Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Situation in Palestine: Discussion

I apologise to members and guests for the technical difficulties that arose earlier and are responsible for this delay. I congratulate the technical team for waving some magic dust to allow us to commence. I express my concern and pass on my condolences to those injured and killed by attacks on both sides over recent days in Gaza, Israel and East Jerusalem. I call on those with influence in the region to use that influence to stop the violence, end the indiscriminate attacks and say the best way forward must involve dialogue, de-escalation and engagement by the international community with both sides in the conflict, being mindful of the application of international law and UN resolutions. We all need to act urgently to de-escalate from current unacceptable activities.

On behalf of members of the committee, I warmly welcome ambassador head of mission of Palestine to Ireland, Dr. Jilan Abdalmajid; Mr. Éamonn Meehan, a board member of Sadaka; Dr. Susan Power, head of legal research and advocacy at Al-Haq and Sadaka board member; and I particularly thank Professor Noura Erakat, assistant professor at Rutgers University, New Jersey, who joins us from the east coast of the United States at an early hour. I am grateful they have all taken time to join us. I also welcome our members and thank members and witnesses for their patience earlier.

Today, the committee commences an important body of work, namely, a review of the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories in respect of displacements and demolition of public and private buildings. We look forward to hearing from our guests. Along with the meeting this afternoon, we have scheduled further meetings on Thursday and on Tuesday of next week. The committee has also sought written submissions from a number of interested parties, organisations and bodies. At the end of this process, the committee intends publishing a report on the process.

The format of this afternoon's meeting is that we will hear the opening statements of our witnesses and guests before going into a question and answer session with members of our committee. We are time-limited due to Covid restrictions but it is my intention to add on the lost time. I remind members that we are in some way limited due to Covid restrictions. I ask that the witnesses be conscious of the time constraints when initially addressing the committee by way of opening statement.

I thank everybody for forwarding their opening statements in writing. They are invaluable to us in the context of our work. Following the opening statements, there will be a discussion with questions and answers from members of the committee. In the first round of questions, each member will have seven minutes for questions and answers. After six minutes, I will state that there is one minute remaining. Should time permit, we will open the meeting at the end to deal with other outstanding questions. We intend to conclude two hours from now.

I am obliged to remind our witnesses of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Witnesses will be directed to discontinue their remarks in that event. It is imperative that such a direction be complied with.

For witnesses attending remotely from outside the Leinster House campus, there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and, as such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness who is physically present. Witnesses participating in this committee session from a jurisdiction outside the State are advised that they should also be mindful of domestic law and how it may apply to the evidence given to this committee.

I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against any person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make that official in any way identifiable. I remind members that they are only allowed to participate in the meeting if they are physically located in the Leinster House complex or the Convention Centre Dublin where the Dáil and Seanad are meeting today.

For anybody watching this meeting online, some Oireachtas Members and witnesses are accessing this meeting remotely. Due to these unprecedented and challenging circumstances and the large number of people attending the meeting remotely I ask everybody to bear with us if we experience some technical difficulties that I hope do not frustrate the meeting any further.

If the ambassador and head of mission is with us, I ask her to commence proceedings by making her opening statement to us.

H.E. Dr. Jilan Abdalmajid

I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the Chair, members and guests for this invitation to appear before the committee to bear witness and give evidence on the issues of demolitions and forced displacement, settlers' violence against our people in the West Bank and, in particular, the Sheikh Jarrah and East Jerusalem neighbourhoods as tensions further escalate, and Israeli settlers intensify their attacks against our civilians.

Before I commence, I would like to clarify our leadership's position to postpone and not to cancel the election. The Palestinian leadership announced on 29 April that it will postpone the elections as Israel, the occupying power, refused to facilitate the elections, including nominations, campaigning and voting, in East Jerusalem regardless of the Oslo agreement signed in 1993 and conducted in 1996 and 2006, where six or 12 polls or ballots, respectively, have been assigned in East Jerusalem, and the elections went well. East Jerusalem is part of the occupied Palestinian territories and it is a key to holding the election. Palestinians there should have a right to vote and to make their voices heard. The importance of including East Jerusalemites in our democratic processes was also part of the Cairo agreement understandings among the main Palestinian political factions. The international community has responsibilities to keep the agreement fully respected and put pressure on Israel. Israel acts above the law and does not show respect, not only to agreements signed but to all the effort made to bring a transparent and fair election in the occupied Palestinian territories. We need a strong mandate from our people to realise their democratic wishes for a free Palestine.

My statement today before the committee is compatible with all our messages sent to the international community. Our voice against the oppression and injustice in Palestine is united.

The situation in occupied Palestine continues to deteriorate as Israel intensifies its human rights violations and war crimes against our people. The occupying power has escalated its appropriation of Palestinian homes, lands and properties, seeking to accelerate the forced transfer of our people, particularly in and around occupied East Jerusalem and its surroundings in a systematic and deliberate plan to annex and ethnically cleanse it. East Jerusalem is an integral part of the state of Palestine. The occupying power is blatantly using unlawful measures to carry out systematic policies of forced displacement, including by use of its judiciary and applying settler-backed laws to occupied territories. These illegal actions are being carried out in countless ways every single day, in grave breach of international humanitarian and criminal law and in violation of General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 2334 (2016), including the specific prohibitions on policies and measures aimed at altering the character, demographic composition and status of the holy city of Jerusalem.

Backed and encouraged by the government, Israeli occupying forces and settlers have ramped up their systematic, violent and racist attacks and incitement against Palestinians in ongoing attempts to entrench the occupation and de facto annexation of the occupied Palestinian territories, particularly in East Jerusalem. These acts of aggression have become a nightly occurrence since the start of the holy month of Ramadan, with hundreds of Palestinians injured and arrested by Israeli occupation forces.

The substantial deployment of occupation forces in and around Jerusalem's old city, movement restrictions and violent attacks on worshippers at Haram al-Sharif and Al-Aqsa mosque, and the ongoing forcible expulsion campaigns against Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods are the latest violations to add to Israel’s long list of grave breaches of international law. In addition to these provocative measures, Palestinians in East Jerusalem are reeling from nights of organised incitement and terror by extremist groups and settlers that include violent marches through the city by hundreds of them repeating anti-Palestinian slogans and threats, including "Death to Arabs", "We will burn down your villages", "We will slaughter you all", and "You know we will kill you one by one".

Yesterday, the Prime Minister of Israel provocatively tweeted about Jerusalem, stating:

Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for thousands of years. Our roots in Jerusalem go back to Biblical times. Our continuous link with Jerusalem has been maintained in all generations.

Adding to this, the extremist, far-right Knesset member, Itamar Ben Gvir, who has repeatedly called for the transfer of Palestinians and who has provocatively set up his office in the middle of Sheikh Jarrah to stake claim to the area, continues to incite a provocative attack against our people who came in solidarity with families of Sheikh Jarrah, while Israeli settlers roam about freely intimidating and attacking civilians, including children, and vandalising Palestinian homes and properties.

I want to give some background on Sheikh Jarrah, which is considered to be one of the most important Palestinian residential areas in occupied Jerusalem. It is located in the old city and covers an area of about 200 acres in which there are about 2,800 residents, some of whom are Palestinian families displaced during the Nakba in 1948. The neighbourhood was built in 1956 under an agreement signed between the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA, and the Jordanian Government, which controlled the occupied city at that time, represented by the ministry of construction and development. The plan at the time was to accommodate 28 displaced Palestinian families. The agreement provided for the payment of rent for a period of three years, after which the houses were handed to the residents. The leases expired in 1959, but after Israel's 1967 offensive and the occupation of what was left of Palestine, the colonial Government prevented the Palestinian families from having ownership of the properties and land. Two Israeli committees attempted to falsify legal documents in 1972 and register the land to be officially at the disposal of the occupation Government.

