In 2014, I spent some months in occupied Palestine as a human rights observer. In these dark days, the people and activists I met both in Israel and in Palestine are never far from my thoughts. What was perpetrated against innocent civilians in the attacks by Hamas was horrendous. Nothing can justify it. The scale and the nature of the bombing in Gaza in response is worse than anything we have seen before. The ground assault that is still to come will add yet more brutality.
We must remember the root of the endless cycle of barbarity is the ongoing illegal occupation. The simple fact is that the cycle of barbarity will continue until we address the occupation. More innocent lives will be needlessly taken on both sides.
I will pause for a moment to extend, as others have, my condolences to the families of Kim Damti and Emily Hand. I will also take a moment to extend my condolences to the family of Lara and Yara Alagha. Yara and Lara are two young women who work with us here in the Oireachtas. They lost ten family members, aged between one and 80 in one night. With one bomb, they lost ten family members. I would hope that the Tánaiste would, if he was here, be willing to extend his condolences to them. To be honest, I find it disappointing that he did not do so at the beginning.
As I have said, the root of the endless violence and barbarity is the ongoing illegal occupation. To see this, one need only look at what is now happening in the West Bank. In the last week, state-armed settlers and soldiers have killed 51 people and two villages have been left depopulated. Are these villages just going to join the list of disappeared places like Deir Yassin, Ein al-Zeitun and Saliha, places emptied of their people by Israeli violence for which there were absolutely no consequences?
The occupation’s cruelty is something I saw and documented at first-hand. In the years since, it has just worsened. B’Tselem, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have all rightly called this apartheid. The number of illegal settlements continues to grow and has been growing faster. The impunity of settlers in carrying out harassment attacks on Palestinians has led to such attacks becoming more overt and widespread. Through the violence used to maintain the occupation and the cruelty it doles out to Palestinians every day, Israel is wildly in breach of international law, yet we do nothing to respond or to punish such behaviour. As such, we have ultimately allowed this situation to continue and to get worse. We see forced displacement, demolitions, forced transfers, permit systems, the apartheid system, indiscriminate killing and arrest and imprisonment without trial. The list goes on and on.
Every single time that Israel has reached an agreement with its neighbours or agreed to withdraw from land, it has done so in the face of strong pressure, typically strong international pressure. If we want to reinvigorate the peace process the Tánaiste talked about, we need to find ways to put this pressure on Israel again. If we want to make sure that international law is real and not just a talking point or some dry academic subject, we need to find ways to make it real through the imposition of genuine and serious consequences. Today, there is no pressure on the Israeli Government. As a result, nothing will change. If we want everyone to have safety and security rather than just one side, we need to make international law real and end the occupation. We start by ending Israel’s impunity. I appreciate that there are many things we should be doing and that we have done to Russia, such as imposing sanctions and economic measures, but that these must be brought in at a European Union level.
We have seen in the past week how the EU really views the Palestinian people.
However, there are many things we can do ourselves. Why are we signing up to the ROXANNE project knowing that the Israeli national police, who are a part of that occupation force, and the Magav, an absolutely brutal part of that occupation force, are part of that project? Why are we joining it? We are giving carte blanche to continue the occupation by ignoring those crimes. We need to find in ourselves ways that we can say, “No, we are not going to continue to support and condone this occupation”. Until we do, international law is not real, and the apartheid and genocide of the Palestinian people will continue.