Situation in Gaza: Discussion

I thank all members who have turned up and welcome them to the meeting. Apologies have been received from Deputies Olivia Mitchell, Eric Byrne, Ruairí Quinn and Seán Crowe who, unfortunately, have prior commitments. The draft minutes of the meeting on 23 September have been circulated. Are they agreed? Agreed. Unless there are other matters arising we will proceed with the main business of the meeting.

I invite Mr. Raji Sourani to bear witness. We are delighted to have the witnesses here today. We have heard much about Mr. Sourani, his reputation and the work he has done on behalf of the Palestinian people. It is an honour for our committee to have him appear before us today. He is the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. I also acknowledge the presence of Mr. Garry Walsh, from Trócaire, who is accompanying Mr. Sourani. The Palestinian ambassador is also here. I extend a warm welcome to Mr. Walsh and Mr. Sourani. The presentation provides an opportunity for members to receive a first-hand account of the current position in Gaza, in particular the role of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. We would like to hear a little bit about the centre, how it works, the obstacles it faces and the work it does every day in Gaza. Some of us have been to Gaza and have seen the situation at first hand. We are looking forward to the presentation, after which we will have a question and answer session.

I remind members, witnesses and those in the Gallery to ensure their mobile phones are switched off completely for the duration of the meeting as they cause interference, even in silent mode, with the recording equipment in the committee rooms. I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice that, where possible, 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.

I call Mr. Walsh to introduce our special guest, Mr. Sourani.

Mr. Garry Walsh

I thank the Chairman and committee for inviting Mr. Sourani, the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, to discuss the current humanitarian and human rights crisis in the Gaza Strip. Trócaire has been working in the occupied Palestinian territory in Israel for more than ten years. We work with local Israeli and Palestinian human rights organisations, and have worked very closely with the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which Mr. Sourani established in the early 1990s.

The situation in the Gaza Strip is shocking and the ongoing military occupation of the West Bank, which has been in place for nearly half a century, is one of the great human rights issues of our time. Trócaire has responded to the deteriorating human rights situation, and that is why we are working with organisations like the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

Nowhere are violations of human rights more acute than in the Gaza Strip, which has suffered eight years of an economic blockade and has experienced three different miliary conflicts since 2009. Mr. Sourani will be able to speak about that, as well as the impact of the blockade and the cycles of violence on people living in the Gaza Strip. I am delighted to be able to introduce Mr. Sourani today. He is an eminent and established human rights lawyer and has been defending human rights in the Gaza Strip since the 1970s. He has been imprisoned by the Israeli authorities for his brave work and was twice the Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. He is also a recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and in 2013 was awarded the Right Livelihood award, also known as the alternative Nobel Peace Prize.

I thank Mr. Walsh. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights is a partner with Irish Aid and receives core funding. We are delighted to provide that.

Mr. Raji Sourani

I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to address the committee. Some 22 years ago, the Oslo Accord was signed between President Arafat and the late Prime Minister Rabin. It was intended to be a confidence building measure between the two parties and to conclude the right of self-determination and independence by having a Palestinian state by 4 May 1999. Some 22 years later in the occupied territories, there is a criminal, illegal, inhuman siege, which is suffocating 2 million people in one of the most densely populated areas on earth. There is no movement at all for goods or individuals. The population is being sent back to the Middle Ages. In addition, the occupation also included three major offensives during this period and civilians and civilian targets were in the eye of the storm. Obviously, during the offensives war crimes and crimes against humanity took place. There has been no accountability on any level by the international community and, accordingly, no deterrents. What happened will be repeated again and again against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas operates in Gaza, and perhaps we deserve what happened for many reasons, but the situation in the West Bank is not better than death by any standard. That is why the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, which is the policy of the occupation, is taking place, in different ways, administratively, legally and practically. The Judaisation of Jerusalem is taking place day and night as a continuation of the fait accompli policy of this belligerent occupation.

