Palestine: Statements

I wish to begin by expressing, on behalf of the Government, my profound shock at the scale of casualties inflicted by Israeli forces on Palestinian demonstrators yesterday. My thoughts are with the families of those killed, with those who have suffered severe injuries, and with the heroic health workers in Gaza who are working in the most difficult and overwhelming circumstances to save lives. Reports indicate that the situation has been calmer today, but I am concerned that with no prospects of change in Gaza any time soon, the situation could very easily escalate again. This has to stop. I call on the Israeli Government specifically to rein in its forces and to ensure, as they should have done from the start, that force is only used where absolutely unavoidable. I further call on all those who have influence with Israel to use that influence to bring this about.

The Government has made its views very clear. I asked that the Israeli ambassador be summoned to Iveagh House this morning, and I made these points to the ambassador in the strongest terms. I asked him to convey to his Government the serious concern that these events have caused among Irish people and the impact on the international reputation of his country. Today I have also asked my officials to request that the situation in Gaza be discussed at the next meeting of the European Union Foreign Affairs Council, but before then I expect that EU leaders will discuss the issue tomorrow.

These dreadful events tragically underline my view that the Israel-Palestine peace process and the situation in Gaza cannot just be left to fester until a better day comes. They must be addressed urgently or we will see more days such as yesterday. This conviction has been the driver of my engagement on the conflict in the Middle East since I took office. Even prior to this week, I have been greatly concerned by the events in Gaza since these protests began on 30 March, and especially by the appalling number of serious injuries and deaths to people engaged in demonstrations. The figures may change slightly but to date more than 100 Palestinians are reported to have been killed in this situation, including almost 60 yesterday. Some 3,600 people have been injured by bullets, including 1,350 yesterday, and thousands more have suffered other injuries. It is possible that a small number of those shot may have been trying to cross the border fence, but clearly many or most were some distance inside Gaza and posed no immediate threat.

Violence on the part of some protestors is regrettable and should not be condoned. The evidence, however, is that the great majority of protesters have been peaceful, although some have used stones and catapults, have attached explosive devices to the fence and Molotov cocktails have been floated on kites, setting fire to crops. These actions are reprehensible and we need to recognise that they are not nothing. The organisers, and those who control Gaza, have a responsibility to prevent such actions, but they are nowhere near a justification for the massive use of deadly force employed by the Israeli army. This also ignores the fact that many of those protesting have not been involved in those acts. It is not acceptable to target Palestinians simply because they choose to protest the occupation nor to claim, as some in Israel have done, that everyone in Gaza is linked to Hamas. There are also documented cases where the persons shot were readily identifiable as children, as journalists reporting on the events or as medical workers.

I have always recognised that every country is entitled to defend its territory. It is important to say that because it makes clear that my criticisms are made in the full knowledge of that basic right of any state. International law, however, clearly defines the circumstances in which force, in particular deadly force, can be used against civilians. Such force must only be used in cases of real and immediate threat to life, and only as a last resort, that is, when other methods have failed.

The use of force should also be proportionate to the threat posed. It is clear to me that these limits have not been respected. The right to defend oneself does not give carte blanche for any and every possible action and does not supersede the parallel rights of others. Israel is fully entitled to be vigilant and cautious when there are mass demonstrations close to its border with Gaza, but Palestinians also have a right to protest. The use of live ammunition is not a normal approach to crowd control and the resulting number and nature of casualties in recent weeks have been shocking. Many of the injuries caused by high velocity ammunition have been severe and life-changing. Israel is, of course, entitled to defend itself, but it is not entitled to do this.

The Government has not been silent during these events. I have made three public statements on these incidents: on 31 March, 9 April and yesterday. I called on all sides to show restraint, particularly Israeli forces in their use of force. I have supported the calls made by the European Union and the UN Secretary General for an independent and transparent investigation into the events. This morning I spoke directly to the Israeli ambassador when I expressed to him in the strongest possible terms our view of these events. I emphasised to him, as I have elsewhere, the need for an independent and transparent inquiry into the events, especially the use of force on this scale. It is important that the decision to use live ammunition be subject to appropriate scrutiny. Ireland will support any appropriate move at UN level to establish an inquiry, for example, such as has been done before by the Human Rights Council. If it is not possible to get agreement at UN Security Council level, perhaps there are other avenues.

I will refer briefly to a related event yesterday - the opening of the United States embassy in Jerusalem. The decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem is disappointing and unhelpful. It also runs counter to UN Security Council resolutions, including UN Security Council Resolution 478. A solution to the Middle East conflict must include agreement on Jerusalem being the capital of both Israel and the future state of Palestine. This decision by the United States makes that solution more difficult to achieve. However, Ireland and our EU partners remain ready to support efforts to bring the conflict to a negotiated peace, leading to two states, Israel and Palestinian, living side by side in peace and security. Unless that happens, Ireland will not be moving its embassy to Jerusalem. I call on all other states to abide by the international consensus and not to establish diplomatic missions in Jerusalem at this time.

I also stress the wider context in which the events have occurred. As I have made clear in all of my contacts in the region, the situation in Gaza is simply untenable. I have seen it for myself and discussed it closely with UN workers and others on the ground. If the cycle of violence and depression in the strip is not ended, events of this nature will recur. The long-standing blockade cannot be accepted as normal. The 1.9 million people who live in Gaza deserve an end to the decade long blockade in order that they can start to rebuild normal lives. The alternative is to see pressure continue to mount as their quality of life becomes impossible. It is for this reason that in my many contacts at EU and international level I have been particularly active in trying to encourage and promote international engagement on improving life in Gaza. I have made this a priority in my work as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I have been working in the past year on two parallel tracks in respect of this conflict, the first of which has been to try to help to shape the initiative of the US Government to restart the political process of reaching a peace agreement in the Middle East. It is only through a comprehensive peace agreement that the occupation will be ended. Second, I have been working, in particular, to encourage international attention for the situation in Gaza precisely because I am aware of the potential for events such as those of yesterday to happen. It is essential to lift the blockade, change the dynamic and offer hope to people living there. I will continue these efforts, engaging with all parties to the conflict, in the coming weeks and months. However, the efforts made on the peace process and hope for Gaza cannot succeed without dialogue with Israel. I need to conduct an open dialogue with it, including, where necessary, the hard exchanges I had this morning with the ambassador. I need the voice, reporting and work on the ground of our excellent team in the Irish Embassy in Israel and the Irish Embassy to represent Ireland among Palestinians. Ambassadors for any country, including Ireland, convey the policy of their governments and report on the views of the host governments.

