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Speech | Situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the recent Amnesty International Report: Statements

02 March 2022

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories on behalf of the Labour Party. The recent report of Amnesty International that we are debating was unequivocal in its findings as to the extent of land seizures, unlawful killings, restrictions on movement, denial of citizenship of Palestinians and other breaches of international law by the Israeli state. Indeed, the Minister referred to those breaches of international law. The report documents a system of oppression and domination over Palestinians which, in the words of the report, amounts to the international definition of "apartheid". The report documents evidence of policies of segregation, dispossession and exclusion. Will the Minister advocate for approval of the recommendations of the Amnesty International report? He has said he does not want to use the term "apartheid" because he does not think it is helpful but it is important that we look at why the report has made that finding and the evidence base on which Amnesty International is making that judgment. We must remember the serious and ongoing breaches of international law represented in particular by the expansion of the illegal settlements which the Minister has spoken about and, indeed, condemned on behalf of Ireland. I welcome that condemnation. However, given that we have a seat on the UN Security Council and nine months left in that position, as he said, we need to see our Government doing more to express utter condemnation at the systemic discrimination that goes on against the Palestinian people.

As he also said, we also need to press further for a genuine dialogue for peace between Israel and Palestine. We need to press Israel to lift the obstacles and address the appalling conditions in which people are living, particularly in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem. There are dangers to human health in those areas that are, of course, exacerbated by Covid-19. Israeli blockades impede the flow of vital humanitarian aid and medical equipment. There are enormous issues and breaches and abuses of international law going on against the Palestinian people.

In this House and the Seanad, legislators on all sides have called for action. We have called for recognition of the state of Palestine. We have called for passage of the occupied territories Bill about which my colleagues have spoken. That Bill was initiated by Senator Black in the Seanad and the Labour Party was proud to offer unequivocal support for it. The passage of that Bill through both Houses would send an important message and show Irish leadership in banning the importation of goods from occupied territories.

I am looking forward to attending the second high-level forum on Palestine with Sadaka later this month. We will hear important messages from Professor Michael Lynk, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories. We, as legislators, need to step forward to support organisations such as Sadaka that are working so hard to advocate for the rights of Palestinians and the need for a peaceful resolution.

As we are speaking, we have heard the appalling news that more than 2,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine. I express my support for the strong words of condemnation the Minister has uttered on behalf of Ireland of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the brutal bombardment of civilians we are seeing and the brutal destruction of cities such as Kharkiv. I support the condemnation of the Russian onslaught on Kyiv we are now seeing so chillingly with the 50 km convoy. The Labour Party stands in full solidarity with the people of Ukraine at their awful time of need. I have met with the Ukrainian ambassador and expressed that view. I have stood in protest outside the Russian embassy and will do so again this weekend. Many others will also stand there as they are standing tonight in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and we will remind ourselves of how precious democracy is and how all of us in peaceful democracies must stand up and condemn the bullying, brutal tactics of Vladimir Putin and Russia.

I was a member of the foreign affairs committee when the war in Syria was going on and we were very conscious of the brutal treatment by Russia of civilians there through the government of Assad. We all have awful memories of the siege of Aleppo and I have a chilling concern that we are seeing the same tactic of brutality being used by Russia in Ukraine.

We must ensure a very strong welcome is expressed to Ukrainian refugees fleeing here and that we also take steps to ensure practical measures are advocated for and taken at EU level. One such measure would be the acceptance of national identification cards in lieu of passports for Ukrainians who are fleeing and may not have access to valid travel documentation. I ask that the Minister speak with his colleague, the Minister for Finance, to whom I have written in this regard, requesting that he advocate for the shoring up of the Ukrainian currency in order that those crossing the border have adequate funds to be able to afford basic supplies. That is a practical concern for many. I ask again that the Minister consider the expulsion of the Russian ambassador from Ireland given the appalling comments he has made seeking to justify the brutal invasion. In addition, I ask that he support the speedy accession of Ukraine to the European Union, as its Government and its ambassador in Ireland have requested.

I am conscious that Ireland has very limited time left on the UN Security Council but it is a time when we can use our voice internationally, at the most powerful level, to advocate for peace, democracy and peaceful resolution of ongoing conflicts such as that in the Middle East and the dreadful conflict in Yemen, often referred to as the forgotten conflict. We attended a briefing on the latter earlier this week. In particular, we must press hard now to see a ceasefire in Ukraine and a peaceful resolution in order to stop the terrible killing of innocent civilians, including children, that we see going on before our eyes as we watch in appalled horror from across the world.