The annexation and apartheid of the rest of the West Bank was almost completed, something which was considered by the International Court of Justice as a crime and which should be abolished completely. Israel took no notice of that. Settlements activities are expanding vertically and horizontally. New settlements are built every day. The Israeli occupation devours and grabs more land every day from Palestinians.

Bypass roads ghettoise and isolate Palestinian cities, villages and camps, creating enclaves. It has no means to expand, as hundreds of checkpoints all over the West Bank make movement of goods and individuals a mission impossible. We have more than 6,000 Palestinian prisoners and, although Palestine has been recognised as a state, the prisoners are still considered to be terrorists and are not recognised as political prisoners according to the Geneva Convention. At one time, 47 parliamentarians representing the Palestinian people were arrested and detained with no charge and for no reason. Tortured legally and victims of medical negligence, many lost their lives. Those in charge of the prisoners do not want a repeat of Bobby Sands' hunger strike, but they repress free will and they ensure prisoners lose every way of expressing it. The situation in the West Bank is, effectively, a new brand of apartheid.

So this is the harvest of those accords - criminal siege in Gaza, ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem and a new brand of apartheid in the West Bank. This is unprecedented in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This is not what we as Palestinians are saying; it is being said by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights - all the international human rights organisations. All UN fact-finding missions and all UN rapporteurs on Palestine also say this clearly. Israel, by going on and on with its policy with no deterrents at any meaningful level, believes it is above international law and above international humanitarian law. It is simply practising the rule of the jungle. We at the PCHR represent victims and we believe in the rule of law. We are an independent, professional organisation. Of course, while we do believe that we never had justice under the occupation, our professionalism requires us to have the facts in our hands and to resort to the Israeli legal system and exhaust it. That is why, over tens of years, with thousands and thousands of cases, we have resorted to the Israeli legal system. We have legally documented all of the war crimes but we never, ever achieve justice for our victims. We never have the chance for redress. In hundreds of cases, the Israeli legal system provided full political cover for organised, systematic war crimes perpetrated by the Israeli Government, including the High Court of Justice. The Israeli High Court of Justice legitimised torture against Palestinian prisoners, and it legitimised targeted killing, house demolition, and a lot of other matters that are illegal under international humanitarian law. This is why, after that, we resorted to universal jurisdiction and that is why we fight cases against some of the Israeli suspects at military, security and political level, as well as those involved in the chain of command whom we suspect committed war crimes in different states, including Europe, the UK, Spain, Switzerland, South Africa and Sweden. Unfortunately, soon after courts in the UK and Spain issued warrants to arrest and investigate some of these cases, apologies came: the laws are changing, providing more legal and political immunity for Israel and its leaders who are suspected of committing war crimes.

The ICC is the crème de la crème of the human experience and when we try to resort to it, it is as if we invented it. Given that we resort to international humanitarian law on human rights, Israel considers it warfare against the State of Israel. Shame on it. Israel also says we are the agents of terrorist organisations and we are misusing international humanitarian law. We are saying, in simple, clear words that Israel practises the rule of the jungle in the occupied territories and against Palestinian civilians. The result of that is obvious and clear; it is incredible and criminal. The result of the last offensive launched against Gaza was 557 children killed and 334 women killed. Very cheap blood, very cheap souls. Hospitals, operating theatres and ambulances are targeted. Shelters and schools of UNRWA which chose to be used as shelters, were targeted day and night. The electricity factory has been targeted along with our sewerage system. Once again, they did not leave anything. They stated clearly they want to send us back to the Middle Ages.