While I know that there is considerable frustration that we should be seeing these actions again in Gaza and there is a great will to do something significant in response, I do not agree with suggestions that we should expel the Israeli ambassador. That might provide a good headline for a day, but then what would we do tomorrow about these problems? Ireland's foreign policy is and always has been about the resolution of problems by dialogue and engagement. There are many in the House who should appreciate this, given their own background.

Does the Minister want a list of things to do?

Please, Deputy.

Our foreign policy is to have problems solved through dialogue and engagement, even if it can be a long and frustrating road, our own peace process being a prime example. We should use the lessons we have learned-----

That can only happen when people are willing to negotiate.

-----to ensure engagement remains our focus and we say the honest and hard things when necessary without isolating ourselves or others.

I will be sharing time with Deputy James Browne.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the important issue of Palestine. This is a difficult week for the Palestinian people. It marks the 70th anniversary of the birth of the state of Israel which Palestinians refer to as Nakba, meaning "catastrophe". For Palestinians, they are commemorating the more than 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes in the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation. As such, the anniversary is a painful reminder of what they have lost and the suffering that they continue to endure.

This week is being made all the more difficult by the ill-conceived decision of the United States to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem which has only served to further stoke tensions in the region. Meanwhile, Palestinians have been protesting in recent weeks in the "Great March of Return" and violence has resulted in dozens of people being killed and more than 1,000 others being injured as the conflict continues to take its toll. Even on the day of the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem, 50 or more Palestinians were killed. In fact, there were more and, unfortunately, the figure will continue to rise. The opening of the embassy has been described by President Abbas as one of the worst decisions in this century.

At this juncture, finding a sustainable and long-lasting solution to this complex conflict is as distant as it has ever been, but that does not mean that we should give up trying. Fianna Fáil condemns the violence perpetrated by both sides to the conflict, but as a country that has had its own history of violent conflict, we know all too well the importance of persevering, even in the most difficult and challenging of circumstances.

Fianna Fáil has always respected the establishment and progress of the state of Israel. We have never questioned the right of the Israeli people to self-determination and self-defence. Coupled with this, however, my party has long advocated and supported a two-state solution in the Middle East. Fianna Fáil in government led Ireland to become the first EU member state to declare that a solution to the conflict had to be based on a fully sovereign state of Palestine, independent of and co-existing with Israel. That policy position was launched in 1980 by the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, the late Brian Lenihan Snr, who said the Palestinian people "had a right to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent state in Palestine." Unfortunately, there has been very little progress in recent years in advancing peace. The construction and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, in breach of international law, continue.

Conditions in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank continue to deteriorate. The Palestinian refugee crisis, overshadowed in recent years by the war in Syria, is one of the longest-lasting episodes of forced migration in modern history. The conflict can only be solved if there is first and foremost a genuine commitment and willingness on both sides to find a satisfactory solution. The promise of the Oslo Accords must be revitalised. A two-state solution whereby Israel and Palestine can peacefully co-exist is the best long-term option for this embattled region. The scale of the conflict and mounting number of casualties underscore the pressing need for progress in the peace process. The tragic history of the region can only be reversed with strong international pressure and engagement by Israel and the Palestinian powers.

The Government, in co-operation with our EU partners, and the international community must redouble their efforts to stabilise the situation and calm tensions in the region. We must never shy away from condemning violence and speaking out when there are flagrant breaches of international law. The programme for Government states: "We will continue to play a role in advancing a stronger role for the EU in the Middle East Peace Process, having regard to the stalled nature of the process at present, and honour our commitment to recognise the State of Palestine as part of a lasting settlement of the conflict." If the suppression of the Palestinian people continues and there is no genuine commitment to engage in peace talks then Ireland’s recognition of Palestine may have to be brought forward with the agreement of the House. There seems to be complacency on the issue across the EU and that must change. Ireland has a role at EU level in ensuring that the Israel-Palestinian situation is debated at the EU Council meeting in June. The Taoiseach should make it known that Irish people are very concerned by recent developments. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, should make our concerns known at the next meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council.

Although the EU has called for restraint in the area, it must do more at a diplomatic level to encourage peace. It was reported that the Secretary General of the League of Arab States met ministers for lunch at the February meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council to discuss the stepping up of collective international support and how to revive the Middle East process in an inclusive manner with the objective of achieving a two-state solution. It would be of benefit for the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to outline whether there is an update on how that is being acted upon. With that in mind, I asked the Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence to invite the Minister to outline the extra diplomatic efforts being made in the short, medium and long term, given the most recent horrific loss of life.

The Irish people have a deep and historical connection with Palestine and are genuinely disturbed at developments in recent months and, in particular, the past few days. The loss of life and increased violence is unacceptable and entirely avoidable. Every effort must be made at a global and EU level to restart intensive peace talks. If that does not happen, the violent attacks by Hamas will intensify and more Palestinians will become more involved in supporting its violent ways. The number of martyrs will also increase. The reports of young men and women being paid to approach the border are very disturbing. Calm must prevail. The era of provocation must cease and there must be a genuine attempt to restart negotiations and end the unnecessary loss of life.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important issue. The Israeli defence forces yesterday killed 58 Palestinians and injured more than 1,300 in Gaza while using live fire. My thoughts are with the Palestinian families grieving the loss of their loved ones, the Palestinians waking up with life-changing injuries and the medical staff working in intolerable situations to ease their pain. Unarmed protestors who posed no threat to a military power were met with lethal force and callous intent by the Israeli defence forces. Live fire was extensively used by snipers shooting from a safe distance. Civilians, including children, were killed. It was not a tragedy but, rather, a massacre. These deaths and injuries, like so many before, will cast a long shadow. They are indefensible by any measure.

