcibly removed. Some of the descendents of its former residents live as refugees in Jenin, in the West Bank. Had he known what he knows now, Mr. Shipsey's attitude at the time would have been very different.

Mr. Shipsey concludes, however, with a note of hope that justice requires change, compromise and a willingness to recognise wrongs. I would add that it requires honesty, and for some that has to be raw honesty. A peace based on justice has to include a willingness to recognise wrongs. Martin Luther King said, "I do not see how we will ever solve the turbulent problem of race confronting our nation until there is an honest confrontation with it and a willing search for the truth and a willingness to ... [discuss] the truth when we discover it." That search for truth goes hand in hand with long-term peace and reconciliation. We can see that on the island of Ireland. Ours is not a perfect peace but it is a precious peace, and every day is a victory. There is a sharing of different traditions. We see how South Africa put its dark past behind it. However, there will be no resolution, no grim dark past consigned to the history of the Middle East, until people in a mature and calm way are first of all true to themselves and show honest leadership, not populism, and call things out as they are.

Amnesty has done the world a great service by backing up its findings with evidence in a very detailed report.Israel must come clean with the world and have a normal discussion. We understand the wicked past it has suffered but it has to differentiate. Its past cannot set it free of the truth of yesterday and the day before. Its past will never give a reason or excuse for the blatant apartheid, which is a blemish on this living, modern civilisation.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am sharing my time with Senator Lynn Boylan.

I welcome the Palestinian ambassador, who is in the Gallery, as are my comrades Mr. Frank Connolly from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and Mr. Tim Hanley from Amnesty International. It is great to have them here today. I thank them for coming.

I have a prepared speech but am not sure how much of it I will use. I want to stress how important this Amnesty International report is. As others have said, it is very detailed, amounting to 300 pages. It is so conclusive because it produces evidence under so many headings to demonstrate that Israel is operating an apartheid state.

I will refer only briefly to my script because I want to make some other points. The report is meticulous, its details are microscopic, and its sources are comprehensive and knowledgeable. It builds on decades of investigations by Amnesty International and human rights organisations, including Israeli and Palestinian organisations. More than 450 civic organisations have recognised that Israel is an apartheid state. I hope no one is going to suggest seriously that all 450 are wrong.

For the purposes of accuracy and authenticity, I want to highlight some of the wording of the report rather than give my interpretation of the report: "Amnesty International has documented and analysed Israel's institutionalised and systematic discrimination against Palestinians within the framework of the definition of apartheid under international law." It also states: "It has done so by firstly determining Israel's intent to oppress and dominate all Palestinians by establishing its hegemony across Israel and the OPT, including through means of demography, and maximising resources for the benefit of its Jewish population at the expense of Palestinians." Its assessment is that almost all of Israel's civilian administration and military authorities, as well as governmental and quasi-governmental institutions, are involved in the enforcement of the system of apartheid against Palestinians across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, and also against Palestinian refugees and their descendants outside the territory.

The work done by Amnesty International has been thorough and extensive. It also states what we all know and what is very clear: "Apartheid is a violation of public international law, a grave violation of internationally protected human rights and a crime against humanity under international criminal law." Why is the State of Israel permitted to be part of the international community? Why does the EU continue its preferential treatment of Israel? This report demonstrates quite clearly that Israel is not a democratic state and should not be a member of any democratic assembly of nations until it earns the democratic right to be so.

I want to talk briefly about the fact that I visited Palestine just a few years ago and saw for myself how apartheid operates. I met a young woman in the West Bank who explained that she could not even travel the seven miles to East Jerusalem because she was not a Jewish citizen. She did not have the right to travel within her own country. I saw at first hand military courts operated by the Israeli authorities. There is a civil court system for Jewish people and a military court system for Palestinians. I saw a young man who did not understand what was going on because all the proceedings were in Hebrew. He had an interpreter who was laughing and smiling along with the military before he, the young man, was sent away to prison. Hundreds of children are interned in occupied Palestine. We do not know the number because the authorities have stopped releasing the figures. There are horrendous demolitions of properties and, of course, the callous taking of lives over such a long period.

I cannot understand the phrase "the Government does not use the term 'apartheid' as we do not think it is helpful". To whom does the Minister believe it is not helpful? As the last speaker, Senator Martin, said, we have to be honest with ourselves. I call on the Minister of State to be honest and recognise what all of us in this Chamber know, that is, that Israel is an apartheid state.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank Senator Gavan. I thought for a moment that he was going to exercise discrimination against Senator Boylan by taking up her time.

