Seanad Éireann - Volume 194 - 26 February, 2009
Middle East Conflict: Motion.
Senator Donie Cassidy Senator Donie Cassidy
Senator Donie Cassidy: I move:
That Seanad Éireann urges the Irish Government to continue its support for moves to establish an independent international investigation into alleged violations of international humanitarian law during Israel’s military action in Gaza including the use of white phosphorus in densely inhabited civilian areas, the use of DIME munitions and the shelling of the UN facilities, including schools, which were being used as places of sanctuary by Palestinian civilians as well as the question of collective punishment and to maintain discussions with the representatives of countries such as Belgium, Cyprus, Sweden and Portugal who have also supported this move and that the independent international investigation also investigate the indiscriminate rocket attacks on civilians perpetrated by Hamas and others, the alleged storage of munitions in civilian locations and the allegations of the shooting of innocent Palestinians by Hamas, the alleged use of civilians as human shields by any actor and the alleged firing of rockets from positions adjacent to UN facilities, to schools and hospitals, furthermore, that Seanad Éireann calls for a freeze on all settlement activity in line with international law, supports a two state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict with the objective of the State of Israel and an independent Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security and urges the Government to continue to fully support such resolution of the conflict and to take all appropriate steps in the UN, at EU level and in its bilateral international relations to promote and achieve such resolution; supports the International Quartet (EU, USA, Russia and the UN) in its work, and other initiatives to resolve the conflict; welcomes the appointment by President Obama of George Mitchell as his Middle East peace envoy; calls on Iran to end its opposition to a 2 state solution; commends the initiative taken by Egypt to mediate a durable ceasefire between Israel and Hamas; and urges all sides to fully co-operate with UNRWA to facilitate the provision by it in Gaza of humanitarian relief.
Deputy Peter Power Deputy Peter Power
Deputy Peter Power: I welcome the opportunity to address the Seanad on the situation in the Middle East following the ending of the Israeli military campaign in Gaza which began on 27 December 2008. The Seanad had a useful discussion last week on the implications of the Gaza crisis for efforts to pursue an agreed two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dick Roche, delivered a comprehensive address to Members setting out the Government’s views on the current situation in the Middle East.
Instead of repeating what my colleague said, I propose to deal with several aspects of the Gaza crisis, including its implications for the overall peace process, which are raised in the all-party motion before the House today. The three-week war in Gaza was a profound tragedy, not only for the affected population in the Gaza Strip itself but for the region as a whole. Its repercussions are likely to be felt for a considerable time. Senators are aware of the clear and consistent position articulated by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on behalf of the Government throughout the crisis, condemning the disproportionate nature of the Israeli military actions in Gaza as well as the totally unjustified and indiscriminate firing of rockets by Hamas and other Palestinian militants against the population of southern Israel.
It is clear that very serious offences and, almost certainly, violations of international humanitarian law were committed by both sides during the conflict. The report issued by Amnesty International earlier this week presented compelling evidence in this regard. The Government has already clearly set out its views that no investigation is needed to ascertain that Hamas and all other militant groups guilty of launching Qassam and other rockets from Gaza into southern Israel on a completely indiscriminate basis have violated international humanitarian law.
The evidence regarding the use of white phosphorus and other highly offensive weapons such as Flechette tank shells by the Israeli defence forces is also extremely strong. The Minister, Deputy Martin, spoke with Mr. John Ging of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, on the day the agency’s headquarters in Gaza city were shelled and set on fire by Israeli forces. Mr. Ging, who is a former Irish Army officer and is well experienced in weapons and munitions systems, was in no doubt about the use of white phosphorus on that occasion. The use of such weaponry in a densely populated area such as Gaza is completely unacceptable, is a violation of international humanitarian law and raises serious questions regarding the conduct of the Israeli military campaign in Gaza which its Government will have to address.
The Minister, Deputy Martin, on behalf of the Government, has been consistent in calling for all the serious incidents of the Gaza war, such as those documented in the Amnesty International report, to be the subject of a proper independent international investigation. The Government welcomes the panel of inquiry established by the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, to investigate those incidents where UN facilities were attacked or the scene of serious incidents. An internal Israeli investigation is also under way but for this to be credible, it must involve independent international experts. The ultimate goal is that there should be accountability where it is clearly demonstrated that violations of international law or serious war crimes have occurred. We owe this to all the innocent victims of the Gaza conflict to ensure that we do not witness again the types of appalling scenes which appeared in the media during the war.
In light of the evidence of what occurred in Gaza there have been many calls, including by Members of this and the other House, for Ireland to review its diplomatic relations with Israel or to push at European Union level for a suspension of the association agreement with Israel. I fully understand why so many people, both in Ireland and internationally, have been prompted to make this call. However, it is important to restate the reasons that any such rupturing or downgrading of our relations with Israel would be counterproductive.
The Government has long made it clear that it is opposed to proposals for trade, diplomatic, cultural, academic, sporting or other forms of boycott against Israel. The reality is that we maintain diplomatic and economic relations with many countries and Governments without implying any approval of particular policies. We must be conscious, from our own national experience, of the importance of dialogue and keeping channels of dialogue open, even with those with whom we have major disagreements. The Gaza conflict has provided visible demonstration, if such proof were needed, that dialogue and compromise, not military solutions, remain the only way to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East. More than ever, we must encourage and support Israeli and Palestinian political leaders in their efforts to negotiate a settlement based on a two-state solution. A policy of boycotts or exclusion would clearly not contribute to that process.
Similarly, calls for a European Union trade boycott of Israel are neither practicable nor advisable. It is clear that such a proposal would not have any prospect of attracting the necessary consensus within the Union at this time. At the same time, recent events in Gaza have clearly demonstrated that the Government was correct to argue that there must be a linkage between overall developments in the peace process and any question of an upgrade in the European Union’s relations with Israel. The Government continues to argue that proceeding with an upgrade in European Union-Israel relations at present would convey the wrong political signal and would not be readily understood by European public opinion. However, we will be pleased to move ahead at the appropriate political juncture. In this regard, it is obvious that we must await the process of Government formation under way in Israel and hope the new Administration which emerges will abide by Israel’s international commitments, including those arising under the road map. It is also important that any eventual upgrade of relations with Israel should be paralleled by similar steps with the Palestinian Authority, as proposed by the Minister, Deputy Martin, and his Cypriot colleague, the Foreign Minister, Mr. Kyprianou, to the General Affairs and External Relations Council last December.
The overwhelming strategic priority, and the prism through which we must constantly view all events in the Middle East, remains progress towards achieving a negotiated two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. As stated by the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, in this Chamber last week, no matter how ghastly the events in Gaza, and however much we need to give attention to their continuing aftermath, nobody can doubt that in the long run, the only way to avert a repeat of the appalling scenes witnessed in Gaza is to work actively to assist the reaching of a comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbours. We must keep before us at all times the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace.
The immediate priority, however, is the situation on the ground in Gaza where the humanitarian situation remains urgent following the ending of the conflict. Efforts are continuing to put in place a durable ceasefire, following the unilateral cessation of hostilities by Israel and Hamas on 18 January. I commend the Egyptian Government on taking a lead role in efforts to produce a sustainable and urgently needed ceasefire which would open the way for full and effective implementation of Resolution 1860 adopted by the UN Security Council on 8 January. The de facto ceasefire now in place remains extremely fragile and has been subject to a series of comparatively low-level breaches which nonetheless underline the urgency of the Egyptian-led efforts.
