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Statements on Situation in Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel

17 May 2021

I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for coming in today to take this important debate. It is one which I and many other colleagues called for last week but, very sadly, the conflict has escalated since then and, appallingly, we have seen even more killings of civilians, particularly of children, in the intervening period. It is even more important, therefore, that we speak now about this and we support the Minister's strong words in condemning the violence, calling for a united statement from the United Nations Security Council, calling for the upholding of international law, condemning breaches of international law, and condemning in particular the illegal settlement, demolition and evictions that have been carried out by the Israeli Government.

As the Minister said and I think we all agree, civilians on both sides deserve the protection of international law. We are conscious of the appalling plight of civilians in the overcrowded space that is Gaza, that living hell where we see 2 million people living. Overnight, between Sunday and Monday, 54 Israeli jets took 20 minutes to bomb 35 targets largely in and around that region, an area which is so small and so tightly packed. I think we are all clear that the targeting of civilians in this way and the killing of children, journalists and healthcare workers is a war crime, regardless of anyone's views. Just as we condemn the targeting of civilians by Hamas, so too must we condemn the actions of the Israeli Government, which have led to such an escalation of violence and such appalling casualty figures for Palestinian civilians.

We in the Labour Party have called on Ireland and the international community to use every available diplomatic tool to bring about an end to this aggression. We agree it is important that the Minister keep those strong words at the forefront in condemning in no uncertain terms the forcible evictions, the illegal settlements and the illegal demolitions. We call on the Minister to continue to communicate that condemnation to his counterpart in the Israeli Government and to engage with the Palestinian ambassador to Ireland to offer the assistance of the Irish Government to her and her government in seeking a peaceful resolution to this crisis.

It is very distressing that the United Nations has not succeeded in coming together on this, that the Security Council has not come up with a united stance on this, but here in Ireland we must be strong in our continued efforts to ensure there is a peaceful resolution. I must say it has also been disappointing to see the EU High Representative, and indeed the President of the Commission, not taking a stronger stance in support of peace in the Middle East. As somebody who has always stood with the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, we in the Labour Party have always taken a strong position in support of the rights of the Palestinian people. We also call for a comprehensive multilateral peace agreement between Israel and Palestine which respects international law and delivers for the Palestinian people a secure and viable state of their own but which also recognises the legitimate interests of the people of Israel to live in peace, prosperity and security with their neighbours under a two-state solution. That is something which clearly has the support of the Irish people.

Our Government should now go further and pass into law the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 which Senator Black has been so strongly championing and which we in the Labour Party have also been supporting in both Houses and which has such strong support across both Houses. That Bill is before the Dáil, and despite the continued insistence of the Government that it is not enforceable under EU law, we think it should be. It should be something that is now passed, which would ban imports from illegal settlements and would send out a powerful signal that international law must be respected. It would help to support efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution in the Middle East and ensure we do not see this sort of cyclical violence the Minister spoke about and we do not have yet another déjà vu moment where we see the people of Gaza and throughout the Middle East living in fear and we see children speaking about hearing the screams night after night and living in fear of attacks on their homes.

We must take strong action on this. We cannot allow this cycle to continue. It really feels like déjà vu as we stand and speak about the carnage experienced by civilians and children in Gaza and condemn again the illegal settlements, evictions and demolitions. We are all very conscious at this stage of the need to move with greater resolution through the international community, through the United Nations and through the EU to bring about peace in the Middle East. It has been very disappointing to see the US not taking a stronger stance on this, but with our seat on the Security Council, we can really play a very important role and provide a powerful voice for a peaceful resolution.