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

That is okay because Senator Gavan has put it better than I possibly could. The time of Operation Protective Edge was the first time we really saw the indiscriminate targeting of innocent civilians played out in real time on social media. Following that, in 2014, I had the opportunity to travel to Palestine. What I saw with my own eyes I recognise in the Amnesty International report. I did not get into Gaza, but, as a European delegation, we travelled around Palestine. What we saw is corroborated in the Amnesty International report. We saw vital medical supplies being withheld. In Hebron, we saw little children being stopped and searched on their way to school, their bags being turned upside down. We saw Palestinian market sellers who had to put canopies over their stalls because, if they did not, the residents above would throw human excrement down on their supplies. We saw the wall and the separate bus transport systems. No matter how many times people relay what the Israeli Government is facilitating and perpetrating against the Palestinians, it seems the reaction is always to deny it and make the false accusation of antisemitism.

Amnesty International is just the latest reputable witness to the Israeli Government's apartheid regime. I commend it on its report and the detail within on Israeli apartheid against the Palestinian people. Headings cover apartheid in international law; the intent to oppress and dominate Palestinians; territorial fragmentation and legal segregation; legal segregation and control; the use of military control to control and dispossess; the denial of nationality, residency and family life; the disruption of family life; the restriction of movement; the restriction of the right to political participation; the dispossession of land and property; discriminatory zoning and planning policies; the suppression of Palestinians' human development; a system of apartheid; crimes against humanity; administrative detention, torture and other ill-treatment; unlawful killings and serious injuries; and the denial of basic rights and freedoms, and persecution. That is the apartheid straitjacket that is daily life for nearly 5 million Palestinians who live under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The Irish Government and the EU must end their appeasement policy on Israel. There is a price to be paid to be respected and accepted as a democratic state. At the moment, Israel is a rogue state at war with all the Palestinian people. It has to end its war and the apartheid system before it is accepted and respected. As Senator Gavan asked, if using the word "apartheid" is not helpful, to whom is it not helpful? Having read the Amnesty International report and all the reports that came before it, there is no denying that Israel is an apartheid state. The Irish Government needs to stand up against it.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Senator Gavan has already offered a welcome, but, from the Chair, I officially welcome the ambassador–head of mission of Palestine to the Visitors Gallery. She is very welcome. I welcome the other visitors also. They are all very welcome. It is good to see an interest in the proceedings.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am glad time has been afforded to discuss the Amnesty International report into Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people.I am delighted the Palestinian ambassador is here and is joined by people from the trade union movement and beyond who have been working to agitate for the rights of the Palestinian people over many years. I am very glad they are here. I am very grateful to Senator Black. It is because of her pushing of this issue that we are having this debate today.

In the past week, we have witnessed Russia invade Ukraine against the democratic will of its people and in the knowledge it will lead to the loss of thousands of its citizens' lives. It is poignant we are discussing the acts of apartheid and oppression of the Israeli Government against the Palestinian people in the knowledge that it has gone on for decades. The Amnesty International report is the latest in a litany of reports we have seen over many years describing what is apartheid by the Israeli state against the Palestinian people. We know the 2017 UN report, entitled Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid, came to the same conclusions as the Amnesty International report, namely, that the Palestinian people had been subject to relentless land seizures, air strikes, restrictions on movement, unlawful killing and denials of their nationality and citizenship - denials of their very identity. It is as abhorrent when it happens in Gaza as when it happens in Europe.

All people in this world have a right to self-determination and identity and this right must also belong to the Palestinian people. This right has been consistently denied to the Palestinian people by the Israeli Government. As documented in such detail in the Amnesty International report, the Israeli Government continues to treat the Palestinians as a demographic threat - even to think about that phrase in itself, a demographic threat - and that, every day, Israel imposes and enforces measures to control and decrease the Palestinian presence in and access to land in Israel and the occupied territories. The Amnesty International report goes on to illustrate how the Israeli Government has systematically treated the Palestinian people as an inferior racial group regardless of where they live and that Palestinians are being forced to live as a second-class people in a state that is built on the destruction of their national identity. It involves rendering people homeless, nationless, without an identity and access to basic democracy, and excluded from healthcare and education, all because of their nationality. That is apartheid and neither Ireland nor this Government can stand by and say we cannot use phrases like apartheid because Israel is an apartheid state.

Apartheid is not some nebulous or vague political charge or term. We know three main international treaties prohibit and explicitly criminalise apartheid - the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. This report from Amnesty International goes into graphic detail about how the crimes against humanity and against the Palestinian people conform to that definition of apartheid, how the absentee property law is used as a tool of war and apartheid effectively to deprive the Palestinian people of their land, and how there is suppression of so many civil society organisations within Palestine, something we do not talk as much about. Six prominent ones were closed down in recent years while more than 400 Palestinian organisations have been banned since 1967. Palestinians are being denied that freedom of association we enjoy across most European countries because an assembly of more than ten people without a permit is forbidden.