The indirect talks under way in Cairo are also addressing the crucial issues of the full and sustainable opening of border crossings and intra-Palestinian reconciliation. It is unacceptable, almost six weeks after the end of the conflict, that border crossings into Gaza have not been opened, and kept open, on a predictable and regular basis. This is an absolutely vital step to address the serious humanitarian and reconstruction needs in Gaza. It is difficult, if not impossible, to fathom what possible justification there can be on Israel’s part for not allowing items like paper and pasta to be brought in by humanitarian agencies such as UNRWA, whose life-saving role throughout the recent crisis I wish to acknowledge. The Government again strongly urges Israel to remove the unjustified restrictions on humanitarian and commercial traffic into Gaza. This should include the necessary materials to allow for reconstruction of Gaza, including homes, economic infrastructure and utilities.
The promotion of intra-Palestinian reconciliation is also crucially important if the humanitarian situation in Gaza is to be effectively addressed and appropriate workable arrangements put in place to allow the full opening of border crossings. Beyond that, we must nurture and be suitably supportive of all efforts under way at achieving intra-Palestinian reconciliation as early progress in reviving overall peace efforts is unlikely to be achieved in the absence of such reconciliation.
Important discussions mediated by the Egyptian Government are taking place today in Cairo between representatives of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. In the event that these negotiations were to yield agreement on the formation of a new Palestinian national consensus government, the EU must be ready to respond flexibly and imaginatively. The important criterion to apply to such a development will be to judge any such government by its programme and its actions rather than solely by its composition or the rhetoric of its elements. All these issues will be addressed at the reconstruction conference on Gaza which will take place in Sharm-el-Sheik in Egypt next Monday, 2 March. The conference is being jointly convened and chaired by the Governments of Egypt and Norway, the latter in its role as chair of the ad hoc liaison committee on the Palestinian territories. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, will represent Ireland at the conference, which is also due to be attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, President Sarkozy, the new US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy. The conference is intended to provide clear political support for the Palestinian people in the aftermath of the Gaza war as well as address the daunting reconstruction needs in Gaza, an initial assessment of which is due to be presented by the United Nations at the conference.
Ireland provided €500,000 in humanitarian assistance last month to assist the people of Gaza and a further substantial package of humanitarian assistance is planned and will be announced by the Minister at the conference. Irish Aid is providing a comprehensive programme of support for the Palestinian people that totalled €8.6 million in 2008, double the amount provided in 2005. This included a contribution of €1.5 million for fuel for Gaza’s power plant as well as core funding of €3.8 million to UNRWA, whose vital role in the provision of basic services for Palestinian refugees I have acknowledged.
The EU and the European Commission, which collectively remains the largest donor to the Palestinian people, will also be represented at the conference where Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner will outline the substantial humanitarian assistance, amounting to €90 million, provided by the Commission and member states in the immediate aftermath of the Gaza conflict. The Czech Presidency will also speak on behalf of the EU, outlining the concerns of the EU regarding the current situation in Gaza and reaffirming EU willingness to support actively all efforts to relaunch overall peace efforts. In official level discussions in preparation for the conference that took place in Brussels, Ireland has insisted that any common EU statement must be clear in urging the full and sustained reopening of border crossings as an immediate and unconditional priority. Obviously, this point will also be reiterated in the national statement which the Minister for Foreign Affairs will deliver at the conference.
There are indications that a meeting of the Quartet, comprising the EU, US, Russia and the UN, may also take place en marge of the conference next Monday. If it occurs, such a meeting would be a welcome development in helping to focus discussions not only on the immediate needs in Gaza but also on the urgency of relaunching the process of dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which has been interrupted since the Gaza conflict and the intervening Israeli general election. We need to get back to a position where credible peace talks between Israel, the Palestinians and Israel’s neighbours can be resumed at the earliest opportunity.
There are considerable obstacles to be overcome before we get to that point. A new government must emerge in Israel, which we hope will, and we will have to encourage to, adhere to its previous commitments, including those made at Annapolis on the implementation of the Quartet road map. It is of great concern to note the continuing failure on Israel’s part to cease the expansion of new settlements in the Palestinian occupied territories, with recently announced plans for new settlements at Adam and also the expansion of the controversial E1 settlement. As the motion notes, such expansion is contrary to international law and must cease if it is not to prejudice the outcome of the final status negotiations.
Ireland will strongly urge the new Israeli Government, whatever its make-up, to desist from all those actions, including expansion of settlements, restrictions on movement and the continuing economic blockade of Gaza which conflict with the goal of a negotiated and viable two-state solution and which ultimately only serve to undermine all those on the Palestinian and Arab side working to achieve such an outcome.
It will also be important for the EU to re-engage actively in furthering regional peace efforts and working closely with international partners, including those in the Arab world, to advance important initiatives such as the Arab peace initiative launched in 2002. The clear desire within the region for such a stronger EU engagement was clearly evident and outlined to the Minister for Foreign Affairs during his recent visit to Syria, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates at the start of this month. The EU must also be more active within the framework of the Quartet in ensuring full compliance by all sides with road map commitments. Ireland will continue working to encourage a positive response on the EU’s part to any new Palestinian unity government that may emerge in the coming weeks.
The US remains an indispensable player in the Middle East and it is clearly encouraging that the Obama Administration has shown such clear evidence of willingness to bring new thinking and new commitment to the US Government’s vital role in supporting the peace effort. President Obama’s stated intention to pursue peace in the Middle East “actively and aggressively” is one that has been very warmly received by all those who support such peace efforts. The appointment of Senator George Mitchell as US Middle East Envoy is also an inspired choice which demonstrates seriousness of intent. We know well from our experience of the Good Friday Agreement negotiations the undoubted skills and invaluable experience that Senator Mitchell will bring to this role.
It would be unwise not to recognise the very many priorities and challenges which face President Obama and his Administration, including within the region where the President has made clear his desire to review policy and pursue the opportunities that may exist for improved bilateral relations with Iran, a crucial regional player. The EU is engaged in dialogue with Iran regarding the many concerns over the country’s nuclear programme and any improved dialogue between the US and Iran can obviously only assist in addressing these major concerns which exist on the part of the international community as a whole. Such efforts will hopefully form part of a broader regional peace effort since it is possible that the clear opportunity which now exists to pursue a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may not be unlimited. It is therefore all the more urgent that Ireland and our EU partners work as closely as possible with the US and Arab partners in the coming months to ensure that this vital opportunity that now exists is not squandered. On behalf of the Government, I am happy to commend this motion to the House.
Senator Eugene Regan Senator Eugene Regan
Senator Eugene Regan: I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive report. The cross-party motion demonstrates that when the problem is far from this country we can reach consensus while we have difficulty doing so with many of our own problems. Despite the other problems we have in this country, we have an interest in adding our voice to the member states of the EU and the EU itself in trying to foster a solution in the Middle East.
