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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 20 May 2021

Vol. 1007 No. 4

Situation in Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel: Statements

I am sharing time with Deputy Carroll MacNeill.

We are here this afternoon to address the current cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. It is the latest in a long, brutal and inhumane conflict that has taken an unspeakable human toll. This week, I have spoken about the situation in the Seanad, at the UN Security Council and in a meeting of EU foreign ministers. I repeat here my calls for an immediate cessation of violence. Indiscriminate rocket attacks from Gaza must stop. Israeli air strikes must stop. Over 120 civilians in the Gaza Strip have been killed in the last ten days, 63 of them children. Among the 12 civilians killed in Israel, two were children. This is shameful and will reinforce and embed hatred, grief and a continuance of what drives this conflict into the future. Today, as we debate in this Chamber, 57,000 people have been displaced by hostilities in Gaza and are now taking refuge in almost 60 schools, many of them UN facilities, in an effort to find safe refuge for themselves, their families and their children. The protection of civilians must be paramount. The impact on civilians, particularly children, has been simply unacceptable and the international community must call it out.

Yesterday, I spoke to the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mr. Shtayyeh, and expressed Ireland's condolences on the deaths and violence of the past week. Ireland has been urging the UN Security Council to use its voice. The council has met four times since the outbreak of hostilities. I must be honest that I find it difficult to comprehend how the UN Security Council has not yet been able to agree a clear joint statement on this issue. The global structure for preventing conflict and bringing conflict to an end has been unable until now to call for a ceasefire on a conflict as significant as this one. I addressed the UN Security Council on Sunday and underlined that we need to send a clear and united message that the council and its members have a responsibility to speak. Ireland is working closely with France on intensive negotiations in New York today to agree a Security Council resolution. I will be meeting later this afternoon in Dublin with my French counterpart on this issue. I sincerely hope that all council members will come to the table constructively to try and reach agreement. The UN Security Council must speak on this issue.

The President of the UN General Assembly has also convened the General Assembly today. This reflects the widespread concern among UN member states. The conflict is of particular concern to neighbouring states, many of which have been at the forefront of efforts to try to secure a ceasefire in recent days. I have been in close contact with my counterparts in the region, be it in Egypt, Qatar or Jordan. I have urged all states to use their influence with parties to support efforts to end hostilities. Yesterday, I met the Foreign Minister of Iran, Mr. Zarif. I made the point clearly to him that Iran has a responsibility to use its influence in the Gaza Strip to insist on a ceasefire and an ending of violence and the firing of rockets. EU foreign ministers met virtually on Tuesday in an emergency setting. I called for a clear EU message in support of an immediate ceasefire and for humanitarian access to Gaza. I welcome the clear call from the High Representative, Mr. Josep Borrell, for a cessation of violence, for the implementation of a ceasefire in order to protect civilians and for full humanitarian access to be given to those most in need in Gaza.

Beyond securing a ceasefire and humanitarian access, we must also address the root causes of this ongoing cycle of violence. I was clear about this at the Foreign Affairs Council on Tuesday. The EU has a responsibility to step up. This is in our neighbourhood and we must be a much more influential actor than we are currently. As I said, this afternoon I will meet my French counterpart, Mr. Jean-Yves Le Drian. We will discuss how we can work together at both EU and UN Security Council levels to support all efforts to de-escalate and, looking ahead, how we can reinvigorate the international community's commitment to the Middle East peace process and restart badly needed negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians on the basis of equality of esteem, which we have not seen for a number of years.

The loss of life, destruction and trauma we have seen in the last week across Israel and Palestine have been horrifying, but must be a wake-up call for the international community in terms of its responsibilities. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Gaza Strip, where 2 million people were already living in acute humanitarian need and suffering the consequences of repeated cycles of violence and long-running blockades. That is why I have announced an immediate response of €1.5 million in emergency supports for the deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip. Irish Aid will support the UN in delivering emergency humanitarian supplies to those who most need them. Some €1 million will be provided to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA, which provides services to Palestinian refugees, for emergency food, water and sanitation supplies and health and psychosocial services for 50,000 people sheltered in UNRWA-run schools. The United Nations Children's Emergency Fund, UNICEF, will also receive €500,000 for child protection and medical and sanitation services for thousands of children in acute need. This includes emergency psychosocial services to 5,000 children suffering trauma as a result of hostilities. We will respond further to the humanitarian situation in the weeks ahead. This money is additional to the money we already provide to organisations such as UNRWA and other UN actors.

While much of the focus today is rightly on the violence and tension in Gaza, the West Bank and across Israel, we cannot and must not shy away from the enabling factors in this recent tragic cycle of violence. I have to say that they are primarily Israel's continued strategy of expanding settlements and the discriminatory practices by Israeli authorities against Palestinians, with forced relocation, demolition of properties, forced evictions and continuing to expand settlements that are not legal in the first place. Once the immediate hostilities have ended, we cannot go back to the status quo of a few weeks ago. I remain supportive of a two-state solution, but it cannot be delivered if Israel’s actions on settlements, demolition and evictions continue unabated. Brutality and dispossession will not lead to a peaceful, secure outcome for anyone, either for Palestinians in a future state of their own or for Israelis who want to live in peace with their neighbours as well.

Ireland will continue to use its voice at the Security Council to draw attention to these issues. We will speak up even if it is not comfortable to do so. We will continue, along with our EU partners, to engage in renewed and reinvigorated international and regional efforts, which are more necessary now than they have been for many years.

I thank the Minister for sharing his time. It is not acceptable to use children and civilians as human shields, and it is not acceptable to harm and kill them where they are being so used.

The Israel Defense Forces, IDF, claimed this week that it is doing everything it can to avoid civilian casualties but given that nearly half of the casualties in Gaza are women and children, their doctors and schools, the IDF is either not doing that or is not very good at doing it.

We need an immediate cessation of violence on both sides. Rocket attacks and air strikes must end. Israel urgently needs to facilitate humanitarian access to Gaza and to stop building settlements which this House and the Irish Government have repeatedly criticised as being obviously in breach of international law. I urge the Israeli Attorney General to think this one through as he prepares his submission on the Sheikh Jarrah case because this is no ordinary private property case and that it could ever have been so described stretches credibility. We need to move towards a political settlement not based on the temporary eradication of the murderous capacity of Hamas, but on building a political process on both sides that can offer a sustained cessation of hostilities, a recognition of each other's national legitimacy and the opportunity to develop as two functional and independent states.

Xenophobia contributes nothing. It contributes nothing in Israel, nothing in Palestine and it has contributed, and would contribute, nothing in this House. If the events of the past few weeks have taught us anything, it is that everyone, but especially democratic parliamentarians, have a duty towards the international legal order, moderation, stability and the protection of human life as an overwhelming political objective. I urge the Minister to continue and redouble his efforts within the EU and the UN to help achieve this.

Israel is, of course, a serial violator of international law. It is currently in violation of 28 separate UN resolutions. It is a force of occupation and operates a system of apartheid. The world looks on in horror at the bombardment of the Palestinian people and the barbaric violation of their basic human rights by the state of Israel. The aggressive Israeli military onslaught on Gaza has continued for weeks now. The vicious attacks on the Palestinians in the West Bank and terrifying pogroms that have driven Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem by illegal settlers continue and are facilitated by the so-called forces of law and order of the Israeli state. Gaza has been turned into an open-air prison by Israel’s blockade, a siege has been going on for 14 years. Israel has yet again unleashed the weight of its military might on Gaza and warns Palestinians to get out when the truth is there is nowhere for them to go. Missiles rain down from the sky and they are left as trapped refugees. One of the most sophisticated military forces in the world smashes down on beleaguered, impoverished people with devastating consequences on refugee people who have been rendered homeless and stateless. They are a people dispossessed and yet the perpetrators go unchallenged. To suggest that there are two sides to this story is utterly perverse. To suggest that Israel is simply defending itself is an obscenity and shame on anyone, any so-called world leader, wherever they are, if they repeat such an obscenity.

