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.