Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Monday, 17 May 2021

Vol. 276 No. 3

Situation in Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel: Statements

I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for coming in to update Senators on this important issue and the tragic situation which seems to repeat itself over and over again for the people in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. We extend our condolences to all the civilians who were killed and the families of loved ones who have lost children and family members.

I thank the Minister for coming in and for his words yesterday and work on the UN Security Council.

I am here this evening to address the current cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. It is the latest tragic chapter in a long, brutal and inhumane conflict that has taken an unspeakable human toll.

Let me start by expressing my deep concern at the shocking levels of violence over the past week in Gaza, the West Bank and across Israel. Now is the time for de-escalation, before even more lives are lost. We must encourage all efforts to reach a ceasefire and beyond that, we must find a way to put an end to the repeated cycle of violence which we see over and over again.

The scale of deaths and injuries to civilians is reprehensible. These events are terrifying for Palestinian and Israeli civilians. Protection of all civilians, in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel, is of paramount importance and an obligation under international humanitarian law.

The deaths of Israeli citizens are unacceptable and I repeat my call on all factions in Gaza to halt attacks on Israel immediately. Hamas and other militant groups must refrain from violent and provocative acts, including rockets and incendiary devices launched from Gaza into Israel, indiscriminately targeting civilian populations and infrastructure.

Israel has a right to defend itself but this must be proportionate. I called in the Israeli ambassador last week and conveyed, in the strongest terms, that Israel’s actions, which are causing significant civilian casualties, are unacceptable and that Israel must act responsibly and comply with its obligations under international humanitarian law, particularly in terms of the protection of civilians. The impact of Israeli air strikes on civilians in the Gaza Strip is clearly disproportionate.

The number of Palestinian civilians killed, of whom one quarter were children, flies in the face of humanity. It is just not acceptable. Israel must ensure its security and defence forces act in full respect for the principles of proportionality, distinction and precaution in the conduct of any operations. Accountability needs to be transparent and ensured for the actions of the Israeli security forces. Civilians on both sides deserve the protection of international law.

The plight of children, in particular, is shocking. More than 60 children have been killed in just over a week. No child, anywhere, should have to endure the trauma of an onslaught of rockets and missiles. All violations against children must end, including attacks, or threatened attacks, on schools.

In the Gaza Strip, in particular, children and families have nowhere to run to escape this violence. Unlike their Israeli neighbours, they have no bomb shelters to which to flee. They are locked into a tiny piece of land which is 25 miles long and approximately five miles wide. I have been there a number of times, as have others in this room. It is densely populated, with 2.1 million people who are being bombarded night after night.

The trauma and damage this is doing to children, even if they are lucky enough to avoid physical injury, is hard to measure but it must stop. Time and time again, children are a casualty of history and conflict. They are never a legitimate target, regardless of where they are located or who is located nearby.

Ireland has been urging the Security Council to use its voice to better effect. The Security Council met in two closed consultation meetings last week. After the Security Council meeting on 12 May, Ireland, together with the EU members of the council, Estonia and France, as well as Norway, issued a joint statement in which we condemned the violence robustly and urged maximum restraint in order to protect civilians in line with international humanitarian law.

I addressed the Security Council’s open meeting on the situation yesterday. I underlined that we need to send a clear and united message, and that the Council and its members have a responsibility to speak out. I must say that we are very disappointed that negotiations taking place this afternoon in New York to try to find agreement on a statement have not succeeded - at least not at this time. However, our teams are working hard to find a way to make progress.

I must put on the record that it is hard to comprehend how the UN Security Council - the body in terms of international politics that is there to prevent conflict and to respond to it when it is taking effect to bring it to an end - is unable to agree a clear joint statement on this issue. It is not even able to make a clear statement on the protection of civilians and children or call for a ceasefire. This afternoon the President of the UN General Assembly has convened the General Assembly on the situation, which will meet in plenary session on Thursday.

In the past week I have spoken to my counterparts in the Middle East region to underline the need to protect civilians, bring an end to this violence and move towards political engagement. I have been in contact with the foreign ministers of Qatar, Egypt and Jordan. However, more is needed. The international community should and must come together to enable all efforts to reach a ceasefire immediately. Tomorrow, I will join EU foreign ministers who are meeting virtually in extraordinary session to discuss the hostilities. I will underline the need for strong EU engagement, both on the current hostilities and to address the root causes of this conflict, on which we have tried repeatedly to focus political attention.

I opened my remarks by noting that the events of this month are just the latest cycle in a long and brutal conflict. These conflicts with Gaza have become cyclical, and that cycle needs to be broken by politics and better international engagement. We cannot shy away from the root causes which have been drivers of the tensions at the Temple Mount and in East Jerusalem. I have been forthright in expressing my concerns regarding the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Ireland’s position on this issue is, and will continue to be, based on international law, including Israel’s obligations as the occupying power under the fourth Geneva Convention. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has raised important issues in recent days, stating that a failure to adhere to the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in the conduct of military operations amounts to a violation of international humanitarian law.

I want to speak also about the impact on journalists trying to cover this conflict. All of us were shocked by the footage of the air strike on Saturday which destroyed media outlets in the Gaza Strip. I condemned that air strike in the strongest terms at the Security Council yesterday. Freedom of expression and the work of journalists must be protected, without exception. I want to credit the essential role played by journalists and the media more generally in reporting on conflicts like this one, often at great personal danger to themselves.

I remain deeply concerned about the lack of accountability for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory. I support calls for independent, transparent and thorough investigations into allegations. In this respect, I fully respect the role of the International Criminal Court and the integrity of that court and its prosecutor in carrying out important work.

The cycle of reducing tensions when violence boils over is not enough. I believe that proactive, firm and direct engagement is what is required, by the parties themselves, of course, but also supported strongly by the international community.

We are using our voice at the Security Council to draw attention to these issues and we will continue to speak out at this forum. Along with our EU partners, we will continue to engage in renewed and reinvigorated international and regional efforts, which are necessary now more than ever. As I have said repeatedly in this House, we will continue to speak out against illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory and, in particular, their expansion. We will continue to speak out against the demolition of Palestinian homes and forced evictions in East Jerusalem.

Ireland is firmly committed to a negotiated two-state solution based on international law and in the context United Nations Security Council resolutions that have been agreed. I will continue to demand that the UN Security Council lives up to its responsibilities on the Members' behalf.

I would like to welcome the Minister to the House and acknowledge the fact that he has given this issue priority of attention from the beginning of his Ministry. It is an issue that resonates with everybody in Ireland, so it is important.