The motion refers to a number of issues, the first of which is the action of the Israeli forces in Gaza in January. The preliminary issue is the justification for the invasion under international law. Then the proportionality of the actions taken must be considered. These ultimately resulted in more than 1,000 civilian deaths, an extraordinary level of injuries, mass destruction of property and what appears to be collective punishment of the entire population. In commenting on this subject, the role of Europe and the European Union has not been as effective, although it is a major donor to the area. That is because of the structure of the foreign representation. I do not apologise for making the point that the Lisbon treaty, which we will revisit in the autumn, is important because there are provisions in it relating to the Presidency of the Council and a foreign affairs delegate which are fundamental to Europe's having a more coherent foreign policy on this subject, as it does on so many others.
In regard to the actions of the Israeli army in Gaza, the country has serious questions to answer about breaches of international law. It is useful to review very briefly the provisions of the Geneva Convention, particularly the first additional protocol to that convention, in respect of protecting civilians in occupied territories. It specifically provides that protected persons must not be exposed to coercion, torture, collective punishment, reprisals, use as human shields and acts of terrorism, pillage or hostage taking.
In terms of the military actions taken, it provides that everything feasible must be done to verify that the objects intended for the attack are not civilian or in any way subject to special protection under international human law. The attacks are prohibited if they may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life or damage to civilian targets which would be excessive in comparison to the military advantage anticipated. One must judge the balance of the requirement in the motion to have an independent international investigation of the violations of international humanitarian law during this military action in Gaza. I fully support the approach of the Government and the collective action of the different parties represented here.
In its latest report, Amnesty International has highlighted some of the serious issues that have arisen. It has noted the matter of proportionality, the enormous cost in human life and how an entire population has been affected by this action. It continues to be affected by the economic blockade which has been referred to by the Minister of State.
I will provide some quotes so that I am not just giving my own views. Mr. Henry Siegman is the director of the US Middle East Project in New York, which is in the context of the Council on Foreign Relations. I served on the committee of that project at one point. Mr. Siegman is a research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Programme, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is also a former executive director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America so he can speak as a friend of Israel. I take his views as being authoritative on this question.
In an article published on 17 April 2008, he indicates that in terms of international peace efforts in the Middle East, the problem primarily responsible for the impasse is not faced up to. He states:
. . . for all the sins attributable to the Palestinians — and they are legion, including inept and corrupt leadership, failed institution-building and the murderous violence of rejectionist groups — there is no prospect for a viable, sovereign Palestinian state, primarily because Israel’s various governments, from 1967 until today, have never had the intention of allowing such a state to come into being.
It would be one thing if Israeli Governments had insisted on delaying a Palestinian state until certain security concerns had been dealt with. But no government serious about a two-state solution to the conflict would have pursued, without letup, the theft and fragmentation of Palestinian lands, which even a child understands makes Palestinian statehood impossible.
Given the overwhelming disproportion of power between the occupier and the occupied, it is hardly surprising that Israeli Governments and their military and security establishments found it difficult to resist the acquisition of Palestinian land. What is astounding is that the international community, pretending to believe Israel’s claim that it is the victim and its occupied subjects the aggressors, has allowed this devastating dispossession to continue and the law of the jungle to prevail.
As long as Israel knows that by delaying the peace process it buys time to create facts on the ground, and that the international community will continue to indulge Israel’s pretense that its desire for a two-state solution is being frustrated by the Palestinians, no new peace initiative can succeed and the dispossession of the Palestinian people will indeed become irreversible.
There can be no greater delusion on the part of the Western countries weighed down by guilt about the Holocaust than the belief that accommodating such an outcome would be an act of friendship to the Jewish people. The abandonment of the Palestinians now is surely not an atonement for the abandonment of European Jews 70 years ago, nor will it serve the security of the state of Israel and its people.
He continues, “Time and again, this history has shown that the less opposition Israel encounters from its friends in the West for its dispossession of the Palestinians, the more uncompromising its behaviour.”
In regard to the recent Gaza invasion, Mr. Siegman, as an authoritative source, states in the London Review of Books:
I am not aware of a single major American newspaper, radio station or TV channel whose coverage of the assault on Gaza questions [the Israeli] version of events. Criticism of Israel’s actions, if any . . . has focused instead on whether the IDF’s carnage is proportional to the threat it sought to counter, and whether it is taking adequate measures to prevent civilian casualties.
Middle East peacemaking has been smothered in deceptive euphemisms, so let me state bluntly that each of these claims is a lie. Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the truce, it tightened it further. This was confirmed not only by every neutral international observer and NGO on the scene but by Brigadier General (Res.) Shmuel Zakai, a former commander of the IDF’s Gaza division.
The article continues:
The truce, which began in June last year and was due for renewal in December, required both parties to refrain from violent action against the other. Hamas had to cease its rocket assaults and prevent the firing of rockets by other groups such as Islamic Jihad . . . and Israel had to put a stop to its targeted assassinations and military incursions. This understanding was seriously violated on 4 November, when the IDF entered Gaza and killed six members of Hamas. Hamas responded by launching Qassam rockets and Grad missiles. Even so, it offered to extend the truce, but only on condition that Israel ended its blockade. Israel refused. It could have met its obligation to protect its citizens by agreeing to ease the blockade, but it did not even try. It cannot be said that Israel launched its assault to protect its citizens from rockets. It did so to protect its right to continue the strangulation of Gaza’s population.
Everyone seems to have forgotten that Hamas declared an end to suicide bombings and rocket fire when it decided to join the Palestinian political process, and largely stuck to it for more than a year. Bush publicly welcomed that decision, citing it as an example of the success of his campaign for democracy in the Middle East . . . When Hamas unexpectedly won the election, Israel and the US immediately sought to delegitimise the result and embraced Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah, who until then had been dismissed by Israel’s leaders as a “plucked chicken”. They armed and trained his security forces to overthrow Hamas; and when Hamas . . . pre-empted this violent attempt to reverse the result of the first honest democratic election in the modern Middle East, Israel and the Bush Administration imposed the blockade.
I wish to cite a final quotation from this gentleman on the effect of the invasion. He states:
Anthony Cordesman, one of the most reliable military analysts of the Middle East, and a friend of Israel, argued in a 9 January report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the tactical advantages of continuing the operation in Gaza were outweighed by the strategic cost — and were probably no greater than any gains Israel may have made early in the war in selective strikes on key Hamas facilities. ‘Has Israel somehow blundered into a steadily escalating war without a clear strategic goal, or at least one it can credibly achieve?’ he asks. ‘Will Israel end in empowering an enemy in political terms that it defeated in tactical terms? Will Israel’s actions seriously damage the US position in the region, any hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process? To be blunt, the answer so far seems to be yes.’ Cordesman concludes that ‘any leader can take a tough stand and claim that tactical gains are a meaningful victory. If this is all that Olmert, Livni and Barak have for an answer, then they have disgraced themselves and damaged their country and their friends.’
In citing those quotations I quoted from people who are friends of Israel, who are Jewish and who wish to make their contribution to a peaceful solution in the Middle East. The motion before the House touches on all these issues and the promotion of the two-state solution in Israel. Before Europe can play its full role in this process, it must fully understand the background and acknowledge the respective positions of the different parties, including Hamas. This represents an objective view of the problem, but it also highlights just how intricate it is.