In 1982, settlers' associations used fake documents to demand that the Israeli courts should evict the Palestinians from their homes. The courts' deliberations continued between partial eviction and general postponement of the decisions until last month when the central court in East Jerusalem ruled to reject the appeals submitted by the residents of Sheikh Jarrah and granted them a grace period, between May and August, to leave their homes.

The Palestinian families in the Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhoods of occupied East Jerusalem remain at imminent risk of forced expulsion and mass dispossession after the Israeli Central Court in East Jerusalem approved a decision earlier this year to evict four Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhoods in favour of a right-wing Israeli settlers' organisation. No agreement has been reached as the Israeli judge suggested reaching a compromise. Our people rejected the surrendering of their rights and will never accept renting their own houses from the settlers who falsely claim their ownership before 1948. The Israeli "absentee law" allows Jewish Israelis only to claim properties but Palestinians are forbidden to claim the properties when they were driven from the Nakba in 1967. My dad has a house and land in the city of Lod. He has a house on the land and we have all of the document. However, as this law only applies to Israelis, I cannot claim our own property.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan provided us with the legally signed contracts between the families and the Jordanian Ministry of Construction and Reconstruction in 1956, but these documents proving Palestinian ownership of the properties were disregarded by the Israeli courts, which work to institutionalise and entrench the colonial settlement enterprise.

The ruled eviction will bring about the forced displacement of approximately 180 members of the combined families who will have their homes bulldozed to make way for an illegal settlement called Shimon Hatzadik, along with a park for settlers under the name King David Park.

The Jerusalemite families residing in Karm Al-Ja'ouni area in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and Batn Al-Hawa neighbourhood in Silwan have been persecuted for years in attempts by Israeli settler organisations, backed by the Israeli courts system, to expel these families and install illegal settlers in their homes. Several families in the area have been replaced by settlers, while another family has shared its home with settlers since they took over half of it in 2009.

While the settler groups enjoy the backing and service of Israeli courts and legislation for their unlawful plans, Palestinian families face relentless attacks that are designed to amass as much Palestinian land as possible, with as few Palestinian civilians as possible and to keep the occupation standing. That highlights the degree to which one group is heavily prioritised over another through a two-tier system that is built on discrimination and oppression. The issue of Sheikh Jarrah reflects the determination of the occupying power to alter the legal, demographic and cultural status of the holy city of peace. Sheikh Jarrah is located midway among the Israeli neighbourhoods. It is a must for them to expel Palestinian residents to facilitate easy access to their own neighbourhoods without seeing any Arab Palestinian on their daily trips in and out of their neighbourhoods.

We are not alone. From the international solidarity, in January 2021, UN Special Rapporteur, Michael Lynk, warned the international community of the impact and agenda behind Israel's forced displacement campaign in Jerusalem. He stressed that the forcibly expelled:

...are not random but appear to be strategically focused on an area in East Jerusalem known as the Historic Basin. They seem to be aimed at clearing the way for the establishment of more illegal Israeli settlements in the area and physically segregating and fragmenting East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.

On 10 March 2021, the Palestinian Human Rights Organisations Council submitted a plea to the UN on behalf of the families. They highlighted forced eviction as a tool of Israel's coercive environment in East Jerusalem, through which it maintains its institutionalised regime of racial domination and oppression over the Palestinian people, which is a system of apartheid. Unlawfully applying Israeli law to occupied territory, Israeli courts have ruled in favour of lawsuits undertaken by settler organisations to forcibly expel the Palestinian families.

On 22 April, representatives of 28 Palestinian families, comprising approximately 500 Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah and 191 endorsing organisations, sent a letter to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, ICC. They called to urgently include the imminent forced displacement of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah as part of the investigation on the situation in the state of Palestine, with specific regard to war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the forcible transfer, appropriation of property, persecution, apartheid, and other inhumane acts causing great suffering arising from their forced expulsion.

Last week, a Human Rights Watch report stated that the Israeli Government has pursued an intent to maintain the domination of Jewish settlers over Palestinians throughout the territory it controls. In the occupied Palestine territory, including East Jerusalem, that intent has been coupled with systematic oppression of Palestinians and inhumane acts committed against them. When these three elements occur together, they amount to the crime of apartheid.

Last January, B'Tselem launched a report that found:

In the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the Israeli regime implements laws, practices and state violence designed to cement the supremacy of one group - Jews - over another – Palestinians. A key method in pursuing this goal is engineering space differently for each group.

Its executive director said: "We are Israel's largest human rights group - and we are calling this apartheid”. The report outlined in stark terms what Israel has implemented in the occupied territories - an apartheid state.

I will talk a little bit about demolition and displacement, which are an ongoing threat in Area C as well. Demolitions and confiscations of Palestinian property continue in tandem with plans for settlement expansion. In the West Bank so far in 2021, as many as 315 structures have been demolished and 468 Palestinians displaced. Meanwhile, in 2020, 12,000 housing units were advanced through plans in 55 settlements. Yesterday, Israel's Likud party and Prime Minister Netanyahu pushed for a preliminary vote in the Knesset on a Bill to legalise outposts in the West Bank.

This year alone, 11 new illegal outposts have been set up on Palestinian stolen land. Last month, EU ambassadors witnessed the demolitions of Palestinian properties funded by their taxpayers and only the Netherlands Government took legal action. This sends a very clear message to our people that Israel acts with impunity as long as it is not held responsible, and that accountability must be enforced if these actions are to cease.

As reported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UNOCHA, in last February alone, the occupying power forced people to demolish or seized 153 Palestinian properties, displacing 305 people, including 172 children and affecting the livelihoods of 435 other people. Such escalation has included the deliberate targeting by Israel of EU humanitarian aid, which tripled compared with the monthly average documented in 2020. This escalation reflects a 65% increase from the monthly average of demolitions in 2020. The figures for March and April are even worse, and more families are under the threat of expulsion and home demolitions.

Before I conclude, I would like to say that Israel acts with impunity. It will continue to violate human rights and international law, and abuse our people, to reach what Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem said is Jewish supremacy over Palestinian people. It is not, and should not, be regarded as a religious battle. It is a political and human rights cause. I ask my next few questions to draw the attention of members to the plight of our people. When is the right time to recognise the state of Palestine? When does one take decisive action to save the two-state solution? When will the blockade over Gaza be removed?

When will Palestinians be able to breathe freely in their own land? When will those who resist the occupation be free? When will our political prisoners be freed? I am a Palestinian and very proud of it. I am Palestinian and deserve to live. My children who hold Palestinian identity and passports have the right to aspire to freedom and to live in peace. We deserve to live in peace and have our children grow up in peace. I ask the committee to support and work for justice to prevail in Palestine. We need practical measures to hold Israel accountable. I thank the committee.

I thank the ambassador for her opening statement. I regret we were delayed but am very pleased our technical difficulties were overcome to allow her to make that very important contribution to our review. I call Mr. Meehan to introduce his colleagues on speakers. We will then proceed to open the floor to members of the committee.