I want to begin by acknowledging the death, destruction and the horrendous events in Gaza, the West Bank and indeed in Israel and right through Jerusalem over the last number of days. At one point, the death toll was 184 lives in Gaza and ten in Israel. As the Minister has said, one quarter of all deaths were of children. Whatever the current figures are, they are horrendous. They are a blot on humanity and are to be utterly condemned.

Health facilities have been attacked and two prominent Palestinian doctors were killed. Roads leading to the hospitals and ambulances were shelled and destroyed. As referenced by the Minister earlier, the al-Jalaa Tower, housing the international press and Al Jazeera was razed to the ground. The clinic of Médecins sans Frontières was destroyed and its work was thwarted in a huge way. As has also been said, 2.5 million people have been bundled into Gaza in dreadful conditions. Another dimension to this conflict is the fact that there is a 20% Arab-Palestinian population in Israel and there is serious civil disorder, violence and destruction there. Last week we discussed the Ballymurphy massacre in this House. What all of that proves is that might is not right. It must stop.

I would like to focus on the backdrop to this conflict for a moment. In the West Bank in 2021, 350 structures were demolished and 468 Palestinians were displaced. In February alone, 153 properties were destroyed, displacing 305 people, including 172 children. There has been a 65% increase this year in monthly demolitions. Since 1967, 250 settlements have been established in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, inhabited by 650,000 settlers. Accelerated expulsions and home demolitions are a common feature now and there has been a 25% increase in them in the last two years. Notable examples include the expulsions and demolitions in the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods, which have caused huge difficulty. Some 640,000 settlers are residing in the West Bank under Israeli military control. Israel withdrew from Gaza but maintains a blockade.

I have set the background.

We are using our voice at the Security Council to draw attention to these issues and we will continue to speak out at this forum. Along with our EU partners, we will continue to engage in renewed and reinvigorated international and regional efforts, which are necessary now more than ever. As I have said repeatedly in this House, we will continue to speak out against illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, and in particular, their expansion. We will continue to speak out against demolitions of Palestinian homes. We will continue to speak o and forced evictions in east Jerusalem. Ireland is firmly committed to a negotiated two-State solution based on international law, relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions and agreed parameters. I will continue to demand that the Council lives up to its responsibilities.

I also make the point that the violence and police activity at the Al-Aqsa Mosque made for a difficult situation in the background. The settlements are thwarting the prospect of a two-state solution as they surround Jerusalem.

The critical point is that there has been a provocative background to this violence and there is a need for something to be done. The settlements are in violation of the fourth Geneva Convention, resolution 2234 of the UN, and on it goes. The unemployment rate in Gaza stands at 40%. The basic point is that the UN, the EU and the International Criminal Court, ICC, must combine to act. As the Minister stated, we in Ireland support international law. We condemn violence, whether it is from Hamas or the Israeli side. Given that Israel has might on its side and considering the history and backdrop to this, and the fact that we have not established the two states, there is a particular onus on Israel to take an initiative, to be willing to come to the table and to, almost unilaterally, bring about a ceasefire. The onus is on Israel to lead. I am glad the Minister will meet other foreign ministers tomorrow because there is an onus on the EU to act firmly. I hope the UN can act in concert before a few more days have passed. It is a shame if there is dissension there.

The situation is a catalogue of destructive violence and inhumane activity. It is a blot on our humanity and needs to stop. Ireland needs to be at the vanguard, leading the effort to make it stop.

I welcome the Minister. I agree with everything he said and I agree with everything Senator Joe O'Reilly said. I was listening this morning to our colleague, Senator Black, and she recited a poem that was written by a young woman in Gaza. As I listened to it, and when she got to the point of being given 56 seconds or whatever it was to get out of your home and leave everything behind, I was reminded of my wife's grandfather, Joe Brennan, a founding Senator of the reconstituted Seanad in 1937. He was given a similar notice by the commanding officer of the British forces based in Buttevant as part of martial law. His house was blown up with an hour's notice in 1921. It struck me, listening to the account today, that the poem Senator Black recited dealt with somebody who got out of their house. One must think about the parents of children who did not escape and look at the hatred that is being stored up when considering all of these things. People talk about sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind. This cycle must stop.

I speak as somebody who, like Senator Black, is a member of the European Parliamentarians for Israeli-Palestinian Equality, a network of people from across European parliaments and in the European Parliament who are, effectively, trying to call a halt to the annexation of the West Bank and its de facto absorption into a greater Israel. I also speak as somebody who, as Minister for Justice, apologised on behalf of the Irish people for the first time for what happened in the late 1930s and, indeed, the 1940s in respect of Jewish refugees. I initiated the State funding of Holocaust Memorial Day and the Holocaust educational trust. I have spent a lot of time studying the Holocaust and nobody needs to impress upon me the enormity of it. This year is the 80th anniversary of the Babi Yar ravine massacres. That brings back to us that the Jewish people have been the subject of terrible wrongs. However, two wrongs never make a right. I am not going to compare what is going on now with what went on then but I will say that Gaza is a living hell and that is something which must come to an end. Tolerating or inciting provocative marches through east Jerusalem at the end of Ramadan is comparable, in some respects, to what Oswald Mosley was doing in the East End of London in the 1930s. They are provocative marches designed to inflame and stir up hatred.

Those of us who believe in justice for the Palestinian people in no sense deny the right of Israel to exist or defend itself. I absolutely condemn people in Iran and elsewhere who talk about the destruction of the state of Israel. I condemn that absolutely. However, our opposition to what has happened this week and last week, and to what has been happening in Gaza for years, is based on a sense of human rights and decency. It is not, in any sense, based on an anti-Israeli point of view. I object to the efforts of some people on the right wing of Israeli politics to set a definition of anti-Semitism which somehow prevents me from articulating my opposition to what is happening on the West Bank and, effectively, puts resistance to the extreme right of Zionism into the category of implied anti-Semitism. Nobody can lecture me on anti-Semitism. I have done what any Minister in Ireland could ever possibly do to assist in bringing Irish people to a recognition of the wrongs that Irish society did to the Jews and to society's duty to uphold the rights of Jews. I reiterate Eamon de Valera's great step of bringing the recognition of the Jewish population into our Constitution. This State did that when nobody else was willing to do it.

We must protest and object to what is happening. We must defend the rights of children, be they Israeli, Israeli-Arab, Palestinian-Arab or wherever. We must also protect the rights of individual citizens. The poem Senator Black read earlier evoked in me strong feelings of revulsion and pity. This House must stand with all the other parliamentary assemblies across Europe which have stated that this must come to an end, the cycle must end, that we must stand up for what we believe in and not be afraid to do that.