I commend the motion to the House and welcome that it is a cross-party one. We endorse what the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, has done in regard to these issues, how he has articulated a view on the investigations into the violations in Gaza, promoted the two-state solution and welcomed the involvement of George Mitchell as the Middle East peace envoy. I commend the motion to the House.
Senator Ann Ormonde Senator Ann Ormonde
Senator Ann Ormonde: Is it in order to share time with Senator Ó Murchú?
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Yes. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Senator Ann Ormonde Senator Ann Ormonde
Senator Ann Ormonde: I welcome the Minister of State. I am also pleased to speak on this motion on the conflict in the Middle East. Like everyone else I was shocked by the recent events there and the impact they have had on the efforts to bring about peace. During the three-week war in Gaza no respect was shown for human rights and ground and air assaults caused untold human misery resulting in more than 1,000 deaths. Local infrastructure was devastated and many families lost all their possessions. The United Nations school and humanitarian facilities were bombed, total disregard was shown for the United Nations flag and attacks were made on personnel and local headquarters. I was delighted the Minister, Deputy Martin, in his statement fully and forcefully condemned such acts.
We have had this discussion already at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs during which a motion was unanimously agreed to support moves to establish an independent international investigation into the alleged violations of international humanitarian law during Israel’s military action in Gaza, including the use of munitions in a densely populated area, which is banned internationally.
Hamas must also tell its supporters to stop the shameful indiscriminate rocket attacks on the people of Israel. Alleged storage of munitions in civilian locations has also been noted. It is vital that both sides now show restraint. I am delighted that the joint motion supports the two-state solution with the objective of the state of Israel and the independent Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security.
I welcome the strong position taken by the Irish Government to give full support to a resolution of that conflict and to bring about peace in the region. The Minister met key players at the highest level in the United States and at EU level, including Israel, Lebanon and Syria, to try to promote and achieve such a resolution and to support the cause for peace.
The appointment by President Obama of George Mitchell as the Middle East peace envoy is to be welcomed. As we know from our experience, the manner in which he brokered peace in Northern Ireland shows his doggedness and patience. We know he is the right person for the job. Ireland will be very supportive of that appointment.
We must do everything we can, along with our European partners, to support those people — men, women and children — who are now blockaded in Gaza and to press on Israel to open up its borders and roadblocks to allow deliveries of building construction material and agricultural goods into the territory in order that Gaza can be rebuilt.
Ireland is willing to do all in its power to ensure we never again see a repeat of the horrific and awful atrocities we saw on our television screens in recent months. People must move away from conflict and violence and show a real commitment to peace.
I welcome this motion which was discussed at length at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and which received cross-party support. I am pleased to endorse the motion and commend it to the House today.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Is mian liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir Ormonde as a cuid ama a roinnt liom agus cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Tá áthas orm go bhfuil rún comhpháirtí á phlé againn ar an ábhar thar a bheith tábhachtach seo. Le tamall fada, ar Riar na hOibre gach maidin, bhí seans againn labhairt faoi seo ach ní raibh seans againn labhairt faoi le haontas. Ag amharc siar ar stair na hÉireann, níl aon amhras ach go bhfuil macalla le feiceáil sa chuid sin den domhan ina bhfuil an choimhlint fós ann agus go bhfuil daoine ag fulaingt go rialta. Tá súil agam go gcabhróidh ár nguth, is cuma cé chomh beag agus atá sé, i slí éigin teacht ar réiteach éigin a mbeidh daoine sásta leis.
Ireland has a particularly noble and honourable status in international affairs when it comes to human rights. Ireland took a particularly independent sovereign stance on the Falklands conflict. It was suggested we would suffer for it and that we were out of line. Interestingly, we did not because the line we took became the main focus for a solution and a cessation of hostilities.
Because we are seen as an honest broker with no particular vested interest in most of these issues and because we were not a colonising power, it is amazing how other nations, diplomats and politicians look to us for a more neutral and less tied position to an existing national policy. This was particularly evident in the comments of the Minister, Deputy Martin, other Government spokespersons and Opposition spokespersons. It was evident there was a unified and united approach to this conflict. That is the only way what we say will have some authority and power. We should not have a tale of division among ourselves but should be able to express ourselves in the manner in which we did.
I do not contribute to the notion we should break off diplomatic relations with Israel. At this stage I do not contribute to the notion there should be trade sanctions. I do not genuinely believe that is the road forward. When such methods have been employed in the past as an instrument or weapon, invariably they have not worked.
Senator David Norris Senator David Norris
Senator David Norris: What about South Africa?
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: The situation in South Africa and the apartheid movement was a totally different situation from the type of conflict we are talking about. If I were to look for a comparable situation, and I know it is far apart, I would look to the North of Ireland, where we were trying to bring about reconciliation between two communities. At the end of the day, the only way we succeeded in doing so was by having everybody inside the tent and not having one section outside. The problem is that Hamas has been kept outside the tent.
It must be borne in mind that Hamas got a majority vote in the elections. Prior to that, the American administration had made it quite clear it would accept the will of the people. It does not matter. We can downgrade or minimise that fact, or point to the arguments as to why Hamas should not be inside the tent. The difficulty with that is when one does not allow it to have a political input, invariably one creates a vacuum, which is invariably filled by a military solution. That is what has happened.
We met some Palestinian representatives here from the Palestinian friendship body we have within the House. I understood their position and I was not trying to take sides in these internal matters because the situation is very difficult. The first question I asked the Fatah representative was if he favoured a unity government. I did not get an outright “Yes”. Instead, I got explanations. I genuinely believe the only hope we have is to unite the Palestinian people themselves and recognise their voice as expressed in the ballot box.
I am prepared to say that no hostilities of a military nature are acceptable in that situation. However, Hamas finds itself in vacuum. Unless one was made of stone and tied to an agenda by chains, there is no way one could justify the brutality and butchery visited by Israel on the Palestinian people. I am not going to discuss Israel’s use of illegal weapons but, rather, the sheer brutality of wiping out whole families, most of whom were civilians with no connection whatsoever to any military unit in Gaza. It was sheer brutality. I still believe one element of the solution to the conflict is for Israel to be held accountable for the crimes it committed during those hostilities. It is not acceptable.
What worried me most was the timing of the brutality. There were two elections pending. There was an election pending in America and the almost certain demise of President Reagan——
Senator David Norris Senator David Norris
Senator David Norris: It was Bush.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: ——who was closely tied to Israel. There was also an election within Israel itself. Nothing will convince me that the confluence of those two elections did not have a bearing on the timing of the conflict. Somebody tried to prove they were prepared to employ strong-arm tactics.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator has one minute.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: It does not take from the terrible tragedies of the Israeli people who suffered from the rockets.
Israel lost the battle. As a result of that there has been an outcry throughout the world, even from its own friends. The information it puts out is no longer seen as credible. Even when it bombed a United Nations centre, it denied it at first, then agreed that perhaps bombs were dropped in close proximity and then tried to suggest there was terrorist activity. Israel has no credibility left.
Allowing for the terrible things that have happened, one must now get down to dialogue. There is a time when one must draw a line in the sand, even though Israel must be held accountable for what it did. Any democrat and person committed to democratic concepts must say that whatever terrible things happened in the past, we must now move forward. Perhaps there can be a unity Government.