Mr. Éamonn Meehan

I thank the committee for this invitation to present today. The government of Israel would have us believe that what has been happening in Sheikh Jarrah, for months now, is a real estate dispute between private individuals. This is not the case. It is the latest action by Israel in a decades-long project to remove Palestinians from East Jerusalem and from large parts of the West Bank. The purpose is to annexe as much as possible of Palestinian East Jerusalem and the West Bank, minimise the space for Palestinians and confine them to enclaves.

Israel is in grave breach of its obligations as an occupying power under international law. Population transfer is a war crime, which carries state and individual criminal responsibility. Israel has transferred more than 650,000 settlers into 250 settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories since 1967. Make no mistake, this is a permanent colonisation. It is a re-engineering of the spatial and demographic structure of the Palestinian territories. It is an annexation, pure and simple.

There is no difference in law between a de jure and a de facto annexation. The facts identify Israel's actions as annexation and the facts are not in dispute. Its purpose is to privilege one people and one people only. De facto annexation is a crime. It is now well past time to stand for our principles as a nation and to meet our responsibilities. The focus of the international community on a de jure announcement of annexation by Israel is a political and diplomatic decision, which allows Israel to pursue its agenda while offering the perfect excuse for the international community to do nothing in defence of the Palestinian people.

What we see every day is annexation and we also see its consequences. The Government should now, immediately, sponsor a motion in both Houses of the Oireachtas declaring de facto annexation has happened throughout the West Bank. It should then take this declaration to the EU and the UN Security Council for follow-up action on Israel's breach of international law. The truth is that the events of recent days in East Jerusalem, Sheikh Jarrah and Gaza will continue. They will be repeated unless the root cause, which is this decades-long annexation and its ever-deepening grip over Palestinian life, is brought to an end.

Professor Erakat will now clearly outline Israel's long-term intentions in East Jerusalem and the Jordan valley, a particularly important part of Israel's strategy. Dr. Power will outline the law of occupation, how it has been breached and why this is an illegal de facto annexation.

Dr. Noura Erakat

There is something wrong with the camera. Can the Chair skip me so I can fix my camera?

That might be best. I call Dr. Power.

Dr. Noura Erakat

I appreciate that.

Dr. Susan Power

I have a PowerPoint presentation. Can the committee see it?

We cannot see the PowerPoint but I ask Dr. Power to proceed having regard to our technical challenges.

Dr. Susan Power

I thank the committee for inviting me to speak. Yesterday, we saw the injury of 612 Palestinian civilians in Jerusalem and Israel's killing of 25 Palestinians, including three children, in the Gaza Strip, which really highlights the urgent need for the international community to intervene and address the root causes. These are Israel's colonisation of Palestinian lands, its de jure and de facto annexation of Palestinian territory and its implementation of an apartheid regime, all ongoing since 1948 and continued since 1967 under the fiction of a belligerent occupation.

Annexation is the unilateral act of a state proclaiming its sovereignty over the territory of another. It is prohibited as an act of aggression under the UN Charter. It is prohibited in occupied territory under the Geneva Conventions and it is a war crime under the statute of the ICC. De facto annexation occurs when actions on the ground indicate the implied intent of the occupying power to permanently incorporate the occupied territory. We have seen examples of this by Israel. In 1967, Israel immediately de facto annexed East Jerusalem. This was an act which the UN Security Council condemned under Resolution 242, emphasising the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and calling for Israel's immediate withdrawal. It was some 13 year later, in 1980, before Israel then de jure incorporated Jerusalem into its domestic law, at this time declaring that Jerusalem, complete and united, was capital of the state of Israel.

In the rest of the West Bank we are seeing key indicators of de facto annexation taking place. This is not a temporary occupation. We have witnessed the construction of more than 250 settlements and outposts in the occupied territory with connecting infrastructure back to Israel in addition to the illegal transfer in of more 650,000 Jewish-Israeli settlers. This is permanently altering the demographic of the occupied Palestinian territory.

At the same time, Israel demonstrates an animus or intent to permanently use and exploit Palestine's sovereign resources as its own, including quarried materials, Dead Sea minerals, water, gas and oil. In addition to this, and in recent years, we have seen Israel directly applying its own law in the occupied Palestinian territory. A recent example of this is the application of its higher education law in 2018, which brings academic institutions in West Bank settlements under the accreditation of the Council for Higher Education in Israel.

This is coupled with expressions of an intention to annexe. We can extrapolate these intentions even from policies and plans relating to the expansion of the Jerusalem municipality. In particular, the Jerusalem 5800 plan has been endorsed by the Israeli Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage and Minister of Tourism. This includes the absorption into the Jerusalem municipality of settlements such as Modi'in, Beit Shemesh, Gush Etzion and Ma'ale Adumim, in addition to incorporating Palestinian cities such as Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jericho and the entire Jordan Valley into a greater expanded Jerusalem metropolitan area. We have also seen and witnessed expressions of intent to annexe coming from Prime Minister Netanyahu who stated that Israel has every right to claim sovereignty over these territories in Area C and that the establishment of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria is not illegal.

Why are we looking for a motion on de facto annexation now? Last year, we saw Israel emboldened by the US peace plan and pushing towards a de jure annexation last July.

Since this has been called off, we have now seen a real acceleration in de facto annexation. We have seen house demolitions increasing, with 535 documented last year by Al-Haq. This was twice the annual average of the past ten years. We are really seeing a rapid increase in demolitions. In 2020, Israel also accelerated settlement expansion, and appropriated a further 5,000 acres of Palestinian lands for settlements. We are now seeing an acceleration towards the conclusion of the colonisation of Palestinian territory.

Ireland must intervene. Annexation, de facto and de jure, is an internationally wrongful act for which there is state responsibility. Ireland has third state obligations to not recognise and not render agent assistance to a responsible state that is maintaining a situation of annexation. We call on Ireland, as a starting point, to: introduce a motion recognising Israel's de facto annexation of the occupied Palestinian territory; to recognise the state of Palestine, which is already recognised by 139 states, and which is a non-member state of the UN; and to progress the occupied territories Bill. As the UN Special Rapporteur, Mr. Michael Lynk, said, international law must not be an umbrella that folds at the first sight of rain. It is critical, given the situation on the ground, to respond to the root causes. Ireland is looked on as a leader on Palestine, and it must come to the fore. We cannot hide behind the collective ambivalence of Europe on this. Palestine is disappearing before our eyes. The erasure of Palestine has happened on our watch. We must address the root causes, introduce a motion on annexation, and ensure the collective right of self-determination of Palestinian people as a whole and the collective right of return of Palestinian refugees and exiles in the diaspora to their homeland.

I thank Dr. Power. I will revert to Dr. Erakat, and I apologise for the earlier technical glitch. I can see her on the screen now and I can hear her. I thank her for joining us.

Dr. Noura Erakat

I thank the Chair and members of the committee for inviting me and for the patience in fixing the technical problem.

I begin by affirming what my colleagues have said. I emphasise that Palestinians continue to struggle against settler colonial removal and erasure. What we are witnessing in Sheikh Jarrah is merely the most recent flashpoint of this struggle, which is not about home evictions, not about a real estate dispute, and not about expanding development in the city of Jerusalem. It is the condition against the ongoing nakba.

