I thank members for their comments and I will do my best to answer the questions. How do we get the truth out? We need as many messengers as possible, which is why we need as many from different perspectives to come and witness, and to talk, listen and communicate. That is why I said that in Gaza at the moment we need the friends of Israel — we do not need the friends of Palestine — to come and talk to the ordinary people and listen to what they have to say. Time and again since this round of conflict when politicians visited they spoke with people who were standing in the rubble of their lives. Those people engaged in rational conversation with political figures. Nobody has been verbally or physically abused. None of them has experienced hatred in the dialogue that has been conducted, notwithstanding that many of them have suffered the loss of family members. They engaged with those visitors on the basis of appeal for help, and the help they are appealing for is the restoration of the rule of law, not just for accountability for what has happened. That is not the number one issue for them, the number one issue for them is protection for those who are still alive. For those who have lost a family member, it is the family members who are still alive that most concern them. Of course that needs to be experienced to be truly understood and that is why I am pleased there are so many visitors. Others have asked whether they should come. Absolutely, they should come, but not just to Gaza. They must also go and spend time on the Israeli side because we need to understand the thinking, dynamics and consequences there. Once we do that we can contribute productively.
The most immediate need is access. It is the key to everything, particularly the fuel depot and the crossing point through which fuel comes. If 100,000 litres of fuel can come in, 500,000 litres of fuel can come in. It is a political decision. It is not an operational or a security decision. We need to call it as it is. There are other security and operational challenges at other crossing points. That is one example where the necessary fuel could come into Gaza if there is a political will to open up the tap, press the button to let it in. The consequence of not letting it in is more human suffering. It also underpins a market for contraband through tunnels at the southern tip. The number one issue is access, the number two issue is access and the number three issue is access. It will go onad infinitum until we get access. Of course access needs to be depoliticised and the real security and operational challenges need to be overcome. Without access there is absolutely no positive future, no positive prospect.
I am certain there is enough ability to overcome the legitimate security and operational challenges to provide the access that is enshrined in international law, which is unfettered access for humanitarian supplies and to restore people to the freedoms that are fundamental, such as the freedom to move, including students to be allowed to resume going abroad to get their education. Many of them have earned scholarships abroad and are prohibited from leaving Gaza because of the blockade, which is not acceptable. Of course there is access for others. To say that all the crossing points are closed is not true. Politicians can come and go. When they need to go to Cairo to have talks they can leave, but it is not open for a third level student to go back to Ireland, the UK or America. That is not acceptable and that is what we must address.
How can Ireland and the EU give support? We must consider the consequences and the impact and ask whether what we are doing is helping or hurting. If members want to know the answer to that they should go to Gaza and ask the people whether it is helping or hurting them. They can go to the civilian population of Israel and ask the same question. They are the best judges of whether it is helping or hurting because they are dealing and living with the consequences.
I was asked whether there is support for the rockets being fired. No, this is the tragedy. There is no support for the rockets being fired. However, we need to consider the power that a few have to dictate action. They are controlling the agenda. We are handing the agenda over to those who would fire rockets rather than saying that irrespective of whether they are going to fire rockets, they are not going to dictate to us and that we are going to uphold international law. On top of that we are going to take effective measures to stop the rocket fire because we need to stop the rocket fire. It is the people who do not support the rocket fire who are paying the price, not those who are firing the rockets. They are fine and they are continuing to fire them. Again we must look at that.
Do Israelis support the conflict? We read in the Israeli media the dilemma they face. Of course this dilemma is more convincing to them when they are asked what the alternative is. They are not being provided with an alternative to military action that is convincing them. They are being repeatedly told that the solution to this will only be found through robust military action. When one considers the consequence and the impact, it is counterproductive to that objective. What needs to be reintroduced to the dialogue on the conflict is that there is an alternative. The only way is the alternative, but it will not be easy.
I was in Derry and Belfast where I had many meetings with people who have come through the process in Northern Ireland. The one question I continue to ask them is how they got it started because it is not over at all. What is over is the dilemma as to what is the process to success. That is over. It is now clear how to get there and there will be no reversion if the people have their way — as has been tested recently — to the violent route. We need to see how we can break this and get on to the process that will succeed and away from the process that is not succeeding.
Regarding the crossing point into Egypt, I compliment the Egyptians because they have done more than anybody else has, not just over the period of the conflict but for some time. They have been doing their very best to broker agreements, facilitate ceasefires and so on. Of course the crossing into Egypt is a pedestrian crossing. It is not a crossing for supplies. We should remember that and we should remember the international agreement on access to Gaza which we want everyone to uphold. It does not provide that the supplies will come in through Egypt. It states that they will come in through Israel because that, of course, connects the two land masses of the future Palestinian state and we do not want to sever those links. We need to get them open not just because it is in the agreement but it is also how there will be a Palestinian state into the future.
I was asked about the mindsets and the pressure to pass judgment. I will never pass judgment because I do not have possession of all the facts. I am also a barrister by qualification and I really respect the law meaning innocent until proven guilty. There must be due process to establish guilt or otherwise. No matter how compelling it might appear we must uphold that presumption. However, as a person who truly believes in the rule of law, we must have effective credible mechanisms for accountability, which is what I call for all the time. I will never succumb to the pressure of passing judgment because there is no pressure. I am not judge and juror. I am simply a person who can contribute the information, which I hope I have, to a credible and effective process.