The truth is that the international community has seen what has happened to the Palestinian people in full view and have stepped back and allowed it to happen. To the UN Security Council and the entire apparatus of the international community, let me say that we see you. Your people see you. The great and the good of the international community find it acceptable to step back and make an argument of "on the one hand this and on the other hand that" and meanwhile Palestinian refugee children die. Make no mistake that is not an acceptable position to the people of the world. I feel confident that global citizens are appalled, repulsed and enraged, quite frankly, that we are here again and Palestine suffers.

We need a cessation of violence and that needs to happen immediately. We need a full-scale humanitarian effort. Above all else, let us be clear that we need justice and the rule of law to prevail. We need Palestinian self-determination. We need the state of Israel to be finally called out for what it is: a racist, apartheid regime. We in Ireland, perhaps more than any other people, have a special obligation to act on all of this because we know the colonial experience, the experience of dispossession and division. We know what it is to be left destitute. We have no excuse not to act.

I ask the Minister and the Government when we will recognise the state of Palestine, as was agreed in this Parliament years ago? When will we see the occupied territories legislation advanced? When will we finally insist loudly, clearly and consistently that the law be respected and that Palestinian lives matter?

For approaching two weeks now, day after day, night after night, we have been forced to bear witness to a sustained, brutal, and unforgiving assault on the Palestinian people by the apartheid Government of Israel. It has been torturous, shocking and heartbreaking. Some 230 civilians, including 64 children, have been slaughtered as of today in the open-air prison that is the Gaza Strip. Homes, media offices, libraries, police stations, a university, nine primary healthcare centres, six hospitals, the main Covid-19 laboratory and the office of the ministry of health have been deliberately destroyed. Those are all grave breaches of the Geneva Convention or, in other words, war crimes.

Like all witnesses, we face the challenge to act under our moral obligation to attempt to put an end to this onslaught or to retreat into the role of passive observer. The Irish Government has adopted an approach that perhaps can be best described as straddling the two in its attempt to achieve consensus that has no chance of success. The deck is stacked. All attempts to achieve consensus are doomed to failure when allies of Israel cynically employ their veto at the UN and within the EU to prevent anything that could resemble a coherent approach emerging. Thus, we are morally, ethically and justifiably compelled to act unilaterally.

In the dark days of South African apartheid, Ireland, spurred by the passion of the ordinary people of Ireland as epitomised by the Dunnes Stores strikers, was proud to act in support of the victims of state oppression and discrimination in South Africa. What has changed? Human Rights Watch, an internationally respected organisation, recently laid the accusation of the crime of apartheid against the Israeli state, an allegation backed by the most irrefutable of evidence. The Government of Israel has been engaged in a systematic campaign of absolute domination over the Palestinian peoples for decades. Human Rights Watch, along with reports from other human rights groups such as Al-Haq and B'Tselem, have called this out now, which is welcome. However, the reports, in conjunction with the latest round of attacks on the Palestinian people, must be seen as a catalyst for action.

The current violence is not taking place in a vacuum. It is the product of 54 years of Israeli colonisation of Palestine. Since 1967, 250 illegal Israeli settlements have been created on Palestinian lands, now inhabited by more than 650,000 illegal Israeli settlers.

This is an Israeli strategy of remove, fragment and replace, designed to allow Israeli settlers to seize the maximum amount of Palestinian land for themselves while locking the remaining Palestinian people into a patchwork collection of Bantustans. This is apartheid in practice.

It is a fact that 83% of all demolitions of Palestinian buildings take place within a 2.5 km range of Israeli settlements. When I say buildings, I am describing homes, schools, health centres and basic critical infrastructure funded by the Irish taxpayer and other donors.

In 2020, 848 Palestinian homes were destroyed, impacting on 6,380 Palestinians, including 534 children. Up to 30 April this year, 316 buildings were destroyed. This represents an increase of 108% on figures from 2020.

The human cost of this is catastrophic. Thousands are left homeless, hopeless, and destitute. Very often, following the destruction of schools, young children are forced to travel 14 to 15 miles to schools, during which they often have to pass by the illegal Israeli settlements.

It is time for action. We can issue all the statements we want. The statements that have been issued would plaster the walls of the convention centre but it has zero impact on the illegal aggression by the Israeli state. We can and must take action. Ireland must be prepared to act alone on this when the international community has failed the Palestinian people.

We must officially recognise the Palestinian state. We must also move to bring forward the occupied territories Bill and recognise the fact that annexation is happening as we speak in East Jerusalem and in the occupied West Bank territories. We must act, and if that means acting unilaterally, we must do so, otherwise, we are failing on our human rights and our obligations to the Palestinian people.

Gaza is a tiny enclave 41 km long and 11 km at its widest point. It has endured a military and economic blockade since 2007, effectively imprisoning almost two million people in an area the size of 362 sq. km.

For almost two weeks now, this third most densely populated spot in the world has been under sustained and shocking bombardment by one of the best armed military forces on the planet. We know that at least 230 Palestinians are dead, including 65 children, which I read as I came into the Chamber. The rockets launched by Hamas against Israel have killed ten people, including two children, and two other Israelis have also died in civil unrest.

The scenes emerging on our televisions have horrified all right-thinking people. We expect a ceasefire to be agreed, particularly after the intervention of the US President, Joe Biden, this week. We also know, however, that actual ceasefire will not come about until the Israeli military is satisfied that it has bombed and destroyed every target it wishes to.

As the Minister said, a ceasefire is and must be our first priority. The first thing we must achieve internationally is to stop the killing, but what then? Do we refocus on other issues until the next flare-up of violence or do we seek now to join anyone willing to join us in taking a stand?

The international community has an understood settlement for the Israeli-Palestinian disagreement, which is two separate sovereigns states, Israel and Palestine, both with sustainable and viable territories and borders, sharing Jerusalem as their capital. On occasions in the 1990s, this objective was thought to be within our grasp. Now, it has been systematically undermined by years of Israeli settlement in Palestinian territories. It has been undermined to the point that many academics and politicians alike have despaired of its implementability. The viability of a Palestinian state is now in question because of the obvious policy of Israel to dismantle it.

The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has sought to build a common position internationally, on which I commend him, at the United Nations, where the United States prevents any consensus emerging in the Security Council, and in the EU, where countries like Hungary prevent a common position emerging. So be it; it is time for Ireland to act.

During last week's Priority Questions to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, I said there must be a consequence for the outrageous actions we see, which assault human rights and all international norms, and not the normal verbal condemnations but concrete actions.

Today, Norway's sovereign wealth fund dropped two companies that were involved in the development of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are called Shapir Engineering and Industry Ltd. and Mivne Real Estate KD Ltd.

We, too, must take a lead in meaningful economic sanctions aimed at any company, individual or state entity that violates international law by supporting or facilitating illegal settlements. The rights and legal entitlements of an entire nation cannot simply be extinguished by a sustained, deliberate and relentless policy of dispossession, eviction and suppression.

The only hope for long-term and sustainable peace, as we in Ireland know only too well, is to provide a basis for both communities to coexist, with equal rights, as citizens of two separate nations. The real security rightly sought by the people of Israel can only be guaranteed when an acceptable settlement, not one forced by strength of arms, is mutually agreed by both sides. I believe the people of Ireland want their Government and their Parliament to act now to build the international pressure to bring this about.

Deputy Higgins is sharing time with Deputy Cahill.

I wish to begin by condemning the violence in Palestine and Israel. I have stood in the West Bank and in places like Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah. I have crossed the border at Kulandia and gone through the checkpoint alone in the darkness of night.