We are witnessing the creation of new refugees. Israel's goal is to take as much Palestinian land, with as few Palestinians on the land as possible, and to concentrate the greatest number of Palestinians onto the least amount of land possible. This is evidenced in, and explains, the 29 contiguous bantustans in the West Bank, the concentration of Palestinians in an open air prison in the Gaza Strip, the concentration of Palestinians even within Israel proper in the north in Galilee, and the impending removal from the south in the Negeb, or the Negev Desert. This is in evidence throughout historic Palestine and is representative of our condition. This context needs to be emphasised so that we do not dismiss this latest episode as skirmishes or as a conflict or a need of just removing the violence. Instead, as my colleagues have said, we need to emphasise the root cause.

Israel's matrix of laws and policies are meant to facilitate removal and territorial taking, cement preparations that are tantamount to an apartheid legal regime, cement segregation and the racial superiority of Jewish nationals, and suppress protests. This has been found by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, UN ESCWA, and Palestinian and Israeli human rights organisations such as Badil, Al-Haq and B'tselem and, most recently, Human Rights Watch. Annexation is one feature of this process and phenomenon. I will examine that using case studies of Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley.

Israel's establishment is predicated on the removal of Palestinians and the assertion of uninterrupted Jewish-Zionist spatial and temporal presence throughout historic Palestine. This is why the committee is likely to hear from its other witnesses this week that there is no occupation, that there was no Palestinian sovereignty prior to 1948, that this is a sui generis occupation, and that this is Judea and Samaria on what is disputed territory. This is simply a legal argument that the international community has long rejected, and which should not be given any air time now 70 years onwards.

Israel achieved its initial mass removal of Palestinians in the course of the 1948 war, between December 1947 and 1949, when it forcibly exiled some 80% of the native Palestinian population. Upon its establishment in 1948, Israel continued this process in West Jerusalem where it forcibly removed 80,000 Palestinians. The 1967 war offered a significant opportunity for Israel to continue its expansionist projects under the framework of sui generis occupation law and the myth of temporality and military necessity. Immediately following the close of the 1967 war, Israel annexed East Jerusalem despite international opposition and two UN Security Council resolutions that were supported by Israel's primary allies at the time, namely the US and the UK.

Nevertheless, Israel expanded Jerusalem's municipal boundaries by roughly ten times, annexing some 17,000 acres of West Bank lands. Rather than reverse these takings, the Oslo accords legitimated them as it recognised 54% of the settlements as Jewish neighbourhoods. Since 1993, Israel has continued to use a mix of martial and administrative law to pursue its territorial ambitions and the removal of Palestinians through policies, including tenuous residency rights, state lands, absentee lands appropriation, the route of the annexation wall, development of nature reserves, impunity for settler violence, and discriminatory planning and home demolitions. All of this is done separately so that we cannot see it as an holistic whole that merits outright condemnation and national action such as sanctions.

Similarly, Israel's leadership has historically marked the Jordan Valley as being of military, economic and political significance. In 1968, the then labour minister, Yigal Allon, included the area within the scope of Israel's defensible borders, and thus within the scope of the State's permanent borders. Multiple Israeli leaders, from the dovish Yitzhak Rabin, to the more hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu have reiterated that the Jordan Valley, or the easternmost border along Jordan, which constitutes 30% of the West Bank territory, is part of its "security border". Israel will not withdraw from it under any circumstances. Israel declared 60% of the Jordan Valley as a closed military zone in 1967. It built its first settlements there in the early 1970s, and consolidated its control during the Oslo accords when it declared 90% of the Jordan valley as Area C under full Israeli civil and military control, under the Oslo II framework. Since 1967, Israel has reduced the Palestinian population in the Jordan Valley from 320,000 Palestinians to 60,000. It limits Palestinian access to less than 1% of Area C. It has settled approximately 11,000 settlers across 37 settlements in the valley. What they continue to say has not been subject to de jure annexation is in fact annexed today, and off limits to Palestinians. Are members aware that the Dead Sea, which is one of the wonders of the world and is adjacent to and literally within driving distance of Palestinian families, including my own in Jericho, is off limits to Palestinians? Any member of this committee can travel today to visit that wonder of the world, can spread that mud on your body and can float in that water, but my own family who live there cannot access that same water and wonder of the world, specifically because we are marked for removal and Israel tells the world that this is necessary for military purposes and only temporary. In fact we are marked for removal. It is a matter of time. What is happening in Sheikh Jarrah will happen to us too in the valley. The territory is a significant source of water, underscoring Israel's intransigent refusal to withdraw from it.

In 2001, Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, underscored Israel's permanent ambition when he was asked whether Israel would withdraw from the Jordan Valley and replied:

Is it possible today to concede control of the hill aquifer which supplies a third of our water? Is it possible to cede the buffer zone in the Jordan Rift Valley? You know, it's not by accident that the settlements are located where they are.

Despite everything that Israeli leaders, officials and people's empirical evidence have demonstrated to us, we keep reverting to the fictions of temporality, military necessity, occupation and peace process when the writing has been on the wall that Palestinians are marked for settler colonial erasure, that Israel intends to cement its apartheid regime and that it is a matter of time before Palestinians are all made refugees, where they can remain as nondescript Arabs on the land, but not as a national people or a juridical people with the right to self-determination.

I hope that Ireland will help to break this pattern and inspire the rest of the world to take a different course. I look forward to members' questions during the discussion.

I thank Dr. Erakat for joining us, and I hope that notwithstanding time pressures, she is in a position to remain with us for an hour. I thank her for her most graphic presentation. I have had the experience of driving by car from Jerusalem to Jericho, the Dead Sea, across the Allenby Bridge into Jordan and Amman. It is a most beautiful part of the world. It is tragic to see it engulfed in the type of conflict to which she made reference.

I thank Mr. Meehan and Ambassador Abdalmajid for remaining with us. I will now invite members to pose their questions and make observations. There is a lot of information before the committee by way of the presentations. I remind members of the time constraint and ask that they be as concise as possible in their questions. I will confine them to a maximum of seven minutes, but they are free to share their slot with party colleagues. The first speaker is Deputy John Brady, followed by Senator Joe O'Reilly and I, again, ask them to be conscious of the time because I know that our experts are keen to deal with members' queries and to engage further with us over the next hour or more.

I thank our guests for joining us this afternoon. Before commenting further and posing some questions, I would like to offer the ambassador and the Palestinian people my condolences, and those of my party, Sinn Féin, in regard to the slaughter of the 25 innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip last night. I understand from various media reports that between six and nine of those murdered were children. I also condemn the provocation by the Israelis in terms of their actions in East Jerusalem, and the attack and assault on the al-Aqsa Mosque as well. The inaction of the international community has empowered and emboldened Israel in the outworking of its illegal policy of colonial expansion into Palestinian lands. The ICC investigation into war crimes by Israel is significant, as is the announcement by Israel that it will not co-operate with that investigation. The recent reports from a number of human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, that find the Israeli authorities are committing crimes against humanity, and of apartheid and persecution, are also significant.

Mr. Meehan outlined that waiting for Israel to announce de jure annexation of West Bank settlements, as they have done in East Jerusalem, is no longer an acceptable response to grave breaches of international law, of which we heard already, and the fundamental rights of Palestine. No government in the world can hide behind that false argument. That response allows Israel to continue its core plan, which as referenced by a number of our guests, is to take as much Palestinian land as possible with as few Palestinians as possible and to pen into enclaves as many Palestinians as possible, as we have seen in the Gaza Strip and in a number of other areas, as referenced by Dr. Erakat. Since 1967, more than 250 settlements have been established throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem and these are inhabited by more than 650,000 settlers. As a committee, we need to reflect on that and raise questions about it with the Israeli ambassador in our meeting with him on Thursday. I agree with all of our speakers that words of condemnation are no longer enough. We need a response from the international community that will stop the destruction of the Palestinian people.