I trust President Obama. He is working against a terrible backdrop because the commercial, political and media influence of Israel within America is almost insurmountable. That is the problem. I have a feeling President Obama is an idealist and believes in human rights. His own history and background will make him think very deeply.
I fully commend the Government for its stance and the document we received today from the Minister of State gives me significant hope that we still have the neutral, independent, sovereign approach and think first of human rights, the helpless and the vulnerable.
Senator David Norris Senator David Norris
Senator David Norris: I welcome the Minister of State to the House and that this motion has become an all-party motion and will pass unanimously without a vote through this House, with the support of all elements. It originated in the foreign affairs committee, proposed by myself and seconded by Deputy Michael D. Higgins. It took some negotiation to get it through and elements were added with which I do not entirely agree.
Sadly, I do not believe in a two-state solution. That idea is finished and we must wake up to that fact. It is not going to happen, partly for the reasons outlined by Senator Eugene Regan’s magisterial contribution, which mentioned the words of a distinguished Israeli academic, Professor Seigman, who acknowledged that the idea of a Palestinian state has been made inoperable by the actions of the Israeli Government since. It knows that and is prepared for the consequences. It will not happen. The only possibility is a federated situation where the Palestinians continue with their religious and ethnic identity and the Israelis with theirs.
It wearies me to have, once again, to put my credentials before the House, as I had to do when I opposed the war in Iraq and had to say I am not anti-American. I am not anti-Semitic. Nobody should dare to suggest I am and I will tell the House why. I was of assistance to the Israeli Government in securing the conviction of Ivan Demjanjuk, the Nazi concentration camp war criminal. I was instrumental in helping to establish an Israeli Embassy here when the official Irish attitude was rather against it. I campaigned for the human rights of the Jewish minority in the former Soviet Union and, in particular, for the release of people such as Anatoly Shcharansky. In that case, I bitterly regret what I did. I wish he was still stuck in the Soviet Union, or in the ruins of it, because that is where he thoroughly deserves to be. I cannot imagine a more nasty, narrow, xenophobic and racist person, who has contributed disastrously to the texture of Israeli public life.
I know the area very well and for many years I spent four months of the year there. I lived with an Israeli citizen, whom I honour, because he has put his life in danger. He has been shot at, stabbed and jailed for reaching out across the preconceptions of his own cultural identity to assist the downtrodden Palestinian people. That is the real test of human rights, not just rewarding the people who look like oneself and share the same interests.
As a result of the stand I have taken on the principle of human rights regarding the Palestinians, I have received a torrent of mail, some of which is very abusive and personal. Even in the columns of newspapers correspondents have sought to rub my nose in my own sexual orientation and have asked how someone such as myself supports human rights for Hamas and the Palestinians and how long I, as a gay man, would last there. That is a total irrelevancy. In all these countries, from Iran to Iraq to Gaza, I have raised the persecution of gay people, which occurs. However, I also listened with great interest when I raised the situation with the late Benazir Bhutto. She said that this will come but that it is an unfolding story and it is not on the agenda at the moment. If one understands cultural difference and the different rate at which societies progress in their understanding of the complexity of human nature, one must accept that, bitter pill though it may be.
I will still stand up for the human rights of gay people in Iran, Iraq, Gaza or wherever, but that will not inhibit me from saying there is no justification for slaughtering people. However backward they are in their understanding of society and its realities, they still have a right to be protected by international human rights covenants. These have been consistently violated.
It may be a pity that the two-state solution is now so problematic as not to be worth bothering with. It will have to be a federated solution which will take a great deal of working out.
There is balance in this and there was much negotiation to get it through. The balance is not entirely fair. At the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, we listened to another distinguished Israeli Jewish academic, Professor Ilan Pappé, who warned specifically against this attempt to produce what is seen in the West as even-handed treatment because there is no even-handedness about the situation. The Palestinians, who are totally guiltless in the situation, are paying the price for European crimes. In particular, if one looks at the response of the German Government, the Palestinians are being forced to pay the price of the Germans’ guilty conscience about the Holocaust. The Holocaust is a very sensitive subject. This was such an enormous human catastrophe that it has become the inheritance not only of the Jewish people, who were the principal targets, but of humanity as a whole. There were other targets, including gay people, gypsies, the Roma, intellectuals, left wing people and so on, but it was overwhelmingly anti-Semitic.
Each year I go to the Holocaust memorial, now held in the Mansion House, and it is immensely moving. It is the most dignified commemoration which pays tribute to the human spirit and expresses the horror of humanity about what was done in Europe. At the last memorial I attended some weeks ago in the Mansion House, there was reference to the unique character of the Holocaust, the bureaucratic approach, the single-mindedness and the way in which people were depersonalised by the bureaucratic machine. I am sorry to say that is what is happening in Israel as we speak.
I speak as a friend of Israel in solidarity with people like Ezra Yitzhak Nawi, Professor Siegman and the wonderfully courageous eight or ten Jewish Irish citizens who spoke out in the columns of The Irish Times against this because what is happening is a blasphemy against the ethos of Judaism, including the toast one makes to health and to life, L’Chaim, and to the idea that whoever saves one human life saves the universe and whoever kills one person kills the universe. This ethos regarding life has been vitiated by the present Government.
It was horrifying for me to listen to the spokesperson from Olmert, from whom I expected nothing else because I know the man and his brother. Tzipi Livni is a disgrace not just to the human race but to womanhood. She said we will crush them with an iron fist. Did she realise the resonances there?
There are war crimes and there is no equity. After much thought, I have come to the point where I say “No” to certain propositions which are easy for liberal people to agree to, for example, that there is an equal right to live in peace for the people in the settlements and in Palestine. There is not. I do not wish them any harm but there is not an equal moral right. If one invades, colonises, tramples on and strangles people, how dare one claim a right to peace. Are they never to assert themselves, to struggle and to survive? Are they to just die? That is what is being asked of them. There are 1.5 million people in an area the size of greater Dublin, 50% of whom are under 15 years of age.
These people have had massive amounts of American supplied munitions dumped on them, including white phosphorus. The Israelis never admitted they used it but they equivocated and said that whatever weapons were used were used under the rules of international law, but they were not. There is a total proscription on the use of white phosphorus in populated areas where there will, inevitably, be civilian casualties. The evidence is there, the fragments have been collected and they have been chemically analysed. They used it in circumstances where there was an inevitable causation of massive civilian casualties.
We know that dense inert metal explosive, DIME, munitions were used. They are horrendous, fiendish things. The Americans and the Israelis deliberately and provocatively used Gaza as a laboratory to test new and fiendish weaponry. That explains the autopsies which are coming out of the hospitals in Gaza. People have almost no external injuries but when they are opened for a full autopsy, their entire internal organ structures are fried, cooked to a blackened crisp. Nothing like this has been seen before. This is what I call a war crime.
I would like something stronger from the Minister, for example, for the two demands of Amnesty International to be met, namely, that there should be the immediate establishment of an independent investigation under the UN Security Council into allegations of war crimes by all sides and that those found responsible should be brought to justice, perhaps to the International Court of Justice, and that there should be an arms embargo on both sides by the world, in particular the United States which has been supplying most of these arms.