The Minister is welcome. I commend him on his strong words, comments and actions in respect of this issue to date. He has represented Ireland very well on it. Senator McDowell put it well when he said that Gaza is a living hell. More than 2 million people are, essentially, being suffocated, crammed into tight spaces without basic living conditions. They are living in conditions with which none of us would be able to live. The ongoing escalation of violence in Gaza and the West Bank is completely abhorrent. We have to condemn, in the strongest manner possible, in openly saying that Israel's actions have fundamentally breached Palestinian human rights. They are in breach of international law and we must call that out and be very clear about it.

The Taoiseach has made it clear that the Government is extremely concerned about what is happening in the Middle East and wants to see an immediate end to the violence. We must be clear that Israel's actions are unacceptable and confrontational. There is a reason the violence is escalating. Even though we stress the right to peaceful protest on all sides, I think it is fair to say that Israel's actions are completely disproportionate and in no way justifiable by any means. The events for civilians on both sides are extremely terrifying and deeply tragic for the families who have lost loved ones. The person who wrote the poem which Senator Black read into the record this morning managed to get out alive but we have all been struck by the scenes of children who have been killed in the recent attacks being pulled from the rubble. It would turn your stomach. There is no justification for the killing of innocent civilians and almost a quarter of the casualties we know about are children.

The office of the spokesperson for the Israeli army stated that the most recent attack targeted Hamas's underground military infrastructure and, as a result of the strike, the underground facility collapsed, causing the foundations of civilian houses to collapse too, leading to unintended consequences and casualties.

That is not good enough. There are international obligations to prevent harm to civilians and to prevent the killing of children and innocent civilians, so to say it was an unintended casualty simply does not cut the mustard. The UN Security Council met in a specially convened session and all foreign ministers and ambassadors have called for a ceasefire, yet nothing has happened in that regard. There was also a call for both sides to respect international law, and again that is not happening. There was no sign of even a temporary truce to allow the people of Gaza just to compose themselves and recover those they have lost, who are dead or potentially still alive under the collapsed buildings.

After speaking to Egypt's foreign minister, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, wrote on Twitter that all parties need to de-escalate tensions and the violence must end immediately. However, I must say the response from the US Administration has been disappointing, to put it mildly. We must ask why the UN Security Council failed to reach unanimous agreement on a UN Security Council resolution wording. We spend a lot of time in this Chamber, and in other parliaments and assemblies across Europe, dancing around the very obvious issue that we need the US to step up to the mark and deal with this. If it does not, the UN will continue to be limited in its response and what it can do about this. The entire world, indeed any right-thinking person across the globe, is appalled by what is going on in Gaza. We are looking to the United Nations to address this and it is not addressing it, yet nobody is willing to call out the reason for this and that needs to be said loud and clear, namely, it is the inability or the unwillingness of the US Administration to call for a ceasefire and call on Israel to stop what it is doing. Until the US does this, Israel will continue what it is doing and the innocent Palestinian civilians and the innocent Israeli civilians will be the ones to suffer.

In a televised address, Netanyahu said Israel's attacks were continuing at full force and would take time and that Israel wants to levy a heavy price on the Hamas military group. He said this flanked by his defence minister and political rival, Benny Gantz, in a show of unity. Again, this is utter defiance of the international community that they will not cease, and there is only one country that can stop this right now. We know from current figures that just short of 200 Palestinians have lost their lives, and of those we think 58 have been children and 34 women. This should sound alarm bells right across the international community. It is not acceptable, it is not something we must live with and it is fine to use our words and Parliament to express our outrage, concern and disgust at all this, but until we stop the killing and the violence and see an immediate ceasefire and a meaningful pathway to true peace between both states, this is going to happen again and again and again. More children will lose their lives, more families will be devastated and more lives will be lost.

I join colleagues in utterly condemning the attacks on buildings housing international media and then suggesting it was somehow to take out locations where Hamas was operating. It was clearly designed and intended to try to limit international coverage of what Israel is doing in Gaza, and it probably had the opposite effect. I thank the Minister for his time. It has been a good opportunity for us to give our views on the floor of the House.

I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for coming in today to take this important debate. It is one which I and many other colleagues called for last week but, very sadly, the conflict has escalated since then and, appallingly, we have seen even more killings of civilians, particularly of children, in the intervening period. It is even more important, therefore, that we speak now about this and we support the Minister's strong words in condemning the violence, calling for a united statement from the United Nations Security Council, calling for the upholding of international law, condemning breaches of international law, and condemning in particular the illegal settlement, demolition and evictions that have been carried out by the Israeli Government.

As the Minister said and I think we all agree, civilians on both sides deserve the protection of international law. We are conscious of the appalling plight of civilians in the overcrowded space that is Gaza, that living hell where we see 2 million people living. Overnight, between Sunday and Monday, 54 Israeli jets took 20 minutes to bomb 35 targets largely in and around that region, an area which is so small and so tightly packed. I think we are all clear that the targeting of civilians in this way and the killing of children, journalists and healthcare workers is a war crime, regardless of anyone's views. Just as we condemn the targeting of civilians by Hamas, so too must we condemn the actions of the Israeli Government, which have led to such an escalation of violence and such appalling casualty figures for Palestinian civilians.

We in the Labour Party have called on Ireland and the international community to use every available diplomatic tool to bring about an end to this aggression. We agree it is important that the Minister keep those strong words at the forefront in condemning in no uncertain terms the forcible evictions, the illegal settlements and the illegal demolitions. We call on the Minister to continue to communicate that condemnation to his counterpart in the Israeli Government and to engage with the Palestinian ambassador to Ireland to offer the assistance of the Irish Government to her and her government in seeking a peaceful resolution to this crisis.

It is very distressing that the United Nations has not succeeded in coming together on this, that the Security Council has not come up with a united stance on this, but here in Ireland we must be strong in our continued efforts to ensure there is a peaceful resolution. I must say it has also been disappointing to see the EU High Representative, and indeed the President of the Commission, not taking a stronger stance in support of peace in the Middle East. As somebody who has always stood with the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, we in the Labour Party have always taken a strong position in support of the rights of the Palestinian people. We also call for a comprehensive multilateral peace agreement between Israel and Palestine which respects international law and delivers for the Palestinian people a secure and viable state of their own but which also recognises the legitimate interests of the people of Israel to live in peace, prosperity and security with their neighbours under a two-state solution. That is something which clearly has the support of the Irish people.