What is the Irish State going to do? We have a seat at the UN Security Council. How are we using that? What are we doing with regard to Senator Black's Bill banning the importation of products from the occupied territories? How are we going to respond to Amnesty International's recommendations? It urges the international community to re-establish the Special Committee Against Apartheid, which was originally set up in 1962. Are we going to recognise that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid? We have heard the Minister of State's comments and believe he needs to change them. Amnesty International specifically calls for all states to enforce a ban on products from illegal Israeli settlements. How is Ireland taking leadership on the Security Council and within Europe on this issue, because we cannot stand back? We can issue all the words in the world but we need to see action and we need to see this Government taking a leadership role and calling it as it is.

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State. I can only imagine how busy he is and particularly the Minister for Foreign Affairs at this time with everything that is happening in Ukraine. I imagine it must be taking up the majority of the Minister of State's time. It is a very worrying situation and I express my sympathy for the Ukrainian people, who are being subjected to terrible violence, and I condemn the invasion by Russia of a sovereign country.

Our Government along with our European partners have rightly condemned the breaking of international law. Without the adherence to international law, the world could quickly spiral into destruction, but the flouting of international law by Israel has been ongoing without any real consequences. This could also be said in the case of Saudi Arabia and the war on Yemen, which has been ongoing for the past seven years and where 10,000 children alone have died due to direct and indirect causes of this war. The war on Yemen has been extremely under-reported due to the media being prohibited from entering the country. There has been very little humanitarian assistance provided to this country and its people due to blockades imposed in 2016

However, we are here to talk about the Amnesty International report. I must start by congratulating Amnesty International on publishing this report, which is the result of years of research and lays out in great detail the crime of apartheid as committed by Israel against the Palestinian people. I welcome Tim Hanley from Amnesty Ireland, Frank Connolly from ICTU, Mags O'Brien, Brian Allen and Yara Alagha, and extend an especially warm welcome to the Palestinian ambassador to Ireland, H.E. Jilan Wahba Abdalmajid. This is the latest in a growing list of such reports from UN committees and from Israeli, international and Palestinian organisations. Of course, Palestinians have been telling us for decades that they live under a regime of apartheid imposed on them by Israel. We, however, have not been listening.

At the outset, it is important to be clear about the exact nature of the crime of apartheid. The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid outlines in great detail why apartheid is a crime against humanity. It states that policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination are crimes that violate the principles of international law and the Charter of the United Nations. The Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court describes the crime of apartheid as crimes committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group over any other racial group and systematically oppressing them. That is exactly what Israel has done. It has established and maintains a system of domination and oppression of the Palestinian people in the entire territory from the river to the sea and among the Palestinian refugee population.

As Hagai El-Ad, director of the Israeli NGO B'Tselem, said on publication of that organisation's report on Israeli apartheid, no Palestinian has rights equal to any Jewish Israeli in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. The primary objective of a colonising project such as that practised by Israel is the control of territory. This control requires the displacement, removal, fragmentation and isolation of Palestinians from each other and from the outside world. Even Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, cannot leave Ramallah without permission from Israel, whether for overseas or internal travel.Everything we see serves a purpose. This includes: forced removals and transfers; demographic manipulation; land grabs; settlement expansion and settler violence;the construction of hundreds of kilometres of walls and fences; endless checkpoints; separate roads for Palestinians and Jewish settlers; different laws for Jewish Israelis and Palestinians; administrative detentions; the system of travel permits; mass surveillance and restrictions on movement; inequality of access to basic resources such as water; the denial of building permits; the blockade of Gaza; and the denial of nationality and citizenship. It goes on. The result is a series of disconnected bantustans surrounded by Israeli occupation forces and settlements, just like Israel has done in occupied Golan. Israel has no intention of ending this decades-long system of oppression. In fact, it has intensified and it plans to continue as the world stands by and refuses to respond. We have all the details now. It is no longer possible to pretend we do not know or that we do not understand. We know. We understand. Surely now we are also convinced.

Let us be clear. Apartheid is a crime against humanity. Israel has constructed a regime of apartheid over Palestinians in the entire territory under its control. By continuing to not take action, Ireland and the Government are complicit in crimes against humanity. As a responsible member of the international community of nations, totally dependent as a small nation on the rules-based order and no longer able to pretend we did not know, we are now obliged to act. Israel must be accountable for the crime of apartheid.

