I propose to take Questions Nos. 35 and 36 together.
The use of force by Israeli authorities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory has long been a matter of serious concern to me. I have always accepted Israel’s right to defend itself, and security forces themselves have a right to defend themselves, but consistent and repeated reports suggest a routine use of force, including lethal force, in circumstances where little threat was posed by those against whom it was used. The rules or guidelines governing the use of crowd control weapons are either too permissive or are not being thoroughly enforced. It is notable that different thresholds for the use of force in crowd control appear to apply depending on whether protesters are Israelis or Palestinians. Even in the West Bank, where Israeli military authority applies generally, the reaction of the security forces to demonstrations by Palestinians or Israeli settlers is completely different.
It is important to note also that most Palestinian demonstrations take place in their own home villages or areas, and relate to intrusions by Israeli authorities into their lives there. Demonstrations are routinely subject to banning or exclusion orders which render them illegal, and crowd control weapons are then used against those illegally assembled. In this way legitimate protests are suppressed, and conflated with more serious violent attacks by militant groups. The result is a steady toll of Palestinian fatalities in non-threatening situations which should be wholly unacceptable in any civilised society.
In any situation of military occupation, particularly one so long prolonged, there is a constant risk of security forces becoming desensitized to use of force, of ‘last resort’ measures being routinely or improperly used, and of breaches of rules not being punished or indeed being actively condoned. The publication last month of a report on the use of crowd control weapons by B’Tselem, a noted Israeli human rights group, has helped to highlight these issues.
I have noted with great concern the rise in Palestinian fatalities in recent months, including those cases mentioned in the Question, suggesting that these problems are worsening. These concerns have been raised in recent weeks by Irish diplomats directly with the Israeli authorities, both here and in Israel, and in discussions at EU level. The Irish Embassy in Tel Aviv has organised a briefing of EU Missions by B’Tselem, which will take place tomorrow, to help draw wider attention to their recent report.