Our Government should now go further and pass into law the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 which Senator Black has been so strongly championing and which we in the Labour Party have also been supporting in both Houses and which has such strong support across both Houses. That Bill is before the Dáil, and despite the continued insistence of the Government that it is not enforceable under EU law, we think it should be. It should be something that is now passed, which would ban imports from illegal settlements and would send out a powerful signal that international law must be respected. It would help to support efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution in the Middle East and ensure we do not see this sort of cyclical violence the Minister spoke about and we do not have yet another déjà vu moment where we see the people of Gaza and throughout the Middle East living in fear and we see children speaking about hearing the screams night after night and living in fear of attacks on their homes.

We must take strong action on this. We cannot allow this cycle to continue. It really feels like déjà vu as we stand and speak about the carnage experienced by civilians and children in Gaza and condemn again the illegal settlements, evictions and demolitions. We are all very conscious at this stage of the need to move with greater resolution through the international community, through the United Nations and through the EU to bring about peace in the Middle East. It has been very disappointing to see the US not taking a stronger stance on this, but with our seat on the Security Council, we can really play a very important role and provide a powerful voice for a peaceful resolution.

I wish to share time with Senator Garvey.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

All loss of life must be roundly condemned but we should never lose sight of what we are dealing with here. It is a sensitive powder keg and the initiator, what provoked this current crisis, the lightening rod, as it were, was Israeli provocation, and that should be called out. The Israeli response has also been entirely disproportionate.

They are guilty of war crimes and are in flagrant breach of and have abused international law.

The carnage, wanton waste of life, destruction and slaughter of innocent people, particularly children, are horrendously reprehensible. We all know that; it is well documented. The question is what the free world will do. We should support the Minister, whom I welcome. He speaks for Ireland. We have a special affinity with Palestine. It is not anti-Israel. We love Israel too. We like the people but we must call out barbaric acts. We should commend the Minister. With the utmost respect, he is proudly affiliated with a political party that is not the first port of call for people campaigning for equality, equal rights and respect for Palestine. We must commend and encourage the Minister.

I heard calls from other Members at the weekend for the Israeli ambassador to be expelled. This is not the correct move at this point for the reason cited in the Minister's speech, namely, the need for a collective and unified response. Perhaps we should keep it in mind if it is done in a collective way but a unilateral action to expel the Israeli ambassador from Ireland would not be advisable. At least at the moment, we have access to the ambassador and he can tell the Israeli Government our views on this.

There are a few things we could do. I welcomed President Biden's election but he has been disappointing in this regard. He must be told that his native home in Ireland is most disappointed with him. I know he is not a Donald Trump. I would be worried about the Donald but Joe Biden has let the free world down.

The Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 has been mentioned. In the meantime, Sadaka has said it would love to bring a motion forward and have it supported in Dáil Éireann. This is a most measured and pragmatic response on its part that would recognise there is de facto annexation by Israel of large parts of the West Bank. Will the Government support that small measure? The Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill championed by Senator Black and others has been suddenly trumped. There should be sanctions, although this should not be a unilateral action. All members of the free world - the countries that call this out - should impose trade sanctions against Israel. There are things we can do, although not unilaterally. There could be trade sanctions against Israel to say enough is enough and it is not going to get away with this. It will get away with it, however, unless we act in a tangible way.

I thank the Minister for speaking so strongly about this. In the past, Irish Governments has not been so clear and supportive so I appreciate the Minister coming out strongly on this and using the Irish voice on the UN Security Council. I listened to the Israeli ambassador and I just do not believe him. I think he told lies to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. With all the money, power and modern technology Israel has, it could easily avoid civilian deaths. It is doing it so flippantly. Israel does not value Palestinian lives and does not see them as being equal to Israeli lives. I do not accept the ambassador's excuses. There are no excuses. As the Minister said, there is nowhere to go in the Gaza Strip. It is like shooting fish in a barrel and the Israelis know that well.

I want to distinguish between the Israeli Government and the Israeli people. I have lots of good friends from Israel and they do not support this Israeli Government and its oppression and destruction of the Palestinian people. I put my hand up to go and observe the elections there at the end of May but they have been cancelled. It is great that the national media are covering this issue so much because it has been going for years. I did a fund raiser for Palestine 17 or 18 years ago when friends of mine went there to pick olives and ended up spending the entire time throwing food up to people living in apartment blocks because the people in Gaza were not allowed to leave their homes or go to the shops. This has been going on for years. Now it is coming into the mainstream and people who never cared about it before care about it now. I encourage these people to support the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which has been in existence for many years. We have a good group in County Clare and there are many others around the country.

I went out to the gates of Leinster House last week and was given this lovely mask by the Palestinian ambassador. I would like to see her invited to appear before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence so it can hear what she has to say. The Israeli ambassador appeared before the committee so the Palestinian ambassador deserves to be recognised and invited to appear before the committee.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House for this important and necessary debate. I begin by expressing my sympathies and those of my party and our solidarity with all those who have lost their lives, particularly in the days and weeks of this latest series of incidents.

None of us has the time to do justice to the context that is required in a debate such as this. In the limited time afforded to me, I think it is important to lay out some of that context because the events of the past week did not happen without context. We have laid it out in this House with the Minister in this term and the previous one. I do not seek to be reductive but I will provide a snapshot of that context. There is a coloniser and the colonised. There are those who are implementing apartheid and those who suffer that apartheid. There are those who are driving people from their homes and demolishing them and those who become refugees as a result. There are those who build illegal separation walls and those who are forced to live behind them. There are those who break international law and the Geneva Convention and those who are victims of these war crimes. There are those who cry out for international support, solidarity and help and those who bomb the media outlets through which these people try to do so.

The Minister is in possession of this information, having said he had been to Gaza and other places. He then asked Israel to act responsibly. It strikes me that Israel has no desire whatsoever to act responsibly. What this State and states throughout the world need to do is act responsibly in response to the flagrant breaches of international law by Israel and the vast slaughter carried out against the Palestinian people. We should use the UN Security Council seat for practical outcomes, adhere to the will of the Oireachtas and recognise the state of Palestine, and, as other colleagues have said, implement the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018. I do not doubt for one second the sincerity and forthrightness of the Minister's words, be they in this Chamber or the other House, but it is time he moved beyond words and took action because we owe that to the people who, as has rightly been acknowledged, are suffering, enduring and dying as we speak.

It is good that the Minister has come to the House. I have three brief quotes. The first we heard on "Morning Ireland" on Friday from a 23-year-old Palestinian writer who said:

Then the aeroplanes bombed a target, and the target was children. I saw them. I saw their blood. I saw their remains, to be specific. It was really heartbreaking to see these innocent children getting killed and getting torn into pieces.