I stood in Hebron during Passover when hundreds of heavily armed Israeli soldiers burst out from a military zone into a Palestinian town. I watched helplessly as those Israeli soldiers banged on the doors of Palestinian homes, gained entry into people's houses and illegal access onto the roof in order that their snipers could, from afar, police what was going on below. And why? To watch over a religious tour to a holy site in a Palestinian town. We estimated there were eight Israeli soldiers for every one of those tourists.

I recall standing on a side street in Hebron under a caged roof that was burned through in places by acid thrown down from the settlement. I remember standing there and counting seven snipers who were aimed at me and my cousin, who worked for a NGO in Palestine. The tension, fear and intimidation is something I will never forget.

The difference between those Israeli soldiers and soldiers I have come across elsewhere in the world is that I knew instinctively they were not there to protect me or the people around me.

They were there to protect a certain faction of society and to hell with who got caught in the crossfire. It is easy to get caught up in the legalities, the legislation and the big news stories about what is going on right now, but this is what is happening in Palestine and, in fact, it is a million times worse in Gaza. People are living in fear and hopelessness and that is absolutely wrong.

There are no simple answers. If there were, they would have been found by now. However, that does mean we can give up. We must continue to use our position to find a path to a peace process and a credible solution. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has been very clear that much of what is happening in the occupied Palestinian territories is against international law. Expanding settlements is illegal. Demolishing the homes of Bedouins is illegal. Forced evictions in East Jerusalem are illegal. All of these actions have contributed to rising tensions in an already tense region. It is up to us and countries like us to stand up for the people who are caught in the crossfire. We must use our platform on the UN Security Council to find a path to lasting peace and put an end to people dying needlessly every day, children dying because of a war that has been going on since before they were born, families being torn apart and communities being destroyed.

Over the past week, the Irish people have shown both their generosity of spirit and their care for global human rights in their response to the human rights violations against the Palestinian people. Due to our colonial history, we have a strong affinity with the Palestinians and the Government must honour that connection. First, it is important to look at recent events not in isolation but as examples of how Palestinians are treated on a daily basis. The current escalation began when the Israeli authorities attempted a forced removal of Palestinians from their homes in neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem. This attempted eviction is still ongoing. It is important to remember that the families at risk of eviction are descendants of those who were made refugees when the state of Israel was created in 1948. They will more than likely be made refugees again.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. In the first quarter of 2021 alone, the Israeli authorities demolished, forced people to demolish or seized at least 292 Palestinian-owned structures across the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, thereby displacing 450 people, including 246 children. According to the UN, this constitutes a 121% increase in the targeting of structures and a 126% increase in the number of people displaced, compared with the same period in 2020. As of 2019, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions estimated that Israel had razed 49,532 Palestinian structures.

These demolitions are further compounded by the increase in Israeli settlements, which have ramped up over the past number of years. Between the West Bank and East Jerusalem, there are now nearly 600,000 settlers. Settlements are strongly linked to the demolitions that have occurred, as each house demolition takes place strategically, with the aim of making way for more settlers. The largest settlement has 80,000 people in it, which is exactly the same population as Galway city. A settler who arrives in the West Bank or East Jerusalem from any place around the globe has more rights than a Palestinian who was born and bred there.

We all know the result of Israel's bombing of Gaza. At least 65 children are dead, media buildings have been destroyed, one of Gaza's few neurologists was murdered and whole families have vanished. Are we really meant to believe Israel when it says it is only targeting terrorists? No one here supports the firing of rockets into civilian areas in Israel but the truth is the truth and the wider context matters very much. For a prolonged period, we have witnessed a sustained attack on the right of Palestinians to exist. A Palestinian life seems to be worth less than that of most others around the globe.

The people of this country are demanding action. We have two options before us. First, the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 represents a real step that we can take. It would ban exports from arriving into this country from illegal settlements and would apply to any occupied territory in the world. The second option is full recognition of the Palestinian state. That is something for which previous Governments have expressed support and we should not be waiting for permission to do it.  It is easy to dismiss either of these measures as token gestures but the occupied territories Bill received global coverage for its potential to act as a model for other nations. The brutality of Israel's actions in Gaza has rallied global solidarity like never before. Even in the USA, many Democratic Party politicians have found their voice. We have a decision to make. Do we want to be on the right side of history and be the leader we can be, or do we want to play it safe?  Israel should have a right to safety, but so should Palestinians. I hope we can play our part in ensuring that happens.

The next speaker is Deputy Cronin.

I understood I was sharing time with Deputy McAuliffe.

There is no time left in that slot, according to my list. There were nine minutes allocated and only 39 seconds left.

My apologies to Deputy Haughey. The next speaker is Deputy Cronin.

I appreciate the strong words from the Minister, Deputy Coveney, regarding the horror unfolding in Gaza. They are a dignified change from those of his predecessor during the assault on Gaza in 2014. Strong words are necessary from Ireland, a country that was occupied and knows the cosh of the coloniser. This week, Gaza is awash with anguish. There are reports that 60% of electricity lines are down. Water pipes have been destroyed by Israeli bombing and tens of thousands of people have no access to clean drinking water. A Médecins Sans Frontières clinic has been destroyed, Red Crescent operations are severely disrupted and a Covid testing laboratory was wiped out. Some 48,000 people are crammed into schools, which the UN hopes will be protected this time by the blue flags flying overhead. That is not always the case.

There are reports of families sleeping together in one room so that, if they are bombed, they will die together. In the rubble of their home, a brother and sister found their pet goldfish. In the rubble of his home, Riyad Eshkuntana was not so lucky. His wife and four of his children were killed. Only his daughter Suzy was pulled alive from the wreckage of their home, now the wreckage of their lives. Suzy is six years old. Her younger brother Yehya was four. Yet Israel tells the world it is targeting armed terrorists. As I wrote this speech, I had to keep updating the number for the deaths of children. In Israel, there were two. In Gaza, 40 became 50, 50 became 60 and we are now at 65. Eleven of those children were receiving trauma counselling when they were killed. Yet Israel claims it is the victim as the normal service of evicting, settling, displacing, degrading, threatening, annexing, arresting, shooting and beating turns with depressing regularity to bombing. In this perverse logic, condemning the razing of Palestine and its people is deemed anti-Semitic. It is not. Nor is condemning the Israeli Government for its excessive force and its murder of children. Likewise, the descendants of Holocaust survivors protesting Israel's violence against the Palestinians is not anti-Semitic.

The Kildare bard, Christy Moore, sang: "[They] tell us who suffer the tear gas and the torture that we're in the wrong." The Palestinian people are in the wrong in shelters, on the beach, in schools, in trauma counselling and in what they hoped, like Riyad Eshkuntana, were safe spaces. They are in the wrong in childhood. I say to the terrified people of Gaza today that as a country that knows occupation, Ireland is with them in heart, soul and spirit. Four years ago, on the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War and the capture of Palestinian lands, the Israeli conductor and peacemaker, Daniel Barenboim, warned Israel that its occupation had "eroded all sense of decency and humanity and morality from people like me, who had been persecuted for over 20 centuries".

The tide is turning and the world is watching. The Minister should tell his partners on the UN Security Council, that, as was said by my leader Deputy McDonald earlier, we see them. We see them.

In an ideal world there would always be time for diplomacy, a time to temper our language and talk of peace. However, when children are being bombed in their homes and in their beds, there should be a time to tell the truth. The truth is that what is happening in Gaza at the minute is a massacre. Diplomacy is failing when children are bombed in their homes. Now is the time for plain speaking, to not equivocate in our condemnation, to not equivocate in our language and to not create a false impression of "both sides-ism". Now is the time to call this for what it is. This situation, the Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands, is an annexation. There are evictions, there is the bulldozing of homes and there is displacement on a massive scale: it is an annexation. Now is the time to call out the apartheid and the persecution of the Palestinian people on their own lands for just that: a form of apartheid and a persecution of the Palestinian people. The international organisation Human Rights Watch took that decision over the last number of weeks. It has the full support of many within the international community and the Government would do well to follow suit.