We have no right to be good victims and we have no right to give up. We are a free people who will not accept the status quo. We are entitled to our right of self determination, we are entitled to independence. Israel should choose what it wants. The PLO charter is simple and clearly talks about one secure Palestinian state for the Christians, Muslims and Jews. Olof Palme and Bruno Kriesky suggested that for Arafat but this is interpreted as a call for the destruction of Israel. He agreed upon the two state solution and Gaza was spared including Jerusalem in 1974. Since 1974 the journey has been long, suffering increases and death is everywhere. Of the accords I mentioned, this is its harvest. We did not kill Yitzhak Rabin - they did. The situation is so hard, so abhorrent, that what we ask is not too much, we simply want the rule of law and protection for our civilians. We want to know our destiny and fate and we are entitled to our Palestinian state. The situation may be hard and unprecedented but the way things are now we believe the worst is yet to come, but that does not make us feel despair. We know and we are sure we are on the right side of history, that we will enjoy, and are enjoying our moral superiority in this criminal occupation.

We are sure that tomorrow is ours. We are a free people who believe in the rule of law, not the law of the jungle. We badly need clear-cut support for our aspiration of self-determination and independence.

I thank Mr. Sourani for his very emotional contribution. Since the destruction of Gaza in 2014, what has life been like for a normal family in Gaza? Are the tunnels still active?

Mr. Raji Sourani

There is no movement of goods or individuals. The Israelis are in full control and decide what kind of food we can eat, what kind of clothes we wear and what comes in or out of Gaza. The Israeli High Court of Justice shamefully stated in response to a petition we submitted that nobody should worry about famine in Gaza because Israel counts how many calories each Gazan gets and will ensure nobody dies from hunger. If this is not racism, how else does one describe it?

Trying to move is a mission impossible. As many as 99.99% of residents are unable to move anywhere. A very small percentage, perhaps between 1,000 and 8,000 people from a population of 2 million, are able to move between Gaza and the West Bank. These are businessmen, some Palestinian Authority officials and some sick people who occasionally receive medical care in Israeli hospitals. They move through the Erez checkpoint or Egypt, which opens the crossing at Rafah every two or three months. The Sinai is a dangerous place to travel through but fortunately 4,000 or 5,000 are able to cross at Rafah. Movement outside Gaza is almost a mission impossible.

Regarding the construction of Gaza, after three wars one can physically see the destruction and smell death all over Gaza. The destruction is almost intact and nothing has been reconstructed. UNRWA suggests that, at current levels, it will take between 25 and 30 years to reconstruct Gaza. We are talking about the results of the war. Some 65% of the population of Gaza are either unpaid or unemployed, 90% live under the poverty line and 85% are entirely dependent on UNRWA's food programme, the World Food Programme, etc. Practically-speaking, we have been shifted to become a nation of beggars. Are we so? We have no illiteracy in Gaza and one of the highest percentage of university graduates on earth. We have a strong and skilled business community and a highly skilled working class. However, we do not have a right to be normal and use our potential. We are not even allowed to treat our water or sewage, which is completely polluting our beaches and water table, making the water undrinkable. All this is taking place in the name of security. Our fishermen are not allowed to fish more than three nautical miles from the coast. Farmers in Gaza, which is a tiny place, are not allowed to farm within 1 km of the borders.

Israel is making our lives hell. We only have electricity for six hours each day. We are not allowed to extract and use our gas, which lies just offshore. In simple words, the situation is the biggest man-made disaster in modern history. The law of the jungle applies in that part of the world. That is not a secret and most members are aware of the position. This information has been published by us and all human rights organisations and, therefore, nobody can say, "We did not know." The question is why Israel is not held accountable for the war crimes and crimes against humanity it is perpetrating. I hope the conscience of the world, especially in western Europe, wakes up and follows the good example of Ireland in supporting the rule of law, rather than the law of the jungle.

Are the tunnels still in operation?

Mr. Raji Sourani

The tunnels have almost stopped operating. Nothing has been functioning for the past 12 to 18 months.

I welcome Mr. Garry Walsh and Mr. Raji Sourani, who painted a very grim picture of a deteriorating situation. The phrase "inhumane siege" was used to describe the position in Gaza, which is temperate language considering the serious loss of life and suffering taking place there. Given the other crises taking place throughout the world, the position in Gaza and Palestine has not featured on the front pages of our newspapers and has not been given the ongoing coverage in the broadcast media that it requires.