It is very important that we speak out strongly, and I say this from my intimate knowledge of Israeli society, my love of that land and of its people. The Israeli people, by and large, are in total and complete denial. I understand that; it is an understandable human response. My father was English and he died when I was six years of age. I only saw him three times so he was not in a position to do too much damage. I was brought up by my Irish family, an old Gaelic Irish family, but they were very pro-British. I had it inculcated in me that the British Empire was the greatest thing that ever happened, that it was responsible for world civilisation and so on. Then I went to school and discovered the Famine, evictions and the penal laws. It was appalling, deeply distressing and painful, but I had to live with it. It prepared me for Bloody Sunday when people were murdered by the British Army. At the beginning, I did not believe it, nor did the RTE reports which said the IRA had fired first, but we then discovered it did not. Then there was that dreadful cover-up by Lord Widgery and then Denning said that we could not accept the authorities would lie because that was an appalling vista. Appalling vistas must be faced by us and by the Israeli people as well, but they are not being faced.
We should look at the situation of that wonderful Palestinian doctor who treated Israeli people. Three of his children were killed and he was hysterical. The next day at a press conference in Israel he spoke Hebrew and discussed the event but he was set upon by the Israelis who said it was not true, that he was responsible and that his family had fired. It is total denial and we owe it to them to ensure this denial ends.
The use of white phosphorus and DIME munitions are clear war crimes. Dr. Clonan also stated: “While military analysts have come to accept breaches of the Geneva conventions on the part of militant groups such as Hamas, the sheer scale, premeditation and prosecution of war crimes by the Israeli general staff in Gaza beggars belief.” For that reason, we need to establish an investigation. That is all I ask for.
It is astonishing we are talking of upgrading the external association agreement. What must the Israelis do before somebody raises the issue of human rights? I am not talking about an embargo, but that barbarous and brutal war could have been switched off in five seconds if we had inhibited the 75% of Israeli produce imported into the European Union. Instead, what do we do but upgrade the agreement.
We were talking this morning about the financial situation, where we rewarded failure. We are now in the business of rewarding the systematic and deliberate abuse of human rights by the Israelis. They should stop lying. I call on the Israeli Ambassador to stop lying. He comes out with guff such as the Palestinians do nothing with the greenhouses the Israelis left to them. The Israelis strangled any question of exports. I have seen those greenhouses and have seen the mounds of rotting vegetables because the Israelis will not let even one tomato out.
I will not praise the Egyptians either. They were using poison gas to kill people in the tunnels. They were stopping children from coming to Europe for medical treatment. Why praise these kinds of people for the dastardly way in which they behave? Nobody recognised Hamas although they were elected. What about democracy? They were elected and then we illegally kept money from them. We allowed the people to be strangled and starved.
In one of O’Casey’s great plays depicting the situation during the revolutionary period in Ireland, one of the characters, a British Pommy, complained that Irish irregulars coming out without uniforms and sniping was not cricket. The response was to ask whether he wanted us to come out in our pelts and throw stones. That, apparently, is all we have left to the Palestinians. I regret anybody who is hit by a stone, but I understand it.
Senator Dan Boyle Senator Dan Boyle
Senator Dan Boyle: Today’s motion was moved in a spirit of consensus and countersigned by leaders of the various groups. However, it is important that the impression does not go out that the whole House thinks collectively on this just because the attitude of the Government is being expressed in the debate. Within the country there are people with a different perspective on events in the Middle East.
We must acknowledge that Israel is a democracy, although a somewhat diminished democracy since its recent election. It is the only democracy in that part of the world and the real tragedy is that it has diminished its moral standing through its actions in recent times. It is a country with obvious military and technological superiority over the people with whom it shares the region. While it has had a tragic history since its foundation in the late 1940s, it sees Israelis as a people under siege. A mirror image has also been created, of Israel as a country that has lived in a constant state of belligerence that has blinded it from moral principles that should apply to a democratic state with obvious advantages in that part of the world.
The actions in Gaza were a cynical exercise, conducted with at least some type of tacit approval from Israel’s patron state in the form of the United States, being conducted in the lamest period of a lame duck presidency and only stopped on the night of the inauguration of a new president. It is obvious this was a well-thought out, prepared move to settle scores and on those grounds, it cannot be politically justified.
It is also the case that the political changes have mirrored the constant state of belligerence in which it has wrapped itself. The recent election results in Israel were profoundly depressing. It is a country that seems to have lost any semblance of a progressive political force, where the once dominant Labour Party that founded the State of Israel and introduced principles of collective farming in the form of kibbutz, is now reduced to fourth place, behind three right-wing parties, where attempts were made within the political system to bar Arab political parties from participating in the election, but where, at the least, the judicial system sees through such naked political posturing.
I hope whatever international pressure possible is put on the new Administration in Israel, but we are now faced with an Israeli Prime Minister who has shown himself to be immune to such pressure in the past. I hope there can be a reconsideration of events in the region. I do not see a change occurring in the short term whereby Israel will lose its military and technological advantage. I hope an internal debate takes place within Israel on how its government’s actions over the past number of years have undermined its credibility in the world. Credibility exists with regard to a continuation of the State of Israel and the promotion of democracy in the region, but always on the basis that the weapons of war cannot be used to achieve particular political ends.
Protests against Israel’s actions have taken place throughout the world, including in Ireland. Elements within those protests are obviously anti-Israeli and some are anti-American and there have been actions such as the burning of Israeli flags. That type of intolerance is unacceptable. By the same token, the principle of indiscriminately firing shells and using other weapons by any group of people, from whatever territory, must be condemned in any debate. Hamas has been and is wrong in its policy of using missiles. Israel is also wrong, probably to a greater extent, because its weapons are of a higher grade and precision.
What is most upsetting about the moral position of Israel is that it chose, in presenting a public relations front during recent events in the Gaza Strip, to say it was engaged in a humane war. Israelis rang people up and sent around leaflets to warn people bombings would take place in their local communities and to warn them what buildings to go to for shelter. In our history, when we saw organisations like the Provisional IRA use such tactics, we rightly decried them as morally worthless. It makes no difference to any group of people to get notice of bombings. Being bombed is morally unacceptable and I hope that is the message that comes out from this House.
While we support the State of Israel and recognise the need for a democratic and progressive State of Israel, we cannot accept its recent actions. On those grounds, I hope a positive message of both support and appropriate condemnation goes out with regard to what we have seen in the Middle East in recent months.
Senator Dominic Hannigan Senator Dominic Hannigan
 Senator Dominic Hannigan: As we discuss this topic here, talks are continuing on the formation of a new government in Israel. This comes just weeks after one of the worst series of atrocities carried out against the Palestinian people in the past 40 years. We in the Labour Party have consistently condemned the actions taken, which are contrary to the principles of international law. Anyone who has read our party website recently will know our MEP for the Dublin area, Proinsias De Rossa, visited Gaza recently and has given a clear account of the devastation caused in the area.
Many people in the Chamber have also spent time in the area, although perhaps not since the bombings. Senator Norris was in Gaza as recently as last year with a delegation that also included Senator Daly. They are, therefore, very aware of the issues in that territory. It is important that all sides now work together to ensure the ceasefire currently in place holds. The Labour Party supports the motion today because it will send out a clear message from the House that it supports what all sides are doing to maintain and formalise the ceasefire.