We are told the occupied territories Bill, which would make illegal the importation of goods or services from occupied territories which, by the way, could include the importation of goods and services from an occupied Ukraine, cannot be enacted as trade is an EU competency. There is considerable eminent legal advice available to me that indicates the Bill would be lawful under EU public interest considerations. Given the invasion and occupation of Ukraine, is this legislation not more necessary now than ever? The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has told me many times it would breach EU law. I urge the Minister of State, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the Department to look at this again. It is a modest initiative and one which we as a sovereign nation should implement. If the EU wishes to challenge it let it do so. This is a matter of doing the right thing and having the courage of our convictions. These are two actions the Government could take tomorrow if it wished. It could pass the occupied territories Bill and make a clear public statement that Israel is implementing apartheid policies against the Palestinian people.

The past week has shown the world how quickly sanctions can be imposed on states engaged in violations of international law. Some of the sanctions imposed on Russia go far beyond anything Palestinians and their supporters have called for to be applied to Israel. More than seven decades after Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes to facilitate its creation, the occupation and colonisation of the remainder of historic Palestine, decades of apartheid laws, human rights abuses and international law violations, not a single economic or diplomatic sanction has been placed on Israel despite the overwhelming support of global public opinion for such actions. I urge all Members to invite people to support the European citizens initiative. If it secures 1 million signatures from European citizens by 20 February 2023 it will force the European Commission to propose legal acts to prevent the import and export of products to and from the illegal settlements. This is a very important effort and deserves our full support.

There are many important recommendations in the Amnesty report. Amnesty has asked that countries review any co-operation and activities with Israel to ensure they do not contribute to maintaining the system of apartheid. I wholeheartedly support this. I ask the Minister of State to institute such a review in the case of Ireland and to report on the outcome to the Oireachtas.

Will the Minister of State acknowledge today that Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people amounts to apartheid? Will he agree to prepare a set of actions which the Government will implement following Dáil Éireann's unanimous adoption last year of a motion stating that Israel has, de facto, annexed large parts of the occupied West Bank?

Photo of John McGahonJohn McGahon (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

This is an important debate and I am happy to give people a bit of latitude as they are speaking.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Government's statement this afternoon. I particularly welcome the Government's decision not to adopt or utilise the term "apartheid" in relation to Israel, a position it shares with a great number of western democracies. Last week, Yoseph Haddad offered an entirely different perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to what we have been hearing in the Houses over the past decades and what we have heard again this afternoon. Mr. Haddad is an Arab Israeli. Growing up in a mixed community of Arabs, Jews and Christians he experienced no form of segregation or difference whatsoever. He joined the defence forces when a local restaurant owned by an Arab-Jewish partnership was blown apart by a Palestinian suicide attack in which 21 people of mixed ancestry were slaughtered. He was in command of Jewish soldiers as an Arab and was severely wounded in the south Lebanon war. Mr. Haddad is proud of being an Israeli. It is his strong belief as an Arab that the Amnesty report entirely misrepresents the lived experience of the non-Jewish community in Israel.

Members may be surprised to learn that Arabs serve at the highest level in every sector of life in Israel. For instance, more than 50% of all pharmacists in Israel are Arab. More than 30% of all doctors are Arab. Last week, an Arab Muslim was appointed to the Israeli Supreme Court. It already had judges of the Arab Christian tradition. In all other walks of life, including business, the arts, education and government, Arabs, both Muslim and Christian, have achieved the highest positions in the land. Are these the characteristics of an apartheid state?

Like every country, Israel has its flaws and inequalities. For Amnesty to invoke the term "apartheid" seems an abuse of the English language and Israeli state. Apartheid for most people describes the obscene system of racial discrimination upheld in South Africa for far too long and which is now, thankfully, consigned to the scrapheap of history. To equate Israel, the one democratic and secular state in the entire Middle East, with what the black and coloured races suffered in South Africa is outrageous. It is an injustice to the non-white African community. Amnesty in introducing this flawed report has greatly damaged its own credibility. In the past, Amnesty has not distinguished itself for its fairness to Israel. Some of its prominent spokespersons have been forced to withdraw false allegations about Israel. Not even Amnesty would suggest for a moment it could be seen as a neutral or disinterested voice on the conflict.

It is worth noting that Amnesty focused on the Negev region for its survey. The Negev has approximately 100,000 Israeli Arabs. This is 5% of the total Arab Israeli population. How can Amnesty extrapolate a global finding from such a narrow sample? Why did it not include the testimonies and experiences of Israeli Arabs such as Yoseph Haddad? Is it not aware of the Harvard University study that shows 77% of Arab Israelis would choose to live in Israel above any other country? Does this sound like an apartheid state? Does Amnesty believe the state of Israel has a right to exist? It is a question I could put to many people in this country who support the Palestinian cause. I have often heard the question asked of certain people and they have refused to answer it because they know the answer will not be acceptable to the Irish people.