The Palestinian foreign minister, Dr. Riyad al-Maliki, said:

There are no words to describe the horrors our people are enduring. Israel is killing Palestinians in Gaza, one family at a time. Israel is trying to uproot Palestinians from Jerusalem, expelling families, one home, one neighbourhood at a time. Israel is persecuting our people, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Some may not want to use these words but they know they are true.

The final quote is from the Israeli ambassador to Ireland yesterday on the "News at One" on RTÉ. He said "the vast majority of people killed in Gaza are Hamas terrorists or Hamas members." How does one begin to address that? I welcome what the Minister said but I am very clear. Words are not enough.

The Palestinians with whom we have been engaging all weekend have been telling us that words are not enough. We have an incredibly powerful voice because we are on the UN Security Council. The Minister needs to use that voice. He can do it very clearly by recognising the state of Palestine. That has to happen now. He should also recognise that we are dealing with an apartheid state. That is incredibly important. We must pass the occupied territories Bill. We must stand up for the people of Palestine. The Minister will be failing them if he does not act. We need more than words.

I wish to share time with my colleague, Senator Higgins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I warmly welcome the Minister and thank him for taking this debate. I also thank him for the telephone call I received from him last night. I am aware that he is extremely passionate about this issue and I know it is very close to his heart.

I want to tell the Minister about a family in Gaza. Yesterday morning, multiple generations of the al-Kulak family, at least 17 people, were killed. The youngest victim, Qusay al-Kulak, was six months old and the oldest, Saadia al-Kulak, was 84. That is an entire family, a total erasure of an entire Palestinian lineage. The Ministry of Health confirmed that 33 people were killed, including Dr. Ayman Abu al-Auf, head of internal medicine at Shifa hospital, following Israeli bombardment of their homes. Five children were found alive under the debris. It is just heartbreaking. I know the Minister gets upset about this just as much as the rest of us do. A Palestinian security source said was it was the most intense shelling since the second intifada, or uprising, that began in 2000. Palestinians were stuck under the rubble overnight until emergency services were able to retrieve them. Despite surviving the bombings, a number passed away when they were trapped under the rubble due to the delayed arrival of assistance.

For every day that passes as we witness the slaughter of Palestinians, remain silent and do not impose sanctions on the perpetrator, the State of Israel, we remain complicit. The least we could do is to fulfil our duties under international law and pass the occupied territories Bill.

I know the Minister works very hard on speaking up for the human rights of Palestinians at the EU and UN Security Council but, as others have stated, condemnation is not enough because it can be ignored. It is only when there are consequences for Israel that it will end the discrimination and oppression. Most EU states, including Ireland, are rightly calling for an immediate de-escalation of hostilities to save lives. However, calling for de-escalation without any meaningful plan for what comes next is gaslighting. Western leaders can call for de-escalation but when the fighting stops, then what? Everything goes back to normal but normal just means institutionalised discrimination and apartheid, with widespread injustice across the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. Those same western leaders will accept this return to normal and move on to the next issue, refusing to take any real action or ensure accountability. Virtually every other tactic has been tried for decades. We have to stop Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. The occupied territories Bill may be the first step in bringing freedom to Palestine and real peace to region.

Others have outlined the numerous human rights violations, the violations of Article 18 rights on the expression of faith, the forced evictions in east Jerusalem, the constant and gleeful expansion of illegal settlements that we have seen in recent years, the provocation, the unacceptable killing of civilians on both sides - but far more in Gaza - and the destruction of media and health infrastructure. We are aware of these issues and we know that the Minister spoke strongly at the UN, as did many others on the Secretary Council, but that a resolution was not passed. There are, however, multiple previous resolutions of the Security Council. We have testimony. We know there have been, in contravention of the Geneva Conventions, violations of human rights and war crimes. There has been a litany of proven and acknowledged violations of human rights. We are not at a point where we need to indicate there might be a concern about that, we know it - it is a fact. The debate now relates to what we do show how serious we are about those human rights violations. We have called on Hamas and the Israeli Government to bring about a ceasefire. What are we going to do about our obligations in respect of human rights? I refer, for example, to our obligations in the context of the judgment of the International Court of Justice to the effect that third-party states should not recognise illegalities nor render aid or assistance in maintaining them. Can we do more there? What are the proposals for how we can do more to ensure that we do not give sanction, give permission indirectly or give a message of impunity with respect to these violations?

On the occupied territories Bill, if the Minister will not publish the advice of the Attorney General, will he explain in great detail to us exactly what are the obstacles? For example, does the Attorney General's advice reflect the ruling in the Rosneft case last year whereby the European Court of Justice said that public policy is a grounds for the imposition of sanctions? That was the case regarding Russia and Crimea and it is the case now. Will the Minister also publish detailed responses to the legal opinions we have put forward? It is not enough to simply say that it may be illegal or not. If we are passionate about international law, I want the Minister to tease out in detail for us how he is trying to find solutions if there are constitutional concerns about any part of the occupied territories Bill, to publish ideas about how we can bring it forward and to tell us what we are doing, in the context of customs, to ensure that no person in Ireland will be indirectly put in a position of supporting illegal settlements and the inhumanity attaching to them. How can we fully confident about that?

At EU level, the message from President von der Leyen was not strong. I want to know that Europe is strong about this. Persuasion is a great power Ireland has but we also need to show leadership through action. We have the capacity to do that. Please follow through.

I thank the Minister for being here to listen to our arguments, which basically are all the same, namely, we want peace and we want sanctions imposed on Israel. I listened carefully to what the Minister said. While I do not doubt the sincerity of his words for one moment, I was concerned to hear him say that the UN Security Council was unable to issue a clear statement regarding the conflict, not even in terms of calling for a ceasefire. What are we about and what is the UN Security Council about if it cannot even do that?

Many years ago in the late 1980s, I spent a number of months in Israel working on a kibbutz located between Ashkelon and the Gaza Strip. It was about six miles from the Gaza Strip. A number of Palestinians worked in the kibbutz I was based in. I worked closely with them. We worked in a pardes, which is a citrus fruit orchard, and we became very solid friends. I spent many afternoons and evenings in their homes, playing with their children, listening to their stories and speaking about Northern Ireland. They were incredibly informed about the conflict in Northern Ireland and they likened it to the situation that was happening - and continues to happen - in Palestine and Israel. I remember all the contradictions at the time. I could not understand being in Bethlehem in the West Bank on Christmas Eve - when people were celebrating Christianity and being Christian to one another - seeing all the snipers on the roofs with their guns and then speaking to people from that land who were not allowed into Manger Square in their own space. I remember being at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and the people I was with were not allowed to go to the Wailing Wall because of cultural differences. I also remember in 1990s when the breakthrough agreement came, which was negotiated by the leaders in Oslo, and the real hope that there was that we were finally on a mutually negotiated pathway to peace. While there was initial promise and progress, that dissipated.