It is worth noting some of the figures provided to members in a briefing. A total of 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians, were killed in the conflict in 2014. In addition, among the young cohort of the population, 551 children were killed, 3,436 were injured and 1,500 were orphaned. One also has the continued displacement of people and the day-to-day problems facing all sections of society in Gaza. This is a stark reminder of the extremely difficult and totally unacceptable position that many Palestinians face.

What options are available to Ireland to support reconstruction in Gaza and end the economic blockade that has been ongoing for the past eight years? I understand only 1% of the construction materials needed to rebuild Gaza have reached their destination. We are all aware of the great pledges that were made at the pledging conference. As usual, these pledges have not been realised. In fairness to Ireland, successive Governments have honoured our overseas development assistance and humanitarian aid pledges, and this continues to the case. Other countries, as well as the European Union, which has been a good donor, should continue to try to rebuild Gaza.

How can Ireland support efforts to try to ensure accountability for violations of international law in the conflict? Mr. Sourani raised this issue in his concluding remarks. I have in mind the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, in which Ireland participates, and the International Criminal Court.

The European Union is Israel's largest trading partner. Surely, as a union of 28 member states with a population of 500 million, the EU should exert greater pressure to ensure Israel lives up to its obligations under international law. All members, including the Chairman, have raised questions in this committee about products coming to Europe from settlement areas.

Has any country in the European Union introduced realistic labelling obligations to ensure that those products are segregated from others that are imported, via free trade, into the Europe Union? I thank Mr. Walsh and Mr. Sourani for giving us an update on the difficult situation, where many people continue to suffer. It appears there is very little light at the end of the tunnel.

It is very important that Trócaire is before the committee today to remind us of the situation facing Palestinian people because it is an issue that gets pushed further down the list of priorities, in particular given what is happening in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and so on. I have been to the West Bank twice in the past three years and have certain memories that will always stay with me. One is controlled movement, the appalling way Palestinian people are treated when they try to go to work, to visit people or to avail of education. Another is the small farming village of Einun and how it stood up to the aggression and encroachment. I remember in Hebron watching some newer settlers who, I understand, are much more aggressive than the older Israeli settlers who have been there from the beginning. They walked around the lovely town carrying Kalashnikovs, Uzis or whatever, and that was normality.

I also think about some of the very positive things, such as Al Rowwad and its theme of beautiful resistance, the youth groups, the theatre groups, the music and the composers we met there. Great work was done on heritage in Birzeit. There are many contradictions and how people survive in that situation I do not know. How they survive in Gaza is almost impossible to comprehend. There are two phrases I recall from Mr. Sourani's speech which resonated with me. One is that the situation is making the region a nation of beggars and that the people have the right to be normal. I am interested in his answer to the question put by Deputy Smith.

I have some questions. I refer to people with disabilities. Whatever about able-bodied people trying to cope with living in such a horrible situation, people with disabilities must face increased difficulties. I would be interested to hear what sort of support is available for such people.

A major conference in New York at the weekend discussed sustainable development goals. Does Mr. Sourani see any scope in that for a better outcome? It would make one lose faith or confidence in the UN. I do not know how he feels about that. Humanitarian aid is not a substitute for the denial of dignity or rights. How do people hold on to their dignity in Gaza when they face such deprivation and destruction?

People here know of my support for Cuba. I do not know how many resolutions were passed by the UN, but 97% or 98% of countries agreed that the blockade should stop. It has not stopped and the same situation faces Palestine and Gaza when it comes to UN resolutions. Does Mr. Sourani have confidence that the UN can do anything?

Mr. Sourani and Mr. Walsh are very welcome. I wonder what we can do. This committee has passed very strong resolutions and has passed them on to the Government. During one summer, as a result of an Israeli blitzkrieg, there was an emergency recall of the Seanad and some very strong speeches, which were broadcast on YouTube and so on, were made. That seems to have had very little effect.

