I would like to express my profound appreciation to the Chairman, Senators and Deputies for inviting me to appear before this committee and Parliament, which reflects the meaning of democracy and presents freedom of speech. It is my hope that we will witness this soon in the state of Palestine. It is a pleasure to be with the members to share my reflections on the Palestinian struggle against injustice. I will be talking about the longest belligerent occupation in modern history, but not in a way to count how many Palestinians were killed, although this means a lot to us, or how many were jailed or detained just because they resisted occupation, a right that is protected by international law. Neither will I address the suffering of our children, their basic right to education and their right to play and grow in a safe environment without the anxiety that one night they might be burned alive in their sleep or attacked by soldiers or settlers; the apartheid wall that was built in 2004 and that extends more than 9% beyond the green line into the West Bank and creates a fait accompli, forcing thousands of Palestinians to suffer; and the 13 years of inhumane blockade and the repeated military assault against Gaza. I could go on and on with many more examples. This is life for us.
Oppression by the Israeli occupation has been reflected in every single aspect of our daily lives for the past 53 years. It is 72 years since the partition plan that brought historic Palestine and its indigenous people into a new reality of accepting the compromise of existing on only 22% of their land, as adopted by the United Nations in 1967. Now the Palestinians are struggling to keep even this reduced area. The Trump plan for the Middle East showed a fragmented and much reduced Palestine. That plan was rejected not only by the Palestinians but also by the international community.
The topic I have chosen to highlight is currently subject to international attention. I will focus on annexation, which brings to the fore the issue of enacting international law to address the war crimes committed by way of settlement and settler implantation. How does annexation affect the Palestinians? What impacts does it have on their lives? What would be the consequences if Israel went ahead with the de jure annexation? What would be the Palestinians alternative to combat this?
To focus on annexation, I have to outline the history. The British mandate over historical Palestine, from 1918 until 1948, encouraged Jewish immigration. Britain kept the promise made in 1917 by its foreign secretary, Mr. Arthur James Balfour, in the declaration that bears his name, "to favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people". In 1947, Britain handed the Palestine problem to the United Nations, which voted for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states.
Since its creation in 1948, Israel planned a long-term strategy of land acquisition of historical Palestine and of ensuring that the majority of Israel's population there would remain Jewish. The latest and most obvious example of this could be found in the overtly racist and sectarian Jewish nation state law.
With no defined border, Israel worked on bringing in as many Jewish immigrants as possible and keeping as little of the Palestinian population as possible in historical Palestine. This is widely documented and is clearly laid out in historian Ilan Pappé's The Biggest Prison on Earth. To maintain its population's majority, Israel embraced several strategies and tactics and adopted several laws. Among other regulations, orders or measures, Israel adopted the law of return, the absentee law, the national law and many other governmental decrees to legalise its policies to evict, expel and possess Palestinian land. While destroying and erasing more than 500 villages and towns during the Nakba, more than 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced.
For many years, Israel, the occupying power, has used various policies to evict more Palestinians. Demolition, expulsion, acquisition, dispossession and displacement in the past decade enabled Israel to expand beyond its 1967 borders to create a de facto situation in flagrant violation of international law.
Many settlements have been built. The pact increased in the past decade. There are now more than 600,000 settlers living in 250 settlements and outposts in occupied Palestinian territories that have been built on lands expropriated from the Palestinians. Settlements cover almost 10% of the West Bank but have a direct control over 40% of the West Bank. Each settlement diverts natural resources such as water away from Palestinians, causing untold hardship for the farmers and citizens who rely on water for survival and end up having to buy it back at a premium from an Israeli company. Each settlement has infrastructure that Palestinians are not allowed to use, such as roads, leisure facilities, and parks. The settlements profit from and exploit our resources, with some of Israel’s largest industrial parks placed in occupied territories to bypass their own environmental laws and to exploit cheap Palestinian labour. This colonisation project more than doubled during the four-year tenure of outgoing US President Donald Trump.
Settlements are illegal according to international law. The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2334 in 2016 which, "Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law".