We are not talking about normal circumstances. Israel is a small nation surrounded by people who are sworn to destroy it and who will never agree to any resolution of the conflict other than the extermination of the Israeli state. "Palestine will be free from the river to the sea" is a chant we have heard many times outside the gates of Leinster House. It sounds great but what it means is that Israel is to be wiped off the face of the earth. Will that bring peace to the Palestinian people if it is achieved?Not a chance. Hamas, Hezbollah and Fatah will all keep bombing and killing each other. They will continue to use innocent women and children in the front line for propaganda purposes, as heretofore, because there are differences far greater than their hatred of Israel. That is saying something. It is these same groups that inflict the greatest suffering on the Palestinian people, and Amnesty ignores this. Has Amnesty any report on Hamas in Gaza? Has Amnesty any report on the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank?

One thing I find unacceptable in the current Amnesty advertising campaign is that they ask people to join its anti-Israeli crusade by signing a petition, and if they do, they receive a call. This is clearly a recruitment and fundraising exercise at the expense of the people of the Middle East. I find it despicable. I withdrew my Amnesty subscription many years ago when I saw what they had to say about the conflict here in this country. If they got that so wrong, could we trust them in anything? There is widespread support in these Houses and in my own party for the Palestinian cause. I too believe in a two-state solution. I too want to see an end to the suffering of the Palestinians, but I am not blind to the underlying causes.

I hope the Acting Chairman will give me a small bit of leeway as I am offering an alternative position here. As a member of the new Ireland-Israel parliamentary friendship group, I look forward to engaging with members on all sides of the House, with members of the Knesset in the months ahead, and with Jewish, Christian, and Arab members of parliament. Yes, all creeds can contest elections in Israel, unlike their adversaries who, of course, do not have any elections at all. If they did, we can be certain no Jewish man or woman would be allowed on the ballot paper.

With regard to women, it is astonishing that so many of our leading feminists take sides against Israel with people who treat women as slaves, who execute members of the LGBT community, and who in some cases think that public raping of what they would call "inappropriately dressed" women, is acceptable behaviour.

In the Dáil last week the Taoiseach referred to Colum McCann's outstanding novel Apeirogon, which is inspired by the real-life experiences of two men, one Arab and one Jew, who had both suffered the loss of a daughter. The title refers to multi-sided shape, which reflects brilliantly the actual make-up and definition of the conflict in Israel. I have no doubt these heroic men would not appreciate the ham-fisted report of Amnesty. They are doing the hard work of building bridges. This report tears them down.

It is time that the one-way narrative stopped. Amnesty's dreadful intervention might do something good. It might be the catalyst to open the door to a wider dialogue and, it is hoped, put an end to the simplistic one-way, anti-Israel campaign and rhetoric that has blighted recent conversation in these Houses for too long. I thank the Acting Chairman for his indulgence; I appreciate it.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Minister of State, Deputy Burke, is very welcome, as always. Clearly this debate is very impassioned. I will start by saying there are wrongs on all sides with this. There is no doubt the Palestinian people have suffered greatly over the years. I have not studied the Amnesty International report in great detail. Amnesty as an organisation has done more good than bad in the world as a whole. It certainly has and does call out injustices that have taken place around the world over many decades. Amnesty's contribution must be acknowledged and it must be saluted for what it has done.

Reports must be challenged, however, and it is appropriate we would have a debate on and challenge the report. Every report worth its salt should be challenged. I want to see a solution to this problem that has gone on for far too long. The international community has a responsibility, and a greater responsibility now more than ever before, to engage with all sides and come up with a solution. Foreign affairs in general has changed in the past week or two. We now must have a more hands-on approach in dealing with conflict, dealing with bullies and dealing with what happens. On what Russia is doing to Ukraine, Russia did the same in Crimea back in 2014 and yet the world stood by and did nothing about it. This is happening now in Ukraine. We are imposing sanctions and clearly Russia has factored those sanctions into its behaviour.

The international community really needs to engage in a very focused and determined way in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. I believe in the two-state solution but this needs to be negotiated in a very intense way. Rhetoric on both sides and entrenched positions on both sides will not work. There have been wrongs on both sides of that. There is no doubt the Palestinian people have suffered enormously but we must look to the future. We must put a roadmap in place now that will bring a solution and peace and that will, it is hoped, build the bridges Senator O'Sullivan is talking about. Clearly the bridges are not there. It would be very sad if the Amnesty report actually created more conflict and further entrenched positions. The people who have subscribed to Amnesty over the years would not want to see that.