I was struck by two phrases used by Mr. Sourani, namely, whether the Israelis now presume themselves to be above the law and that what obtains in Gaza is the law of the jungle. What can we or Mr. Sourani do? There are human rights protocols attached to the EUROMED agreement, which is a trade agreement between the European Union and the state of Israel. They are never monitored.

I wonder, in light of Mr. Sourani's professional involvement in these human rights cases, whether the Palestinian authorities or his organisation have thought of sending a dossier to the European Union committee which supervises EUROMED, telling it about clear and acknowledged international war crimes? The Israelis have admitted that, when they said the blitzkrieg was a result of the tragic kidnapping and murder of three Israeli youths. That is obviously collective punishment.

Could Mr. Sourani give us any update on the Palestinian case against Israel before the International Criminal Court?

I would like to join in the welcome to Mr. Sourani and Mr. Walsh. What they outlined to us is truly shocking and appalling. The statistics provided to us by Trócaire highlight the appalling situation that exists. I apologise for having to leave the meeting; I missed some of the other contributions. The witnesses referred briefly to the lack of construction activity in Gaza since 2014 and the fact that it would take 25 years to reconstruct all the buildings that had been levelled. Has the policy on the transportation of building materials been loosened up in recent times? What progress, if any, has been made recently? It was stated that 80% or 90% of the water is unfit for human consumption. How is the community managing to survive in Gaza with that level of contamination and lack of infrastructure?

The question we all have to ask is how, politically, we can keep the pressure on Israel to loosen up on the curtailment of activity in Palestine and to improve the human rights situation. It appears that it is ignoring all international law. Nobody is being brought before the International Criminal Court. Why is that? What can the international community, Europe and, in particular, our Government do to bring pressure to bear on the international community to examine the very serious situation which has persisted? Over 2,000 civilians, as well as 550 children, have been killed in the past seven years. Everybody seems to be acting with impunity. They are my main concerns.

Mr. Walsh and Mr. Sourani referred to legitimised torture and killings and to the fact that the people have been turned into a nation of beggars, a phrase which struck me very severely, depending totally on the goodwill of other nations to provide the very basic necessities of life. This is a major human rights situation which involves crimes against humanity. How can we act collectively to bring the people responsible before the International Court of Justice? How can we help the people in Gaza? We are all here to learn how we can assist Mr. Sourani even further and to compliment him on the wonderful work he has done to highlight all of the human rights abuses over a long period of time. We all feel pretty helpless and disappointed that very little progress has been made, particularly in recent years.

I have two speakers, so I will bring them in. Members can come back in again if they have further questions.

I thank Mr. Sourani for his presentation. The issue of the torture of prisoners is of concern to Ireland. What Ireland can do is win the case of the hooded men in the European courts. That case has been used for the justification of enhanced interrogation techniques such as food and sleep deprivation, white noise, and stress positions. Ireland lost that case against the British Government in the 1970s but there has been further evidence on the effects of that torture on those people. If that case is won, it would mean that countries such as Israel could no longer use those techniques because they would be officially deemed as torture. That is something that Ireland can do but we must win that case because it is not only about the hooded men but also about countries using a European Court ruling from the 1970s as justification to do to Palestinians what was done in the North of Ireland.

I have been to Israel, the West Bank and Palestine. It is a most distressing situation. In Jerusalem they are buying houses house by house and community by community. There is a famous quote by a Prime Minister of Israel who said that as resolutions were being passed when they were building settlements, they were passing resolutions but he was creating facts. The facts they were creating were settlements in the West Bank. We know from our own history the consequences of settlements centuries later.