The immediate need is access and it will continue to be the key need. It is not because I am saying it. All the parties, including the United States of America, brokered an agreement in 2005 at which it was identified as the absolute prerequisite to positive development. It has not been implemented. We need to keep that agreement on access from November 2005, brokered by the United States and agreed by all parties, and get on with implementing it. It is all contained in the preamble as to why it is so important. It is the key to everything. It is also the key to breaking the cycle. The cycle of violence is reinforced by the despair, destitution and so on.
We need to create a positive prospect not just in words but also in action. Some 100,000 people have lost their jobs since June 2007. They are now queuing for food. The private sector economy has been destroyed. The economy was actually run by the friends of Israel who lived in Gaza. They are the businessmen in Gaza who had special status with Israel. They had VIP status for coming and going. Their security was cleared by all the security services in Israel. Their businesses have been destroyed under the weight of this siege and also during the latest round of military operations.
Regarding the issue between Hamas and Fatah, Palestine divided means no future. Of course there needs to be a reunification which so many have called for. This is where Palestinians need to stand up to their responsibilities. The new Government in Israel, as with new administrations elsewhere, brings new opportunity. We must not despair. We must be determined to seek out opportunity wherever we can find it. We also must not be naïve. There will be many challenges and there will be new ones. We need to have the resolve to see those through. Again that is a matter of attitude and approach.
I met Senator George Mitchell when he came to the region upon his appointment. It is a tremendously positive development. He told me that at his age he does not have the same time as he had for Northern Ireland and so it was important to get on with it. I put it to him that he had the experience of Northern Ireland and while I should not say he would not be repeating any of the mistakes, he will be even wiser than when he arrived there, and what a result he achieved there. It is fantastic to see him engaged in the process with his experience, ability and commitment.
Is there anything more that Ireland can do? It should do all it can. There are two civilian populations involved. The difference between success and failure in this is death and destruction. Anything at all that Ireland can do is life saving. I thank members for that offer.
At this moment the money is not the issue because we can only spend the money on humanitarian supplies of food and medicine. We cannot use it to fix a window, give a person temporary accommodation and so on. We have seen an outpouring of generosity in the Sharm El Sheikh conference where pledges exceeded what was expected. Again it is not an issue at this moment. It is an issue of access. We need to focus on that.
One of the members stated that the General Affairs and External Relations Council was detached from the reality, which is true. This is why we invite everybody with a role in making policy to please come and join the reality. They need to see it, experience it and then go back and make their policies. I do not doubt the good intentions of those who are making the policies. However, they are flawed and doomed to failure if they are not based on the realities. We encourage everyone to come and see before they make policies.
I was asked about Gaza as a little statelet without a link to the West Bank. We cannot have that. The crossing points into Israel are also the crossing points into the West Bank because that is the link that is there.
On the trade agreements and conditionality, it is not for me to prescribe to other organisations what they should or should not do. However, because I have been asked a number of times I will say that we need conditionality of friendship, however one wants to characterise that and put it into effect. The two sides in this conflict need good friends. They need friends who will tell them the truth. The truth is that their actions on both sides are devastating the lives of decent human beings and also somehow contributing to the destruction of the prospects of a peaceful Middle East. We need friends who are truthful and honest and put down conditions on that friendship.
I have answered what the Irish can do and very much appreciate that. It is not just about spending money at the moment, although the money that is being spent is of course saving lives. Some 90% of the population have no way of surviving other than from the handouts of food they get from us. It is a most undignified existence for them but it is none the less their reality. We cannot cut off spending money at this point to keep people alive. We also cannot wait for political solutions to begin to develop Gaza and the rest of the Palestinian Territory because it is not a chicken and egg scenario. It is actually the two together. If the reality can be changed to a more positive dynamic it will help to unravel many of the very difficult political elements. If, on the other hand, the reality is not changed we are at an impasse. We need to create a positive dynamic on the ground which is why development is so important and I hope it will happen.
To say that the situation is bleak is an honest appraisal. The situation is very bleak and the prospect is even bleaker if we stay on the same course. Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity was to repeat the same experiment in the same way expecting a different result. If we stay doing the same thing in the same way, we will get the same result. How many more times do we need to get the same result before we stop and change direction? I am telling everybody that all is not lost. However bleak it might be, as long as we have human beings in the majority in both populations who are decent and civilized people — I firmly believe that is the case as that has been my experience out there — then we have reason to hope because they are the hope. However, we cannot take it for granted. Particularly where I am in Gaza, half of them are children, and children everywhere tend to be more susceptible to be shaped by their conditions and environment and so on.
What can we do? For six years we have been teaching human rights in an intensive way in our schools. Before that it was done in the usual way. For the past six years we have been enriching the curriculum. We now need a dedicated human rights curriculum for elementary and primary school children. Now it is so important that the children understand why it is wrong to fire rockets. The need to understand not just that it is wrong but why and what are the consequences. They need to understand not just the rights, but also the responsibilities that go with them. It is not a case of waiting for them to behave and then I will behave. That does not do it. One must start with one's own behaviour. We have a groundswell of public support to increase the teaching because the decent and civilised parents of Gaza are really concerned about what is happening to their children.
It is not just about behaviour. It is about thinking. We also have big gender programmes to push back on all the effects of this on women because women are being increasingly marginalised. However, women are essential to any process for peace and reconciliation as we have learnt in our country. We need to redouble our efforts there. We have redoubled our efforts and will need to continue to redouble them. We cannot stand still. For us at UNRWA, first and foremost it is about human development. The massive humanitarian challenge cannot distract us from the human development of the population because it is a population in need of development owing to the effects of the environment.