In any conflict, the cessation of violence is the essential step to achieving a lasting and permanent resolution. We want to express our support for the talks being mediated by Egypt, involving an array of Palestinian political groups. I am glad to note that in recent days there appears to have been a positive move from Hamas and Fatah to improve relations with each other. It is hoped that this is setting the mood for a successful outcome to the Egyptian talks. It could lead to a more unified position from the Palestinians when it comes to dealing with the Israeli Government. If this were to occur it could be a significant breakthrough. Many times in the past we have seen that any disagreement within the ranks of the Palestinians can be used by others to divide and conquer. Having broad support for any policy across the Palestinian people could be a very positive breakthrough.
I hope the announcement that the US will send $900 million in aid to the Gaza Strip will help to concentrate minds. Let us be in no doubt that if we can come up with solutions the international community will not be found wanting with regard to putting more money into this area if a firm settlement with Israel is agreed. In the past, too much of the aid going to the territories has been wasted and all interests need to recognise the importance of unity.
I heard the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, speak about the commitments that Irish Aid has made in recent years. I am aware that potentially the Irish Aid programme could be hit by cutbacks but I reiterate our support for anything the Minister of State does to ensure aid goes towards the Palestinian people. If an agreement can be found it will be money very well spent. Nobody in this country would want to see us shy away from commitments to the people or from providing help to the Palestinians.
Next week’s donor conference in Egypt offers significant opportunities. I am glad to see that it is the first visit to the Middle East by a senior member of the new Obama Administration as Hillary Clinton will be there, as will our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin. This is good news because there is a pressing need for a full reopening of Gaza’s border crossing with Israel and they can help to put on pressure.
I pass on my party’s best wishes to those involved in the talks on the formation of a new Government which are taking place in Tel Aviv. President Shimon Perez has a very difficult task negotiating a stable coalition in Israel, bearing in mind the complex political landscape that exists there. It seems likely that Kadima led by Tzipi Livni or Likud led by Benjamin Netanyahu will lead the country’s next Government. Whoever comes to power will have to take on board other parties in coalition, and we all appreciate the difficulties this will bring.
The outcome of the process must lead to a Government that is united in its determination to agree a just and lasting peace with the Palestinians. While I am in no way expressing support for any particular candidate, I was encouraged by Tzipi Livni’s description of the recent election results as the expression of a new social movement. Despite the repeatedly militaristic approach taken by Israel, there is a significant rump within that state which opposes the current occupation of Palestinian lands.
The voice of the radicals has held too much sway and if Ms Livni’s analysis is correct, whoever assumes the premiership will have to reflect the moderate element that currently exists within Israeli society at large, which would be good news. We need the force of reason to defeat the force of militarism. Our hope is that the new Israeli Government will work for peace and we all wish the negotiators in Israel and Egypt well in their endeavours.
Senator Eoghan Harris Senator Eoghan Harris
Senator Eoghan Harris: I am tempted to vote against the resolution because of the provocative nature of assumptions made with regard to use of phosphorus in statements about schools being bombed, which now are admitted not to have been bombed, but broadly because the motion calls for a two-state solution I will reluctantly support it.
I want to talk about the wider hinterland of the Israeli question that involves us in Ireland and in Europe, as it affects the increasingly large and militant Muslim minorities in Europe, and the impact it will have on European politics. In particular I want to talk about the sinister shift in European opinion away from supporting a democratic state and a benign gaze being turned to what by any standard is a gangster organisation, namely, Hamas, the equivalent of the continuity IRA or the real IRA in Palestinian terms. Fatah has been noticeably silent, failed to give it any support and did as little as possible because Fatah knows, as we know in Ireland, that those in Hamas are fundamentalist and barbaric extremists who are no help to their people.
The Jewish state, which is smaller than Munster, is surrounded by a hostile Arab land mass the size of the continental United States and has not known peace in 60 years. If Israel were any other small democratic state, surrounded by a ring of repressive states intent on its destruction, it would be supported by the people and Parliament of Ireland, as it was before the Irish left succeeded in polluting public opinion.
I gave Senator Norris order and I ask him to allow me to speak.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: There should be no interruptions, please.
Senator David Norris Senator David Norris
Senator David Norris: I did not interfere, I laughed. Senator Harris is lucky I did not do more.
Senator Eoghan Harris Senator Eoghan Harris
Senator Eoghan Harris: I was inclined to laugh at something Senator Norris stated but I did not.
Senator David Norris Senator David Norris
Senator David Norris: Senator Harris is welcome to do so.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: There should be no interruptions, please, from anyone.
Senator Eoghan Harris Senator Eoghan Harris
Senator Eoghan Harris: The political class and media class in Ireland and Europe take the side of fundamentalist Islamic groups like Hamas, who want to return to Sharia law, that is the law of the barbarian, against the democratically elected Government of Israel. This will have huge and most likely lethal strategic consequences, not only for the prospect of peace in the Middle East, but for how we in Europe define ourselves and our core values in the face of the challenge from Islam.
Against the background of the isolation of Israel by the European left, the propaganda campaign against Israel following the Gaza operation is one more polluted stream flowing into a large river of anti-Israel propaganda. These campaigns are provably different in depth and volume from campaigns conducted against states such as Darfur, Zimbabwe and North Korea.  We are told we cannot call this obsessive interest with Israel, the single focus and monomania about Israel on the part of the Irish left, anti-Semitism. However, if a political passion is directed exclusively at the only Jewish state on earth, what are we to call it? If this peculiar passion is not to be called anti-Semitism, and so focused are the European and Irish left on Israel that it deserves a special name, what name shall we call this obsession with the Israeli state?
What are we to call the benign face that the European left turns towards Hamas? Senators should go to the library, find the Yale Law Journal and look up what Hamas’s charter states. Article 13 states: “Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement” and “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad”.
These are not just words and I do not take documents as definitive. Gangsterism rules Hamas and Hamas shows its gangsterism in its actions. After taking over Gaza it went on a rampage that killed more than 600 Palestinians, mostly supporters of Fatah. A few weeks ago, it determined to introduce Islamic punishments to the Strip, including amputations, stonings and crucifixions. It used its poor people as fodder for their fanatical ideology much as the Border provos used young men and suborned them into various factions of the IRA with the same cult of death and martyrdom.
As some of my fellow Senators and politicians from both Houses seem to imagine, Hamas is not some kind of benign Sinn Féin branch with a peace process in the background, it is a client of a larger radical, Islamic conspiracy, with Iran in the background and with large militant European minorities prepared to do the footwork within Europe.
How did it happen that the European liberal left turned its face away from the state of Israel under pressure and turned a benign face towards Hamas? The sad answer is that it is the result of what Julian Benda called “la trahison des clercs”, the treason of the intellectuals. In recent years, the campaign was led mostly by academic leftists and their supporters in the mass media who managed to shift the entire focus of the debate using television images of the previous two wars. These images of dead children were available also during the Second World War. I am no more stony-hearted than anybody else, but the images of dead German children did not deflect the Soviets, Americans or British from their sustained campaign to reduce Germany’s civilian population to its knees to end the barbarism of Nazism.