I do not know if any of those present have read Colum McCann's book Apeirogon.

I read it a number of months ago. The word "apeirogon" means "many different sides to every story". It was a word he came across when he was writing about Northern Ireland and George Mitchell. He wrote this incredible book having gone to Palestine and Israel where he had the opportunity to speak to two dads, Rami and Bassam. One was Palestinian and the other Israeli, and they were united in grief over the loss of their daughters. They felt that if they started telling their story, the world would listen. He documented, in the most incredible way, their story of loss, heartbreak and grief and tried to unite their story in such a way that people could perhaps learn from their loss. They weaponised, to a certain extent, the force of their grief to tell the world about the loss of their two daughters, Smadar and Abir.

In less than a week, 60 more fathers have lost their Smadars and Abirs, with that weight of grief and loss. Today, we heard about 50 airstrikes. We know four hospitals and 60 schools have been destroyed, aside from the press buildings and journalists who lost their lives. Many of us have heard the stories emerging over the past few weeks on social media. The most recent and notable is the video of a young Palestinian boy running through a crowd of war-torn men screaming for his father. When he got the front of the crowd we saw the funeral procession was for his father. The pain and sorrow the boy emoted forced every global citizen in the world to look at and live through that excruciating experience with him. We learned that the young boy was killed the following day.

We need to send a very clear and united message that the cycle of violence and bloodshed needs to end now and we need to show huge solidarity. I commend Senator Black on all of the work she continues to do on this.

I remind Senators that there are five Senators left to speak and the Minister must speak again, by order of the House, at 7.25 p.m. I ask everyone to stick to the time allotted.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I have had the privilege of visiting Israel on 14 or 15 occasions over the past 20 years. I remember the first time I visited I got a bus from Tel Aviv to Cairo through Gaza City and Rafah at the border during the intifada. It is so different. It seems that we have travelled so far backwards since then. As Irish people we, to a certain extent, understand more than many other countries conflict, different traditions and how people can hate one another in real terms.

I have been in Gaza City when sound bombs were flown in by the Israel Defense Forces. They flew in at the speed of sound at low altitudes, shattering windows, causing miscarriages, waking people up in the middle of the night and scaring the life out of them because they thought they were being bombed when in fact it is just a sonic boom. I have had stones thrown at me in Hebron. I have also sat around tables in West Jerusalem with ordinary decent Israeli citizens and broken bread with them on Shabbat. I have sat in settlements with people I consider less than decent citizens and argued the toss with them on their illegal occupation of Palestinian lands. I have stood refugee camps in places like Nablus.

I have seen this from both sides. There are of course parallels with our own troubles on this island, yet it is so far away from what we have experienced. In recent days Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested Palestinians actually celebrate when they are bombed because they can say that the world community will come out and get behind them and that the world community supports Palestine. To me, that demonstrates a flippancy that is totally inappropriate given what is happening at the moment and shows an absolute lack of understanding about how the world sees this. If the world was behind Palestine, Israel would not be part of the international community. It would instead be relegated to a small part of the world that is subject to sanctions, but it is not.

I do not think that is our fault; it is primarily the fault of the United States which continues to supply Israel with military aid, trade and investment. Whatever about that, when the Israeli state says things like "Everybody is against us, it is so unfair, it is desperate how the world thinks", one has to ask why on earth it thinks that. When it bombs media buildings in Gaza, hospitals and homes, and every time there is an outbreak of conflict in this part of the world the number and proportion of casualties between the two sides is in the region of a factor of ten, one would wonder why it thinks people would not be appalled by its behaviour.

I do not think the answer is always to say how awful is Israel and how much it breaches international law and behaves in a way that is totally unreasonable. Yet, when one looks at the situation one has to say, without ever taking sides, that all of the might and military power is on one side and, therefore, all of the responsibility is to be borne by Israel. When it reacts disproportionately, which is what it does time and again, it spends its international capital. God knows, there are communities in this country and throughout the world that want to support the Israeli state and the Jewish state and the right of Israel to exist. We all recognise that. The problem is that Israel spends that capital every time it flies bombs into Gaza with only seconds of warning for people to get out of buildings. We can see the effect of that in the casualties that have been reported.

I deeply respect the commitment of the Minister to this issue and the fact he has spoken strongly on it. We as a nation must do that and stand up to these abuses. It is not an anti-Israel position; rather, it is an anti-Israeli behaviour position. I speak to friends on both sides of this debate. The people who are pro-Israel tell me I am anti-Semitic to be as pro-Palestine as I am. I am not anti-Semitic. I am an enormous fan of the Jewish nation and have friends who live in Tel Aviv, Haifa and other cities in Israel who are Israeli and Jewish, but there is a distinction between those ordinary, decent people who do not support this activity and the Israel Defense Forces and state that continue to overstep the mark of reason, go beyond what is proportionate, spend their reputation and throw it down the drain.

It is not anti-Semitic to oppose Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. It is not anti-Semitic to oppose the killing of innocents in places like Gaza. That is not anti-Semitic; it is reasonable and respecting our international obligations and role as a member of the international community to call out exactly this kind of activity. I praise the Minister for doing so and hope he will continue to do so. I hope he will use our diplomatic might to do so at the highest level throughout the world.

I thank the Minister for taking this important debate and for his leadership and that of the officials in the Department on this issue. I agree with the views expressed by most of my colleagues. What is needed is more than just words. The full might and pressure of the international community is needed to ensure there is a de-escalation.

Following on from Senator Ward's points, Ireland is friends with Palestine but we also want to be friends with Israel. I am concerned about some of the message going out to the effect that we are trying to alienate Israel completely. We want to be friends with Israel but friends are people and individuals who tell home truths. In the Jewish religion there is an enormous value placed on truth, as there is on peace and compassion.

Israel has a right to defend itself but, as the Minister said, it must be proportionate. Clearly, in this case the actions of Israel are not proportionate and Israel is not behaving appropriately and is breaching international law. I share Senator Ward's concerns around the conflation of Israel and Judaism, something Senator McDowell also mentioned. To oppose the actions of Israel is not anti-Semitic. That point has to be made very clear. I acknowledge anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe and Ireland, and we need to take a strong stance against it. It is appalling and wrong. Expressing concern and, indeed, anger about the actions of the Israeli Government, however, is not anti-Semitic.

