31st July 2014, Speaking in the Seanad on Gaza

I welcome the Minister and thank him for staying for the duration of the debate to listen to all the contributions. Senator Paul Bradford said if he were to ask colleagues who believe in the right of Israel to exist to stand up, how many would remain in their seats. I would not only stand to support its right merely to exit, it should be allowed to thrive and flourish – merely existing is not enough. I fear that for too many Palestinians existing is all for which they can hope.

My concerns relate to the fact that a democracy is ignoring human rights laws. We have experienced that in the past in our own country in regard to the British Government and the hooded men, which was exposed in an RTE documentary. When the Irish Government took the British state to the European Court on Human Rights, the British Government was found guilty of torture in the methods it had used but, on appeal, the court found that it was extreme interrogation. We have now been made aware that the British Government withheld files, lied and deceived the court.

The Minister and the Cabinet must now take action because that European Court ruling is being used as justification by democracies around the world for what were known as enhanced interrogation techniques but which we now know was torture. That is the reason, when a state ignores human rights laws, those of us in this House, in this country and around the world should raise their voices. The international law to which I refer is the Geneva Convention signed in 1949, Protocol 1 of which refers to attacks which may be expected to cause incidental loss of life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which could be excessive in regard to the concentration and direct military advantage anticipated.

We can say without fear of contradiction that what happened to the UN school in the past 24 hours does not comply with the Geneva Convention. UN officials – Mr. John Ging and others – have explained that they had given the co-ordinates of that school on 17 different occasions. It was not a mistake or an accident yet, sadly, this country decided to abdicate its responsibility when it came to the resolution. I cannot see anything wrong with a resolution that condemns all violence against civilians, wherever it occurs, including the killing of Israeli civilians. I cannot see anything wrong with a resolution that calls for an end to attacks against all civilians, including Israeli civilians, and for a prompt reconvening of the conference of high parties to the convention with regard to an investigation, yet we abdicated our responsibilities and said there should be an EU response. The EU response is always too little, too late. Its own powers regarding the human rights clauses in the Euro-Mediterranean agreement, which allows Israeli products into the European Union, are not being invoked. It does not require anybody other than the European Union countries to do that, yet it does nothing. Ireland should not wait for the European Union to respond because, as we all know, the citizens of Srebrenica waited for the European Union also.

I, too, have been in a UN school on the West Bank and have seen the great work it does. I have spoken to the children and explained our own peace process. I told them they had two choices, namely, live in the current calamitous state of continuing violence perpetrated by both sides against each other or wipe out their opponents. I also pointed out to the children of that UN school in Bethlehem that their other choice is the choice we took in Ireland, which was the long, tortuous road of negotiations with our enemy. I asked those children which of them wanted to wipe out all the Israelis, and 48 schoolgirls of 12 years of age put up their hands. That is the problem Israel faces; it is not the rockets from Hamas. They can defeat those rockets but in terms of the next generation, 65% of the population in Gaza are under 16 years of age, schoolgirls have faced rocket attacks and bombardments night after night, and they see television images of children torn apart. Is it any wonder those children put up their hands? Israel does not need defence domes. It needs to understand how it can live with its neighbours.

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