The international community must provide leadership to bring about the immediate end of this appalling and disproportionate response by the Israeli defence forces. The Taoiseach must use his voice and take a leadership role in condemning the attacks. There must be an immediate independent investigation to call to account those responsible for the unacceptable, excessive and disproportionate response in order to ensure that such deaths do not happen again.

Palestinians are entitled to the same human rights as Israelis. I have been to the West Bank and Jerusalem. There is little of the state of Palestine left to recognise. Palestinians have fewer rights and less land and freedom than ever before. The restrictions placed on them mean that their homeland is little more than an open prison. The despair and hopelessness I saw among Palestinians was horrifying. They live under a crushing and suffocating administration which denies them dignity. They have been destroyed economically. The situation is desperate and deteriorating. However, I met a people who refuse to surrender to their terror and daily demonstrate the courage to endure.

The regrettable decision of the US Administration to move its embassy to Jerusalem, a shared city, demonstrates a lack of understanding of the peace that is necessary to resolve this intractable conflict. It has voluntarily given up the role of honest broker.

I do not deny the right of any country to defend itself or to self-determination. However, a country that chooses to use live fire on unarmed protestors, to occupy its neighbour's lands illegally and to deny a people its human rights deserves condemnation. The blockade of Gaza and the illegal settlements must also be condemned. A two-state solution whereby Israel and Palestine can co-exist side by side is the only solution. Unless a political solution is found, the extremists will prevail. Conciliation and dialogue is the only path to a political solution but the actions of the Israeli defence forces have made both more difficult and strengthened the hand of those on both sides who oppose peace.

I am sharing time with my two colleagues. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said yesterday was a glorious day. US President Donald Trump said it was a great day for Israel. It was a horrific day for Palestinians as the toll of dead and injured rose. Today is the 70th anniversary of the Nakba or "catastrophe", an annual commemoration of the more than 700,000 Palestinians who were forced from their land and homes by the Israeli army and become refugees. This year, the Nakba has been marked by a new catastrophe. On Monday, the Israeli army murdered at least 59 Palestinians in Gaza and more than 2,700 were wounded. An eight month old baby died as a result of inhaling gas. There are 1.3 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza and many have been protesting for the past seven weeks for the right of return for Palestinian refugees forcibly expelled from their homes in 1948. Since the protests began on 30 March, Israeli forces have killed at least 109 Palestinians in Gaza and wounded approximately 12,000. The brutality and savagery of the Israeli army, which indiscriminately fired live ammunition and gassed protesters, has once again been laid bare for the world to see.

The Government must make a strong and unambiguous statement that there can be no immunity for Israel’s mass killing of Palestinian citizens and continued illegal occupation of Palestine. The Tánaiste stated that he will not expel the Israeli ambassador in protest at the latest killings nor recall our ambassador from Tel Aviv. Nothing will change in Gaza or the West Bank until the international community moves from empty rhetoric and applies real pressure on Israel. Ireland must stop sitting on the sidelines watching in horror. When real, concrete, tangible steps are proposed, the Government fails to show leadership. Sinn Féin supported Senator Frances Black’s Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill in the Seanad in January. It would end Irish economic support for Israeli settlements in the West Bank that we have long condemned as illegal. However, the Government again refused to take any real action on the settlements.

I listened in disbelief to the Israeli ambassador on the RTÉ "Six One" news yesterday. He stated that Israel was doing its best to minimise its fire and there was no link to the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Some 109 Palestinians are now dead and 12,000 have been injured but the ambassador claimed that Israel is limiting its firepower. We must be clear that they were not clashes yesterday but, rather, a massacre. I was sick to my stomach on watching the television footage. I know that many Irish people share my horror. Thousands of people across this island will take to the streets tonight to protest the massacre and send solidarity to the people of Palestine. During this period of national mourning we could send a strong message of solidarity by acting on the Sinn Féin motion that called for Ireland to recognise the state of Palestine.

This motion was also unanimously passed by the Dáil. During Leaders' Questions today the Taoiseach repeatedly stated that we cannot recognise Palestine because it does not exist yet. Perhaps he should chat with his Swedish counterpart, as Sweden recognised the state of Palestine more than four years ago. Perhaps he could visit the UN and chat with the leaders of the 135 other countries that recognised Palestine. More than 70% of the countries that are members of the UN recognise the state of Palestine. Ireland's recognition, he said, is dependent on a successful peace process. We know Israel has for decades used the peace process as a convenient cover in an attempt to destroy the two-state solution by massively increasing the building of illegal colonial settlements in Palestine.

The Taoiseach's approach today effectively gives Israel a veto on Ireland's recognition of Palestine. If it is dependent on a successful peace process and if Israel continues to sabotage attempts to create a successful peace process, then using the Taoiseach's logic, Ireland can never recognise Palestine. That is wrong on so many fronts and it must be urgently corrected. In my opinion recognising the state of Palestine would bolster the chance of peace. As long as we continue to hand the Israeli Government impunity to impose apartheid, continue its illegal occupation, and violate international law it will never make the necessary compromises to create a just and lasting settlement in the region.

The Minister knows what is the right thing to do. For decades people in this State and on the island of Ireland have shown solidarity with the Palestinian people. Time and again, when we have massacres such as the recent one, we come into this Chamber and hear empathy and empty platitudes from Ministers but we do not see any real action. What we saw on our television screens yesterday, and what we saw in Jerusalem, was a massacre of Palestinian people. More than 100 people are dead, thousands are injured and more people could die. All that is a consequence of an absolutely crazy policy decision by the President of America, Donald Trump.