I would like to pose a number of specific questions to our witnesses, starting with the ambassador. In her view, what should Ireland and the wider community do now? We have heard what measures should be taken, but what specifically should Ireland as a country, a member of the EU and a member of the UN Security Council do? What should the parties within the Oireachtas, as Ireland's lawmakers do? What does the ambassador believe the Irish people can do at this time to stop the ethnic cleansing and the apartheid system and policies being perpetrated on the Palestinian people by the Israelis?

I have two other specific questions. Our witnesses have outlined that de facto annexation has taken place in much of the West Bank. I ask Dr. Power to clarify where in international law de facto annexation is recognised. That is an important question. I have posed it to numerous Ministers and people, but they tend to hide behind different words and terminology. I would welcome a comment from Dr. Power on where in international law de facto annexation is recognised.

The breaches of international law and the deteriorating situation in Jerusalem were outlined in the presentations. We are seeing the situation in East Jerusalem and the imminent evictions in Sheikh Jarrah play out before our eyes. I ask Dr. Power in the first instance to outline what range of countermeasures are available to the international community by way of response, but other witnesses may also respond. I know we are caught for time, but I would ask that the witnesses comment briefly on what role the current toxic atmosphere that surrounds domestic politics within Israel is playing in stoking the tensions that led to the unrest in East Jerusalem and the West Bank?

I, again thank all of our witnesses for joining us this afternoon.

It is not my intention to revert immediately to the ambassador. I propose to take questions from Senator Joe O'Reilly and to then ask the witnesses to respond to the questions posed by Deputy Brady and Senator O'Reilly. Senator O'Reilly is a long-standing member of the parliamentary assembly, the Council of Europe and he is Leas-Chathaoirleach of our Upper House, the Seanad.

I thank the Chairman. The recent violence and deaths form a tragic and very serious backdrop to this conversation and give it a particular poignancy and importance. I concur with the initial vote of sympathy expressed by the Chairman and his exhortation for the violence to stop. He was followed in that regard by Deputy Brady. I certainly concur with those sentiments.

There is no question but that there has been an acceleration in demolitions and settlements, with the areas of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan being outstanding examples of that. It is completely wrong and immoral, and contrary to international law. The ambassador stated: "...315 structures have been demolished and 468 Palestinians displaced. Meanwhile, in 2020, 12,000 housing units were advanced." That is a shocking set of figures. Is this system of illegal settlements intended to block a two-state solution and make it a practical impossibility? I ask our guests to be more specific on whether the two-state solution will be unachievable at the end of the day, given the state of settlements, unless there is another whole depopulation.

On the issue of elections, what is happening is tragic and wrong on all fronts. The Chairman made kind reference to my involvement with the Council of Europe. Its fundamental principle is the preservation of democracy and the rule of law and its modus vivendi is based around that. It is horrendous that the elections are not being held. I ask our guests to elaborate on the practical issues that prevented the holding of the elections in Jerusalem. The ambassador stated that they have been postponed, rather than cancelled. It would be tragic for them to be cancelled; it is already tragic that they have been postponed. Although the violence is the immediate issue now, when does she expect that a properly conducted democratic election could be held? That is important.

I am of the view that there is no difference between de facto annexation and de jure annexation. Annexation is annexation. I refer to the acquisition of resources as the aquifer in Jordan valley, etc., and the building of distinct infrastructure to consolidate the settlements and set up roads, etc. It is all wrong.

This is an all-party committee of the Oireachtas and party politics do not enter into our considerations. However, all present might accept that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is genuinely serious about this question and has engaged seriously on it. What specific recommendations do our guests have regarding the actions Ireland could take at the UN? I am aware of what they want to be done domestically and that is a question for the parties and the Parliament, but what do they think Ireland can do at the UN and within the EU that is not currently happening? Deputy Brady asked what they think we should do domestically.

That is my input. I appreciate the opportunity to contribute. It is so sad and horrific that we are meeting and discussing this issue in the context of 25 Palestinians having died and 600 having been injured. I join in offering sympathies to the ambassador. It is horrific that anybody is injured or killed in this conflict, no matter who they are. It is shocking.

I thank the Senator. I will revert to the ambassador, to be followed by Mr. Meehan, Dr. Power, to whom a specific question has been addressed, and Dr. Erakat. I invite the ambassador to address the issues raised by Deputy Brady and Senator O'Reilly.

H.E. Dr. Jilan Abdalmajid

I thank the Chairman. Deputy Brady asked what we want from the Government, the parties and the Irish people. Ireland is a small country in Europe, but the Deputy's remarks reminded me that New Zealand submitted a resolution regarding the settlements to the UN Security Council in 2016. It is a small country but the resolutions it put forward have been adopted by the UN Security Council and that is great. Ireland has a great opportunity by virtue of its role on the Security Council to present something to support Palestinian rights in Palestine.

I refer to the issue of annexation. As Senator O'Reilly stated, there is no difference between de jure annexation and de facto annexation. Israel annexed the occupied territories in 1967 and has applied its law there since then. In terms of appropriating land, more than 60% of Area C on the West Bank has been annexed. As Deputy Brady stated, 250 settlements have been built on stolen land and are occupied by more than 650,000 settlers. In comparison, when we signed the Oslo agreement in 1993 there were only 200,000 settlers, living in fewer than 150 settlements. It is important for the issue of settlements, colonisation and annexation to be brought to the UN Security Council and for it to issue a resolution. As I stated, New Zealand is a small country but it managed to submit a resolution on this issue. Ireland has a role within the international community in supporting Palestinians. In light of the relations of the Irish Government with the current US Administration, I think it can do something.

As regards the parties, we are engaging with almost all parties, including Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil. So many people are opening doors to Palestinians and supporting our human rights. The support we have received from political parties and the Irish people in general is great and it is acknowledged by our people. I refer to the motion that it is hoped will be tabled in the Dáil. We believe from our contacts with most of the parties that they will support the motion. I hope Fine Gael will support it. I refer to the position of the Government with regard to annexations. It is important that Deputies vote in favour of the motion.

The attitude of Irish people towards Palestinians is amazing. They are very well educated on the issues. What we want is for them to keep educating themselves in that regard. During the assault against Gaza yesterday, I saw that Irish people were tremendously active on the issue on social media such as Twitter and Facebook. They want to be more educated about the current situation and the historical issue of Palestine. We are trying to do our best in that regard. Solidarity groups are working very hard on this issue. Compared with citizens of many European nations, Irish people are highly educated on the issue of Palestine. We will keep working with them and next to them. It is not only about social media. People should speak to their local Deputies when a motion comes before the Parliament.

Once a motion on Palestine comes to the Parliament, we want all the people to contact their Deputies to encourage them to vote in favour of it.