Now is the time to call the leaders and the perpetrators of this massacre, this annexation, what they are: warlords. In particular, the Israeli Minister for Defence campaigned in 2019 on his warlord credentials, and on what he carried out on the people of Gaza in 2014. This is an old tactic of people who create the idea of an enemy at the gates and present themselves as the only one who can fend them off. They dehumanise, they create an impression of being constantly under attack and then they present themselves as being the only ones who can save the populace. The massacre happening in Gaza as we speak will be used to prop up these warlords in elections to come.

When we hear talk of terrorism, we should remember that terrorism has many forms. Terrorism, as we know it in the post-9/11 world, comes from terrorists in caves and terrorists firing rockets but terrorism has another form too. I speak of state-sponsored terrorism, state-aided terrorism and state-enacted terrorism. We hear of, and I mentioned, children being bombed in their beds in Gaza as if these children were asleep. These children could not have been asleep, they would simply have been too terrified. As Deputy Cronin mentioned, 11 of the 65 children killed were undergoing trauma counselling. That is a form of state-enacted terrorism against children and we should call it what it is.

When we speak of the truth we should also talk about how we act. The Government has a responsibility to take action and the people demand we take action. We have a number of options open to us in that regard. There is a mandate in this Chamber for the passing of the occupied territories Bill. The Irish people have a proud tradition of boycotts. Boycott was a weapon of the weak used against the strong throughout our traditions and it is something we can enact in this Chamber by means of that Bill, to say no more will we trade in or do business with the Israeli occupation and annexation of Palestinian lands. There is legal argument and dispute but I argue strongly in favour of having those legal arguments out on Committee Stage. Let us bring it through. Everybody in this Chamber is acting with good intentions, be they in the Government or the Opposition, but there is a bulwark in the form of one particular party and one particular Minister against bringing the occupied territories Bill to the floor of this Chamber and letting it be debated. Now is the time to act. We cannot be equivocating in our language; we cannot be equivocating in our actions. Our diplomacy is failing. Now is the time to recognise the Palestinian state. Now is the time to recognise we all have a responsibility to be brave. We can take actions in this Chamber that will have ramifications around the world. We did it by not handling goods from apartheid-era South Africa and we can do it again. To not do so would be the utmost form of cowardice. I strongly urge the Minister to bring the occupied territories Bill to this Chamber.

While I agree with most or all of what has been said so far in the Chamber, I want to take a small step back and a step forward. I want to step back and look at the root causes of the onslaught we are witnessing on television. As another Deputy said already, the spark that ignited the current flame was the attempt by the Israeli Government to confiscate homes and to expel Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem. This was an action of annexation. It was a deliberate action inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. This is what we have been witnessing and what has been going on, not just in East Jerusalem but across the West Bank. We are dealing with an occupation and a de facto annexation, and we need to start calling it that. When the Minister was here taking a Topical Issue debate the other day, he spoke about Irish diplomacy preventing the annexation of the Jordan Valley. That may be a de jure annexation but we are witnessing a de facto annexation in East Jerusalem and across the West Bank, and it was the spark that caused the current flame. That annexation is rooted in the illegal occupation that has been going on since 1967. That occupation has lead to the annexation but also to all the other things we have heard about today, including the brutality of the occupying soldiers as witnessed by Israeli NGOs like Breaking the Silence, the demolitions, the dispossessions, the checkpoints, the ID cards, the restriction on movement, the restriction on access to education, the violence and the brutality that is upholding this occupation. That is the root cause - occupation and annexation - and that is what we must tackle. As I have said, when one looks at Israeli Government policies, they appear to be deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the destruction of Palestinians in large parts of the occupied territories.

I also want to take as step forward because we are, one hopes, going to have a ceasefire. The rockets will stop firing, the bombs will stop dropping and then what do we do? In 2014 the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, GRM, was set up to help to rebuild Gaza. The name GRM is Orwellian. The Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism essentially stops the reconstruction of Gaza and prevents humanitarian aid coming in. All it did was increase the stranglehold of occupation and control over the Gaza Strip. We are now in a position at the UN Security Council to be engaging in that next round. The GRM was a tripartite agreement between Israel, Palestine and the UN. We must ensure that if there is another GRM, it should work this time. Ultimately, we should be ending the occupation because that is the only way we are going to reconstruct Gaza but in the meantime, before that, we must ensure the GRM works. We must support the International Criminal Court, ICC, to ensure any war crimes committed now actually end up there and do not happen with impunity. We must ensure that if there is going to be another Goldstone report, it should be funded and supported properly. All these things are essential but in the long term, the only thing we can really do to end this is to recognise the annexation, call it out and work to end the occupation. All of the things other Deputies have spoken about, including recognition, the occupied territories Bill and recognition of de facto annexation are the things we should be doing to achieve that end.

The death toll in the region has surpassed 200 as we look on in horror at the terrible violence unfolding in the Middle East. I welcome today's statement from the Minister and our commitment of €1.5 million in aid for the region. Our nation is no stranger to violence and mayhem and we are horrified and repulsed by the unfolding violence.

I was heartened to hear the Minister restate our position and it is very clear. We call on both sides to de-escalate and stop the violence. The killing of innocent civilians and children by Israelis is truly appalling and Israeli air strikes in the heart of Gaza killed at least 26 people and destroyed three buildings at the weekend in one of the deadliest attacks since fighting broke out. Ten women and eight children were among those killed in Sunday's attack, with another 50 injured. An Israeli air strike destroyed the offices of the Associated Press and other media outlets. This was an attack on the press itself and the proverbial two fingers to a free press that seeks to expose the horrors unfolding in the region.

The Minister has given us the latest death tallies for the Palestinian people. They are truly shocking statistics. The people of Ireland are repulsed by this violence and are as one in their solidarity with the Palestinian people. It is time for this House to enact the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018, pioneered by Senator Frances Black three years ago and supported by Fianna Fáil and other parties. It seeks a ban on the import of goods from illegal settlements in any occupied territory.

We speak of two sides in this region but, in reality, for the past 70 years, Israel has ruthlessly driven Palestinian families from the region and it has now set its sights on Gaza itself. This nation took a proud lead in the battle against apartheid in South Africa and it was not without significance that the first statue celebrating Nelson Mandela outside South Africa was here in Dublin city.

I am pleased the Minister and our Taoiseach are taking a very strong line on this matter and our statements and actions are not without significance. It is important that we continue to voice our dissent and question the half-hearted reaction of larger and seemingly more influential nations such as the USA. As a nation we must stand shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinian people. Violence on any side is never acceptable but the current Israeli attacks are an affront to decent society and must be called to task. We are a small nation but our forefathers 100 years ago turned to parliaments across the world for recognition of our then infant State; it is time for this House to recognise the Palestinian state.

Hundreds of people have been killed by Israeli air strikes on Gaza and almost a third of that number are children. There are 1,000 people wounded while 17 hospitals and clinics have been damaged or destroyed in the Gaza Strip. Its only coronavirus lab has been wrecked and water pipes serving 800,000 people have been broken. Sewerage systems inside Gaza have also been destroyed, with dozens of schools also damaged or destroyed. Almost 100,000 Gazans have been forced to flee their homes. This is a massacre of the Palestinian people and a humanitarian crisis, all because Israel wants more Palestinian land.

The leaders of the world have demonstrated inexcusable silence in the face of the slaughter of the Palestinian people, which is very sad. There are 2 million people penned into an area the size of County Louth. The current violence is not taking place in a vacuum and it is the product of 54 years of Israeli colonisation of Palestinian lands.