The United States is a big player in this and it can bring influence to bear because without the United States, Israel can do as it wishes. The United States has had a very positive influence on previous peace negotiations. The Irish Defence Forces have been in Lebanon. There is a very telling book written by a member of the Irish Defence Forces in which he points out that because of an Israeli Defence Forces targeted attack on a compound of women and children in southern Lebanon which killed hundreds of women and children, one of the 9/11 attackers, on seeing the TV report of that attack that killed innocent women and children, decided to join the jihad. That is why he flew a plane into the Twin Towers. If that is not enough of a compelling reason to change the situation in Israel and Palestine, General Petraeus and General McChrystal have said quite clearly that US foreign policy in the Middle East is killing US soldiers. There is no more compelling reason for the United States to change its course on Palestine, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank than that, yet we see no change. Unfortunately, the settlements continue to grow. When Ronald Reagan was President of the United States, there were 40,000 settlers in the West Bank. Today there are half a million, and that figure continues to grow. It is a problem that will only get worse and become more intractable.

Ireland's role in helping the people of Palestine is winning the case of the hooded men to ensure that when Mr. Sourani goes back into court, the Israeli Government cannot use that European Court ruling as a defence for what is really torture and which was wrongly classified as enhanced interrogation techniques by the European courts because they were misled and information was withheld from them.

I thank the Chairman and apologise for being absent. I had to go to the House for a question. I regret that I missed the presentation but I am reasonably familiar with it because I have visited the territories on a number of occasions. I have another angle on the issue. I think it is appalling that human rights abuses continue with impunity. Seemingly, nobody can influence those who matter to make them to stop.

There are a number of reasons for that. One is the number of competing atrocities globally at the moment that have taken the focus away from Palestine in recent years. In turn, this has affected any possibility of there being a global focus on the issue, notwithstanding the fact that these are very serious issues and serious human rights abuses are continuing, which they should not be.

Let us go back to the discussions we have had in this committee on numerous occasions in the past. There is no focus on that area at present. No one is saying we must do something about this. There is no peace process in place. There is no stage on which the various protagonists can address their issues, whether they be right or wrong. There must be some structure whereby those who are aggrieved can make their case. This has to happen at local level, in New York or Washington or wherever. That is missing at present. We know from our experience in trying to transition from war to peace that if the structure is not in place to further a peace element, the trickle-down does not materialise and there is no focus on the need to address the human rights issues or the issues that are causing the problems.

I will finish by saying what I have said many times in the past in respect of other situations. As long as people focus on the past they are never going to resolve the future, but there is no focus on the present at the moment in respect of that subject. I do not pretend to be an expert in the area but I know that if there is no structure in place to address the issues to which the witnesses no doubt referred in their contribution, we are going to remain where we are. The sad thing about it is that things tend to get worse. An atrocity today becomes a worse atrocity tomorrow by way of retaliation or response. I cannot emphasise enough the necessity of intervening in a positive way by putting in place a structure for discussion.

There were some questions in between all the statements. Perhaps Mr. Sourani and Mr. Walsh could answer some of the questions.

Mr. Garry Walsh

I wish to respond to some of the questions and comments on Ireland's role and the European Union's role in leverage regarding trade. There was a question regarding settlement products and the labelling of settlement products. In the EU the only states thus far that have introduced guidelines or regulations on the labelling of settlement produce are the United Kingdom and Denmark. There is momentum at EU level to introduce EU-wide guidelines on labelling. The EU High Representative, Ms Mogherini, has made some positive statements recently in that regard. There are hopes that perhaps before the end of the year we might even have movement on that issue.

The Trócaire position is that we are hearing about grave violations of human rights. Mr. Sourani has eloquently put the case to the committee. Matters of grave violations of human rights are not matters of consumer choice. We need a far stronger response from the European Union and the international community. We maintain that a ban on trade with the Israeli settlements is necessary. To its credit, Ireland is the only EU member state that has publicly supported such a ban. Labelling is an important first step but the EU should move towards banning settlement products.

Senator Norris mentioned the issue of the EU-Israel Association Agreement which regulates trade between the EU and Israel. He referred to Article 2 which holds that the agreement is based on human rights. However, there are no adequate mechanisms to monitor it. The agreement is conditional on human rights but it is not monitored. There is a sub-committee involving the EU and Israel on human rights but it is not effective. The matter needs to be brought up at EU Foreign Affairs Council level. It must be raised at political level. We maintain that Ireland should raise the matter at that level.