We can do something in this State. We can send solidarity to the Palestinian people. The Government has a duty to implement the will of the Dáil which supported recognising the state of Palestine, yet he will not do that. The Minister could send a clear message to the Palestinian people and this State could be a beacon of hope if we were to take the decision to expel the Israeli ambassador. That is not to make this State irrelevant, as the Taoiseach said earlier today. That would make Ireland entirely relevant. It would put us front and centre as a State which is prepared to take the necessary action to send a very clear unequivocal message to what is a rogue state, which is involved in state murder of Palestinians, and not just in recent days given that its murderous campaign goes back decades. Thousands of Palestinian people have been murdered, suffer in refugee camps and live in the open air prison that is Gaza.

I urge the Minister and the members of the Government to look into their hearts at what is happening in Gaza and not to turn a blind eye. They should not take the soft option. They should take a tough stand and make sure that those who are suffering at the moment and who are victims of state murder and terrorism can see there are people who care. There are people with compassion who are prepared to stand up to the bully state and the rogue state that is Israel. The Minister and the Government have an opportunity to do that and I appeal to them to do so.

Israel can only be described as a rogue state. It presides over an apartheid system and imposes punitive collective punishment on the entire Palestinian population for simply standing up for their rights. Yesterday's murder of 60 civilians and the injuring of 2,771 others should not come as a shock nor even as a surprise to anyone in this Chamber or in the international community. Israel has been carrying out the systematic genocide of the Palestinian people since the foundation of the Zionist project, namely, Israel. Israel simply does not want peace. It certainly does not want a two-state solution. The only policy that seems to drive Israel is the ethnic cleansing of the entire Palestinian population.

Let us take a brief look at Israel's track record. More than 400 Palestinian children are currently held in Israeli prisons. Nearly 800 Palestinians are currently jailed by Israel without trial. The Israelis are expanding and increasing illegal settlements. A total of 600,000 Israeli settlers now live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel is responsible for the systematic destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages and the demolition of tens of thousands of Palestinian homes. Forged Irish passports were used in the killing of a Hamas official in Dubai in 2010. Israel has bombed Syria, a sovereign nation, more than 100 times in the past five years. It is estimated that Israel has 400 illegal nuclear weapons, which is the third largest nuclear stockpile in the world. Does that look or sound like a normal country, one that wants a peaceful coexistence with the Palestinian people?

Israel simply does not give a damn about the words of the Irish Government or any other government or body. More UN resolutions have been passed on Israel's continued human rights abuses and conscious breaches of international law than any other country in the world. The only language Israel understands is the language of direct action. One cannot negotiate with someone who does not want to negotiate or see the need for it. The international community needs to force Israel to sit at the negotiation table with the Palestinian people. We can send Israel a clear message by sending its ambassador packing and by supporting the boycott of Israel, something that helped break the back of the apartheid regime in South Africa. If we do anything short of that, Ireland and the EU are complicit in enabling the continuous Israeli violation of Palestinian rights. It is up to the Minister and the Government now to stand with the oppressed and not with the oppressor, which is Israel. The Government should take a stand and stand up for the Palestinian people.

I condemn utterly the killing yesterday by Israeli forces of dozens of protestors. Children have been killed and thousands of people have been injured by sniper fire and exposure to tear gas. Ambulances and emergency medical personnel have come under fire and medics have sustained injuries. The excessive and brutal use of force will scar communities for generations, as we know well from our own history and it achieves nothing for the long-term security of the region.

The decision of President Trump to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem has provoked huge anger and we have seen the consequences of that. The shocking assertion by President Trump that it was "a great day for Israel" and similar remarks by the Israeli Prime Minister that it was "a glorious day" have left most right-thinking people absolutely sickened. This reckless move has set back the possibility of a long-term peace. We can ask who benefits. It has tipped the balance of power in the Middle East in a way that will lead to further instability and violence. It is incumbent on us in Ireland and on all EU member states to take concrete action now to redress the imbalances that have occurred.

We welcome the Government's public condemnation of what has happened but I have seen nothing however in the Minister's speech to shed some light on the Israeli ambassador's response to the Minister's expression of the Government's "horror", to use his own word, which these events have caused among the Irish people. When the Minister summoned the Israeli ambassador he was representing the Irish people and the people would like to know exactly what his response was when the Minister expressed such horror.

The people are absolutely outraged by this and we demand answers and a global response. Every effort must be made at the United Nations to achieve a full investigation and ensure those responsible will be held to account. The Government should also urge the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms Mogherini, to prepare a collective response condemning the killings on behalf of all members of the European Union.

As we have said before, we welcome the firm commitment of European leaders to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. We also welcome the fact that the EU position on Jerusalem remains unchanged. The recent call made by the Israeli Prime Minister for Ireland to move its embassy to Jerusalem shows utter contempt for international efforts over decades to broker a solution that recognises the importance of Jerusalem to both Israelis and Palestinians.

It would be a terrible mistake to regard the situation in Palestine as stalemate or deadlock which we are powerless to break. On the contrary, the situation is fluid, ever changing and clearly worsening in recent days. The vacuum caused by the absence of a fully functioning Palestinian state gives greater scope for those who promote violence and reject the idea of a two-state solution to the conflict. Three years ago the Dáil unanimously voted to recognise the state of Palestine. What is delaying the Government in declaring its recognition of Palestine as a state? It should now move to deliver on that commitment. The injustice of the current situation feeds into a growing radicalisation of Palestinians, including among those who are citizens of Israel. The conflict is being reproduced and reinforced through every means, including the education system. Violence is being presented to children and young people as the only answer. Such radicalisation can only lead to further instability and violence. Recognition of the Palestinian state by the Government would provide global leadership at this crucial juncture and put the focus, rightly, on the governance of Palestine and its future development. That is why we are calling on the Government to tell us when and how it will go about recognising the state of Palestine.