Since 1967, 250 illegal Israeli settlements have been erected, with well over 650,000 illegal settlers. This is based on an Israeli strategy of remove, fragment and replace, which is designed to allow Israeli settlers to maximise the amount of Palestinian land for themselves. This is apartheid in practice. In 2020, 848 Palestinian homes were destroyed, affecting 6,380 Palestinians, including 534 children. Up to 30 April this year, 316 buildings were destroyed, representing an increase of 108% on the rate for 2020.

The human cost of this is catastrophic. Thousands have been left homeless and very often following the destruction of schools, young children are forced to travel 15 miles to other schools, during which they will often have to pass settlements where they can be subject to abuse.

We in Sinn Féin call for the implementation of UN resolutions and the enforcement of international law. We call on the Government to exert its power, influence and moral authority to help bring an end to annexation and use its position on the UN Security Council to full effect to create the moral impetus required for the international community to act. We also call on the Government to formally recognise the state of Palestine on the basis of the 1967 borders, with east Jerusalem as its capital, and give its support to the occupied territories legislation. We further call on the Government to expel the Israeli ambassador to Ireland for crimes against the Palestinian people.

Ten days of terror have been raining down on the people of Gaza. We are now on day 11. More than 200 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 60 children. Lynch mobs are roaming the streets of cities within Israel, shouting slogans like "Death to Arabs", backed up by state forces targeting Palestinians. Ethnic cleansing is continuing in East Jerusalem.

What was the response of the international community, from US President Biden to European Commission President von der Leyen? It was support for the Israeli regime and its actions. It took nine days of this horror for US President Biden to even call for a ceasefire, and when he did so, he made sure to reiterate what he described as his "firm support" for Israel's right to defend itself. How do we translate Israel's "right to defend itself" in this discourse? This equates to the right to continue to murder Palestinians.

Of course, Israel should immediately cease fire but the truth is there will be no long-lasting peace unless there is justice and an end to the occupation of Palestine. It will not happen unless there is a kicking out of the forces of imperialism and capitalism, which have brought nothing but division, racism and exploitation to the Middle East. On the basis of ordinary working-class people being in power, this could ensure a just solution, including the rights to a homeland of the Palestinian people as well as the Israeli Jewish people.

Something positive in the horror that has unfolded, which has given a glimpse of how a force exists to bring about that sort of just solution, is what we have seen with Palestinians, no matter where they are located, rising up together. It is happening in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, within the borders of Israel, in Gaza and in the refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. We saw the impact of the general strike of Palestinians yesterday shutting down construction in large parts of Israel. With this we get a glimpse of the potential power and the outlines of a new third intifada, which if based on the methods of the first intifada of mass struggle and democratic control from below holds the key to ending the occupation.

Within the horror of widespread racism in Israeli Jewish society there are small but significant indications of rejection. These are small acts of solidarity of Israeli Jewish workers with their Palestinian brothers and sisters, such as the bus workers and some teachers. There is also a global uprising of solidarity, with people demonstrating around the world. The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign has called on people to mobilise again this Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Spire in Dublin.

We need demands on the Government to be to the fore because it is not good enough to just have some words of condemnation that go further than those of President von der Leyen. If the Irish Government is serious, it must kick out the Israeli ambassador and send a message around the world. It must pass the occupied territories legislation.

Last week, I asked the Government to pass the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 and organise the boycott of goods produced in occupied Palestinian territories. These are goods stained with the blood of the Palestinian people. However, the Government has doubled down in opposition to taking such a step. It falls, therefore, to the organised workers' movement to take the initiative.

I call on them to do so. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions should build on the historic example of the Dunnes Stores anti-apartheid strike and issue a clear call for the blacking of companies who profit from the occupation, including those who export military goods or dual-use goods to Israel. These are companies such as Airbnb, Tripadvisor, JCB, Puma and others. A workers' boycott would be a tremendous act of solidarity with the Palestinian people whose general strike this week inspired trade unionists all over the world. Nor would it be, in any sense, directed against the interests of Israeli Jewish workers, a considerable number of whom engaged in acts of solidarity with Palestinian workmates who faced physical threats in recent weeks.

The Minister's inaction and that of his Government is a disgrace. It is time now for the workers' movement to act.

The world is shocked and horrified at the events taking place in the Middle East in the last 11 days. The response of Israel to peaceful protests across the West Bank and in East Jerusalem has been confrontational. It is unacceptable. The air strikes by Israel on Gaza are brutal and disproportionate. Many innocent civilians, including children, have been killed. The air strikes by Israeli defence forces on Gaza and the rocket attacks by Hamas from Gaza on Israel have to stop. There is an urgent need for a ceasefire. The international community must intervene. Ireland must continue its efforts to restore peace in the short term and bring about a long-term political settlement in the region through the UN Security Council, the EU Foreign Affairs Council and the Council of the European Union. So far, the United Nations Security Council has failed in this regard and we know the reasons for that.

Of course, there is a long history to these hostilities. Israel began to implement its plan to occupy and resettle Palestinian territory decades ago, which resulted in oppression and injustice being visited on the Palestinian people ever since. This activity is relentless, and especially now in the West bank and East Jerusalem. It involves home demolitions and forced displacement and transfers. The appropriation of Palestinian homes, lands and properties continues. This expansion of Israeli settlements and the creeping process of annexation has to stop. These actions are fundamentally breaching Palestinians' human rights and are, in so many ways, a breach of international humanitarian law. Palestinians are being denied equal rights and are being discriminated against in areas effectively under Israeli control. By any objective standard, this can be called apartheid and should be treated as such by the international community. A long-term political solution is needed to resolve this ongoing cycle of violence. Strong commitments are given in the programme for Government on this issue, which refers to the need for a two-state solution, to recognising the state of Palestine, opposing the annexation of territory in the West Bank and opposing the maintenance and expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. All of this has to happen. Israel must be persuaded to the existence of a Palestinian state.

The occupied territories Bill did not make the programme for Government, and there are political reasons for that. In any event, the Attorney General has stated that it is incompatible with EU law. Next month, however, the European Commission will publish a legislative proposal on mandatory EU-wide human rights and environmental due diligence. I believe this is very relevant to the situation in the occupied territories in the Middle East. I hope that this proposal can be agreed and implemented as soon as possible.

I welcome that this debate is taking place in Government time but the Dáil must pass an all-party motion dealing with these issues. The all-party motion would call on the Government to take all measures within its power to make sure Israel is held accountable for its annexation of Palestinian territory, that it halts all settlement activity and that it ensures equal rights and an end to discrimination to all people who are, effectively, under its control. This would send out a powerful message and I hope we can all agree on this. I also welcome the humanitarian aid the Minister announced today for the humanitarian crisis in Palestine.

I thank the Minister for all the work he has done on the UN Security Council over the past weeks. It is also important to acknowledge the work done by Ireland's UN permanent representative, Ms Geraldine Byrne Nason, for her work and the work of her staff.

Gaza is a stretch of land the same size as a stretch of land from Cork to Youghal. Gaza is 41 km long and 10 km wide, with 2 million people locked into it. Can one imagine if 2 million people were locked into that block of land in Ireland? The blockade by Israel goes back to 2007. It is in breach and in contravention of international humanitarian law. In ten days of the recent bombardment of Gaza, 184 residential towers, 34 media centres, and 1,335 housing units have been destroyed, some 13,000 housing units were partially damaged, 230 people are dead, 65 of whom are children, and more than 1,700 people are wounded. Innocent bystanders such as a man who was disabled, his pregnant wife and their three-year-old daughter all died in recent bombings in Gaza. Currently, more than 80% of the 2 million people in Gaza are dependent on international humanitarian aid.

I visited Gaza in 2009 after the bombardment by Israel between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009. In that bombardment, 1,440 people were killed, of whom more than 330 were children. Is the same target now being set by the Israeli Government in the current bombardment? We do not have answers to the question of when this atrocity is going to stop. When will the continuous bombing of the area stop? Cluster munitions were used in the 2008 and 2009 bombardment, which are what we would call "nail bombs" in Northern Ireland. White phosphorus was also used, which burns not only the skin but also right into the bone. No-one is held accountable. That was in 2009.