Senator O'Reilly asked about elections. The election has not been cancelled; it has been postponed. Let me explain something about the election: from the beginning, the Palestinian Authority and all the factions of Palestinians who met in Cairo before issuing the decree of elections all agreed that without East Jerusalem, there would be no election. They walk their talk. We tried for the past three months to work with the EU and international community to put pressure on Israel to have in Jerusalem a right to participate in the election, as happened in 1996 and 2006. The international community failed to put this pressure on the Israelis. Just two days before we announced the postponement of the election, we received a letter from the Israelis stating they would not allow it. There were many solutions. Reference was made to voting outside and to some people in Jerusalem accessing the polls in the West Bank. These were not accepted. The right to participate in an election in Jerusalem is at the core. It is key to our Palestinian cause. The agreement was signed and we agreed upon it. The international community has a responsibility to put pressure on Israel to allow the election in East Jerusalem. Once the international community could not put pressure on the Israelis to respect it, we could not say more than that we would postpone the election. The moment the Israelis will allow an election, including nomination, voting and campaigning in East Jerusalem, a date will be set for it. It is our democratic right. Every single Palestinian, young, old and middle-aged, has wanted what I have described for the past 15 years. We lost the right. Every single Palestinian wanted the election to happen. With the help of the international community, it is a matter of putting pressure on Israel to allow the election in East Jerusalem. Without East Jerusalem's participation, no election will be held.

The other witnesses will talk about the settlements and the two-state solution. I will keep some time to outline the rest of my beliefs.

Mr. Éamonn Meehan

I will defer to Dr. Erakat and Dr. Power on de facto annexation and on providing more detail on the range of countermeasures. Perhaps Dr. Erakat might provide more detail on domestic Israeli politics.

Israel has already annexed East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan de jure. From the perspective of the international community, it is clearly in breach of its international legal obligations as an occupying power. When Russia occupied Crimea in 2015 or 2016, the EU and various countries had no difficulty in identifying a range of countermeasures to apply to Russia, including sanctions against the assets of individuals, travel bans and the prevention of technology transfer. It is very easy for civil servants and others in individual capitals and Brussels and at the UN Security Council to come up with a very strong list. Therefore, we do not need to wait for recognition of de facto annexation. Israel is already in serious breach de jure. It has announced it. What are we waiting for? For how long do we do nothing and allow the situation that Dr. Erakat has so eloquently described to be allowed to persist? Her family cannot drive down the road and enjoy the waters of the Dead Sea or River Jordan. Dr. Power might say something about how de facto annexation is recognised, and Dr. Erakat may have more to say on countermeasures.

Dr. Susan Power

I thank the members for their questions. The prohibition of annexation is implicit in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. It is useful to point out that Article 8 is of the Rome Statute, in criminalising acts of aggression and acts of annexation as acts of aggression, speaks to any annexation. We are talking about any type of annexation, be it partial, total, de facto or de jure. They all fall under the same umbrella. In considering the UN Charter, in particular, the jurisprudence from the International Court of Justice is particularly relevant in interpreting the relevant provisions. We have already had an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice in the wall case. This is specific to the occupied Palestinian territories. The court observed that the wall and its associated regime could well become permanent and hence might become tantamount to a de facto annexation. The advisory opinion was issued more than 15 years ago. Based on this and many other examples that we have, we are seeing a de facto annexation on the ground. It is not just a matter of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice in the wall case; we also see references to de facto annexation in the findings of the UN War Crimes Commission on crimes committed in Ethiopia during the Italo–Abyssinian war. This is related to recognition by third states of the annexation of Ethiopia by Italy. It was recognised by some states de jure and by some states de facto. These are important contributions in the jurisprudence. Other examples include separate opinions from two International Court of Justice judges, both related to the Namibia case. Both opinions refer to the de facto annexation of the territory of Namibia. There are many other examples. The EU Parliament has examples on the visa regime of Russia in respect of Georgia. Reference is made to de facto annexation in that case. The European Court of Human Rights references creeping annexation, which is also de facto annexation. There are many references to this throughout. While we say de facto annexation, let me outline the main difference we are talking about. Having regard to the types of domestic legislation that Israel is passing, I do not believe we are actually going to see de jure annexation like we have seen in East Jerusalem, whereby Israel formally absorbs the territories. It is too easy to get away with continually expanding the colonisation without that. We really saw that last year when Israel pulled back. The situation on the ground is the exact same. It is still a matter of annexation. It is an international crime of annexation amounting to an act of aggression.

A question was asked on the kinds of measures that could be implemented at UN and EU levels. Dr. Meehan spoke about this. At UN level, there is the UN database on businesses active in the settlements. This is before the Human Rights Council. The database was released last year and should be updated every year. Corporations that are active in the settlements are placed on it.

The continuation of this database is under threat. It would be great if Ireland could ensure the continuation and the annual update of the database and not just that, but if Ireland could also use the database in its public procurement it would be very beneficial. At UN level, we have spoken about apartheid as well. It would be good to see a push for the convening of a special committee on apartheid that could examine and oversee issues of apartheid as well. We should really push for this at the UN General Assembly.

In terms of EU countermeasures, we have seen this before with the EU's response to Russia's annexation of Crimea, where the EU implemented countermeasures against Russia. We want to see the exact same types of countermeasures implemented against Israel for its annexation of the Palestinian territory. We must see consistency in international responses. Michael Lynk, the special rapporteur for Palestine, has also supported the types of EU countermeasures that we could see, for example, a freezing of diplomatic relations between Ireland and Israel, the imposition of individual restrictive measures such as asset freezes and travel restrictions on individuals who are part of a policy and plan to commit crimes against the Palestinian people, including crimes such as annexation and crimes related to the settlements such as appropriation, pillage of property and so forth. Importantly, I think we could see restrictions on economic relations between Ireland and Israel, similar to the kind of economic restrictions that we saw regarding Crimea and Sevastopol, and restrictions on economic co-operation. For example, at EU level if we could see the freezing of the Horizon 2021-27 programme, that would be quite powerful and the withdrawal or suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement and other such agreements, for example, the aviation agreement. We need to see serious countermeasures in place for acts that are grave violations of international law. We must remember that there are third state responsibilities and obligations to intervene to bring the illegal situation to an end in response to violations and acts of aggression such as annexation. Ireland has a responsibility to ensure there are suitable countermeasures that are commensurate to the crime. This is a denial of the Palestinian people as a whole to their collective right to self-determination in regard to the unlawful acquisition of territory through use of force. I will let Dr. Erakat continue the response.

Dr. Noura Erakat

Thanks to Dr. Power, Ireland now has almost a buffet of options in how to respond. Ireland can approach this from a fully frontal position of unequivocal condemnation of Israel's annexation and intention to maintain an apartheid regime or instead it can approach it in a piecemeal fashion in an administrative way through politics of non-recognition and supporting initiatives on business and human rights. This is not about a lack of options, this is not a question of what to do; this is about political will. I am somebody in the United States, at the heart of Israel's primary patron, the provider of military aid and unequivocal economic and diplomatic support, where when Palestinians are murdered, it is read in the US as Israeli vulnerability. Palestinian deaths in the US are refracted through a lens that tells those who are watching that Israel is unsafe. This is the perversion that we exist in, and it accentuates the level of dehumanisation that Palestinians are enduring. On the one hand, it emphasises that if the Irish Parliament does nothing, there might be very little cost because Palestinians have been so thoroughly dehumanised that the political cost of doing nothing might be very little and Ireland can continue matter of factly with business as usual. On the other hand, it also emphasises that Ireland has within its hands the responsibility to change the course of history, to be a part of a course of history that looks back and says it was part of the solution that ended apartheid. It stood on the side of justice. It continued an Irish legacy of resistance, of principles. I was invited on a book tour and was visiting Dublin just two years ago and I have never felt such a visceral connection to a people because of our shared histories of resistance. Ireland too could have had a different history if there was not support and there was not the courage of a people to say, despite the low political cost, we will make this sacrifice. This is what connects us.

