Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Questions (42)

Seán Crowe


42. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to a matter (details supplied); if his attention has further been drawn to an advertisement in this regard; his views on the fact that the Israeli authorities are dismantling EU humanitarian aid projects for Palestinians, ignoring EU calls to put them back and seeking to make a profit by selling the EU-funded structures at auction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25100/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

I tabled this question after I read media reports to the effect that Israel was planning on auctioning off two confiscated prefabricated classrooms that were donated to Palestinian schoolchildren by the EU. Is the Tánaiste aware of this issue? Can he confirm that it is the case? Has he raised it with his Israeli counterpart?

I am aware of the Deputy's long-held views on and support of the Palestinian cause. The structures to which the Deputy refers were among seven donor-funded humanitarian structures confiscated by the Israeli authorities in October 2018 from two vulnerable Palestinian communities located in area C of the occupied West Bank. The structures were co-funded by the EU and the West Bank Protection Consortium and were provided in order to address the basic needs of the population and to support children’s right to education in a safe environment as part of a humanitarian response mechanism.

Ireland joined the European Commission-led West Bank Protection Consortium in 2017 at the instigation of the Tánaiste during his first official visit to Israel and Palestine after taking up his portfolio. The consortium plays a leading role in supporting threatened communities and co-ordinating the provision of essential services to them, including material assistance and legal aid. Ireland’s membership of the consortium underlines our commitment to reducing the vulnerability of Palestinian communities living in area C of the West Bank.

Following reports that the confiscated humanitarian assets were to be auctioned by the Israeli civil administration this month, Ireland joined the EU and other consortium members in calling on the Israeli authorities to return the confiscated items to their intended beneficiaries, without precondition. The Tánaiste understands that the auction had been postponed. Irish officials in Tel Aviv and Ramallah are following this matter closely and are working with other members of the consortium to determine how best to pursue this issue.

The practice of demolition and confiscation of humanitarian assets, including education infrastructure, is contrary to Israel’s obligations under international law, including provisions of international humanitarian law and of the Fourth Geneva Convention. These practices also cause suffering to ordinary Palestinians, and impinge on the right of children to an education.

Ireland regularly conveys its views on these actions to the Israeli authorities, both directly and through the EU. I have done so myself on my visits to the region.

This is just one example of the daily reality of Israel's brutal occupation of Palestine. We all agree that every child should have a right to education and that states have an obligation to protect, respect and fulfil this right. Israel's apartheid regime in Palestine is clearly violating that right. Schools are invaluable safe spaces for children yet here we have an Israeli Government confiscating and attempting to auction off schools for Palestinian children donated by the EU. The Minister of State indicated that the auction has been put off. My information is that it has been put off for a month. That is the concern. It is not the first time we have seen Palestinian children being terrorised. They have been used as human shields in the past. Will there be repercussions for Israel following the attacks on this EU aid? It is Irish taxpayers who are paying towards this. What is the next step?

The Deputy is correct that the primary concern is with the demolition and confiscation and the hardship and injustice that have been caused to Palestinian families. He is aware that I have visited the West Bank and seen the conditions in which many Palestinians are living.

On the main issue of the Israelis' attitude towards the West Bank and the settlements, I am aware that the Tánaiste has on a number of occasions conveyed Ireland's deep concern and abhorrence of how settlements are being created and how the education system in the West Bank is being affected. When I went to the West Bank, I visited many schools. I met representatives of the Palestinians. I then went to Tel Aviv to the Knesset. I met representatives of the Israeli Government. I went there in my capacity of Minister of State with responsibility for research, education and innovation. I conveyed my dissatisfaction on behalf of the Irish Government as to how people in the West Bank were being treated. The two ambassadors who work for Ireland in Palestine and Israel do a really good job in reminding Israel of its commitments to Palestinians in the region.

According to Haaretz, Israeli officials hope that the postponement will allow time for Israel and the EU to negotiate a solution and head off further deterioration in diplomatic relations. This sounds like a well-worn attempt to lure the EU into so-called co-ordination of aid delivery in area C. In reality, this would be subordinating EU assistance to Israel's agenda. Ireland must state that all Irish and EU assistance to Palestine, including area C of the occupied West Bank, is based on humanitarian law. Israel, as the occupier, cannot decide what can or cannot be given or where it can be placed. Applying permission in advance would compromise the humanitarian imperative guiding Irish and EU delivery worldwide. Can the Minister of State confirm that Irish and EU aid to Palestine will continue to be based on humanitarian need and not on what Israel will or will not agree to in advance?

Ireland provides development and humanitarian assistance to meet the needs of the most vulnerable Palestinian men, women and children. This aid amounted to €15 million in 2018. The funding addressed both humanitarian and development needs, providing emergency assistance to the most vulnerable while also supporting the Palestinian Authority in the public service delivery and civil society organisations and advocating for human rights. In 2019, we increased support to the Palestinian people and will include expansion of the programme of scholarships to Palestinian students to study in Ireland. One of the reasons I went to the West Bank on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills was to continue our support to the Palestinian people and the education system in Palestine.

The Irish Aid programme also provides significant funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, UNRWA, in light of the current exceptional circumstances the agency faces. Ireland provided a total of €9 million for the UNRWA programme budget and its emergency appeals in Gaza and Syria in 2018, which is the highest contribution to date. Fundamentally, we have taken issue with Israel on what has happened here and we continue to do so with our friends in the European Union, who have also done the same.