It is interesting how the US has now vetoed the UN Security Council. We see too the latest arms deal of more than €700 million. It is interesting that a motion is now going before the US Congress looking for that to be stalled. More than $3.8 billion is given by the US to Israel every year. This is where we should apply the pressure, for the US to stop giving the support so that we can stop the atrocities that are currently occurring in this region.

I was in Gaza 12 years ago. Are we going to have the same debate in another 12 years, with no change? Will it be 20 years when we have the same debate with no change? It is important that the international community would now work together with one voice to make sure Israel is called to answer and to stop the atrocities that are currently occurring.

The Government must step up to the plate on the ongoing Israeli slaughter of the Palestinian people in East Jerusalem and Gaza. The scenes witnessed in Palestine recently are horrific and absolutely heart-breaking. The escalation of Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people must stop. Israeli fighter jets have continued to pummel the Gaza Strip, flattening residential buildings and raising the death toll to at least 227.

The dead include at least 64 children. These children's lives have been wiped out. Let us call this what it is: this is genocide. It is a systemic and endemic Israeli policy to wipe out the Palestinian people. What we are witnessing here is Israel’s illegal policy of colonial expansion into Palestine.

The Palestinians are the victims of a brutal expansionist policy intent on the continuing annexation of Palestinian lands by Israeli settlers. The UN said this could amount to war crimes. I say this is a war crime. The international community and the Irish Government have a duty to step in to help end this crisis and defend the rights of the Palestinian people. How can the Government do this? It can start by recognising the state of Palestine. This would send a really strong message of solidarity and is the correct path to move forward. Successive Governments have continually dragged their heels on recognising the Palestinian state. The continued and worn out mantra that the time is not right is just an insult. If the time is not right now, when will it ever be right?

The current violence is not taking place in a vacuum. It is the product of 54 years of Israeli colonisation of Palestinian lands. Since 1967, 250 illegal Israeli settlements have been erected with well over 650,000 illegal settlers. It is based on an Israeli strategy to allow Israeli settlers to maximise the amount of Palestinian land for themselves. This is apartheid in practice. In 2020, 848 Palestinian homes were destroyed. This affected 6,380 Palestinians, including 534 children. We can sometimes get lost in statistics but these are real people. These 534 children have hopes and dreams like our own children. Up to 30 April this year, just over two weeks ago, 316 buildings had been destroyed. This represents an increase of 108% on the figures from 2020. The human cost of this is catastrophic. Thousands are left homeless. Very often, following the destruction of schools, young children are forced to travel 14 or 15 miles to schools and often on those journeys they have to pass by settled colonies where they are subjected to abuse and attacks.

The Minister could also expel the Israeli ambassador. This would send a very clear message from the people of Ireland, who themselves have a history of colonial and genocidal policies inflicted on them by a foreign oppressor intent on grabbing land for illegal settlers. He can also immediately support and adopt the occupied territories Bill, in line with Ireland’s obligations under international law. As individuals we can boycott Israeli products when doing our weekly shops. Quite simply, we can check the barcode and if the first 3 digits are 729 leave it on the shelf. I extend my solidarity to the people of Palestine.

I thank the Minister for outlining the Irish State's position on the appalling ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Palestine, and in particular in the Gaza Strip. I acknowledge the Minister's efforts in New York and his attempt to try to seek consensus and a Security Council resolution, and his work at European Union level in trying to shame it into a more proactive stance. I welcome the additional humanitarian aid the Minister announced this afternoon and the extra €1 million for UNRWA and the additional €500,000 for UNICEF on top of what had already been pledged.

I have spent long enough in the Middle East, and that region in particular, to know there are no angels on either side from a combatant point of view. It is clear from the casualty roll that the Israeli defence forces are operating in an indiscriminate, disproportionate and unacceptable manner. While all nations are entitled to self-defence this strays way beyond self-defence, particularly so because the iron dome missile interceptor system gives the Israeli defence forces a distinct and decisive advantage. A central tenet and principle of international humanitarian law is that the side with the greatest power bears the greatest responsibility when it comes to civilian casualties. There is a lot of extra work the Israeli defence forces needs to do from this point of view.

Uttering these things in an Irish Parliament outside of Israel does not make anybody anti-Semitic. If anything, this Parliament is pro-Semitic. It is pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, pro-Palestine and pro-peace. We are good friends with the people in the Middle East. Good friends should be able to speak frankly and honestly with each other and tell them what they need to hear and not what they want to hear. I echo the call of the Minister for a ceasefire and guaranteed humanitarian access to Gaza. I urge the Minister to continue his diplomatic shuttle diplomacy between various capitals to try to seek a resolution.

I recognise getting a ceasefire will not be easy and that diplomacy is not easy either. As Victor Hugo once said, not being heard is no reason for silence, so keep up the work from this perspective. Getting a ceasefire from midnight tonight or midnight tomorrow night will not be easy. Perhaps we should consider a more interim phased approach before we get to a complete truce to allow the opportunity for a political process to kick in. Perhaps the Minister might wish to consider getting one side in particular, and we all know what side that is, to make a unilateral declaration of proportionality at least, and make a unilateral declaration that it will look after civilians to the greatest extent possible.

To the Israeli Embassy, which I have no doubt is listening to this exchange and debate, I ask that it convey the sentiment of the Irish Parliament, which is at least a consensus sentiment and perhaps a unanimous sentiment, back to the Prime Minister. Take it from a Parliament and a people who understand conflict, we know how to fight it and we know how to resolve it. I hope our views are taken with greater credibility from this point of view because of our history.

I welcome this opportunity to speak on the ongoing violence that is taking place in the Middle East. In the past 11 days, we have seen untold suffering being inflicted, predominantly on the people of the Gaza Strip. We need to recognise the violence that breaks out in the Middle East seems to follow a standard pattern. Sometimes rockets are fired by Hamas into Israel and inevitably we get a response from the Israeli military and Government that is always disproportionate, excessive and indiscriminate. We see this by looking at the numbers of casualties in the region over the past 11 days. To date, it appears 230 Palestinians have been killed in this violence. Of them, 65 are children. We also note that ten Israelis have died. None of these lives should have been lost. None of these people should have died. The comparison between the number of Palestinians killed and the number of Israelis killed indicates the indiscriminate and excessive level of violence being perpetrated on the Palestinians by the Israeli Government.

As I said, none of these deaths should have occurred and they could have been avoided if there was recognition that what is required in the Middle East is a political resolution. We have seen in our own country the pointlessness of violence for the purpose of trying to achieve one's political gains. It simply does not work. We have also seen in our country the benefit of negotiation and political leadership to resolve political disputes that appear intractable. Unfortunately, when it comes to political resolution a huge obligation rests on the more powerful party. In this instance, the more powerful party is Israel. Regrettably, we have not seen brave political leadership in Israel since the days of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres back in 1994. We should recall that peace can be achieved in the Middle East because these two men, along with Yasser Arafat, won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work on the Oslo Accords in 1994.

What has happened in Israel, and perhaps in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority, is that hardliners have assumed too much power.

We need to recognise that this violence will continue excessively until such time as there is a political resolution.

It is extraordinary that there is such unanimity coming from this Chamber. As Deputy Berry said earlier, this is a Chamber which usually divides on many political issues, but when it comes to what is happening in the Middle East and what has happened there over the past 11 days, this legislative assembly speaks with one voice. It could only be that we speak with one voice because of the wholly disproportionate actions of the Israeli military and government in response to what they say is a threat coming from Hamas.

People ask what can Ireland do. We have a strong voice. We are on the Security Council. We need to use our voice to ensure the United Nations and, more specifically, the United States respond more appropriately to the ongoing inappropriate use of violence by Israel. Until such time as that occurs, I do not believe Israel will regard itself as being bound by rules which bind the rest of the world.