Before I call Mr. Sourani to reply to the questions from members, we have the unusual matter of a vote in the Parliament this morning. We do not normally have a morning vote but there is a vote at the moment. I will suspend the meeting until the vote is finished. Immediately after the vote is finished, Mr. Sourani will have ample opportunity to set out his answers.

Sitting suspended at 10.55 a.m. and resumed at 11.10 a.m.

My apologies to our witnesses for the delay caused by the vote. Mr. Sourani was about to reply to the questions of members. Mr. Sourani, I will hand over to you again.

Mr. Raji Sourani

I am actually positively shocked at the level of up-to-date knowledge of the members of the committee. This is something very positive and reassuring for us. We do not occupy Israel. Israel has occupied us for the past 48 years. We do not have nuclear arms. Israel, according to Mordechai Vanunu, has 85 warheads, although that was 15 years ago. We do not have the fourth mightiest army on earth. Israel does. Unlike the Israeli army, we are not overseeing a belligerent criminal occupation, but we are always accused of being the victimisers of the occupation. It is like something from Kafka in the way it is always represented.

What can Ireland do? I am keen for this respected committee to write to the foreign Minister about specific points. Ireland is a member of the UN Human Rights Council. A fact-finding mission from the council has just concluded and the report has been approved and endorsed by the Human Rights Council. I suggest strongly that Ireland, regardless of whether it is a member, as it has done previously, should take the lead in this regard and take the recommendations of the fact-finding mission and try to ask Europe to act accordingly. This means trying to implement all the recommendations, including referring the report to the International Criminal Court to investigate what has happened in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The point of departure is the criminal, illegal and inhuman siege on Gaza. These are not our words. They were said by the guardian of the Geneva Convention, the International Committee of the Red Cross. The ICRC has used the words "siege," "illegal" and "inhuman," as well as statements to the effect that collective punishment against Palestinian civilians should be abolished immediately and completely, not partially. These words come from an ICRC public statement. Nothing less or more than that should happen. The siege should be abolished.

It is unacceptable to us that Europe provides more legal and political immunity to suspected war criminals. Article 1 of the Geneva Convention sets out in clear-cut terms the obligation of the high contracting parties.

It states that the high contracting parties of the Geneva Convention should ensure the due applicability of the convention. Therefore, we are talking about a legal obligation on states. It is not a proponent, it is not political. They have to do it. This is not a Palestinian invention; it came after the Second World War. It is there to protect civilians at a time of war. Accountability is a must, not only to take care of those who committed war crimes, but to deter them and others and ensure this does not recur.

Fourth, there is not a single word in the Oslo Accords about international law, international humanitarian law and human rights. This is not a coincidence. We know the Israeli legal team. It numbered 38, headed by Mr. Joel Singer, one of the top-notch lawyers and the ex-military prosecutor in Israel. Also, there was no legal adviser for the Palestinian negotiating team. That is why, when we used to say constantly to respected foreign Ministers and other bodies in the European governments we must ensure respect for the rule of law, democracy and human rights, there was always the counter argument that they understand that fully but they have also to take care of peace and security. Peace and security implies victimisation or the marginalising of the rule of law, democracy and human rights. The question is, since when did the rule of law, democracy and human rights contradict peace and security? These are complementary. After 20 years, this showed this was absolutely wrong because the harvest we are having right now is the rule of the jungle.

Regarding point number five, all that Palestinians seek and ask for is simple. We do not want more than the rule of law. One is conveying a message to the Palestinian people and to the region and it is a very vital, important, strategic message. We hate bin Laden and ISIS for the simple reason they operate under the rule of the jungle and if the people feel the West is on the same faulty steps and does not apply the rule of law, then the people will be very confused. Ireland is a unique position. It has the experience and the moral authority to lead at European level the way for rule of law at that part of the world in this precise conflict. This, including the encouragement of using the International Criminal Court, ICC, is needed badly.