As Senator O'Sullivan has said, and I believe he is right, maybe it will be the catalyst that will see a micro-focused and very determined approach by the international community. Does Ireland have a role to play in that? Absolutely we have a role to play in that. We certainly do not have role in creating further division by using language that is clearly offensive, that has an historical context and connotation, and that would clearly upset and create entrenchment. We have a role to play. Ireland has been over the years a peacemaker. Let us use the influence we clearly have on the international stage to bring together communities and peoples to negotiate the type of arrangement we all want to see, where all people are treated with respect: Palestinians and Israelis.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

My esteemed colleague Senator O'Sullivan referred to the novel Apeirogonby Colum McCann. This is one of the best books I have read in the past year or two. Essentially, it is about the futility of war. It is about Rami, an Israeli whose daughter was killed in a suicide bombing, and Bassam, a Palestinian whose daughter Abir was shot by an Israeli soldier. The novel is about how these two men found one another and found that more united them than divided them. They spend their lives travelling the world, essentially talking about the need for people to work together. Colum McCann spent a lot of time with Rami and Bassam because this is based on a true story, and he really cracked it. It is a wonderful story around what is now their life's work to try to bring peace to the Middle East and to bring peace between Israel and Palestine.

One of the reasons I was particularly interested in reading this book was because many years ago I spent several months in Israel. I worked on a kibbutz near Ashkelon, just six miles from the Gaza Strip. A number of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip worked in the kibbutz. I worked with them and became friends with them in what is called a padres, which is a citrus fruit orchard. A good friend and I were called "Team Ireland". Interestingly enough, this was the very first time this kibbutz had allowed Germans come to work as volunteers on the kibbutz. There were six Germans, who were engineers in their gap year in college and had decided to come to Israel. They spent their whole time apologising for what the Germans had done to the Jews. The kibbutz itself was named Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, in honour of Mordechai Anielewicz, a Polish Jew who led an uprising in Poland. The Jews had no home in central Europe.Others like him came by boat across the Mediterranean Sea to this particular kibbutz, which was three miles from the sea. They pitched up with nothing and built a good life for themselves and their families but, more importantly, they dwelt in ease and peace with their Palestinian neighbours.

I learned a lot during my time there about how people could genuinely work together. I had nothing but good experiences with both Israelis and Palestinians but a lot is wrong in their country. I spent Christmas Eve in Bethlehem. Myself and my friend got tickets for midnight mass. We met some Arabs who lived in Bethlehem but they were not allowed into Manger Square, even though they lived in the city, which shocked me. I recall looking up as we went into Manger Square and seeing snipers all around. It was actually quite a dangerous place to be because of the conflict. I was in my very early 20s at the time and I remember being quite shocked at some of the stories I heard. I learned more and continued to be very interested in the conflict.

I am proud that our country has been consistently forthright in expressing concern regarding the unequal treatment of Palestinians and the application of different standards in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, both bilaterally and at EU and UN level, including at the UN Security Council. As a country, we have been very proactive in consistently highlighting these issues, including demolitions and settlement expansion, at the UN Security Council during our current term. There is no doubt that Israel must cease evictions and demolitions and comply with its obligations as an occupying power under international law. It must also allow those who want to support the Palestinians to enter their country to do so. Approximately three years ago, Ms Elaine Daly and a number of others who used to go in and do a lot of work, particularly with Palestinian children, were not allowed into Israel because they were supporting Palestinians. They were supporting them in a very peaceful way and in a way that the children needed. That is something that we must call for too.

I welcome this debate. Apeirogon is a mathematical term for an object that has an infinite number of sides. This is not a black and white issue. It is not simple. We have to work to help people on both sides, in a two-state solution, to live and work together peacefully.

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Palestinian ambassador to the House. I also welcome Mr. Tim Hanley from Amnesty International and all our visitors in the Public Gallery. I commend Amnesty International on its work on this report. It very much interrogates the record of the Israeli state in its treatment of the Palestinian people. It is a stark document that records a litany of crimes against humanity and it is a damning indictment of an apartheid state that is intent on the oppression and complete domination of the Palestinian people. As damning as the report is, sadly it comes as no surprise to those of us who watch what is happening on the ground in Palestine, the fragmentation of Palestinian lands, the dispossessions and the suppression of political and civic activity. We have seen apartheid in South Africa, the systematic attempt to control a people and this is daily life for Palestinian people.