Regarding the question about the two-state solution, again I can give members all the empirical evidence that they need. I will also provide them with a laundry list. Palestinians have seen the writing on the wall. The 1993 Oslo accords and the subsequent agreements that have been drafted afterwards have never ensured that there will be a Palestinian state. The first Israeli leader to even articulate that there would be a Palestinian state as a result of these peace processes was Ehud Barak in 2000, but the documents themselves only promised derivative sovereignty or Palestinian autonomy. The fact is that today the Palestinian state is obsolete because Palestinians are separated from one another through 20 non-contiguous bantustans, or what we would recognise in the US as Indian reservations, which by the way I know that leaders who know colonial history will know was something that was developed in North America to contain and suppress indigenous self-determination and sovereignty and was then adopted in South Africa through the leadership of Jan Smuts and is now being transferred to Palestine. There is a colonial circuit and circulation of knowledge. What we are seeing is in fact not new at all. What becomes new is Israel insisting that it has the right to do this, that it is righteous in its colonisation, that the world should look the other way because unlike other people they are a victim and, therefore, whoever is their victim should be forgotten.

There are 20 non-contiguous bantustans, an annexation wall is being built since 2000 that at the end of its construction will confiscate another 13% of the West Bank, as 85% of the wall runs through the West Bank. The Jordan Valley is de facto annexed, and that is 30% of the West Bank. There are bypass roads that are off limits to Palestinians. There are military zones that are firing zones. There are checkpoints. My cousin was murdered at a checkpoint on his sister's wedding day this past summer. He was travelling from Abu Dis to Bethlehem. Those are two Palestinian cities. He could not travel, and he was shot and killed at a checkpoint. His body remains in captivity in a freezer at Tel Aviv University. Palestinians on the West Bank cannot travel. People have been calling to ask how my family is. I say they are fine, because they are not allowed to go into Jerusalem. Palestinians in the West Bank cannot enter Jerusalem. Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, the supposed two parts of the Palestinian state, cannot visit one another. If a Palestinian from Gaza is found in the West Bank, he or she is deported back to Gaza. This is separation and segregation. This is an attempt to undermine our national cohesion. Jerusalem has been explicitly annexed since 1980, despite UN Security Council Resolution 480 condemning it. In 2016, another UN Security Council Resolution 2334 condemned it and yet the situation remains the same. I am not sure what the international community is waiting for. What it sounds like is that even if Israel says that is it, there is no Palestinian state, the international community will respond and ask what are the prospects of Palestinian statehood. We should get back to talking.

Israel is not looking for a state. Israel is going to concentrate us on the smallest plot of land, put a flag on it and say that they have given us a state. That is not what we need. We are looking for the right to belong; we are looking for the right to exist. We do not want to be erased. A formal state does not nothing to protect us in the fact of this reality. So, no, there is no two-state solution and it has been obsolete since 2001. It has been held up on stilts and we patiently wait for Israel to tell us when this is over. This matter is really about political will and resistance so the impetus is on all of us, not merely on this committee, as committee members, doing us this work to challenge the status quo and deep dehumanisation to change the course of history. I thank Dr. Power for providing the committee with a litany of options for how to proceed with that in baby steps or strides.

I thank Dr. Erakat for her very fine contribution. I see that the former Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy David Stanton, has offered so he has the floor.

I join others in thanking our guests. I also condemn the killings and injuries that have occurred in recent times. Any death at any time is to be condemned. We must express our condolences to the bereaved and call for all of this activity to stop.

Many questions have been raised by colleagues and I will not cover old ground because time is short. One of the big issues that faces us all at the moment is Covid-19. I ask our guests to comment on the Covid-19 vaccination programme in the various areas that have been mentioned, in particular the West Bank and Gaza Strip. We have heard various reports and I ask the ambassador to give us some up-to-date information on what exactly is happening and the impact. Israel has told us that it is opening up its economy and leads the world in having a vaccinated population. What is the vaccination situation for the Palestinian people?

Mr. Meehan is a former head of Trócaire. In my former job with the Chairman, we were very concerned about refugees and asylum seekers. Where do people go when they have been displaced following the demolition of their houses and homes? Do people have to move? Where do they go? I ask him to paint the picture.

Mention has been made of the freezing of diplomatic relations. Our Minister has said more than once that if dialogue is cut off completely, a certain amount of a persuasive position is lost. He is not in favour of cutting off dialogue. The cutting off of diplomatic relations might actually mean cutting off dialogue. I have heard all the other arguments that have been made and taken them on board. It is quite important that our meeting took place today because it is important that we are informed by the people who are on the ground and know what they are talking about. The history of the region is extraordinarily complicated for very many decades.

The Minister has called on Israel to halt demolitions. On 26 February, at a meeting of the UN Security Council, he commented strongly on the issue and our ambassador has also been involved. We have made our positions quite clear but today's meeting is quite important for us to raise awareness and give our guests a voice.

The Deputy has asked a number of questions. He directly addressed a question on Covid-19 to the ambassador and I call on her to respond. Mr. Meehan can then reply to the other aspects. Having looked at the clock, perhaps closing contributions can be made by Dr. Power and Dr. Erakat.

H.E. Dr. Jilan Abdalmajid

More than 300,000 cases of Covid-19 have been detected in Palestine and more than 3,000 people have died. For a period, the vaccination programme was problematic because the Israelis vaccinated their people. As Israel is responsible for the occupied territories, they have a legal responsibility over the vaccination of my people. However, Israel rejected all of the calls by the international community to abide by these agreements. We managed to get vaccines from Russia and China. We have also signed agreements with AstraZeneca and other international companies to provide vaccines. We are with the COVAX scheme, which has promised to vaccinate 20% of the Palestinian people. In the meantime, vaccinations have started in Gaza. The Emirates have directly donated some vaccines to Gaza and vaccinations are under way in the West Bank.

Israel vaccinated the Palestinian labour force who cross the border daily. However, in Gaza, only 2.5% of the people were vaccinated while in the West Bank it was 7%. An increasing number of people are being vaccinated. Both of my parents are aged over 75 and they received the Russian vaccine. The people themselves still doubt vaccines. Like many others, sometimes they do not believe in vaccines, which was a problem. There is a sufficient supply of vaccines. Vaccines arrive from time to time so we are in the process of vaccinating most of our people according to WHO rules. The vaccination programme is working well but we are behind with between 60% to 70% of the population to be vaccinated.

Regarding dialogue, I shall start by talking about the state of Palestine. We signed the Oslo agreement in 1993. I know that it is not the goal in all of the minds and dreams of Palestinians but the agreement was our first step to move forward as Palestine. In 2012, the UN recognised the state of Palestine and that is strong recognition. We have joined many international organisations. Without signing the Rome Statute, we could not join the International Criminal Court. Now, an investigation of the war crimes against us is starting. Without this we could not move on so I really disagree with the professor but respect what has been said. This is the case for the recognition of the state of Palestine and nothing has happened. We are suffering since 1948 and 1967, and now with another nakba in Sheikh Jarrah, yet still the Palestinians could say their words. In East Jerusalem, the people are defending the Al-Aqsa mosque and defending their right to exist in East Jerusalem as a part of Palestine.

Regarding dialogue, with whom? The problem is that Israel is an extremist government that does not recognise the rights of Palestinians. The international community have tried to facilitate dialogue but rights have been oppressed and the Palestinian people have been under oppression since 1967 and that continues. We talked to the Israelis. We sat at the table, negotiated and signed the Oslo agreement, which recommended that after five years we could talk about the final status of the water, refugees and Jerusalem but we have not got anywhere since.

