Thursday, 24 June 2021

Questions (92)

Gino Kenny


92. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on recent Israeli air strikes and their effect on children in Gaza; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34137/21]

View answer

Oral answers (12 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

I want to ask the Minister his views on the recent assault on Gaza that left more than 60 children dead. What does the Government intend to do regarding the impact of this terrible conflict on the Palestinian people, particularly children?

I thank the Deputy for his question. As he knows, I have strong views on this matter, as do many others in the House. I am deeply concerned by the impact of the recent escalation of the conflict on children in the occupied Palestinian territories and in Israel. I have been clear about the need to respect international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians, particularly children, and the need for any response to attacks to be proportionate.

In my address to the UN Security Council on 16 May, I made it very clear that children must never be made prisoners of history. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, of the 260 Palestinian fatalities in the recent conflict, 66 were children. In Israel, two of the 13 fatalities were children. In addition to the tragedy of these killings and injuries, no child anywhere should have to endure the trauma of an onslaught of rockets and missiles. In my address to the Security Council, I called for violations against children to end.

As I have stated, the ceasefire that came into effect on 21 May is welcome and we must do all we can to support it. Tensions are still high in the region and there remains a responsibility on all parties to ensure the ceasefire is respected. All unilateral actions that could increase tension must be avoided. Responsibility also lies with the international community to support the ceasefire and encourage the parties towards a return to political engagement. This is an effort to which I am fully committed.

The focus now in the Gaza Strip is on recovery and protection. On 19 May, I announced an additional €1.5 million in emergency humanitarian support for the occupied Palestinian territory in response to emergency appeals from both the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA, and UNICEF. I will continue to highlight this issue at the UN and through the EU and support international efforts to ensure the current ceasefire holds.

I want to give an example of the murderous intent of the Israeli Government. There is a project in Palestine called the Better Learning Programme, which is funded by the Irish taxpayer and the Norwegian Refugee Council. Eleven children participating in that programme were murdered in May, most of them in their homes. I do not know how the Minister and his counterparts can stand over, and even legitimise, the state of Israel when it conducts murderous bombings of innocent people. It is incredible that the Minister can stand here and say he does not see how a policy of sanction against Israel could be worthwhile. I find that absolutely incredible. Would he have said the same in the 1980s when apartheid in South Africa was at its height? I know he would not have done so. Why does he say it now when there is apartheid in Israel and that state has murdered not only the children in the recent conflict but thousands of children over the past 40 years?

As I said earlier, the only way sanctions are effective is if they are agreed collectively. Ireland, on its own, does not have the capacity to impose sanctions on Israel and should not do so. We would end up isolating ourselves, not Israel, if we tried to do that. The way to do this is to focus on the relationship between Israel and the EU because that is where there is real leverage. We are trying to work within the EU system, and with the UN, to ensure there is real engagement with the new Israeli Government and that it is very clear regarding the intent of the EU in ensuring the status quo between Israel and Palestinians, which results in cycles of violence every number of years, is not sustained. We have to change that and the direction of it. In my judgment, the way to do so is to maintain a relationship with the Israeli Government and use the tools we have available to us to bring about a change in approach that can result in a peace negotiation. We also must do that with the Palestinian Authority. We need to empower democratic, moderate forces across Palestine and challenge violent, extremist forces within Palestinian communities.

In regard to Gaza, I assume the Deputy has been there. I have gone there a number of times.

I must go back to Deputy Gino Kenny.

We will, of course, focus on supporting communities there. We are putting our money where our mouth is in that regard.

Has there been any sanction against Israel for what it did in Gaza in May? Was there any punishment imposed or any effort to secure accountability? Was there any kind of sanction in regard to the economic and trade agreement between Israel and the EU, which is worth tens of billions of euro per year? I already know the answer is "No". There has been no sanction or punishment. The innocent people of Palestine suffer while other people pay lip service to what is happening.

The Minister must go back and say to his EU counterparts that Israel is not a normal state but an apartheid one that lives on violence and fear. If there is no sanction or punishment, Israel will continue to do this and we will still be having this conversation. The only way Israel will come to heel is when it is punished economically and legally.

Using terms like "coming to heel" probably is not appropriate in relation to-----

That is mild.

That is very mild.

Often the language used in this Parliament about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not helpful to what I am trying to achieve internationally on behalf of Ireland and the Government. I am trying to ensure we are a relevant partner internationally, influencing decisions that impact on the lives of young Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and indeed young Israelis as well, who have also lost their lives, although the injury and loss of life has been completely disproportionate, as it always is when there are rounds of conflict between both sides because of the military might on one side. Having said that, the Deputy talks about punishment, sanction and so on. We do not have the capacity to deliver that as a State unless we can convince others it is the right thing to do. That is how the relationship between the EU and other parts of the world works. One needs to win the argument not just in this Chamber but across the European Union as well. I am trying to ensure that our position remains credible, that we have a good and functioning but honest and blunt relationship with the Israeli Government, and that we have a close relationship with the Palestinian Authority as well. In doing so, we are able to influence both in the context of trying to move towards a negotiated solution. Otherwise we will be back here again in a few years' time talking about the loss of lives of children and civilians, similarly to what we have seen in recent weeks. That is the approach we continue to take.