I want to add my voice to the recommendations of the Amnesty International report. I also support the call by Amnesty International for the UN Security Council to impose targeted sanctions against Israeli officials implicated in the crime of apartheid. The UN special assembly on apartheid needs to be re-established. I also have to mention the designation by Israel of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organisations. This is a blatant attempt to suppress human rights organisations involved in essential work in highlighting the human rights abuses of the Palestinian people. I call on the Government and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, to add their support to the conclusions and recommendations contained in the Amnesty report. Ireland's role on the UN Security Council must be made to mean something. The Minister needs to begin to challenge the international inertia that exists in challenging Israel on its human rights record. We must influence the EU to speak out on Israel's record of apartheid. It is simply unacceptable that an international body that lauds the cause of human rights is content to ignore one of the worst instances of crimes against humanity taking place in the world today.

Finally, through the Cathaoirleach, I ask Senator Ned O’Sullivan the following question: what is not apartheid? Is the forcible transfer of Palestinians to make way for illegal Israeli settlements not apartheid? What about preventing Palestinians from returning to their homes and lands, including millions of refugees living in exile? What of the systematic and severe deprivation of fundamental human rights of Palestinians based on their identity? Is denying Palestinians the right to freedom of movement and residence, especially but not limited to Palestinians living on the Gaza Strip, not apartheid? What of murder, torture, unlawful imprisonment and other sever deprivation of physical liberty, or the persecution of Palestinians because of their opposition to apartheid?

We should never assume that there are not feminist and queer movements everywhere across this world, including in Palestine. There are and I commend them as they persevere in their fight for equality.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Well said.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Others have outlined what the Amnesty report tells us, which is how systematic the measures are, what the dismantling of equality looks like, and what the crowding out of the space for a population within a territory means. We come into this House, again and again, when we see attacks on Gaza and the West Bank and when we see another round of bombings but what has happened in between is so important. While the world has continued to not act on Israel's breach of international human rights and humanitarian law, while we have continued to play a long waiting game of occasionally expressed disapproval, we have seen a culture of impunity build up. That has reached a level now where evictions are happening almost daily in East Jerusalem.

Over the past few days, we have seen coverage of the conflict in Ukraine and it has been so difficult to watch. We will discuss that following this debate. We have seen those who are standing up against occupation in Ukraine. We have seen those taking defiant steps and have talked about the children standing up on the fences but what we have seen in Palestine, with the Palestinian people, is decade after decade, generations in a row having to come up again and again to demand their rights. Children have died. Last year was the worst in a decade in terms of the number of Palestinian children killed. Just this week I read of the arrest of a 12-year-old, and of a nine-year-old being hit by Israeli forces in the context of forced evictions. Those children are part of yet another generation and I have seen four or five generations come through. They continue to put their trust in international law, international institutions, multilateralism and the idea that there might be a politics of principle at play in this world.They do that despite being failed and being given breadcrumbs from the table of justice. A trail of breadcrumbs has repeatedly led them through new UN processes, structures and resolutions, yet action is not taken. It is a miracle of hope, humanity and trust in the world that Palestinians are again pointing to the politics of principle. Having pointed to all of the breaches of humanitarian law and to war crimes, they are also now pointing to the crime of apartheid as defined in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and to the fact that, again, this is systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another that is committed with the intent of maintaining the regime. I refer specifically to the reference in the article to "murder", "deportation or forcible transfer of population" and "persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity". This is the crime and people have pointed to yet another piece. It is another marker for why we should act.

In the minute remaining, I will focus on how we can act, not whether this is another level of crime because it is.

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Hear, hear.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We can first apply the kinds of sanctions that have suddenly become possible. We know these are possible under the Rosneft ruling. In terms of the occupied territories, we should not be trading with settlements. That law is very clear. This should not even be a question of sanctions because occupied territories are not legally part of the supply chain. Ireland can take a lead on that and should also feed into and influence the due diligence process in the EU to ensure settlements never become part of a supply chain. That is an area that needs to be strengthened.

In the Rosneft ruling, the European Court of Justice and the EU were extremely clear that in relation to Russian breaches of international law the European Commission is justified, on the grounds of public policy, in imposing trade restrictions. That is exactly the same circumstance and context. Occupation, breach of international law and public policy are grounds for action. Let us be consistent. We are now acting, rightly, in relation to Ukraine and we have acted on Crimea in the past. We should be consistent in acting in relation to Israel.

The occupied territories Bill is where Ireland can show leadership. This House has shown that we care and not only about Ukraine. We have passed motions on Yemen and spoken up for Palestine. Let this House and Ireland show leadership in this area.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank all of the Senators for their remarks. Many points have been raised and I will address a few on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy Colm Brophy. I underline that the Government shares the concerns of Senators regarding the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, and the plight of the Palestinian people.