The slaughter of unarmed Palestinian protesters carried out by Israel yesterday and its response in the past six weeks to the Great March of Return was cold blooded, deliberate, calculated murder. It was not an over-reaction or a somehow justifiable defence of a border but premeditated murder. How do I know that? Two days before the protests started six weeks ago I told the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach what was well known in both Palestine and Israel, that the Israelis were deploying 100 snipers in preparation for the unarmed demonstrations. On the first day of the protests, the massacre started. The Israelis started picking people off who were miles from the fence and represented no threat to anybody. Even if they had slingshots - the vast majority of them did not even have them - it would have been like throwing a stone into the ocean. There was no chance that they could hurt or hit anybody, but Israel was planning to massacre people. Anything less than sanctions and the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador for an act of premeditated murder against unarmed protesters is an effective green light for Israel to continue. Israel is a state that is willing to slaughter in a premeditated way - 60 people yesterday and another 45 in the past six weeks. It is a state that is willing to impose an 11 year long siege on Gaza, imprisoning 2 million people, refusing to let them in or out or to let goods in or out in order to allow the Palestinians to regenerate their tiny patch of land. It is a state that is willing to continuously break international law by expanding illegal settlements into territory designated for the Palestinians. In that context, nobody can seriously suggest the Tánaiste's words of concern and call for restraint are going to make a blind bit of difference to the Israelis. They are not interested. If they had been even remotely interested in peace, they would not have breached the Oslo peace agreement within hours of signing it. They were breaching it within hours of signing it by expanding settlements. They have played the international community with the pretence that they are interested in peace, while in front of everybody they are explicitly and blatantly carrying on their illegal activities. When Palestinians try to resist in any shape or form, they are met with the most cruel, savage and murderous brutality and we sit back and continue to let it happen.

What are the Palestinians supposed to do? In 2005 they elected a group of people in a free and fair election that was observed by international observers. Israel refused to recognise that government and the European Union went along with it. Needless to say, the United States also refused to recognise the government. A siege was imposed. It is a collective punishment under international law and, therefore, illegal. The Palestinians resisted, militarily, as they were entitled to do under international law, but they were condemned for it. Then they moved to unarmed protests and the Tánaiste sneaks into his narrative a claim that there was a bit of provocation. He said this provocation did not justify the killings, but still the implication is that the Palestinians are a little bit to blame. What are they supposed to do? Every single avenue is closed off to them. The Tánaiste will not even talk to their elected representatives. I have appealed to him in recent weeks to talk to Hamas. How is it okay to talk to the murderous Netanyahu who was celebrating President Trump's provocative moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem while people were being slaughtered in Gaza and not to the elected representatives of the people of Gaza? The Government is not a neutral broker if it continues to do this or give favoured trade status to Israel when it flagrantly violates international law and murders people. If the Tánaiste's words are to mean anything, there must be consequences like there were for apartheid South Africa. Surely we have reached a point where we can say the sort of action that finally brought apartheid South Africa to heel is necessary to deal with the rogue and apartheid state of Israel.

I argued earlier that we needed to have a debate today instead of waiting until tomorrow or else more protesters would be killed. We have had the debate today, but another two protesters have been killed. Presumably, more will be killed as the day goes on and more will be killed tomorrow. The absolute horror of the oppression of the Palestinians has been brutally laid bare to the world. Every time I checked my phone yesterday the numbers of casualties and dead Palestinians had increased. The final figure for yesterday is 59, while a total of 113 have been killed since 30 March. As Deputy Boyd Barrett said, these protesters were slaughtered. They were murdered in cold blood, mostly by snipers. The victims included children and an eight month old baby who was killed by tear gas. They were not terrorists but peaceful protesters who were marching for their right to return to their homes.

They were marching to commemorate the Nakba - the expulsion or ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948 - and against President Donald Trump's incredibly provocative decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, which is a clear signal that the Palestinians will not be allowed to have a state.

We have to draw some conclusions about a state that behaves in this way. Israel likes to claim it is the only democracy in the Middle East, but it is not a democracy. It behaves as a terrorist and apartheid state. It terrorises the Palestinian people it oppresses within its borders, on the West Bank and in the open air prison camp of Gaza which I have visited. The right-wing Israeli regime is committed to the oppression, discrimination and persecution of the Palestinian people. It is completely opposed to any viable Palestinian state. It cannot be reasoned with. The reality is that these acts underline the fact that the Oslo agreement is dead, which has been obvious from the moment it was signed. It does not offer a viable route for justice for the Palestinians and never aimed to do so. Instead, its aim was to give limited concessions to cut across a mass movement. The idea that a peace agreement allowing for a viable Palestinian state would be granted by the right-wing Israeli establishment, having been brokered by imperialist powers such as the United States, is utterly unrealistic. The only route out of the horror of the Middle East and the occupation to a viable Palestinian state and justice for all of the people of the region is through a revolutionary struggle from below.

I pay tribute to the Palestinians who are protesting. They are not just victims, they are also heroes. As part of their struggle, they are engaging in peaceful protest in the knowledge that they can be slaughtered by snipers they cannot even see. There is a picture going around on social media of a guy called Fadi Abu Salah, a 29 year old in a wheelchair with a slingshot who was murdered yesterday by the Israeli forces. Such ordinary people across the region hold the key to the ending of the horror of the situation in the Middle East. One can see the outlines of what the Israeli establishment fears: a third intifada along the lines of the first which was a mass struggle from below that brought the Israeli establishment to the negotiating table. Shamefully, the aspirations of the Palestinians were sold out on that occasion with the signing of the Oslo accords. We are seeing marches on the borders and hearing calls for strike action. Crucially, democratic committees of struggle are ensuring the struggle is in the hands of ordinary Palestinians. That gives an outline of how the struggle can develop.