We also need to recognise that we have a responsibility when it comes to the European Union. I listened careful to what my colleague, Deputy Haughey, said in respect of that. We should use that opportunity next week in terms of what the European Commission is doing to ensure there is a unified response from the European Union to the ongoing actions in the Middle East.

We also need to recognise that what is going on is, in effect, the plantation of settlements for the purpose of the annexation of Palestine. One message we could send out, as in the programme for Government, is to recognise the state of Palestine or, indeed, establish a permanent embassy in Ramallah.

I welcome the Minister's statement earlier on the ongoing attacks and crisis in the Middle East. In particular, I welcome the announcement of additional humanitarian funding from the Irish Government.

The latest escalation in Israel and Palestine has been deplorable. Reports that more than 200 Palestinians, including 62 children, and nine Israelis, including two children, have been killed are shocking. I support calls for an immediate de-escalation and ceasefire.

A reported 1,600 rockets have been fired as part of a barrage against Tel Aviv and southern Israel. These indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas are completely unacceptable and must stop. The targeting of residential areas in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli Defense Force, IDF, has been disproportionate and has resulted in a significant loss of life and has injured thousands. This is unacceptable and must stop.

Equally, demonstrations across the West Bank and Israel, which have resulted in the loss of life and destruction of property and livelihoods, are completely unacceptable. We have seen the targeting of media outlets and media buildings in those attacks.

Authorities must do more to keep order and protect civilians. Irish people have been rightly appalled by the rapid escalation of violence, which undermines the peace process and, ultimately, the shared objective of a two-state solution.

I join with other Deputies in this House in sending a clear and united message that the cycle of violence and bloodshed needs to end now. Tentative reports this afternoon that there has been a lull in violence and that a ceasefire may be approaching are welcome. I hope all sides will use their influence to end the conflict and recommit to developing a peaceful settlement.

I, along with my colleagues, would say that the UN Security Council has a role to play here. It is important that we collectively use our voice in this Chamber to say that we want to see a peaceful resolution in the Middle East as quickly as possible for the people of the Middle East.

We will swap around the final two slots and call Deputy Connolly first.

I thank Deputy McGrath for swapping around and giving me additional time.

I acknowledge the Minister's speech here today. There is an overlap with the speech he gave to the UN meeting on Sunday. In that, the Minister said:

We cannot return to business as usual after this. That is simply no longer an option in my view.

The Minister said many other very significant things in that speech. He said:

[T]wo million people living in the Gaza Strip cannot endure another war. They have suffered far too much for far too long already.

The Minister pointed out that civilians in Gaza have nowhere to go and he made many other statements. The weakest statement he made was that "Israel must abide by the provisions of International Humanitarian Law ... ." They are not abiding by it, and have not for a very long time. The Minister said at the end that, "We have a collective responsibility here ... to say that with one strong voice." The United Nations, unfortunately, does not have a strong voice. It is divided and it has failed to act. Therefore, there is an extra responsibility on the Minister and on the Government to speak out and lead the way.

Indeed, in an interesting article in The Irish Times, a gentleman with dual Irish-Palestinian citizenship acknowledges what Ireland has done in the past in relation to human rights and acknowledges that we have been more vocal than our European counterparts in our defence of Palestinians and their right to exist. The following captures it. Of Ireland, he said that "though it is a tiny nation, it is a ... moral giant in today's world of fake news, doublespeak and injustice" and he begged us to use that voice to speak out and to rethink our policy on Palestinian-Israeli conflict by upgrading at the very least the status of our office in Ramallah to an embassy. I say that in the context of the programme for Government which commits to recognising the state of Palestine in due course when it furthers peace but, significantly, before that, to protect the integrity of Palestinian territory. If this is not a time to stand up and protect the integrity of Palestine, I do not know when that time will come.

The Minister has given figures today. They are actually out of date. Unfortunately, as soon as figures are given, they are out of date. More than 200 Palestinians are dead and over have been 1,000 seriously wounded. There are, I am embarrassed to say as a woman, 60 plus children dead and the number is rising. At what stage or at what number of children do we use language to mean something, as women, as female Deputies and as a Dáil, and say, "No"? We have a voice now on the UN Security Council and we will use it.

Another speech caught my attention, in addition to the Minister's to the UN, and that was the speech from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the State of Palestine on 16 May. He said:

Mr. President,

There are no words that can describe the horrors our people are enduring. ...

When you embrace your children and grandchildren tonight, think of our children and of how you can honour those killed and [that important little part of the sentence] spare those still alive. ... each time Israel hears a foreign leader speak of its right to defend itself, it is further emboldened to continue murdering entire families in their sleep.

Israel is killing Palestinians in Gaza, one family at a time. Israel is trying to uproot Palestinians from Jerusalem, expelling families, one home, one neighbourhood at a time. Israel is persecuting our people, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. [It] is unapologetic ...

I am absolutely supportive of Palestine. I am absolutely supportive of Israel in its right to live peacefully as well. I absolutely condemn the violence of Hamas, but the violence by Israel is out of all proportion. It is barbaric and it is illegal. It is not complying with its international obligations and is killing innocent children, men and women. It is targeting infrastructure and hospitals. It has taken away the one laboratory for Covid and yet we are still semi-silent, trying to be diplomatic.

In that speech, the ambassador said:

Israel keeps telling you "put yourself in our shoes?" But Israel is not wearing shoes, it is wearing military boots. ...

How many Palestinian civilians killed is enough for a condemnation?

I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, who I am glad is here. There comes a point where a small country, which suffered so much in the past from colonisation, stands up and shows absolute solidarity with Palestine. The people in Gaza are living in an open prison and being bombarded from the air with nowhere to flee to. It is barbaric and unacceptable.

Deputy Mattie McGrath is sharing with Deputy Pringle in whatever order.

I despair but am probably not surprised at the latest genocide being perpetrated by the Israeli regime against the Palestinian people.

I am sick to my core at the cowardly response of the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who seeks to blame Hamas rockets with no reference to the instigators of this violence. We cannot look away while Palestine is decimated. The "both sides" narrative for the last week and a half has been absolutely shocking. Hamas is throwing rockets while Israel is carrying out airstrikes on residential buildings. News reports describe death tolls in Palestine in the hundreds with many more injured and children killed. Children are now speaking out in Palestine. The power of social media is bringing us their stories and the stark realities of their lives.

I unequivocally condemn the state of Israel’s apartheid aggression and the US and EU that turn their eyes away from this genocide. The inappropriate responses from President Biden and President von der Leyen and others about both sides and the comments that Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas rockets while completely ignoring the rising number of children’s deaths is the worst of international politics. It is not anti-Semitic to speak out against the murder of innocent children, to boycott goods from occupied territories or to call out genocide.

Once again, the Tortoise Shack podcast has brought us harrowing on-the-ground news. A recent recording included a short podcast with Gaza-based journalist Hana Salah when loud explosions could be heard very close to her location. The short episode ended with her saying that she had to leave the building and get to safety.

The Twitter feed of the Israel defence forces is just bizarre. They are tweeting in English and have 1.4 million followers. The Twitter feed of the state of Israel has been tweeting rocket emojis. That is the state of its defence. A thread of tweets was full of rocket emojis.

On 9 December last, I moved the motion that restored Senator Frances Black’s Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill to the Order Paper of the Dáil for this term after others had refused to do so. It is time to urgently progress this Bill, which is constitutional despite the advice of the Attorney General. The Government should move it forward right away.

Ireland should also expel the Israeli ambassador. The Ceann Comhairle will remember when we expelled a Russian diplomat in a show of solidarity with the UK in 2018. The Ceann Comhairle should immediately disband the Ireland-Israel parliamentary friendship committee. It is something we as Members of this House can do right away. It is completely fair for Members of the House to say that we do not extend friendship to those who kill innocent children and civilians. Let us show Palestine that Ireland stands in full solidarity by doing the things we can do now.