Trade with Israeli settlements is also illegal. The EU issued a guideline in 2014 outlining that settlement-made products must be labelled correctly. The UN also created a database of companies operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, but economic sanctions have yet to be applied, meaning that the settlement enterprise continues with impunity, grinding Palestinians underfoot as it does so.
As occupation persists without holding Israel accountable, the occupying power will continue to oppress the Palestinian people and move from one strategy to another to keep its colonisation project alive and flourishing. This would not be possible without major support. Israel’s recent announcement of a de jure annexation plan follows the announcement of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan for the Middle East in January 2020, which proposed that areas of the occupied West Bank be annexed by Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, before the third round of elections in March this year, said that he is planning effectively to annex 30% of the West Bank, and doubled down on this, stating later on that, "We’re here to stay, forever."
In practice, Israeli laws already apply to settlers, though not to Palestinians, who are subject only to Israeli military orders and Palestinian laws. Such a discrimination is clear and obvious. The de facto annexation of Palestinian territory has been going on for decades. Dozens of UN experts have voiced concerns that the proposed annexation plan would create a 21st century apartheid. Annexation, which is an extension of occupation, recently brought the whole world into agreement in respect of international law. "Annexation" is the term applied when a state unilaterally proclaims its sovereignty over another territory. Israel annexed and applied its laws over East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights in 1967. In 1981, Israel adopted the law that declared Jerusalem as complete, unified and the capital of Israel. These unilateral moves were rejected by the UN, but as of yet, Israel has not faced any consequences for these acts.
Annexation can have serious implications. For example, the residency and citizenship status of Palestinians in the proposed annexed territory is not yet clear. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said publicly that Palestinian residents in the areas to be annexed would not be given Israeli citizenship. Annexation would also likely result in the mass expropriation of privately owned Palestinian land and other private property. The annexation of Israeli settlements will most likely include the expropriation of agricultural lands owned by Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The annexation of large parts of the West Bank would also further limit Palestinians’ freedom of movement. Many of the existing restrictions are directly linked to the settlements, including restrictions aimed at protecting the settlements, settlers and maintaining buffer zones. The ongoing blockade of Gaza entrenches the fragmentation of the Palestinian territories and remains a major factor in facilitating the annexation of parts of the West Bank. Gaza is a part of the occupied Palestinian territories and the state of Palestine. No state in Gaza and no settlements without Gaza.
The situation in Gaza has become hell on earth. My parents still live there and can give a first-hand account of the cruelty of the blockade, particularly on low-income families who are highly affected and suffer daily from lack of food, water, medication and hope. It becomes unbearable to live. A UN report stated that Gaza will not be liveable by 2020. We are almost at the end of 2020 and almost 2 million resilient Palestinian are living in dire conditions and always expecting a crushing attack from the occupying powers. Gaza is bombarded regularly by the Israeli military and those living near the border routinely have their crops sprayed with insecticide or sewage flooding their farmlands. Fishermen are shot at daily and weekly as they try to make a meagre living in a punitively reduced maritime border. The problem in Gaza is political. People fight to breathe freely, and Gaza calls on the world to end the siege.
The status quo has, for most Israelis, become relatively peaceful and bearable. Many see little incentive for adopting a risky and uncertain two-state solution. For the Palestinians, the only thing that really matter for them is to keep up and maintain their roots deep in their land and resist the occupation for their freedom and to stay standing and defending their rights to self-determination. We remain steadfast on our home and we will bring peace from the Holy Land and the cradle of civilisation to the whole world. We remain deeply rooted to our land and our heritage. We also remain committed to a just peace that fulfils our aspirations of freedom and independence in a sovereign state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Europe has international responsibilities, not only because of its commitments to the human rights but also because Europe is the largest trade partner for Israel. Consequences for human rights violations can be introduced through European foreign policy by effectively using Europe's considerable leverage. Recognition of the state of Palestine is essential. We call on the Irish Government to enact the motion passed in 2014 to recognise the state of Palestine.
The role of Ireland in the United Nations Security Council is vital for promoting peace and human rights issues. It would be highly recommended that Senators and Deputies consider writing to the UN representative of Ireland to continue promoting peace. Great work can be achieved on this issue during Ireland's tenure. Let us work together to protect the rule of law and protect the rights of Palestinians. The time is now.