BACIK URGES RECALL OF EU FOREIGN MINISTERS COUNCIL - Speaking in Seanad Éireann debate on the situation in Gaza

Posted on July 31, 2014

SPEECH BY SENATOR IVANA BACIK  Labour Seanad leader, Spokesperson on Justice Thursday 31st July 2014

I am proud to speak as leader of the Labour group of Senators to welcome today’s special sitting of the Seanad to debate the situations in Gaza and Ukraine. The Labour Senators group particularly welcomes the recall of the Seanad today to debate the crisis in Gaza. As Labour group leader, I was in contact with Seanad leader Senator Maurice Cummins over the weekend about this, and I and the other Labour senators fully supported and welcomed his decision to recall the Seanad to debate the ongoing crisis. I am glad that we have this opportunity to scrutinise the record of the Irish government on Gaza, and hope that in some small way it may contribute to highlighting the need for resolution of the current conflict. I also hope that the Israeli Embassy in Ireland will convey back to the Israeli Government the outrage of the Irish people at the civilian deaths in Gaza as a result of the bombardment.
Like all Irish citizens, my Labour colleagues and I are horrified at the large numbers of Palestinian civilians who have been killed in the bombardment by Israel of Gaza. We know that over 1,300 Palestinians have now been killed, over 80% of them civilians including more than 300 children. As the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign has said, this is a collective punishment of a captive population - this is horror and terror on an unimaginable level. About 240,000 people have been displaced – and they have been displaced with nowhere safe to go, in an area that is only 25 miles long and 7 miles wide - and that has closed borders. UNICEF says there is nowhere safe in Gaza. The borders are not only closed by Israel but also by Egypt, which must accept some complicity in the slaughter of the Palestinian population in the enclave. In that context, I welcome the Minister’s statement that he was in contact today with the Egyptian Foreign Minister.
Of course, it is important to be even-handed in the debate. I stand with my Labour colleagues and the Irish government in condemning not only the bombardment of Gaza by Israel, but also the rocket attacks launched by Hamas which of course directly target the civilians of Israel. I also condemn any use of Palestinian civilians as human shields by Hamas. I do also respect the right of Israel to defend itself against such rocket attacks. But this defence must be conducted in a proportionate and lawful manner.
I am frankly appalled at the lack of respect for international law and the rules of war shown by the Israeli government. In particular, I would join with the international community in condemning Israeli attacks on UN schools where Palestinian civilians, including large numbers of women and children, have been sheltering. I wrote to Minister Flanagan last week to express my condemnation of this and to ask him to take action within the EU to end the Israeli bombardment.
As UN head Ban Ki Moon stated, in speaking about the Israeli shelling of schools which were being used as shelters for displaced Palestinians, “It is outrageous. It is unjustifiable. And it demands accountability and justice.” Yet his words have not appeared to have any effect upon the government of Israel, or indeed upon their supporters in the US, who continue to arm them.
Perhaps the saddest thing of all, as we watch with increasing horror the mounting death toll, is the sense of helplessness and of déjà vu. I found today a letter I wrote to the newspaper in February 2009, explaining why I had come out publicly in support of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s call for a boycott of Israeli goods and services.
I wrote in 2009, “Israel conducted its brutal bombardment of Gaza with apparent disregard for the lives of civilians; one-third of the 1300 Palestinians killed were children. The Israeli Government and military should be condemned for acting in flagrant breach of international law, notably well-established laws on the conduct of war and the treatment of civilians in warfare.”
Sadly, five years later, those words could simply be repeated about the current conflict. So what can we do about it?
I welcome the Irish Government’s provision of aid to the Palestinians and Junior Minister Sean Sherlock’s statement calling not only for an immediate ceasefire but also emphasising that the blockade on Gaza and its people must be lifted and that every effort be galvanised to ensure that, at last, a credible international process is established to deliver a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders. I am glad that Minister Flanagan has met with both the Israeli and Palestinian Ambassadors to Ireland to tell them that this is the position of the Irish government.
I appreciate also that Ireland has the strongest influence in international affairs when we work within the EU – and that this approach informed our abstention in the UN vote last week. I was disappointed at how the vote looked, but I do appreciate that the EU is the only power bloc that can effectively challenge the power of the US, Israel’s strongest backer. Indeed, the international quartet which has power to bring about a resolution within the Middle East is recognised as: the UN, the EU, the US and Russia.
I think however that the Government does need to push more strongly within the EU for some form of sanction or censure of Israel. The EU has strong links with Israel on trade and science in particular – these could be used as leverage. We also have a direct interest in seeking a resolution. Ireland alone contributes €10 million per annum to support and develop Palestinian infrastructure. For a long time now, the EU has contributed significant funds to Palestinian administrators for infrastructure development in Gaza and elsewhere, only to see that infrastructure systematically destroyed by Israeli bombardment – for example in 2008-09 and again in the last days and weeks.
So I call on Minister Flanagan to seek to convene a meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers and to contact the Italian Government, which holds the presidency of the EU currently, to seek to achieve this. The EU Foreign Affairs Council has not met since 22nd July, since which time there has been a significant escalation of hostilities by Israel, and significantly more civilian deaths as well, including civilians killed in UN shelters. Ireland has taken a leading role before in seeking to influence EU policy on Palestine – and I am very proud that as Labour leader and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore TD stated full Irish support for recognition of Palestine at the UN in September 2011.
The Labour Party has long supported the aim of achieving a comprehensive multilateral peace agreement between Israel and Palestine which respects international law, and the aim of delivering for the Palestinian people a secure, viable state of their own.
So while the priority now is for an immediate ceasefire to prevent any further Palestinian or Israeli civilian death and injury, the international community must then work with Israel and Palestine to deliver a peace agreement which will bring about the lifting of the blockade on Gaza, which is at the root cause of this devastating conflict, which will end the building of illegal settlements by Israel - and which will deliver a long-lasting peace to the region based on the two-state principle.
To end on a hopeful note, at such a bleak time for the Middle East, perhaps the Irish peace process can serve as some sort of useful indicator that even the most intractable conflicts can be resolved peacefully in the end.

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