The television images in the past two wars — the Lebanon war and the recent incursion — have been used by the anti-Israeli left in Europe to move the debate away from the legitimate right of Israel to exist towards neutral ground where Hamas is seen as some kind of branch of Sinn Féin or a legitimate organisation. That is a profound shift in public discourse and not a good shift. It is the beginning of the kind of appeasement we saw in the 1930s. Goebbels and the Germans would not have got away with shifting blame from the Nazis by pointing to the so-called lack of proportionality in the conduct of the Second World War. In fact, the Germans suffered ten times as many casualties as the British — 600,000 Germans against 60,000 British civilians, some of whom were from Derry. Goebbels and the Germans would not have been able to persuade Americans to boycott Britain because of alleged war crimes committed in the bombing of Hamburg, Dresden or Berlin. However, that is precisely what has happened in the Israel-Hamas propaganda war.
War is being waged all right. However, it is being waged not just in Israel and the Middle East but also in Europe, including Ireland, not just by means of suicide bombing but also by gross propaganda. To stand up against this propaganda, as I am doing today, is not simply about defending the tiny, democratic, open, law-based society of Israel, it is also about standing up for the common values we cherish in Ireland and across the European Union. It is about standing up against the trahison des clercs, the tenured radicals in our universities with permanent and pensionable jobs who betrayed their high calling to the truth by allowing and applauding the pressure on a democratic state and the rise of a gangster faction in Gaza.
What is going on? What is the special animus against Israel? Why are so many academics so filled with bile and bigotry? The answer is that Israel is only the canary in the mine showing a deeper and more profound crisis in western values and western democracy, a crisis which sees the grandsons and granddaughters of those who put 6 million Jews to death return to the sins of their fathers.
How would one feel if one were a French, Italian or Venezuelan Jew? I ask the Senators, who live in the city of Leopold Bloom, to engage in an act of moral empathy, not just with the people of Palestine but with Jews across the world. How would a British Jew feel going to bed at night if he knew prominent Jews got death threats every day? The students at the University of Oxford want to make it a Jew-free zone. How would one feel as a Jew if one lived in a European city? A Swedish school has refused to accept Jewish students. In France, synagogues are attacked and bombed. How would one feel if one were a Jew in a Latin American country after the onslaught against the Venezuelan Jewish community by left-wing President Hugo Chavez? I cannot understand how Senators can be so insensitive to the isolation not only of Israel but also of Israeli Jews.
This isolation is not good. The left that surrendered to Hitler is doing another disservice by isolating Israel morally and politically. When one isolates Israel, the iron enters its soul. The Israelis have little to lose. For 2,000 years we persecuted them and tried to finish them off. They will die standing and would be right to do so rather than give in. We, as Members of a democratic Parliament, should be standing with that democracy and not with our gangster enemies.
Senator Terry Leyden Senator Terry Leyden
Senator Terry Leyden: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews. His father, David Andrews, former Minister for Foreign Affairs, and his late uncle, Niall Andrews, were very committed to and involved in the Middle East. David Andrews is now the president of the Irish Red Cross and has played a very important role in that organisation’s work in Gaza, the West Bank and the region as a whole.
I am convenor of the Friends of Palestine organisation in the Oireachtas. It is one of the best represented groups in the House and has members from all parties and all sides. The group works to assist in the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and to ensure the existence of a free and safe Israel, both working together in parallel. This is the ambition and hope.
The late, great Brian Lenihan, former Minister for Foreign Affairs, was the first foreign minister in the European Union to support a two-state solution allowing for an independent Palestinian state and the support of Israel. He is well regarded in the region for his support for the cause.
As convenor of Friends of Palestine and as one who is not an enemy of Israel, I led a delegation to the West Bank, Jerusalem, Ramallah and Hebron in 2005. I was accompanied by the current Minister for the Environment Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, leader of the Green Party, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh, a prominent member of Sinn Féin, Senator John Paul Phelan of Fine Gael and the late Tony Gregory. We met all the different agents in the region and I was very impressed by Ireland’s support for the cause and by the university in Bethlehem, a city of historic importance, especially to Christians. The surrounding of that city by a 30-foot concrete wall has turned it into an enclave and has prevented it from making economic progress. In Ramallah we were confronted by two Israeli soldiers who aimed their automatic guns at us because we were accompanied by Palestinians. The area in Ramallah in question has been settled, especially by people from Brooklyn in the United States. They should be removed from that city, which is mainly Palestinian.
Ireland has a very proud record in providing support and aid to the region and it is well respected. However, the region has been divided by the new Berlin Wall erected by the Israelis which goes right through Palestinian territory. This has resulted in the provocation of the Palestinians in light of the occupation of the West Bank. It is reported that a further 430 acres are being occupied by Israeli settlers.
I witnessed at first hand the way settlers are brought into Palestinian territories and the way in which the Palestinians are walked upon. It is unbelievable. The operation that happened in Gaza was a further incitement and a slaughter of the innocent. Some 1,300 were slaughtered.
I condemn Hamas for aiming rockets at Israel. Its doing so is provocative and resulted in an over-the-top response by Israel in advance of the Israeli elections. The response was politically motivated and the result was that Palestinians were slaughtered in Gaza. The area is absolutely decimated and I welcome the fact that the Government, including the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, and the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, have allocated a further €500,000 to assist in the region, despite the fact that we are experiencing a very difficult economic downturn. Our circumstances pale into insignificance by comparison with those of the Palestinians. A total of 500,000 people reside in an area smaller than the size of counties Leitrim or Roscommon. It is an open prison and it cries out for justice and fair play.
I do not support the work or objectives of Hamas but its representatives were democratically elected. I call for the reunification of Fatah and Hamas. There should be only one voice for the Palestinian people. It is a question of “divide and conquer”, the same approach that was adopted in the past in respect of issues here in Ireland.
There is no single spokesperson for the Palestinian cause. Gaza is occupied and supported by Hamas, the powerful body in that region. The West Bank is under the control of Fatah, which was also elected. The link between those regions must be ensured if a viable Palestinian state is to be created.
President Obama has sent Mr. George Mitchell to work as a mediator in the region with Mr. Tony Blair. The two men actually worked with the Fianna Fáil leadership, including former Taoisigh Mr. Albert Reynolds, Mr. Charles Haughey and Deputy Bertie Ahern, to bring about a solution in Northern Ireland. When bearing in mind the role of Mr. Gerry Adams and all those involved in Northern Ireland, one must acknowledge that Mr. Blair and Mr. Mitchell played a very important role. It is a great symbol of hope and encouragement that these two mediators are in the Middle East. I hope they bring about a lasting solution to the conflict.
There will be a solution sometime but, in the meantime, more innocent victims will be lost. I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to this cross-party debate. I welcome that we have different viewpoints in this House, and rightly so. This is a democracy and we have a right to express our views in an honest and genuine way. I respect everyone’s views in that regard and hope we will bring about a peaceful and honourable solution in this region. I hope for a two-state solution, namely, Israel and Palestine working together in the interest of peace and harmony.
Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 8 p.m.
Seanad Éireann 194 Middle East Conflict: Motion.