We need to be clear that the protests of Palestinians are absolutely peaceful. They have every right to defend themselves. Why on earth should they be expected to march defenceless and mown down by the Israeli military? They have a right to defend themselves. It is vital that an anti-war and an anti-occupation movement, involving Israeli Jews and Palestinians, be built within Israel to expose the reality that the corrupt Israeli establishment relies on fear about security to shore up its own position and implement an anti-working class position. My comrades in Maavak Sotzialisti, with others in Israel, organised a protest in Tel Aviv yesterday as part of their efforts to build a movement. If such forces combine with the powerful working classes in Egypt, Turkey, Iran and elsewhere in the region, they have the power to bring about a solution and kick out the Israeli establishment, the corrupt Arab elites - the likes of el-Sisi - and the imperialist powers that have no interest in facilitating a genuine peace or fighting for a lasting socialist solution involving a viable Palestinian state with a capital in east Jerusalem alongside a socialist Israel as part of a federation of the Middle East.

I understand Deputies Thomas Pringle, Mick Wallace and Clare Daly are sharing time.

It is an uncomfortable juxtaposition, a few days after Israel won the Eurovision Song Contest, to condemn the killing of innocent Palestinians by Israeli forces. Sadly, we will enter next year's song contest. Israel's celebration of the 70th anniversary of its declaration of independence presents another uncomfortable juxtaposition because it occurred as Palestine was marking Nakba Day and remembering the 700,000 Palestinians who had been forced to flee during the 1948 war. How can we reconcile the image of eight month old Laila Anwar al-Ghandour, the 59th victim of Israel's attack on protesters in Gaza, alongside the image of Ivanka Trump opening the new US embassy in Jerusalem? I suggest the cynical juxtaposition of events in recent days means that it is time for Ireland to reassess its relationship with Israel and the United States. First, we need to reassess our own relationship with Israel and ask whether we are doing enough to express our outrage at recent events. While we are supportive of Palestinian causes, we are less eager to confront Israel. We are complicit in the atrocities carried out by Israel because, alongside the European Union, we continue to see Israel as being above international law, even though it is currently in breach of over 30 UN resolutions and has engaged in decades of military occupation, oppression of protected civilians in Palestine and apartheid. Its continued illegal expansion into occupied territories has been denounced by the United Nations. We should not forget that in August 2014 it was discovered that in the previous three years Ireland had approved export licences for military goods worth up to €6.4 million to be shipped to Israel. That was in advance of the conflict in Gaza that year.

Palestinian civilians are classified as protected persons under international law. This makes it unlawful to target them with violence. It is categorically not an act of terrorism to protest at the Gaza fence or seek basic rights. Israel has the option of detaining Palestinians who cross the Gaza fence, but it deliberately chooses to use lethal force instead. We are complicit in the human rights violations that have occurred this week and in previous decades by continuing to trade with Israel's illegal settlements and supporting companies involved in settlement enterprise. Ireland could change this by respecting the 2004 decision of the International Court of Justice that nations must refrain from recognising Israeli settlements. We could do so by allowing a Bill currently before the Seanad to pass. In all of this, we have failed as a nation to properly recognise the state of Palestine. Promises and commitments have been made, but we have nothing to show for them. I question how quickly Ireland expelled a Russian diplomat in solidarity with the United Kingdom in response to the Salisbury attacks. There is not the same impetus to react similarly to the recent attacks by Israeli forces on innocent Palestinians. Until we respond adequately to the atrocities carried out by the Israeli military forces during the Nakba, we will be engaging in endless dialogue with ourselves.

The Israelis have adopted a dangerous mindset. They seem to think they can destroy the national aspirations of the Palestinians by military force. Israel is engaged in apartheid in its own country. What it is engaged in in the Gaza Strip and on the West Bank is nothing short of genocide. The Minister knows that no one else would get away with it. The Israeli Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, said this afternoon that Israel was unconcerned about the prospect of war crimes accusations for its military actions in the Gaza Strip. She suggested "IDF soldiers are performing well, in accordance with open-fire orders". I have heard the Tánaiste speak about Israel's need for security. Does he agree that the security of Israel would improve if it were to stop shooting unarmed Palestinian protesters?

Does the Tánaiste think the security of Israel would improve if it were to stop its illegal settlements programme, stop trying to destabilise Syria, stop trying to provoke a war with Iran and allow the many Palestinian refugees to return? They have a right to return. All of these things need to happen. Why are we tolerating the behaviour of Israel? Why are we still allowing Shannon Airport to be used as a US military base? Successive Governments have taken sides by allowing it to be used in this way. Members of this House tend to have a problem with it when they are in opposition but not when they are in government. Israel does not seem to want peace. It does not behave like a country that wants it. People are talking about a two-state solution.

The two-state solution is dead. It is nonsense to be talking about it at this stage. Are the Israelis going to give back the settlements? Fat chance. The people on the ground, the activists in the region will tell the Tánaiste that the only way forward is to have one country where there are human rights and fairness for all and an open society, not what they have at the moment where Israel wants only a nation and a country for Jews. That is all they want. They do not want anybody else in it. They do not want to share land with Arabs. There has to be a serious rethink. I am not saying it is the Tánaiste's fault and I think he will have his work cut out dealing with a Europe that is afraid of its living daylights of Israel and the US.

One of the hardest things to take for so many people around the world watching what is going on is the utter contradiction between the celebrations which were almost rubbing people's faces in it and the massacres on the other side. That juxtaposition has made what was already an horrific situation even worse.

I note that the Tánaiste said he was shocked at the scale of the casualties. Deputy Boyd Barrett is right to say that this was expected and anticipated. This day has been coming over recent months. Why has the significant escalation we have seen happened? It is because Israel can get away with it. It gets away with everything else. It is genocide. It is a deliberate targeting and destruction of a people. It may have been a massacre yesterday but it is part of a strategy to annihilate those people, with the blockade and the impact of that.

On the Tánaiste's statement and the points about the American embassy saying it is disappointing and unhelpful, in diplomatic speak that is actually quite strong. I will grant the Tánaiste that. However, it is not enough. Israel is doing what it does because the US has given it the green light and the EU has effectively done nothing. They illegally settle, they illegally occupy the Syrian Golan Heights, they conduct their war with Iran on the back of the Syrian people and so on. It is never-ending. We have to do more. We are a neutral country.