The Middle East peace process remains a key foreign policy priority for Ireland, including in the context of our term on the UN Security Council. The Government remains firmly committed to a two-state solution. The Government will continue to work with partners to revive a political process in line with international law, which ensures equal rights and is acceptable to both parties.

I want to address the points Senators have made about the Amnesty International report. I acknowledge that strong views have been expressed regarding the use of the term "apartheid". The Taoiseach has been very clear regarding the Government's position on this. While the Government does not believe it is helpful to use this term, we will continue to be frank with Israel and our concerns in this regard, including in our statements to the UN Security Council as well as during visits to the region by Ministers. It is important that, as a member of the UN Security Council and the European Union, Ireland remains a credible and effective actor in international fora in respect of our views on the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli Government. We are acutely aware that we must be careful in our choice of words, clear in our interpretation of international law and conscious that our influence is greatest when we speak candidly with the actors involved. As the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, stated in his opening remarks, the Government regularly raises our concerns, including on a number of issues detailed in the Amnesty report, on which Senators have spoken today, directly with the Israeli authorities and at EU and UN level.

A number of Senators highlighted the issue of illegal settlement activity on the part of Israeli authorities and the related issue of settler violence. The Government has been consistently vocal in our opposition to settlements and their expansion on the West Bank, including in strategically sensitive areas around East Jerusalem. We have been clear that settlements are illegal under international law and threaten the continuity of a future Palestinian state and, therefore, the viability of the peace process.

At a Security Council meeting on 23 February, we strongly reiterated the long-standing position of Ireland and the EU that Israel must end its settlement expansion, confiscations, demolitions and evictions. Such practices, all of which further entrench Israel's illegal occupation, are underlying causes of tension and violence. Ireland also raised the continued escalation of settler violence, including in sensitive areas in East Jerusalem, which is acutely worrying. We highlighted the disparity in conviction rates between Israeli settlers and Palestinians who have committed acts of violence and called on Israel to bring the perpetrators of violence against Palestinians to justice.

As some Senators have expressed, the way in which the human rights of Palestinians are affected by the policies of the Israeli authorities is deeply troubling. As the Minister of State noted, Ireland has strongly underlined its concerns in this regard at the UN Security Council as well as at the Human Rights Council.

The Amnesty report refers to the human rights situation not only in the occupied Palestinian territories but also in Israel. In this regard, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has previously stated that it is imperative that the rights of non-Jewish citizens of Israel are not infringed and that there is respect and tolerance for the diversity of its population. Where the Government has concerns about laws and practices that undermine equality among citizens and disregards the rights of minorities, particularly the Palestinian minority, we make our views known clearly to Israel. We have, for example, strongly expressed our concern about the nation state law, which we believe might enable discriminatory practices against non-Jewish citizens.

Furthermore, Ireland can be very proud of its record as a long-standing supporter of human rights in this context, providing humanitarian assistance, legal and other supports of specific development projects to improve the situation of Palestinians, including a number of civil society partners that are active on human rights issues, particularly in the occupied Palestinian territories. Ireland has also provided significant assistance to the Palestinian people, including through our support of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA. Last year, Ireland signed a three-year memorandum of understanding with UNRWA underlying Ireland's commitment to the agency and pledging predictable funding of at least €6 million annually. In 2021, Ireland provided €9 million to UNRWA, equalling the largest ever contribution to the agency.

Some Senators have referred to the designation by Israeli authorities of Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organisations. I reiterate that the issue continues to be of priority for Ireland, including at the EU and the UN. On 8 November, Ireland supported the convening of a discussion of the designations of the UN Security Council. We made a press statement at the UN Security Council, following the meeting with France, Estonia, Norway and Albania, underlying our serious concerns at these designations and their potential political, legal and financial consequences. We have raised the issue at every subsequent Security Council meeting, including, as noted by the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, at the most recent meeting on 23 February. We have also raised this matter repeatedly bilaterally with the Israeli authorities.

I assure Senators that Ireland remains committed to funding civil society organisations and humanitarian rights defenders through the Irish Aid programme, including Palestinian civil society. I also underline that Ireland continues to provide funding to two of the designated organisations Al-Haq and Addameer. Ensuring there is peace and space for civil society organisations is a key part of our foreign policy globally. The Government recognises the particular importance of prioritising this in the context of the occupied Palestinian territories.

Ireland remains steadfast in its commitment to a resolution of the conflict, ending the occupation and achieving a two-state solution in line with the relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements. This is the path to progress for all people of Israel and Palestine.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 6.30 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 7.30 p.m. Sitting suspended at 6.30 p.m. and resumed at 7.30 p.m.