Regarding the United Nation's efficiency there, of course, the Quartet, of which the United Nations is a party, is complicit in the siege. This is unique because what the United Nations should do is observe the rule of law and try to provide protection for the civilians under the occupation.

What is happening is that the United Nations is part of this siege according to the Quartet resolution. It is unprecedented in the history of the United Nations.

The problem of the handicapped in Gaza is serious and chronic. It is one of the problematic issues for many reasons. These people not only have traumas, they also have personal or family problems. This is a societal problem. We are talking about tens of thousands of handicaps as a result of these three wars in the past five years. Needless to say, besides the handicapped people problem, we have as well the psychological problem of the people. There is a deep level of anger and frustration and that has been reflected negatively on the community.

I thank Mr. Sourani. I have only one question, although members may have others. Has the situation in the wider Middle East affected the people of Gaza? Mr. Sourani spoke of ISIS and militant groups. Have they infiltrated Gaza?

Mr. Raji Sourani

Why is Israel imposing the siege? Why are they sending us back to the Middle Ages? Why do we not have electricity? Why have we sewage polluting our entire life - sea and land, including the water table? Why have we no connection to the outside world? Why have people this level of poverty? That all leads to one outcome. That provides the entire environment and ingredients for the recipe of ISIS. One has no hope for tomorrow. There is death and poverty all over the place. One has nothing to lose, and that is the recipe. It is a miracle we do not have al-Qaeda in Gaza. I am not saying we do not have ISIS or al-Qaeda in Gaza. There are may be some pockets here and there. Chapeau for Hamas because it is taking care of this phenomena inside the Gaza Strip which, by a miracle, we do not have as a real phenomena all over the place. I am not worried about that, but definitely nobody would guarantee anything for the future.

As I stated, the recipe is there with all the ingredients to have such a situation and I do not know how matters might develop with time. That is why those, like me, who are angry and frustrated, who see the rule of the jungle operating and who see the civilised western governments providing legal and political immunity and not caring really about the applicability of the rule of law and international law, see what we have in that part of the world as the Roman Empire rules where there is law for masters but no law for slaves. We, the Palestinians, are considered like slaves. We have no holy blood, no holy souls and it is fine if we are killed or persecuted. What seems most important is Israeli Jews, not that every human being is holy, irrespective of colour, sex, nationality, race or religion. That is why we do not want to have selectivity.

A couple of days ago I came from London, and on the plane I read the Daily Mirror. There was an interview in it with the Prime Minister of the UK in which he said that Assad should not be in power because he commits war crimes and crimes against humanity and that he should be held accountable and moved from authority. I agree 100% with the Prime Minister of the UK, but this applies to Israel on the same level. They are committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is not a secret. It has been broadcast live on air in real time with the whole world watching it.

Israel has asked the Pope to apologise because he knew about the Holocaust and did not react. Can anybody say they do not know what is happening with the Palestinians? They know and they have to act, otherwise there will be this alternative - the rule of the jungle. This is not something good. It is ugly and bad and not needed.

I thank Mr. Sourani for his excellent contribution here today. I reiterate that Ireland has used its voice at the Human Rights Council in Geneva to draw attention to the human rights abuses in Gaza. We have also commended the work of the members of the UN Commission on the inquiry in Gaza and we will continue to do so where there are human rights abuses. We hope that at some stage in the near future all parties will get together again and, as Mr. Sourani has said, work for a two-state solution, which was the original intention and which we support here in Ireland.

I thank Mr. Sourani and wish him well in his work with the Commission and we will continue to work with Trócaire and other NGOs on the situation in Gaza. I thank Trócaire for organising Mr. Sourani's appearance here today before the committee. I thank Mr. Sourani for answering the questions in such a comprehensive manner. We will now go into private session.

Mr. Raji Sourani

I thank the Chairman.

The joint committee went into private session at 11.27 a.m. and adjourned at 11.40 a.m. until 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 7 October 2015.