I thought of the nonsense about expelling the Russian diplomat based on solidarity with Britain. What an absolute joke for an unsubstantiated suspicion and a suspected role in a non-murder. Here there is absolute involvement in actual murder and where is the solidarity with the Palestinian people? The expulsion of the ambassador is neither here nor there. It is for optics. It is probably not worth a whole lot. I would like to see a lot more. I would like to see some serious signals like us signing up to the boycott, divest and sanction, BDS, movement and isolating this rogue apartheid state, possibly diplomatically, but certainly economically and internationally. If we do not do so, they are going to keep doing what they do. We have to extend that to the United States which has facilitated and accelerated these unlawful war crimes by its cavalier attitude and appalling stance over the past period.

The Tánaiste probably has spoken up more than most in Europe. I believe that he has. However, he needs to do more. I am not blaming him. I am just encouraging him because this certainly cannot go on.

I wish to express my sympathy to all of those Palestinian families who have suffered the loss of loved ones following the violence surrounding yesterday’s event. At a number of meetings of the Business Committee in recent weeks, Deputy Boyd Barrett was wanting to have this discussion and was predicting this to happen. How are we in such certainty? It is an anniversary, obviously, and it was expected.

While the media has claimed this protest is a result of the embassy's move to Jerusalem, I do not believe it is. It is because this week celebrates the 70th anniversary of Israel, which Palestinians call Nakba, meaning catastrophic in Arabic. They organise protests on this date every single year as day follows night. A clear pattern has emerged here. It is not as simplistic as people might like to say. These protests had been planned for weeks and had been urged on by the leadership of Hamas. We are well aware of that and were told it when we were looking for a debate on it. As Jason Greenblatt has written in The Jerusalem Post, many blame Israel, Egypt and-or the Palestinian Authority for the situation in Gaza. Too few, however, focus their criticism on Hamas, which has been the de facto ruling entity of Gaza for a decade.

We know a fair bit ourselves about conflicts and fighting over territories and land. We need to have a more in-depth look at this and we cannot just come down on one side. I have no truck with the Israelis, good, bad or indifferent. We cannot, however, come down on one side so blatantly without having a full, deep and greater understanding of what is happening there.

As Greenblatt notes, we need to get real about this. Hamas and its enablers, such as Iran, are squarely to blame for the desperate situation in Gaza. Hamas has consistently put its own destructive priorities above those of Gaza’s weary and increasingly desperate population. The people we must sympathise and empathise with are the ordinary population who are trying to eke out a living and have some modicum of peace and dignity in their lives and they have not got it. How would they when this is going on and bigger powers are involved, pulling the strings and changing the situation?

As David Keyes, a former spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister, has noted, Hamas is a genocidal terrorist organization. It openly declares its goal of destroying Israel and killing every Jew and every American. That is quite obvious. Over recent weeks, Hamas has tried to overrun Israel’s border to kill innocent people.

Will Deputy McGrath tell us where the Israeli border is? Where does it begin and where does it end?

It is not in south Dublin anyway. Has Sinn Féin a monopoly on everything? I did not interrupt anybody.

Do not be inviting interruptions, Deputy McGrath.

I was not saying anything to anyone. They have shot guns, planted bombs and thrown all kinds of cocktails at Israelis as they hid behind women and children. That is desperate. We want to save the women and children. We see it in conflicts throughout the world where the women and children are the targets and the victims of all kinds of genocide, crime, rape and everything else. In this case, whatever way they organise it, people are prepared to force women and children to be a front for them. It is not acceptable at all.

It seems that yesterday Hamas hid among civilians and had knives and guns as they sought to charge at the border fence. What would have happened had they got across the fence? We know the security they are facing into. We know the strength and might of the Israeli army, which I do not accept is necessary. The response is just way over the top at all times. What would have happened if they had got across the border and women and children had been able to get across the border with them? What would have happened to them? They must have responsibility for their actions and especially for having women and children in their midst as cover.

As I understand it, Hamas’s stated aim yesterday was to kidnap an Israeli soldier, or more than one if they could.

They had informed the rioters not to kill the soldier but to bring him back to Gaza to be used as a bargaining chip to get Hamas terrorists out of prison, or prisoners of war as they rightly call them. This is a complex situation. This is a neutral country and we should be appalled by and abhor what has gone on. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade called in the Israeli ambassador today. We must look at both sides because it is not simplistic. It is a powder keg.

I visited Lebanon with Deputy Grealish and others. We heard the stories from people in the refugee camps on the border with Syria. What happened there was totally wrong. We took out villains like Saddam Hussein and other dictators. The Americans, the British and their allies bombed the hell out of the place. What has happened? It is more unstable. My understanding is people of all creeds and religions could practice with impunity in most of these countries under these so-called dictators, but nobody can since. We see Isis with its campaign of slaughter and genocide against Christians and minority Muslims. We never have any debate about it here, but it is happening every day.

We are involved in the rescue of men, women and children from refugee boats in the Mediterranean. We need to understand the history and geography of the area. We need to understand the motives and modus operandi of Hamas and other groups. It is not simplistic by any manner or means. We thought it was simple to invade and destroy the dictators. What has come after them, however, is worse, with millions of elderly women and young children being displaced. When we went to the refugee camps, we did not meet a boy or a girl over 12 years of age. With the help of interpreters we heard about the horrors of what they had suffered. They are confined in the camps ad infinitum with no sign of any resolution. We do not want another situation such as this to develop in Gaza because the prospects are too horrendous to even consider.

We were appalled by the violence yesterday. However, that should not blind us to who truly is the aggressor. I am not saying it is all coming from one side. Aggression moves back and forth across the so-called border. The Palestinian people, first and foremost, have been betrayed by their own leadership. They have to face that issue, especially when they are in the grips of such violence and devastation. It might take them a long time to shake off the shackles, change their leadership and stated aims and become involved in some peace process, with a third party brokering it such as the United Nations. As long as the Palestinian people continue to be used as cannon fodder by the radical and extremist agents of Hamas, there is no chance of peace in the region. Therein lies the problem. We must stand down the more aggressive aspects and get to the people who might be interested in acting in a peace process.