If you want to have dialogue, you need to have at least equal parts. Recognising the state of Palestine is one of the things that will strengthen our position in any future dialogue or negotiation with the Israelis. We are not only focused on the recognition of Palestine but also on the rights of the Palestinian people. However, if it is ignored, it will not be easy to sit with people who ignore our right to exist.

I will hand over to Professor Erakat or Dr. Power to comment on the other questions.

I will go to Mr. Meehan on the matter of the refugees and then to Dr. Power and Dr. Erakat for closing comments. I do not see any committee members offering, although I do not have a full screen in front of me.

Mr. Éamonn Meehan

The objective of the demolitions is to create space for settlers to move in to occupy those houses or build additional settlements in those spaces. All Israel wants to do is to remove these people. It has no concern for their welfare and does not care where they go so long as they move outside of the boundaries of East Jerusalem into one of the towns or cities in the West Bank. There is no concern, as the UNOCHA can confirm, for these people and what happens to them. If they fall on tough times, they have to be looked after by the UN or charities or taken in by family members. Their permanent residency status in East Jerusalem is tenuous. They are not citizens and do not have citizenship rights. In any event, the Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem live in a situation of permanent neglect by the Israeli municipal authorities, whether it is the collection of waste, the provision of education or healthcare, or anything else. They have a fraction of the annual expenditure per capita of the Israeli citizens of the country. It is a situation of permanent neglect and it is all part of the same overall strategy.

On freezing diplomatic relations, as Dr. Power outlined, there is a suite of measures. Freezing diplomatic relations might not be what would be done in the first instance. It should be there as an option, but not on top of the list from the start.

Dr. Susan Power

I have some experience of coming into contact with people who have just suffered from having their house demolished. I recall approximately two years ago we visited a family whose home had been demolished an hour earlier. It is like entering a removal or a funeral. The house is completely destroyed. There are bits of clothing, smashed furniture and children's toys. I remember profoundly seeing all the chairs lined out, like one would see at a removal, and neighbours coming up and shaking the family's hand. There was such a palpable sense of grief and sadness at what was taking place, and of hopelessness.

We have had field researchers working in Jerusalem who have left because there are so many house demolitions and there is nothing we can offer. All we can do is keep documenting and asking the international community to do something. The families are pushed out of their area and usually end up staying with relatives. They are displaced further and further. The whole point is to displace people so everyone is confined within bantustans and pockets of territory. We are seeing that unfold in front of our eyes and it is an ugly truth. It is all part of the ongoing apartheid. There is very little people can do.

In some of the communities in the Jordan Valley, such as Humsa al-Fawqa, international aid has been received and Ireland has donated aid. Even those shelters and homes have been demolished again. There are continuous demolitions in areas that Israel is eager to rapidly colonise and settle. We have people who are doubly displaced and sometimes have been displaced a number of times and are living in precarious situations. It destroys families and the ethos of the family. Often, the family is displaced between numerous relatives and the family unit is broken up into different households as different relatives offer shelter. There is a deep hole ripped in the fabric of Palestinian society by these house demolitions.

There has been some discussion on the vaccine. Israel is the occupying power and has obligations under the Geneva Conventions to supply vaccines to the occupied territory. We saw Israel straight away reneging on its obligations as occupying power. The Geneva Conventions include provisions specifically providing for pandemics. There are very clear obligations. Israel refused and denied the vaccine to the protected Palestinian population under its effective control and administration. In the end, it vaccinated some Palestinian workers who were travelling into the territory but it never fulfilled its obligations to the Palestinian population and continues to renege on its obligations to provide the vaccine.

Dr. Noura Erakat

I will make three brief comments to close. The first is to emphasise the idea that Israel has an obligation to treat the Palestinians in the pandemic. Not only is there a blatant contravention of that obligation as Israel sends its excess vaccines across the world to curry greater diplomatic relationships with new allies, it is now before our eyes evicting Palestinians from their homes when they should be staying at home for shelter to avoid spreading the pandemic. In addition, they are using tear gas on protesters during a pandemic that primarily affects the lungs and breathing. There is not only a disregard to treat the Palestinians, but an exacerbation of that vulnerable condition through policies of outright violence. "Neglect" would be too kind a word.

Second, regarding what seems to be a disagreement between me and the ambassador, I do not think that disagreement is significant to our point. Whether one believes and aspires to a state or to a different political configuration for coexistence, peace and justice is not the point. My point of demonstrating that it is no longer that the state is obsolete is to highlight how the peace process framework and diplomatic approach has become counterproductive to achieving any outcome with dignity for Palestinians. It has become a way for those who want to express solidarity with Palestinians to retract into a crouching posture and say they support peace, want to see two states and dialogue and that we need to go back to the negotiating table.

That becomes a way of deflecting the responsibility to say that there must be accountability and sanctions and that there must be a restraint on the more powerful party that is oppressive in what is a clear disparity in the distribution of power. Israel can prevent President Abbas from travelling outside Palestine. There is no parity in this. What the state framework does is obscure the power disparity and that this is an issue of rights, belonging and resisting erasure. Regardless of the political outcome, I urge the committee to insist on accountability, the application of a rights-based framework, sanctions, pressure and naming the power imbalance instead of using an obscuring framework that allows even the United States, which supports Israel in fulfilling this violence, to say that it believes in the two-state solution, which has not only become empty, but a liberal veneer for violence.

In response to the question on what will happen to the Palestinians in question, they will become like me and the majority of Palestinians who live outside Palestine. Of the global Palestinian population, 66% live in exile. They become refugees. They become people who are living in the diaspora for the rest of their lives. That is why this struggle is not about finding a new home. It is about remaining on the land. Palestinians understand that, if they are removed, they can never return. That is what is at stake and why even the topic of Palestinian refugees has become so inflammatory within Israel discourse. They equated the right of refugees to return and belong with an existential threat to Israel. That is what we must resist.

I thank the committee again for this opportunity. I look forward to seeing how it becomes part of the solution in a legacy of freedom and justice.

I thank Dr. Erakat for concluding our proceedings on what was a very strong, if sombre, note. I thank all of our guests - the ambassador and head of mission, Dr. Abdalmajid, Mr. Meehan, Dr. Power and Dr. Erakat - for what was a fine presentation to us. It will be fundamental to the report that we will compile during the summer months. Tragically, the current wave of violence continues in Jerusalem and Gaza as we speak. I speak for all members of the committee when I say that the right to protest and freedom of assembly in East Jerusalem are as fundamental a pair of human rights there as they are anywhere. They are fully recognised in international law and must be upheld. There are Palestinians in East Jerusalem all of whom appear to me to be protected persons under international law. As such, the international community has a firm duty not only to speak up, but to act. The current wave of violence must cease immediately, there needs to be an urgent de-escalation on all sides and there needs to be the promotion of dialogue in the immediate term. We will speak to the ambassador again in the context of our work.

We will adjourn until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday when we will meet the Israeli ambassador to Ireland, Mr. Ophir Kariv, and representatives of the Ireland Israel Alliance. I thank the committee's members and our guests for their participation and I apologise again for the earlier technical glitch. My thanks and appreciation go to Ms Ciara Kilbane of our secretariat for the manner in which we were able to have our proceedings completed as envisaged.

The joint committee adjourned at 2.45 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 13 May 2021.