This country has always favoured a two-state solution. We need to continue contributing and campaigning wherever we can to ensure that happens. This is also a test of Irish foreign policy. I have never believed that Irish foreign policy is neutral or should be neutral. Irish foreign policy is non-aligned. When it comes to issues of human rights, the protection of civil liberties and the protection of lives, we cannot be neutral. The Minister must use that voice as much as he possibly can.

The Jewish people, probably more than most, should know about the history of dispossession. Senator McDowell mentioned the Holocaust, but we should also remember the Jewish people suffered centuries of pogroms. They were dispossessed of their lands all over the world. The state of Israel, more than any other, should understand dispossession and the harm it causes.

What can we do in the long run? The danger is this is just a cycle. We keep hearing the same things again and again. We can exert whatever power we have at UN and EU level but let us also see whether there are practical measures we can adopt. Are there things we as a country or as individuals can do to help? I was struck by Senator Ward talking about dialogue between different groups. One of the things we learned during the peace process, and which is still so important, is bringing together people of different traditions to talk and share ideas. Yes, there will be conflict but bringing people into a room is important. We should do whatever we can to bring young Israelis and young Palestinians together, to talk not just about political issues but about other things they have in common. If we have learned anything on this island it is that peace is achieved through dialogue and engagement. I ask the Minister to consider sponsoring programmes that encourage engagement among young Palestinians and young Israelis. Having that engagement among young people over a long number of years certainly benefited the peace process here. That is something to which we can contribute in building a long-term solution to the conflict in the Middle East. I ask the Minister to consider that.

I wish to share time with Senator Seery Kearney.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I do not pretend to know as much about this conflict as others in the Chamber today, and I would not suggest otherwise, but I do understand the feeling of seeing children being blown to pieces and families searching for their children or their loved ones, as well as the pain one sees in communities. There is nothing you can say that can truly explain the sense of loss of the community within Palestine. I commend what the Minister said at the weekend and his strong words on behalf of the Irish people. It is frustrating there is no joined-up communication from the UN Security Council or from America in particular and that they do not feel the need to speak as strongly as the Minister has for the Irish State.

As many other Senators have said, it seems this issue just rolls around every few months and there is no solution. We need to talk about what we can do going forward. As people from a country where there has been very severe conflict, surely there must be a way of achieving peace in the future. As a country with a strong voice on the world stage, it is important we use it as much as we can and as strongly as we can because we do have that strong voice. I echo the comments of everyone else in their support for the people of Palestine.

I thank the Minister for his statement and for the strength of his position over the weekend. As a Government colleague and a party colleague I wish to express my pride in how he has represented our country and spoken on its behalf on the international stage. Since he gave his speech here I have received messages asking me to convey thanks and pride to him.

We need to speak out strongly and convey our horror and how appalled we are that there are children and families in such situations, particularly those described by Senator Black. I once worked in Chicago during an air show where an F16 flew over us and we experienced a sonic boom. For people to have that experience in a conflict zone when they fear their children and their home will be bombed and their family wiped out must be extraordinary. It was frightening in a friendly situation so that must be horrific.

Senator Ó Donnghaile listed the types of people involved in such conflicts. I would add there are also those who think their conflict justifies the murder of innocent civilians and term it collateral damage of a justifiable conflict. There is no such thing. There is no justification for the murder of children. Anyone who deploys a bomb of any sort from either side with the view that on the other end of it innocent civilians and children are going to die is abhorrent and can only be condemned in the most absolute of terms.

When trying to get young people to talk about their sense of obligation to humanitarian rights, we often use an ice breaker. We tell the young people that a child has been left on their doorstep and ask them if they would go out to school in the morning or if it would disrupt their day. The young people say they would not go to school and would have to call the Garda. They go into all the things they would do if they saw a child abandoned and in a difficult position. That is then widened out and they are told there are children in different conflict zones, such as the occupied territories, in that abhorrent position at this moment in time. It is horrific and we stand in condemnation of it.

I thank the Minister for coming in today. First, I express my sincere condolences to the families of the dead, and I include people on both sides of the border in that. It is important to recognise loss is loss no matter the geography, age or religion. However, we are not talking about equal partners in destruction, occupation or violence when we speak about the Israeli occupation and apartheid regime in Palestine. The state of Israel has deployed air strikes in residential areas, attacked a building housing the offices of an international news agency and driven families from their homes. I cannot stand up in this Chamber having seen the footage over recent days and describe it as anything other than bombardment. That has been echoed by many people in the Chamber today.

There are political, cultural and religious sensitivities to this decades-long conflict. I do not even like to use the word "conflict" because that implies there is an equal balance of power and I do not think there is. Let me be clear that my motivations for speaking today are driven by a commitment to peace and a belief in the power of people to learn to live side by side in a respectful manner in which we all fulfil our duty to one another as humans. We have a duty to show each other love and understanding, to be fair, compassionate and open, and to ensure peace for ourselves as well as for children, the elderly, the sick and the next generation.

As a member of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement I am privileged to hear weekly from those in Northern Ireland who lived through the Troubles and worked with the communities on both sides over recent years. Their voices have been ringing in my ears and I would suggest they were ringing in many people's ears over the past week as we watched what has been unfolding. Those people speak of channels of communication, of shared pain and joy, of a culture, community and identity which are not polar ends of a spectrum but rather two sides of one coin. Peace on our own island no doubt often felt as unlikely and as far outside the reach of the peacemakers in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s as it does today for those living through this hellish experience in Palestine.

Yet even in a place so fraught and divided, there is always hope for peace. So many countries stand in solidarity with Palestine because they are informed by their own history and experiences of oppression and their own struggles for freedom from a colonising or oppressing force. We know oppression when we see it and we stand in solidarity with Palestine because it would be a dishonour to those who fought for our own freedom not to do so.

Change, however, comes more often through external influences. Senator Black put it frankly and accurately this morning when she mentioned Ireland's response to apartheid in South Africa. I also welcome the Minister's comments in recent days when he acknowledged that the UN Security Council cannot jointly agree to condemn the slaughter of children who, he rightly pointed out, are never a legitimate target. We really have reached a very sorry and fearful crossroads in international diplomacy. When the Palestinian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Dr. Riyad al-Maliki, addressed the UN Security Council on 16 May 2021 he asked:

What are the tools the international community is ready to deploy to ensure compliance by Israel with its obligations and an end of its occupation, tools it uses regularly in other conflicts? Military intervention? Sanctions? Suspending bilateral relations? Prosecuting perpetrators of crimes? Deploying protection forces? Imposing an arms embargo? Or will it simply rely on the possibility of convincing the occupying Power to end its colonial occupation while history has proven that Israel is not willing to listen?