I wish to share time with Deputy Eamon Ryan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I join other Deputies in condemning the massively disproportionate levels of force used against protesters in Gaza in the past 48 hours. The latest death toll is approximately 60, with over 750 wounded by live gunfire. It is outrageous that people armed only with slingshots and rocks can be indiscriminately mown down with ammunition, while, 40 miles away, representatives of the United States and several EU members states gathered for a celebration to open the new American embassy in Jerusalem. However, the contrast is symptomatic of the larger issue. Israel is only able to continue to dominate Palestine with either the tacit or overt support of the international community and the United States, in particular. This must end. There is very little else that can be said about the Israel-Palestine issue that we have not heard before now. This period marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. The Palestinians refer to it as Yawm an-Nakba, the day of the catastrophe, commemorating the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland in an act of modern day colonialism. The different interpretations of the events lay bare the shortcomings of the current state of discourse on the Israel-Palestine issue. It is a zero sum game of absolutes where the focus is often on undermining arguments and sloganeering. It simply is not enough to castigate the actions of the state of Israel and the Israeli Defence Forces, IDF, with regard to their appalling actions against protesters in Gaza or supporting illegal settlements on the West Bank, with a myriad of other issues which could be added to the list.

Echo chamber speeches ring particularly hollow when we are preaching to the converted. What we need is action from the Government at an EU and bilateral level to press Israel back to the negotiating table with the Palestinians. If we have learned anything from the peace process in Northern Ireland, it is that compromise is the only workable long-term solution where two groups lay claim to a small territory. Israeli domination of Palestine may work for now, but it is simply not a viable or just long-term solution.

What is particularly frustrating when speaking on this topic is the fact that we already know what the contours of the resolution will look like. The only long-term viable solution is the two-state solution, based on the 1967 borders. The status quo means that the onus to act to restart the peace process lies in the hands of the Israelis. Given the current domestic and international political reality, this is unlikely to happen any time soon.

The positioning of the so-called hawks in Netanyahu’s Likud party and other smaller nationalist and right-wing parties in the Knesset, as well as the US embassy move, perhaps signal that the once extraordinary is now very much ordinary in the region. The current Israeli Administration is simply kicking the can down the road and leaving future generations of Israelis and Palestinians to deal with the consequences of the Likud-led government's unwillingness to talk for fear of looking weak for domestic reasons. The international community knows what the solution is. We know where the pressure must be applied. I commend the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade for summoning the Israeli ambassador and calling for an international independent investigation. However, given that leadership and that pressure on the issue is unlikely to come from the United States until at least 2020, will the Minister redouble his commitment to raising the issue at a European level? We can only hope co-ordinated pressure from sympathetic EU member states can play a role in bringing both sides back to the negotiating table where a workable implementation plan leading to the already known solution can be agreed to. I urge the Minister to redouble his efforts in that regard.

I express the Green Party's outrage at the murder of the 60 people and the injuring of 700 others in Gaza yesterday. I turn to a subject about which I asked earlier today during questions on promised legislation.

It may help to put what is happening in a slightly wider context. I was thinking about this when I heard of the news yesterday. It was not surprising because this has been a flashpoint for the past month at least. A parliamentary delegation went from this House to Egypt a little over a year ago. We had a meeting with the Secretary General of the Arab League during the visit. His words were ringing in my ears yesterday. He remarked to us over a year ago that, whatever else happens, if the USA went ahead with its proposal to transfer the US embassy to Jerusalem, which was Donald Trump's election promise, it would ignite a fire from one end of the Middle East to the other. Moreover, he figured every third level student in every college would protest and fight against such a move. We knew that and our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials were there too. I imagine the Americans knew it as well. It only leads me to the obvious conclusion that this is a deliberate act of antagonism. This is a deliberate act supposedly to show strength from one side, but it is a bullying strength and one that must be countered.

I agree with the Tánaiste that, in general in diplomatic circles and where we place ourselves in the world, it is best for us to try to stay in the room and maintain contact. I agree it is best to try to act as people to whom everyone can talk, even while holding to certain principles. At a certain point in dealing with a bullying organisation, however, which is what the US Administration is now, we have to put aside diplomacy, stand up and say that what has been done goes a step too far.

The decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem can be joined with the decision the previous week to abandon the nuclear deal that had been patiently constructed with Iran. The real and shocking horror I sense is not only the terrible tragedy for those people who lost their lives yesterday but the sense that there is the chance of war in the air as well. There is a sense that in the agenda of some people this spirit of antagonism would go so far. Given the record of some of the people in the US Administration in particular, that is not a far-fetched or irrational conclusion.

That is why we need to make our disgust and anger known to the Israeli Government, but we need to look at the bigger picture as well. As Europeans and in conjunction with our European allies, we need to look to see how we can restore some international order. I agree with the comments of the Tánaiste earlier. He said it was deeply dissatisfying to see the UN Security Council and how it works. If we try to put a motion or try to bring an action against such bullying to the council, we would be immediately stopped. A big game is still going on and certain powers have control over it.

It is up to the European Union to decide a course of action. The Union was established on the basis that we do not want to go back to war but rather pursue collaboration by peaceful means. We need to stand firm at this point. We need to say that this is so far beyond the pale of what is acceptable that we cannot simply continue to be nice and diplomatic and polite about it. It is a time to consider in real detail what actions we will take.

I am unsure whether the General Affairs Council is meeting. Obviously this matter will be discussed at the European Council tomorrow. I believe our role in those discussions should be to use the leverage we have, because we are decent honest brokers. We have good connections in the Middle East. We have particularly good connections with the Arab world. These are connections some of our European colleagues do not have. We should act as an interlocutor. There may be different views in the Arab world but we should say that on the part of the European Union, these antagonistic and warlike acts cannot go unanswered and we have to respond to them. We should do that as the Union. That would give us strength. We should be vocal and upfront. We should not only be diplomatic. It is time to stand up to the bullying that is going on.