On behalf of the Rural Independent Group, I want to add my voice to the unanimity of the House in pleading with the Government and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to act. We had great respect all over the world as a neutral and peaceful country. We now seem to be beholden to greater powers in Europe and the United States. We need to send an unequivocal message to the world, and especially Israel, that we will not stand idly by, to use a 1969 phrase from a former Taoiseach. It is probably the wrong phrase to use. I refer to the genocide, the murder and slaughter of innocent children and the demolition of houses. We have talked about homes in Ireland and how hard it is to create a home. Homes are being knocked down by rockets and bombardments in front of our eyes. Families are being wiped out.

There is a genocide and a plantation going on in Gaza. It is happening incrementally. We have the numbers. We have seen the might of Israel. I do not condone Hamas throwing rockets into Israel. It is being provocative. Quite simply, it is like a lion against a mouse. The response is shattering. Israel can flex its muscles. The arms industry and the amount invested in armaments are frightening. It was interesting to listen to Deputy Berry's contribution because he knows the area from his Army experience.

We have to send a message out. I support Deputy Pringle's call to put forward Senator Black's Bill. We regularly hear excuses involving the Attorney General. I have no disrespect for him, but it is one view of a legal situation. Deputy O'Callaghan made a contribution to this debate. One could get another view from another senior counsel as to legality. We need to be independent and to have the best and fairest examination possible of Senator Black's Bill. We need to do something. Standing idly by is not an option for the Government and the Irish people.

I plead with the Government to challenge the President of the European Commission to do more and push for more. We want a ceasefire and we want peace. That is not easily achieved. We could look at our own situation in the North and what we got in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. It was a remarkable feat involving a number of former taoisigh, Fr. Alec Reid, Dr. Martin Mansergh and many others. Where there is a will there is a way.

The tweets being sent by Israel are teasing the rest of the world. We have to send a clear message that we do not support or condone it. I agree that we must re-examine the Ireland-Israel friendship group. We have no truck for it at the moment. That would be a first step. It would be a píosa beag. It would tell Israel that we do not appreciate its actions. It might not respect us, but a lot of countries around the world had, and continue to have, great respect for us and our diaspora.

We need to act, and we must act now to stop the slaughter. Imagine what it would be like going home tonight to my family, including eight grandchildren, and having three generations wiped out by one rocket launch or bomb. It is so horrific that one cannot conjure up such images and words are not strong enough to condemn it. On behalf of the six Rural Independent Group Deputies, I call on the Government to act in a forthright and very firm manner, condemn this for what it is and call it out.

I thank Deputies for their statements on this issue. I would like to restate the Government’s deep concern at the intensification of violence in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel over the past week. We are all in agreement that now is the time for de-escalation and we must encourage all efforts to reach a ceasefire. We cannot ignore the fact that these events are terrifying for Palestinian and Israeli civilians. The number of child casualties, over a quarter of all fatalities, is particularly shocking. The protection of all civilians is of paramount importance and, indeed, it is an obligation under international humanitarian law.

Israel has a right to defend itself. The deaths of Israeli citizens are unacceptable and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has rightly called on all factions in Gaza to halt indiscriminate attacks on Israel immediately. However, the impact of Israeli strikes on civilians in the Gaza Strip is disproportionate, a fact to which many Deputies alluded. The impact on children in an already difficult humanitarian situation is especially worrying.

I would like to address some of the points raised regarding these civilian impacts. As Minister of State at the Department of Education, it is especially shocking to read reports of damage and destruction to schools and educational facilities. The UN reports that 45 schools, two kindergartens and a vocational training centre have been damaged in the Gaza Strip since the start of the escalation. Education, as we know, is a lifeline for the 2 million people of Gaza. It is an opportunity to escape the daily realities of the blockade which has left them forcibly isolated from the rest of the world for over 13 years.

The repeated cycles of violence and bloodshed, as well as living in fear of the next air strike, have a strong effect on the emotional and psychosocial well-being of students, teachers, and their communities. I welcome the Minister’s announcement of €500,000 for UNICEF’s emergency appeal, which will include emergency psychosocial services for 5,000 children suffering trauma as a result of the hostilities.

The damage to hospitals and the knock-on impact on the provision of healthcare in the Gaza Strip is deeply worrying. Six hospitals and 11 primary healthcare centres have been damaged, with one centre suffering severe damage. In addition, damage to vital infrastructure and insufficient fuel supplies have affected water, sanitation and hygiene services for hundreds of thousands of people. Electrical power shortages hinder healthcare provision throughout Gaza and one hospital is not functioning due to the lack of electricity.

The latest hostilities have displaced over 58,000 Palestinians, many of whom are seeking refuge in UNRWA schools across Gaza. There is, of course, the added concern at this time around the transmission of Covid-19 between vulnerable people huddled in crowded shelters and the inability of the healthcare system to cope.

As the Minister for Foreign Affairs referenced in his statement, this is why we have announced funding of €1.5 million to enable UN agencies carry out vital work in support of these vulnerable civilians.

While the focus today is rightly on the intensification of violence, we cannot, and must not, shy away from the fact that the overall human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories remains a matter of serious concern. The protection and promotion of human rights is an integral part of Ireland’s foreign policy and we consistently seek to raise our concerns on human rights issues through the most appropriate and effective channels.

Our active participation at the UN Human Rights Council is particularly important in that regard. Ireland is a consistent and strong contributor in interactive dialogues with the UN special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories at the council and, indeed, at the UN General Assembly. At the most recent session of the Human Rights Council in March, Ireland made a statement under No. 7 during the general debate, which restated our commitment to principles of accountability and emphasised that Ireland will continue to speak out against unilateral actions that are in breach of international humanitarian law. We regularly convey our concerns on human rights issues to the Israeli authorities, both directly and through the EU. The Minister for Foreign Affairs raised these concerns with the Israeli ambassador last week. We also provide financial support to Israeli and Palestinian NGOs working on human rights issues.

The events of the past week have not happened in isolation. They come after settlement expansion, threats of evictions and violence against Palestinians. Ireland remains firmly committed to a negotiated two-state solution based on international law, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and agreed parameters.

A number of Deputies raised a few issues, one of which was the occupied territories Bill. As previously stated, the Bill would not be compatible with EU law and would not be implementable. The Government will not, therefore, take it forward. We acknowledge that support for the Bill is a sign of very deep concern about settlements. Ireland has consistently and strongly opposed settlements and will continue to so. The Government's position on settlements is that we are absolutely opposed to them.

With respect to calls to expel the Israeli ambassador, Ireland's bilateral relationship with Israel is important as it is a means for us to directly communicate our concerns about actions such as those we witnessed in the past week. On 11 May, the Minister called in the Israeli ambassador and underlined that Israel's actions in Gaza, which are causing significant civilian casualties, are unacceptable and Israel must act responsibly and comply with its obligations under international humanitarian law. These messages matter. By expelling an ambassador, we would close down our channel of communication with the Israeli Government.

Furthermore, some Deputies asked whether Ireland will recognise Palestine. As some Deputies pointed out, the programme for Government states that the Government will honour its commitment to recognise the state of Palestine as part of a lasting settlement of the conflict, or, in advance of that, when we believe doing so will progress efforts to reach a two-state solution or protect the integrity of Palestinian territory. The Minister has been clear that, in the absence of progress towards a two-state solution, he would be prepared to recommend to Government early recognition by Ireland of a state of Palestine, if and when it might be helpful. It is a matter that is also being discussed with EU colleagues. Recognition by Ireland, outside the context of an overall peace agreement would, however, be likely to affect Ireland's influence on the Israel-Palestine conflict at EU and international level.