The time for rhetoric and statements is long past. Action, solidarity and a collective response in the face of violence, oppression and human rights abuses are the avenue we must head down if we want to use our position as a UN Security Council member and leading member of a small group of neutral, peacekeeping nations in the world to the utmost effect. I ask the Minister to ensure that Ireland's response is the right one, befitting the Palestinian people who are suffering unduly.

I thank all of the Senators who contributed to this debate. I now invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, to respond.

I thank all Senators for their remarks. I share their condemnation of the civilian deaths over the past week and, in particular, the child casualties. Senators have raised several points that I would like to address but first I must say that it is clear that the more than 2 million people living in the Gaza Strip cannot endure another war. They have suffered far too much for too long already. The years of the illegal blockade have resulted in extreme hardship, including poverty and food insecurity. Repeated cycles of violence and now the Covid-19 pandemic have further eroded coping mechanisms, leading to a mental health crisis which particularly impacts women and children. Civilians in Gaza simply have nowhere to flee. They are a population under siege, not just now in the midst of this cycle of violence, but constantly for a long period.

I would like to address some of the points raised regarding the civilian impacts in the Gaza Strip, where this latest escalation risks worsening an already poor humanitarian situation. Israel, as an occupying power, is duty-bound to ensure unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip must be ensured, especially through the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings. The UN and its humanitarian partners must be permitted to bring in vital food, fuel and medical supplies and to deploy humanitarian personnel.

Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip may be targeted at terrorists but the damage to homes, schools, hospitals and basic facilities for the people of Gaza is undeniable and cannot be ignored. I am very concerned that UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, buildings have been damaged during the military operations in Gaza. UNRWA plays a vital humanitarian role in Gaza. It needs to be protected and never targeted. According to the UN, 41 educational facilities in Gaza have been damaged, 36 of which are schools. Over 500,000 school-age children in Gaza have been affected by the conflict, half of whom attend UNRWA schools. The damage to UNRWA school buildings is deeply concerning.

I have seen for myself, on visits to Gaza, the importance that families attach to their children's education. I have spoken to many pupils in these schools and heard their stories in English, illustrating the quality of education that is provided. Every child has a right to education but in Gaza school means so much more to these children. It is their chance to escape the grim reality of their daily existence, a chance for them to shape their future and dream of an escape from the desperate cycle that they live in. At the moment, these schools are also providing shelter for over 40,000 internally displaced persons. They must be protected in line with obligations under international law and no threat to an UNRWA facility or UNRWA school is acceptable.

I pay particular tribute to the dedicated staff of UNRWA and other agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, the Red Crescent and various NGOs, who continue to provide critical services and support, even in the most harrowing of circumstances.

While much of the focus today is rightly on the violence and tension we are seeing in Gaza, the West Bank and in Israel too, we cannot and must not shy away from the enabling factors in all of this, namely, Israel's continued strategy of expanding settlements and the discriminatory practices by Israeli authorities against Palestinians. That is not an anti-Israeli statement but a statement expressing concern and criticism of Israeli Government policy, which is a different thing.

Ireland has consistently and strongly opposed settlements and will continue to do so. I am very clear on the illegality of Israel's settlement policy, which can only be seen as a strategy to take possession of Palestinian lands. It is fundamentally undermining a two-state solution with every month that passes and a future, viable Palestinian state. Actions such as the construction and expansion of settlements and the unnecessary destruction of Palestinian property are unlawful under international humanitarian law. Repressive, discriminatory and provocative policies and actions take us further away than ever from the prospect of achieving a just, lasting and comprehensive peace through negotiation and from equality of esteem, which is necessary to achieve the agreement that we seek.

It is hard to deny that what we see on the ground, in particular the impact of settlement policy, is tantamount to de facto annexation. Elsewhere, the position is equally worrying. There is no real prospect of political talks resuming any time soon; let us not cod ourselves. There is an absence that undermines faith in political action as a way forward. The postponement of Palestinian elections adds to this and I am particularly concerned that an entire generation of Palestinians has not yet had a chance to exercise their democratic rights. These frustrations are evident in the unrest across the West Bank in recent days. I have raised these issues in my contacts with the Israeli Government and with the Palestinian leadership. I will be speaking to my EU counterparts tomorrow at an emergency Foreign Affairs Council and will be pushing for an EU response of substance.

I hear Senators' calls for action and I assure them that I have been assiduous in my efforts over the past week. I will continue to support all efforts to reach a ceasefire in response to the current hostilities but also to encourage a reinvigorated engagement by the international community to restart political engagement and a process of peaceful resolution. We cannot return to business as usual after this. This is the fear that so many Senators have outlined but that is simply no longer a credible political option. We cannot return to the flouting of international law, with the expansion of illegal settlements into occupied Palestinian territory, making a two-state solution an ever more remote possibility. We cannot see a return to forced evictions of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank and we cannot return to the demolition of Palestinian property, settler violence and intimidation. We must acknowledge that these actions, occurring at an unacceptable rate for many years, are a source of legitimate grievance among the Palestinian people and undermine the prospects for peace and reconciliation.

Senator McDowell spoke about the consequences, in a post-conflict situation, of the emotion and hatred that are generated by the loss of life and injury.

It makes peacemaking so much more difficult and more painful. The violence must stop. The indiscriminate targeting of civilians must stop. Rockets must stop. Progress requires dialogue, and ultimately there can be no substitute for direct negotiations between the two parties. It is time to look afresh at how we can assist Israelis and Palestinians to bring new momentum to resolving this conflict, but I do not believe that anybody is overly optimistic at this stage.

Let me conclude by stating my commitment to a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. I have been asked to consider introducing the occupied territories Bill again. I spoke to Senator Black last night. It was a conversation we have had before but it was slightly more emotive last night given what we are seeing on our television screens and, certainly from my perspective, the reports I am getting from our teams in Ramallah and Tel Aviv. My focus is on trying to make things happen on an international stage that can put pressure on to move from violence into a cycle of negotiation. I will use all the tools that I can legally and credibly use to do this. I understand the frustrations with the lack of progress with the occupied territories Bill but I must be honest too. Two Attorneys General have given me very clear advice on what is EU competence and what is not. I must be honest that do not believe we can progress the Bill in a legally sound way. There are many other things we can do, however, and I look forward to working with the Senators on those.

I thank the Minister for his concluding remarks.

Sitting suspended at 7.32 p.m. and resumed at 7.50 p.m.